After a whole year of waiting, AirPlay 2 is finally here.
First announced at Apple’s 2017 World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), the long-awaited update to Apple’s own streaming protocol finally became public in June 2018 as part of the iOS 11.4 software update.
What's the big deal? WWDC 2017 featured a wave of new innovations but, for hi-fi enthusiasts, one of the most important was the company’s move into multi-room audio. Whether it’s using Apple’s own HomePod speaker or other audio brands’ compatible speakers (including Sonos One), Apple is hoping to make its mark in the multi-room market.
Will it be worth the long wait? We hope so. But what does AirPlay 2 bring to the table, and which products support it? If you already own an AirPlay product, can it be automatically updated or will you need to buy a new AirPlay device? We have all the answers…
AirPlay: the origins
The first iteration of AirPlay was launched back in 2010 as part of iOS 4 (around the time of the iPhone 4). Originally it was a way to stream audio, video and photos wirelessly to the Apple TV, but eventually this opened up to include dedicated audio products.
It was based on Apple’s ‘AirTunes’ software from 2004, which was predominantly used to stream audio from iTunes to AirPort Express, so you could wirelessly listen to music across your home network from your Apple device.
Setting itself apart from Bluetooth, AirPlay uses your home’s wireless network to send content from one source (iPhone, iPod etc) to one compatible product (speaker, AV receiver, soundbar). During the early days of AirPlay, setting products up was a complicated, long-winded process that required an extra app – it was hardly seamless. Those early products also didn’t have the most stable connection, so music would often drop out.
Updates to AirPlay over the years have made the setup process much simpler and quicker, and streaming is far more reliable. As long as your Apple device and the AirPlay speaker are on the same wi-fi network, music can be streamed between the two at the tap of a button.
MORE: Best AirPlay speakers
AirPlay 2: multi-room, HomePod, Siri
The biggest feature of AirPlay 2? Multi-room.
It’s Apple’s first real move into multi-room technology, with AirPlay 2 finally bringing the ability to stream music from your iOS device to more than one product.
The update was originally meant to launch with the Apple HomePod smart speaker, allowing you to set up two HomePods as a stereo pair (which we’d recommend) and pepper multiple HomePods around your home.
But it’s not restricted to Apple’s own ecosystem. You can mix-and-match AirPlay-2 compatible speakers from other audio brands to create a more versatile multi-room system. As long as all the devices are on the same wi-fi network, you simply have to access the music controls on your iPhone, Apple TV or MacBook's iTunes and select a connected speaker (or more) to send the music to.
Much like Sonos’s app, you can define where in your house the speaker is located, using labels such as ‘Bedroom’ or ‘Kitchen’ to identify them. This can be done in the Home app, which you’ll also need for any Apple smart home actions.
After that, simply access the Control Centre at any point on your iOS device to control which speakers are playing at any time, both individually and as a group.
You also get access to Siri voice control via AirPlay 2. While Siri is integrated into HomePod, other speakers rely on AirPlay 2's connection to your iOS device to speak to Siri.
One key thing about AirPlay 2 is that the music source (and control) is always an Apple product. You can't get AirPlay 2 on an Android device.
More after the break
Which Apple products have AirPlay 2?
Any Apple device running on iOS 11.4 (and onwards) will support AirPlay 2:
- iPhone X
- iPhone 8 Plus
- iPhone 8
- iPhone 7 Plus
- iPhone 7
- iPhone 6S Plus
- iPhone 6S
- iPhone 6 Plus
- iPhone 6
- iPhone SE
- iPhone 5S
- iPad Pro 12.9in (second generation)
- iPad Pro 12.9in (first generation)
- iPad Pro 9.7in
- iPad Pro 10.5in
- iPad 2018 (sixth generation)
- iPad (fifth generation)
- iPad Air 2
- iPad Air
- iPad mini 4
- iPad mini 3
- iPad mini 2
- iPod touch (6th generation)
Apple's MacBook laptops also support AirPlay 2, with the feature available as part of a recent update to the current MacOS High Sierra operating system.
What other AirPlay 2-compatible products are there?
There is already a long list of well-established audio brands signed up to use AirPlay 2.
Naim, Bose, Bang & Olufsen, Devialet, Dynaudio, Bowers & Wilkins, Bluesound, Libratone, Denon and the Apple-owned Beats were all name-dropped at WWDC 2017, while Sonos made big waves when it said it would support AirPlay 2 in its newer products.
With the update finally live, here's a small but definitive list of products that will support AirPlay 2:
Marantz: AV7705, NA6006, NR1509, NR1609, SR5013, SR6013, SR7013
Sonos's products can get the AirPlay 2 update right now, while B&O's updates will arrive in August and September and Libratone's in September. Devialet's Phantom speakers are also on the list, while we suspect Dynaudio's new Music range of wireless speakers will get an AirPlay 2 update, too.
Will all AirPlay speakers be updated to AirPlay 2?
Sadly, no. With specific hardware and software needed to support AirPlay 2, it's looking more likely older AirPlay products won't be able to automatically get an AirPlay 2 update.
Sonos, for example, is restricting its AirPlay 2 capability to its newer products (Play:5 onwards) and promises it will be available in future Sonos products. Similarly, Libratone's current Zipp speakers will get the streaming update, but it won't come to its AirPlay-connected Diva soundbar or other older products.
B&W has confirmed that none of its existing wireless AirPlay speakers - Zeppelin Wireless, A5, A7 - will be updated to AirPlay 2. Instead, the company is focusing on brand new products that will have AirPlay 2 on its list of features. A new Zeppelin Air, perhaps?
If you already have an AirPlay-compatible product, check with the product's website to see if it's due an AirPlay 2 update. If it's a newer product, you might be in luck - but it looks like it's a case-by-case basis at the moment. We'll keep this page updated with more supported products as they're announced.
For all AirPlay 2 products, including smart lights and other smart home accessories compatible with HomeKit, see Apple's full list.
What are the alternatives to AirPlay 2?
The most obvious alternative to AirPlay 2 is Google's Chromecast technology, which is widely supported by a huge range of products.
Using a Chromecast Audio stick or a Chromecast video device, you can stream content to your hi-fi system or TV over your home's wi-fi network. Some products also have Chromecast built-in, so you don't need an external Chromecast device.
There are two key differences between AirPlay 2 and Chromecast: Chromecast works across iOS and Android devices, and your phone or tablet acts as a remote while the speaker plays the file from the internet, rather than the audio being sent from your smartphone.
There are also third-party applications that will let you Chromecast local audio from your phone to the speaker.
How and when can you get AirPlay 2?
AirPlay 2 is available on compatible Apple devices right now. You simply need to download and install the latest iOS 11.4 software on your Apple smartphone or tablet. HomePods should update automatically, as long as auto updates are enabled in the Home app. You'll need a second HomePod to get the benefits of the stereo pairing (and multi-room) features, naturally.
For third-party brands, you'll have to initiate a software update. Simply go into the product's app or check the company website to see how you carry out the update.
We're certain more manufacturers will update their systems in due course now that AirPlay 2 is finally live - we’ll keep you up to date as we receive more information.