Apple's AirPlay 2 was a long time coming. First announced at Apple’s 2017 World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), the much-needed update to Apple’s own streaming protocol didn't become public until a year later, as part of the iOS 11.4 software update in June 2018.
What's the big deal? First and foremost, AirPlay 2 supports multi-room streaming. Apple is rarely at the bleeding edge with new technologies, but even by its standards, 2018 was a little late to be joining the multi-room party – such devices had become a household staple over the preceding decade or so. But typically Apple, when it did finally join it became the life and soul of the party, with knockout performance and products to compliment it.
Whether it’s using Apple’s own HomePod or HomePod Mini speakers or other audio brands’ compatible speakers (including the 'plays nice with AirPlay 2' Sonos One), Apple has certainly made its mark in the multi-room market. There are even AirPlay 2-compatible TVs available, expanding the experience beyond the AirPlay 2 speaker or AirPlay 2 receiver.
But what's the big deal with AirPlay 2, and which products support it? And if you already own an AirPlay product, can it be automatically updated or will you need to buy new AirPlay 2 devices? We have all the answers…
AirPlay: the origins
The first iteration of AirPlay 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. Easy.
How to use Apple AirPlay 2
The biggest feature of AirPlay 2? Multi-room.
It’s Apple’s first real move into multi-room technology, with AirPlay 2 finally letting you stream music from your iOS device to more than one product.
Originally meant to launch with the Apple HomePod smart speaker, it was designed to let you set up two HomePods as a stereo pair (which we’d recommend) and pepper multiple HomePods around your home – all controlled by your iOS devices.
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 just have to access the music controls on your iPhone, Apple TV or MacBook's iTunes and select a connected speaker (or more than one) 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.
Other benefits of AirPlay 2 include improved audio buffering, integration with Siri voice control and multiple control access across iOS devices (a useful touch for multi-room streaming). While Siri is integrated into the HomePod, other speakers (such as the Sonos One) 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.
- Read our Apple HomePod review
Which Apple products support AirPlay 2?
To support AirPlay 2, an Apple product must run iOS 11.4 or later, or the equivalent iPadOS or tvOS version. The following Apple products fulfil that criteria.
- iPhone 12 Pro Max
- iPhone 12 Pro
- iPhone 12
- iPhone 12 Mini
- iPhone 11 Pro Max
- iPhone 11 Pro
- iPhone 11
- iPhone XS Max
- iPhone XS
- iPhone XR
- 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 (2020) (eighth generation)
- iPad Mini (2019) (fifth generation)
- iPad (2019) (seventh generation)
- iPad Pro 12.9in (third generation)
- iPad Pro 12.9in (second generation)
- iPad Pro 12.9in (first generation)
- iPad Pro 11
- iPad Pro 9.7in
- iPad Pro 10.5in
- iPad 2018 (sixth generation)
- iPad (2017) (fifth generation)
- iPad Air (2020) (fourth generation)
- iPad Air (2019) (third generation)
- iPad Air 2
- iPad Air
- iPad mini 4
- iPad mini 3
- iPad mini 2
AirPlay 2-compatible speakers and devices
On the audio side, plenty of big products support AirPlay 2.
Naim, Bose, Bang & Olufsen, Devialet, Dynaudio, Bowers & Wilkins, Bluesound, Libratone, Denon and the Apple-owned Beats all have devices that use the technology. But perhaps the biggest of all is AirPlay 2 Sonos products, of which there are plenty.
Here's just a selection of some of the audio products that support AirPlay 2:
Bang & Olufsen: Beosound Level, Beosound Emerge, Beoplay M3, Beoplay M5, Beoplay A6, Beoplay A9 (mk2, mk3 and mk4), Beosound 1 (first and second generation), BeoSound 2 (first and second generation), Beosound 35, Beosound Essence mk2, Beosound Shape (via Core), BeoVision Eclipse (audio only), 2018 versions of Beosound 1 and 2, Beosound Balance, Beosound Edge, Beosound Stage
JBL: Link Portable
Pioneer: SX-S30DAB stereo receiver and SC-LX901, SC-LX801, SC-LX701, VSX-LX503, VSX-LX303, VSX-933, VSX-S520 and VSX-S520D AV receivers
Onkyo: X-RZ5100, TX-RZ3100, TX-RZ1100, TX-RZ830, TX-RZ730, TX-NR686, TX-L50, TX-SR393, TX-SR494 and TX-NR595 AV receivers, the TX-L20D and TX-8270 stereo receivers and the LS5200 home theatre system
Yamaha: MusicCast 50 and MusicCast 20 smart speakers, MusicCast Bar 400 and ATS-4080 soundbars; TSR-7850, RX-S602, RX-A 80 series and RX-V 85 series AV receivers, CX-A5200 AV preamp, XDA-QS5400 MusicCast multi-room streaming amplifier and the MusicCast Vinyl 500 turntable
- For all AirPlay 2-compatible products, including smart lights and other smart home accessories compatible with HomeKit, check out the full list on Apple's site.
- These are the best AirPlay speakers around right now
Will all AirPlay speakers be updated to AirPlay 2?
Sadly, no. With specific hardware and software needed to support AirPlay 2, older AirPlay products won't all automatically upgrade to AirPlay 2.
Sonos, for example, is restricting its AirPlay 2 capability to its newer products (Play:5 2nd gen onwards) and promises it will be available in future Sonos products. Similarly, Libratone's current Zipp speakers received the streaming update, but it won't come to its AirPlay-connected Diva soundbar or other older products.
B&W 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 newer products that have AirPlay 2 like its Formation Duo and Formation Wedge wireless speakers.
Meanwhile, all of Bluesound's new Generation 2i products now support AirPlay 2 thanks to a software update via the BluOS app. If you have older Bluesound products, you will need at least one 2i product in the mix to get access to AirPlay 2 and its features.
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 sadly, decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
AirPlay 2-compatible TVs
But it's not just audio gear that plays nice with AirPlay 2. Since 2019, TVs have got in on the act too. LG, Samsung and Vizio were first out of the gates to support the technology, with Sony following soon after.
This means you can use the tech to wirelessly send your favourite photos, music and video clips to your AirPlay 2-compatible TV.
Best of all, the tech isn't exclusive to high-end sets. So, for example, you can find AirPlay 2 Samsung TVs that don't cost the earth.
And it's not just new sets. The tech has also been added to certain 2018 and 2017 models via software updates for even bigger savings.
A number of Samsung's TVs have gone even further and actually have iTunes built-in – you can stream directly to your TV from the iTunes store, as if you have an Apple TV 4K connected.
Here's a complete list of AirPlay 2-compatible smart TVs (note: some model numbers differ by region) :
LG NanoCell NANO 9, 8 series (2020)
LG UHD UN 8 series (2020)
LG UHD UN 71 series or above (2020)
LG NanoCell SM 9, 8 series (2019)
LG UHD UM 7, 6 series (2019)
Samsung FHD/HD 4, 5 Series (2018)
Samsung QLED 8K Q9 Series (2019)
Samsung The Frame Series (2018, 2019)
Samsung Serif Series (2019)
Sony Z8H Series (2020)
Sony A9S Series (2020)
Sony A8H Series (2020)
Sony X95H Series (2020)
Sony X90H Series (2020)
Sony X85H Series (2020)
Sony X80H Series (2020)
Sony Z9G Series (2019)
Sony A9G Series (2019)
Sony X950G Series (2019)
Sony X850G Series (2019 55”, 65”, 75” and 85” models)
Sony Z9F Series (2018)
Sony A9F Series (2018)
Vizio OLED (2020)
Vizio P-Series Quantum X (2019, 2020)
Vizio P-Series Quantum (2018, 2019, 2020)
Vizio P-Series (2016, 2017, 2018)
Vizio M-Series Quantum (2019, 2020)
Vizio M-Series (2016, 2017, 2018)
Vizio E-Series (2016, 2017 and 2018 UHD models)
Vizio V-Series (2019, 2020)
Vizio D-Series (2018, 2019)
- Check out Samsung 2021 TV line-up: everything you need to know
- And Sony 2021 TV line-up: everything you need to know
- Don't forget LG 2019 TV line-up: everything you need to know
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 dongle, 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. And the Chromecast with Google TV dongle has Google TV onboard, turning almost any TV into a stream-ready smart TV.
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.
DTS Play-Fi is another alternative that allows you to wirelessly join together hi-fi kit from various manufacturers. Using the app, you can connect to and control compatible wireless products on your home network.
You can also select and stream from a number of different music streaming services, while the streaming tech also supports a wide range of file formats, including CD-quality FLAC files. Manufacturers signed up to support the platform include Klipsch, McIntosh, Onkyo and Pioneer. Philips has announced lots more of its TVs and soundbars also support the tech.
- Get the lowdown on DTS Play-Fi - everything you need to know