Updated May 21, 2013. Originally designed to play music on only their own products, Apple’s AirPlay technology now allows users to stream multimedia from iPhones, iPads and computers to any enabled HDTV or speaker system via wi-fi. The result is an explosion of standalone speaker systems designed specifically for AirPlay that span the price and design spectra. You really are spoiled for choice, but don’t be fooled: some are (much) better than others. We’re still waiting a speaker that works with our own AirGuitar jams, but until then, here are our 10 picks for some of the best AirPlay speakers available.
Philips DS3881W/37 Fidelio SoundRing
Best for the anti-square: That’s Fidelio, with heavy emphasis on the “O“: the Philips Fidelio SoundRing is shaped like a doughnut (no complaints here) and built with design-lovers in mind. The SoundRing’s missing middle is a “sound pipe”, used to channel bass notes to nearby ears. Its rechargeable battery provides three hours of AirPlay listening and six hours of music via devices plugged into the auxiliary port. Aside from being the least expensive in this group, the free Fidelio app connects to over 7,000 free internet radio stations and allows users to integrate social media and set custom song alarms — so you can Gangnam Style your girlfriend right out of bed at any predetcaermined hour.
Altec Lansing inAir 5000 Wireless AirPlay Speaker
Best bass on a budget: The Altec Lansing inAir 5000’s tri-amplified, 110-watt speaker system includes a 3-inch midrange speaker, a 1-inch tweeter and a 4-inch subwoofer for big bass. The speaker’s USB input can be used both for playback and device charging, and a headphone jack allows for solitary listening, you sensitive introvert, you. Additionally, an auxiliary input and ethernet port make connecting to other devices a cinch. The softened, triangular shape was designed to supposedly produce higher quality sound than the other boxes on the block.
Audyssey Audio Dock Air
Best for the space-concerned: While AirPlay consumers are inherently trendy, they may look to the Audyssey Lower East Side to up their game. The relatively compact (always good for NYC’s former tenement house district) unit delivers hefty bass for its size and can fill medium-sized rooms with rich sound — indie or otherwise. Set up is also a one-button breeze. The biggest problem will be fishing your phone out of the pocket of those skintight jeans.
Logitech UE Air Speaker
Best For the Batcave-dweller: The ever-so-slight curve of the Logitec UE Air Speaker may bring to mind a manta ray standing upright (in a good way!), though it definitely does a better job wirelessly streaming music than any fish could ever hope to. A hidden docking drawer even allows users to establish a physical connection between the speaker and their Apple player of choice (lightning connections excluded).
AirPlay vs. Bluetooth?
AirPlay is an added bonus for those already drowning in iDevices and Macs, but it’s not the only wireless music game in town. Companies like Sonos offer competing proprietary solutions with some distinct advantages like allowing multiple devices to play music to different rooms all at the same time — which is compelling for those after advanced, multi-user, whole-home setups.
But Bluetooth the most compelling alternative to consider for buyers with smaller aspirations. Bluetooth’s biggest advantage is that it’s brand agnostic and supported by a wide array of device types. Since it relies on ad hoc networks created between individual gadgets, streaming also doesn’t affect your wireless bandwidth, while AirPlay does. On the flip side, it’s range is limited (usually within 30ft), and speakers often require repeat pairing between listening sessions. Subsequently, if you’re looking to add wireless audio in a single room and value a wider range of device compatibility over ease of use, Bluetooth may be your best bet. Otherwise, go with AirPlay.
Pioneer XW-SMA-K Speaker
Best for the undecided streamer: There’s a bevy of technology crammed into the Pioneer XW-SMA4-K, which makes sense considering its name wouldn’t be out of place in a Star Wars flick. With the ability to stream music wirelessly via AirPlay, DLNA, and HTC connect (but not Bluetooth) and a design influenced by Pioneer’s speaker expert Andrew Jones, this system may indeed be the droid you’re looking for. Packed into its acoustically beneficial glossy black frame are dual mid-range speakers, dual tweeters, and a separate subwoofer.
Best for the panorama lover: The Sony RDPXA700ip is actually a docking station with AirPlay compatibility. From the front it appears to be all speaker — a mesh cover wraps all the way around the sides — but don’t let that fool you… it pretty much is all speaker. 60 watts worth of speakers that cut down on distortion and maximize sound pressure through special damperless Magnetic Fluid technology, that is. Spanning 18 inches, the speaker system is on the wide side in this category.
Klipsch G-17 Air Wireless Sound System
Best for the stylish listener: Klipsch’s G-17 produces high-quality sound, but in this instance the music may be more like accompaniment… to some seriously good looks. A removable, frameless, magnetic grille covers the jam-pumping speaker apparatuses, but owners may want to stow it in favor of the bare, shiny, shapely beauty within. Kilpsch offers a free iOS app for controlling the 4-inch-deep, $400 rig, and it’s even wall mountable (wireless and table-less!).
Samsung DA-E750 Audio Dock
Best for the traditionalist: Samsung’s DA-E750 does the same things as the speakers on this list at double the price, but this one isn’t just for music lovers. It’s for people who have highfalutin ears and eyes. Digital technology combines with old-school vacuum tubes inside a wood case; a glass porthole even exhibits those gorgeous guts. The Samsung looks like something out of a captain’s quarters, and makes your home a tight, good-sounding ship.
Cambridge Audio Minx Air 200
Best newcomer on the market:The Minx Air 200 really gets around. It pushes sound around without breaking a sweat: a built in subwoofer and 200-watt digital amplifiers crank out serious sounds; and it’s versatility and compatibility is outstanding: AirPlay, Bluetooth, and a slew of wired connections. The iOS app allows for equalizer adjustment, volume and more, and the included remote can handle many of the same functions. At almost 18 inches wide and 11 pounds there’s a lot of speaker here — the thing is built like a tank — but the the great news is it’s all put to very good use — even the integrated carrying handle is engineered to function as a bass port.
Libratone Live & Zipp
Best for the bold: The Libratone Live Wireless Speaker is handsome — its cashmere wool speaker cover comes in a variety of creative colors (Vanilla Beige and Blueberry Black, among others) — and easily serves as a design piece as well as a music player. A mobile app controls the speaker, which uses Libratone’s patented Fullroom technology to project sound in all directions. Award winning design comes at a price, though: expect a Libratone to come with lots of Emptywallet technology. For a little less green, the smaller Zipp offers completely portable music playing, even sans wi-fi.
Bowers & Wilkins A5
Best for Daddy Warbucks: Two 1-inch tapering Nautilus tube aluminum tweeters compliment the mid-range and bass drivers in the Bowers & Wilkins A5, a monolithic tabletop speaker system. The device can be set up and controlled by desktop and mobile apps, and a 3.5mm jack makes physically connecting other music players a snap. A simple brushed metal band circles the A5’s waist and the same material finishes off its top, translating to a neat and modern-looking aesthetic that works well with your Eames lounger.
Bonus: McIntosh McAire
Best for the serious audiophile: Macintosh is to Apple computers what McIntosh is to speaker systems — that is, so long as we’re talking about ultra-quality products in museum-quality duds. The company’s signature blue gauges and physical tuning knobs adorn the “old school, updated” look of the McIntosh McAire, which houses two 4-inch woofers, two tweeters and two mid-range speakers. Expect no cost-cutting, injection-molded plastics here — the unit weighs in at 31 pounds. At less than 100 bucks a pound, what are you waiting for?
Bonus: Nocs NS2 Air Monitors
Best double-header: We all know that two heads are more than one. Nocs’s NS2 is a two-speaker system purpose built solely for your musical enjoyment. The desktop-sized monitors pair terrifically with Apple devices, not only because they feature AirPlay technology, but also because their design (the cabinets are coated in smooth rubber) is sleek and clean. Additionally, multiple sets of NS2 speakers can be used simultaneously for a customized, home-wide concert.