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Best AirPlay speakers 2021: wireless streaming for Apple devices

What Hi-Fi? 1/21/2021 What Hi-Fi?
Apple HomePod Mini © Provided by What Hi-Fi? Apple HomePod Mini

Best AirPlay speakers Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best AirPlay speakers you can buy in 2021.

AirPlay speakers don't have to be made by Apple, although it does help. There are plenty of other five-star ways of streaming wireless music from an iPhone, iPad or Mac, though. AirPlay is also an effective way to do multi-room without getting locked into a single audio brand. AirPlay is simple, and, while Bluetooth is ubiquitous, there are still advantages to choosing one of the best AirPlay speaker instead.

Apple's streaming technology can stretch over a longer distance. AirPlay uses lossless compression rather than lossy Bluetooth, and the direct connection between the iOS device and the AirPlay speaker gives you control over both the volume of your speaker and the volume of your device.

Thanks to AirPlay 2, multi-room playback is now on the menu - and not limited to just Apple-branded products - plus there's the promise of improved audio buffering and multiple control access across iOS devices (a useful touch for multi-room streaming).

If you're not quite ready to give up one technology for the other, then you'll be pleased to note that most AirPlay speakers will also offer Bluetooth, so you won't miss out on any functionality and it means you can use them with non-iOS source devices too.

So if you want to keep your Apple Music experience entirely on brand, these are your outstanding AirPlay speaker options.

We had to wait a while for Apple's smart speaker, but the performance of the HomePod made it all worthwhile. This speaker truly delivers where sound is concerned, offering music with a weight and authority to challenge the best around. That it has wireless skills and the Siri voice assistant onboard are the icing on the audio cake.

The HomePod assumes you're fully on board with the ecosystem, and happy to use voice commands, but for dedicated Apple users, this AirPlay speaker will be hard to beat. Could it soon be joined by a long-awaited HomePod 2? Quite possibly – and if it's anything like its older brother, we can't wait to hear it. 

Read the full review: Apple HomePod

While the Apple HomePod above comes with all the company's signature technologies, if you want top quality sound from an AirPlay 2 speaker – and have the budget to stretch – you'll want to be looking at the Naim Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation.

Capable of hi-res playback up to 24-bit/384kHz, the new Qb betters its predecessors performance with even greater clarity, precision timing and stunning dynamic range. We love it so much we named it our wireless speakers Product of the Year for 2019.

Read the full review: Naim Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation

Audio Pro currently makes some of the best wireless speakers on the market and the Addon C10 is another impressive Award-winning model. Connectivity is among the most thorough you can expect at the money, with AirPlay joined by the option of wi-fi and Bluetooth, plus aux and RCA inputs. It has all the major music streaming services, including Spotify, Tidal and Qobuz.

The Addon C10 sounds big and bold, but is equally able to capture the subtler, more nuanced tracks as it is firing out big bassy numbers. Every inch the Award winner and an ideal iPhone companion. 

Read the full review: Audio Pro Addon C10

The market is full to bursting with portable Bluetooth speakers in the sub-£150 bracket, but not all of them have the JBL Link Portable’s neat features which include hands-free voice assistance, a charger cradle, wireless streaming via wi-fi and, most importantly, Apple AirPlay 2.

An IPX7 rating means it’s fully waterproof (to a depth of one metre, for up to 30 minutes) and, once USB-C-charged, you’ll get eight hours of wireless music out of it.

Soundwise, it has oodles of detail for a speaker of its size and an expansive mix with everything present, including bass. Provided you have a solid surface at home and you’re not looking to daisy-chain it with another JBL speaker, it has a lot going for it.

Read the full review: JBL Link Portable

The HomePod Mini really is bijou. At just 8.4cm tall and 9.8cm wide, it’s quite a bit smaller than the similarly spherical new Amazon Echo. In fact, it’s even dwarfed by the new Echo Dot. Get its swirling orb of coloured light up and running (when Siri is listening or processing) though, and you realise you've got a classy performer on your hands. 

It goes loud, too. From the moment we start playing music, it’s clear that the HomePod Mini comfortably outperforms its size and price, quite frankly embarrassing its direct competition with the sophistication and maturity of its sound.

Siri is your voice assistant, and after a short period of learning it'll respond to the phrase “Hey Siri, play something I'll like” not by streaming your most played track of the last few weeks, but by playing something that you may have never listened to before but is a good fit for what you often do listen to. It’s a really powerful way to discover new music, and Alexa is nowhere near as good at it.

Read the full review: Apple HomePod Mini

The Series 3 is the best sounding AirPlay speaker there is. No doubt. It's also seriously, seriously expensive for a wireless box.

Part of that outlay goes towards Linn’s proprietary Exakt technology which aims to reduce phase errors by intentionally delaying higher frequencies so that they arrive at your ear at the same time as lower frequencies. It also keeps the music signal’s data in the digital domain for as long as possible to avoid any degradation caused by signal processing. 

We’ve heard Exakt do its thing in many a Linn product before, and here again it contributes to an absorbing performance. What’s striking is the stunning midrange clarity and low-end agility which make the Series 3 a sharp performer and far more insightful than its more affordable competitors, too.

There's no Tidal Masters support but there is an HDMI ARC socket which allows you use the Series 3 for your TV sound.

Read the full review: Linn Series 3 

Pricey, pricey but oh so good. The Wedge is the spiritual successor to the super-successful B&W Zeppelin but it's got so much more besides. Roon-ready, this elliptical multi-driver speaker is one of the company's Formation multi-room products and allows you to stream 24-bit/96 kHz hi-res audio through its tweeters, woofers and sub.

Sound-wise, it's obviously a treat. Vocals are textured and emotive, audio is detailed and distinguished and there's some great dynamism on offer. Not as authoritative at the bottom as the Mu-so below but it beats it for refinement and clarity.

Read the full review: Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge

Such is the breadth of choice when it comes to AirPlay speakers, you can spend under £100 or well over £1000. Take the Naim Mu-so-2. It's extensive feature set includes all manner of wireless streaming technologies such as AirPlay 2 and Chromecast. Streaming services like Tidal and Spotify are also supported as is high-res audio to the tune of 24-bit/88kHz. It's not just about streaming, though, with a HDMI ARC input allowing you to hook up a TV and boost its sound at the same time.

The Naim looks like a premium speaker and it sounds like one too, with a rich, confident sound, packed full of detail and delivered with immense rhythmic drive. Bass is plentiful and of a high quality. If your budget allows, you'll be suitable impressed.

Read the full review: Naim Mu-so 2

The second-generation Sonos One is really a Sonos Play:1 in new clothing, but that's no bad thing. It now boasts Amazon's Alexa smart assistant for voice controls, and it's all the better for it. In fact, with its room-filling sound, it stands apart from the glut of smart speakers that are smart first and speakers second. Throw in Apple's AirPlay 2 tech and the fact that the One fits seamlessly into a multi-room set-up, and you've got a winner on your hands.

Read the full review: Sonos One

The Audio Pro C3 sports the same minimalist look that the Scandinavian company is known for, with textured surfaces and embossed leather carry handle, but the wireless tech adds a whole new dimension to your listening. It's just a shame that controlling it using the smartphone app isn't a bit better thought through. Still, this is a belter of a speaker, complete with up to 15 hours of battery life, to make it a fine home or outdoor speaker.

Read the full review: Audio Pro Addon C3

Although we’re prepared to give it some good-natured ribbing for an aesthetic that abandons the trend of other Audio Pro speakers, the Drumfire is put together very well. The big bottom portion of the Drumfire houses a 20cm subwoofer powered by a 200W Class D amplifier to pump bass into the room. And you can hear it.

If you want a seriously powerful, seriously impressive sound, then look no further. You get plenty of volume and weight but don't be thinking this speaker can't also do subtle – it's a highly-accomplished wireless speaker, whatever you throw at it. Add in multi-room connectivity and the option to extend the Audio Pro family and you have an enticing, excellent high-end speaker.

Read the full review: Audio Pro Drumfire

Devialet doesn't do subtle, simple, or under-designed. The Silver Phantom is the optimum example of its wireless speaker design. Packing huge amounts of power inside a sleek cabinet complete with side-firing drivers, it can go louder than the average motorbike and thankfully sounds much sweeter on the ears.

Not just a pretty face, it's well-specified with AirPlay, Spotify Connect and multi-room options, and delivers possibly the best sound we’ve heard from an AirPlay speaker – bolder, bigger and louder than its size would suggest.

Read the full review: Devialet Silver Phantom

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