How to connect AirPlay speakers

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AirPlay-compatible speakers make it easy to pair with a variety of Apple devices, no wired connections necessary, so you can listen to music, podcasts, or other audio without being tethered. Plus, the setup is simple and quick, allowing you to start consuming content immediately. 

What devices are AirPlay compatible? 

Utilizing Apple AirPlay requires two devices: a sender and a receiver. AirPlay started in 2004 as AirTunes, a feature for Macs running iTunes to broadcast to an AirPort Express Wi-Fi router. It then expanded in 2010 to allow iOS devices such as iPhones, iPods, and iPads as senders, as long as they are running iOS 4.2 or greater. In 2018, AirPlay 2 launched with iOS 11.4, improving and expanding AirPlay’s buffering, multiroom capabilities, and control functionality across macOS and iOS devices. (Beyond Apple devices, the only Android device to act as an AirPlay sender was the HTC 10 from 2016.) 

Initially, only Apple devices could function as AirPlay receivers. Now, however, a wide range of companies make devices that feature AirPlay support, expanding the options significantly. That includes the likes of Naim, Bose, Ikea, Libratone, Harman Kardon, Yamaha, Philips, Marantz, Onkyo, Bowers & Wilkins, Cambridge Audio, Bluesound, KEF, JBL, Pioneer, Sony, Sonos, McIntosh, Denon, Bang & Olufsen, just to name a few. TV manufacturers are also jumping on board, with Samsung, LG, Vizio, Roku, and Sony incorporating AirPlay 2 receiving capabilities in their TVs. Long story short, you can likely stay brand loyal if you have a preferred company in your audio chain. 

The types of products that support AirPlay are just as expansive as the brands that make them. For your home setup, you can find AirPlay-friendly speaker docks, AV receivers, soundbars, stereo systems, and surround sound setups. And, as mentioned, there is also a growing selection of TVs with AirPlay support (allowing for not just music streaming, but video and photos sharing as well). Of course, the most seamless handoff is when you use your Apple HomePod as an AirPlay speaker. No matter how you like to listen, chances are you’ll be able to find an AirPlay-compatible device. 

How to connect to an AirPlay speaker

After you’ve confirmed that you have AirPlay-supported devices, it’s time to pair them to start listening. 

  • First, be sure that both devices are connected to the same Wi-Fi network. If your home or office offers multiple network options, choose the one with the most stable connection. 
  • Next, you’ll need to enable AirPlay by opening the Control Center. You can swipe up to enter the Control Center if you are on a mobile device. 
  • Then, tap on the AirPlay icon, which is indicated by the concentric circles with a triangle at the bottom. This will pull up a list of devices you can stream to. In the list of connected devices, you’ll notice additional icons that let you know what type of content you can stream. For example, a rectangular icon will be displayed next to an Apple TV 4K, meaning you can stream videos to that device. Devices, such as speakers, that only display the circles only support audio streaming. 

Once you’ve enabled AirPlay and selected the device you want to use, navigate to what you’d like to hear and simply tap play. Your content should begin streaming to the selected device so you can get to jamming while you clean or prep dinner. Alternatively, if your AirPlay sender is already paired to speakers, you can simply open whichever app you want to stream from (as long as it is compatible) and you should already see the AirPlay indicator (either the word or icon, depending on app).

For those who use AirPlay frequently, you can set your iPhone or iPad to connect to the AirPlay-connected device you prefer to use automatically when it’s nearby. To do so, go to Settings on your phone or iPad. Tap General, then AirPlay & Handoff, and then Automatically AirPlay. You can choose “Never” to manually select a device each time, “Ask” to receive suggested AirPlay connection notifications every time, or “Automatic” to discover and automatically connect to frequently used AirPlay receivers.  

a round speaker
AirPlay gets playful in the Syng Cell Alpha, a multi-driver “Triphonic” speaker. Image: Popsci

How to connect to multiple speakers to AirPlay

If you have speakers throughout your home and want the same music to play throughout, you’re in luck. The AirPlay 2 stack allows you to connect to multiple compatible devices simultaneously (speakers, Apple TVs, or even an Apple computer running macOS Monterey or newer), meaning you can force your entire family to listen to your favorite songs no matter where they try to seek refuge. 

To play to multiple speakers or devices at once, pull up the AirPlay settings in your Control Center. You should see checkboxes by each device. Check the boxes next to each device you want to play on. You can also adjust the volume for each individual speaker if you want one to be louder than the others. 

How to use Apple TV to control AirPlay speakers

You can also use your Apple TV to connect to and control speakers that are AirPlay 2 compatible. Press and hold the TV button on the Siri Remote to open the Control Center, select the General Settings tab, and then the Audio Controls button. A list of devices will appear, organized by room. Just like on your phone, you can adjust the volume of these devices right on your Apple TV. 

For home theater setups that use a home theater receiver or TV connection via HDMI cable, you may need to calibrate your audio so that the wired and wireless speakers are in sync. To do so, go to Settings on your Apple TV and choose Video and Audio. Then, select Wireless Audio Sync and follow the onscreen prompts.     

Airplay troubleshooting

Unfortunately, technology doesn’t always work as we want it to right off the bat. If you are having trouble finding any of the settings above or connecting to a device you are certain is AirPlay-compatible, start by ensuring that each device is updated to the latest firmware; software is likely to fix most issues. You may also need to restart your device, as this will reset its Wi-Fi connection, which is necessary to use AirPlay. Finally, double-check that all devices are on the same Wi-Fi connection. Then, you should hopefully be able to get back to streaming your favorite true-crime podcast or killer bops. 

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