The Best AirPlay 2 Speakers in 2021: Reviewed, Compared, Apple, Sonos - Rolling Stone
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These Wireless Speakers Were Designed to Work Better With iPhones, iPads, and Macs

Convenience features like higher-resolution streaming and better multi-speaker pairing make a big difference

HomePod Mini

Apple

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Over the last few years wireless speakers have gone from niche to normal, so much so that many devices can’t connect to a wired pair without an adapter.

Most wireless speakers use Bluetooth, but iPhones, iPads, and Macs can stream music using AirPlay 2, an Apple developed technology that bests Bluetooth in a few key ways.

We’ve rounded up the best AirPlay 2 speakers you can get right now, and recommend you consider them before getting a Bluetooth speaker. It’s worth pointing out that most of these speakers support both wireless formats, so you can play music from all of your devices on the same speaker.

What Is AirPlay 2?

AirPlay 2 is a wireless streaming technology developed by Apple to offer a better experience than what you’d get using Bluetooth. With AirPlay 2, you can stream CD-quality music instead of having it get compressed.

It allows you to stream music to multiple speakers at the same time without installing a third-party app, or rooting around a complicated settings menu. You can ask Siri, Apple’s smart assistant, to play songs through an AirPlay speaker without touching your phone. This is an especially useful feature now that Apple has announced you can set third-party music streaming services like Spotify as your default choice.

Support for AirPlay 2 is built into all of Apple’s devices by default, so there’s nothing to set up. Just turn on your speaker, select its AirPlay 2 setting (this may be on by default) and start streaming. While we’re focusing on speakers for this guide, AirPlay 2 supports video streaming, too, and has been built into TVs, so you can stream media without a dedicated streaming device.

Bluetooth speakers are getting better every year, and we have a lot to recommend, but if you generally stick to Apple’s gear, the speakers below offer a better experience.

What Are the Best AirPlay 2 Speakers?

There are many factors to consider when choosing the best AirPlay 2 speaker for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.

Portability: All of the speakers in this guide are relatively small, so you’ll be able to move them around your house without much of a hassle, but none are truly wireless. That’s because AirPlay 2 requires an active Wi-Fi connection, which isn’t guaranteed at public places like the beach.

Smart Features: Every AirPlay 2 speaker has some level of integration with Siri, but we made sure to pick some speakers that work with other smart assistants, too.

Stereo Sound: Some of the speakers in this guide to be pair to an additional speaker to create full, stereo sound.

1. HomePod Mini

HomePod Mini

Brandt Ranj / Rolling Stone

It’s no surprise that Apple makes the best AirPlay 2 speakers, and its HomePod Mini is our top recommendation.

The pint-sized speaker puts out an impressive amount of sound, with surprisingly rich bass that doesn’t overpower softer sounds like acoustic instruments or vocals. We were able to listen to music from any genre and come away pleased, even at a loud volume.

The HomePod Mini is also the smallest AirPlay 2 speaker we’re recommending, which makes it a great choice for a work desk or kitchen countertop, places where space can be an issue.

It doesn’t work with any other smart assistants, but the HomePod Mini has deeper integration with Siri than any other AirPlay 2 speaker (save the full-sized HomePod). Apple’s smart assistant is built into the speaker, so you can ask it to play music, engage with smart home accessories, set reminders, or get answers to questions even if your other Apple devices are in another room. This feature makes it a great pick for situations where your hands are full, like cooking.

The downside is that the HomePod Mini isn’t compatible with other smart home assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant. You can connect it to non-Apple devices over Bluetooth, though.

You can pair two HomePod Minis together for true stereo sound, and the difference it makes is stark. You can fully appreciate how a song has been mixed, and hear nuances that may have gotten buried when listening in mono.

Apple’s HomePod Mini sounds really good, highlights all of AirPlay 2’s best features, and is tightly integrated with Siri in ways other speakers aren’t. As a bonus, it’s also the least expensive speaker in our guide.

HomePod Mini, $99, available at Best Buy

2. Bose 300 Home Speaker

Amazon

Bose has been quick to adopt AirPlay 2 on many of its speakers and soundbars, but its 300 Home Speaker is the one that stands out.

It’s a 360-degree speaker, which means music is sent out through multiple drivers, so there’s no “sweet spot” to worry about when deciding where to put it. This makes a big difference if you want to use one speaker in the middle of a larger space (think open living room, or patio).

Bose designed the 300 Home Speaker to be compatible with as many technologies as possible. You can stream music to it using AirPlay 2, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth. It has a built-in microphone that allows you control to it using Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant on its own. You can use Siri on your phone to control the speaker, too.

You can pair two Bose 300 Home Speakers together using the company’s Bose Music App (iOS and Android) for true stereo sound, too. If you want an AirPlay 2 speaker that can play stereo music out of the box, you can step up to Bose’s 500 Home Speaker, which also has a display that displays album artwork.

If you want an AirPlay 2 speaker that works nicely with your non-Apple devices, and don’t want total portability, Bose’s 300 Home Speaker is our pick.

Bose 300 Home Speaker, $199, available at Amazon

3. Sonos One

Sonos One (Gen 2)

Amazon

Sonos pioneered the modern smart speaker, and its Sonos One (Gen 2) speaker carries on that legacy with a few new twists.

The powered speaker works with AirPlay 2, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, and lets you control it using Alexa or the Google Assistant right out of the box. The mono speaker can be paired with another Sonos One for true stereo sound, or used as surround sound speakers with a Sonos soundbar.

We’ve tried the Sonos One for ourselves, and like the way that it sounds. Music is well-balanced overall, but this speaker doesn’t deliver quite the same punch as Apple’s HomePod Mini. That said, the Sonos One can be used with a lot more devices. The ability to use it for casual listening and as part of a home theater system is a big advantage over most AirPlay 2 speakers.

Sonos has also done a good job updating its speakers with new features long after they’ve been released. In fact, the original Sonos One didn’t launch with support for AirPlay, it was added as part of a software patch later on. If you generally keep your technology around for a long time, this is a really important factor to consider.

If you’d like an AirPlay 2 speaker that’ll allow you to use it in a bunch of different ways, with a lot of different gear, and actually improve over time, the Sonos One (Gen 2) checks all those boxes.

Sonos One (Gen 2), $199, available at Best Buy

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