Best AirPlay speakers to buy in 2014.

We round up the best wireless AirPlay speakers on the market, from $250 to $700, featuring wireless streaming, easy portability and great design.

As long as there are Apple products, there will be AirPlay speakers – but which are the best? Speakers with wireless AirPlay connectivity are aimed largely at iPhone and iPod users, but most units nowadays also come equipped with hardwiring options to connect up any device not blessed with the Apple logo.

But how to separate the best from the rest? Alongside stunning sound quality, manufacturers pay special attention to the build quality and design, while ease of use is also a must. AirPlay is slightly trickier to set up than Bluetooth but once connected, you can’t argue with the simplicity of the best wireless speakers.

We’ve rounded-up the best AirPlay speakers you can buy in 2014.

Best AirPlay speaker under $300

Denon Cocoon Stream DSD-501

Denon proves you don’t have to break the bank for a quality AirPlay speaker. The Denon Cocoon Stream DSD-501 delivers a refined and full-bodied sound from its elegant curved chassis – all for just $250.

AirPlay is the main streaming feature, but Android users can stream tunes over the network as long as they have a DLNA media player app and the free Denon Cocoon app (which is lovely to use). You can stream from a NAS box and play internet radio, too. There’s only one wired connection: a USB port that will charge and play Apple devices (but only charge Androids).

But its simplicity in design hides just how good the Cocoon Stream sounds. The rich, warm performance is peppered with sharp punches, solid weight and stunning precision. It sounds fantastic. High and low frequencies are handled with a sense of finesse and control that’s admirable – especially at this price. With such polished sound and a decent features set, we can’t think of a better AirPlay speaker bargain than this excellent Denon Cocoon Stream DSD-501.

Best AirPlay speaker under $400

Libratone Zipp

The Libratone Zipp stands apart from the sea of monochrome wireless AirPlay speakers with its brightly-coloured felt covers that you can swap and change – it’s a fun and playful feature that’s caught many an eye. But it’s no gimmick – the Zipp has a premium feel, and the upright design delivers 360-degree sound that’s immersive and enjoyable.

A particularly open and clear treble sits alongside bass notes that don’t go boomy or flat. This is a confident speaker that delivers enthusiasm in spades without ever letting go of its composure. It’s fast and punchy, with ample detail to keep you interested in the music.

Throw in the easily-connectable AirPlay, an elegant app, a 3.5mm input and its portable design, and the Libratone Zipp is one of the nicest experiences we’ve had when listening to wireless music.

Best AirPlay speaker under $450

Cambridge Audio Minx Air 200

This isn’t just an AirPlay speaker. It’s a Bluetooth-toting, internet radio-playing all-round wired and wireless wonder. Compatible with iOS, Android and Windows devices, as well as offering analogue inputs and an ethernet port, the Cambridge Minx Air 200 is still the most versatile wireless speaker we’ve come across.

It may not be much to look at it, but its incredible sense of scale and subtle detail far outweighs any superficial misgivings. With powerful dynamics and an open soundstage, the Minx Air 200 is a bold and enthusiastic player that holds its composure even at high volumes. We’d avoid placing the speaker too close to a wall or corner to avoid boomy bass, though.

Wireless speakers with such comprehensive connectivity are hard to come by, so if your household is a mish-mash of music sources and devices – and if you want your room filled to the brim with exciting music – this Minx Air 200 is the speaker for you.

Best AirPlay speaker under $800

Audio Pro Allroom Air One

From its sophisticated leather finish and equally elegant and entertaining sound, everything about the Audio Pro Allroom Air One screams quality. Refined detail and accurate timing go hand in hand with a balanced sound that’s utterfly captivating.

Even the ‘vocals ooze quality.’ The Allroon Air One can handle tricky bass notes and has ample weight, all the while retaining strict control and finesse.

Alongside the usual AirPlay connectivity, you can transfer your smart device’s wi-fi settings to the speaker via USB – a handy feature. An optical digital input means you can also use the speaker as a soundbar, although its height might obstruct a fraction of your TV screen.

A beautifully crafted speaker with stunning sound, this AirPlay speaker will charm you away from its $800 rivals.

Best AirPlay speaker under $900

B&W A7

$800 is quite a lot to pay for an AirPlay speaker, but the B&W A7 justifies the price with hi-fi sound quality and sheer simplicity of use. An app is all you need to set the speaker up, while 3.5mm, USB and ethernet inputs offer flexible connectivity.

A subtle but classy unit that’s designed to blend into any room, the range-topping A7 impresses with incredible vocal clarity and depth of detail – it gives space to individual instruments while maintaining cohesion across complicated musical arrangements. An ability to hit deep notes with punch and weight is present here, as is a forgiving nature for more heavily compressed tracks.

Add in a multiroom feature, and the B&W A7 is on its way into the hi-fi hall of fame. It’s not cheap, but the A7 is worth every penny for the exciting and involving sound quality it delivers.

AirPlay no longer requires a Wi-Fi network in iOS 8.

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 12.14.51

Apple has made yet more improvements to AirPlay in iOS 8 by enabling compatible devices to make direct connections with each other for content streaming. This eliminates AirPlay’s reliance on a Wi-Fi network and fixes one of its biggest limitations.

In previous versions of iOS — including the latest iOS 7.1.1 release — all of your devices must be connected to the same Wi-Fi network to partake in AirPlay streaming. You couldn’t stream music from your iPad to your iPhone while on the train, then, and you couldn’t stream video from an iPhone to an Apple TV in a hotel that doesn’t offer Wi-Fi (not that you’d ever think about staying in a hotel that doesn’t have Wi-Fi).

But in iOS 8, AirPlay catches up with rival streaming technologies like DLNA by allowing direct device connections. So your Mac, iPhone, Apple TV, and other AirPlay devices can talk to each other without a middleman. In turn, this should mean that AirPlay streaming is snappier and more reliable, which is great news for those who use it to play games on their TV.

Apple sees this as an important change for enterprise users. “With iOS 8, you can wirelessly connect iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch to Apple TV without first connecting to the organization’s network,” the Cupertino company says on its website. “Which means you can present or share your work even if you’re offline or the organization has a complex network.”

It’s a small improvement, but it’s one that will make Apple’s already excellent streaming service even better.

The Griffin Twenty: An AirPort Express Amp That Brings Your Wired Speakers Back To Life.

The Griffin Twenty is a system that takes your existing speakers and allows you to do something new with them. You don’t need an iPhone speaker dock, or Bluetooth speakers, or cables. Connect your favorite speakers to Twenty, and it acts as your stereo receiver for pure digital sound.

Twenty is a problem solver. It doesn’t let your nice, expensive speakers sit around gathering dust. It allows you to beam music wirelessly – through AirPlay – to speakers that have never before had that capability. In short, it’s a game-changer.

The top features of The Griffin Twenty include:

  •    Play audio from your device wirelessly to your stereo system
  •    Stream music from AirPlay-enabled apps, like Pandora, Rdio, Spotify, Last.fm and more
  •    Works with any AirPlay device: iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, even your Mac laptop
  •    2.1 channel sound system
  •    Output: 20 watts per channel
  •    Optical audio input with included optical cable
  •    Supports powered subwoofer with automatic active crossover @ 80Hz
  •    Digital audio output to the user’s existing loudspeakers

Connecting your AirPort Express to Twenty with the TOSLINK optical audio cable allows you to blast music from any Airplay compatible device, iTunes library or app like Pandora, Rdio, Spotify and more – all while using those sweet speaker towers you still have from your college days.

Cone Speaker Learns What You Like To Listen To.

Aether’s Cone Speaker Learns What You Like To Listen To

Aether’s Cone speaker is simple, in both its physical design and its interface. Inside, though, it has a brain that learns what you like.

The Cone is a cone-shaped AirPlay-ready speaker which also streams music straight from the internet. It learns your tastes, and even lets you cue up tracks by asking for them, just like Siri.

 You control Cone either by voice (powered by Nuance voice recognition like Siri), by tapping or twisting the speaker grille, or by pushing the volume buttons. Twisting the grille skips forward or back, or – with a bigger counterclockwise twist – you tell it to play something else.

How does it know what you like? If you crank the volume on a track, it assumes you’re rocking out. The speaker will partner with the usual streaming services (although which ones is still a mystery), and you can also just hook it up to your iPhone via AirPlay. Which is exactly what I do with speakers at home, and they can use both Siri and – say – Rdio’s personalized radio features to do the same.

Still, it looks cool, although at $400 it’s also going to have to sound as good as it looks.

Source: Cult of Mac.

Reports say OS X 10.9.2 breaks AirPlay Mirroring, and other news for Feb. 28, 2014.

airplay

Are you noticing any AirPlay issues on your Mac after updating to OS X 10.9.2? You might not be alone. There’s a growing thread on Apple’s support communities saying the OS X 10.9.2 update breaks AirPlay on a number of older model Macs. As AppleInsider reports:

According to one of the larger forum threads, titled “Airplay mirroring broke in 10.9.2,” users are seeing a host of different failures. For example, one user found AirPlay Mirroring was no longer a selectable option in the AirPlay menu.

Others have been able to connect to their Apple TV, but only audio is passed through in these cases. In addition to the mirroring faults, users detail problems with AirPlay’s desktop extension function…

…AppleInsider was able to reproduce a few of the described issues with a mid-2011 MacBook Air and third-generation Apple TV, which are running OS X 10.9.2 and Apple TV Software Update 6.0.2, respectively. We experienced scaling issues on both the Mac and Apple TV, low frame rates, sporadic mouse freezing and video failures.

Are you having issues with AirPlay after updating to OS X 10.9.2? Let us know in the comments.

In other news:

  • The Apple online store briefly went down in the wee hours of this morning. When it came back up there was a new “Shop Accessories” section.
  • A California appeals court has ruled that though drivers can’t talk and text while driving, they can’t be convicted of distracted diving if they are using their smartphone for another use: looking at maps.
  • The Google Hangouts app has received a significant update. Now it’s universal, so it’s also formatted for the iPad. It also allows users to record and send video messages up to 10 seconds long, among other new features.
  • Apple has published a new design-specific page to help developers design for iOS and OS X.

Bang & Olufsen on expensive speakers and mobile.

B&O Essence

It’s CES 2014, and that means every tech company under the sun has made their pilgrimage to Las Vegas. Audio company Bang & Olufsen is one of those companies, bringing their line-up of premium speakers to show off. Back in October they rolled out their Immaculate Wireless Sound line of speakers, utilizing the WiSA (Wireless Speaker and Audio Association) standard to communicate between TVs, receivers, and speakers.

WiSA allows B&O to do something similar to what Sonos does, allowing the user to control which speakers are used to broadcast audio. They can control individual speakers or create groups of speakers with assigned roles. B&O worked with other WiSA members (which include recognizable audio names like Onkyo, Pioneer, and Klipsh) to help build the standard.

CEO Tue Mantoni told us that B&O had for the past decade been exploring building their own proprietary wireless systems, but never had the expertise to make it happen. They are a small company, Mantoni said, serving a niche market. Their strengths are in sound quality and acoustic design, not wireless communications. By partnering with some of their competitors in developing WiSA, B&O got a high-bandwidth 24-bit wireless standard that will work with WiSA receivers, speakers, and televisions developed by any manufacturer. In theory, at least, as B&O is the first to release WiSA gear.

WiSA supports up to 8 wirelessly-connected speakers, and B&O offers a trio of compatible speakers to suit your various needs, in addition to those build into their BeoVision 11 television. If you’re feeling particularly crazy, you can wire in another 10 speakers. This is all managed through the BeoLab Transmitter, a fairly large box with an array of audio and network inputs. It feels more like a router, though in typical B&O fashion they even made that look halfway decent.

B&O Essence

What B&O brought to CES that was new, however, was a new controller to go with the Transmitter. Instead of an installed and wired touch control panel in your wall, the new Beosound Essence is a circular dial control that you could mount to your wall it you wanted to, but also can be fixed to a special metal plate and be portable. Portable, you say? Yep, because it’s wireless.

Essence consists of a smooth-turning but not free-spinning metal volume dial about two inches across and surrounding a four-way control pad. Up is play and down is stop, right and left are next and previous. It’s a simple control, but its integration with the BeoLab Transmitter means that you can, as CEO Tue Mantoni told us he’s always wanted, get up out of bed and with one tap have music playing. “As easy as turning on the lights,” he said, though to be honest it might actually be easier. And your light switches don’t make music play. Nor do they likely look anywhere near as good.

But that the Essence doesn’t come cheap. Coupled with the Transmitter, Essence will run $995, plus additional Essence dials for $200.

B&O Essence

That’s not cheap by any measure, and we had the chance to Mantoni about B&O’s business model. He readily admits that B&O’s products are more expensive than their consumer-grade competitors, though he wouldn’t say that they really are their competitors. B&O in his words is a premium audio company, and thus justifies the premium prices. There’s no denying that B&O’s sound systems sound incredible, with the eight-speaker system they demoed shaking the conference room to the point where I felt sorry for whoever was attempted to exhibit on the other side of folding divider wall.

Mantoni explained that B&O’s approach to balancing design and engineering is similar to that of Apple’s: the two happen concurrently, with the designer and engineer working together on a project from the start. There is tension in the process, as the designer understandably wants a speaker that’s slim and beautiful, while the engineer wants as much space as he can get for his components. The collaborative process takes longer, but in the end you get a better product. That also costs more.

B&O has consistently hewn close to their standards of high quality materials and design, and that means expensive products. When asked about lower-cost B&O products, Mantoni intoned that there’s only so low they can go in terms of materials, design, durability, and audio quality and still be making something they’d be proud to put the company name on. That said, products like their Form 2 headphones have been in production for 28 years, and the manufacturing efficiencies they’ve developed over the years have allowed them to bring the price down to $119. Though this year at CES they did introduce an update in the form of the Form 2i, which adds on a microphone and inline controls for a reasonable $129 (that’d be $10 more).

B&O headphones

Two years ago the mobile Bluetooth speaker market was barely extant. Since then it has exploded, but mostly on the low end with speakers costing $200 or less. B&O doesn’t compete at the price point, but they knew better than to leave money on the table — there are customers who want a portable speaker with B&O quality and are willing to pay B&O prices. For them there’s the $800 B&O Play Beolit 12.

The BeoLit 12 doesn’t use Bluetooth, though, instead relying on AirPlay and DLNA over Wi-Fi to get its audio from mobile devices. AirPlay is, of course, exclusive to Apple devices, and while DLNA is a standard that’s been integrated into some Android devices, it’s not a widespread one. B&O chose Wi-Fi and Airplay for two reasons: the quality of the sound and the easy integration with iOS, which is extremely popular among their existing client base.

In the short time that the BeoLit has been on the market, it’s grown to comprise a quarter of B&O’s revenue, and while their mobile speakers don’t currently support Bluetooth, Mantoni said that we can expect Bluetooth-compatible (and thus fully Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone-compatible) mobile B&O speakers to come in the future. The delay comes back to B&O’s processes — they are slow and deliberative on purpose, and make products that sound amazing and look incredible.

B&O Essence

Apple TV 6.0 update now available, adds iTunes Radio support, AirPlay From iCloud and more.

It’s been expected, but now anAppleTV update has arrived. The new 6.0 firmware adds support foriTunes Radio and purchases from the iTunes Music Store. In addition, updating adds podcast syncing, viewing of shared photo streams and AirPlay from iCloud. This update gets the AppleTV feature parity with iOS 7.

The new firmware also upgrades the AirPlay wireless streaming feature, so you can now play iTunes store purchased content on other AppleTVs.

The download and install was very slow for me today, likely because Apple servers are slammed with all the other updates people are doing with new iPhones and in upgrading devices to iOS 7.

Apple has been enhancing the AppleTV software recently, and has added new apps for Vevo, The Weather Channel, the Disney Channel and other content sources.

To get the update on your AppleTV, go to Settings > General and select ‘Update Software’. This update works on the second and third generation Apple TVs.