Seven reasons why you should use AirPlay

A5 Wireless Music System

Combine a touchscreen iPod, an iPad or an iPhone with internet access, and you’ve an amazingly powerful tool for discovering new music or revisiting old favourites. All you need to complete the experience is some form of audio system to replay that downloaded, ripped or streamed content

AirPlay evolved from AirTunes, Apple’s 2004-vintage wireless music transmission system. This was designed to allow Mac owners to distribute their iTunes music around their homes using Wi-Fi, plus compatible devices such as Apple TV or an AirPort Express receiver.

Setting up an AirPlay system is straightforward. It piggybacks on existing Wi-Fi and Ethernet networks: to ensure control over your content, you simply need to ensure that both your sending device – such as your iPad – and your receiving component are connected to the same network. You can connect multiple AirPlay-compatible receiving components too – so for example, you could have an Apple TV in your living room, and a Zeppelin Air in the kitchen so it’s a great feature for parties.

So that’s what it does: what can you do with it?

When used via iOS-based portable devices, the answer is almost anything that involves sound: since iOS 4.3, the technology has been opened up to third-party apps, so now, you can stream anything from BBC iPlayer radio shows to Spotify if you so wish.

Quality’s great too: AirPlay uses lossless transmission, and any music format natively supported by iTunes (including high-performance Apple Lossless files) works seamlessly. Whatever you’re playing, whether it’s audiophile-quality lossless media or heavily compressed, you’ll benefit from both interference-free wireless transmission and superlative control over all of your music.

Here are some great apps to try:

• AUPEO!
Think of AUPEO! as the smarter way to listen to radio. Like Last.fm, it provides both artist and genre-defined continuous feeds of music, making it perfect both as a background companion to your day, and as  a hassle-free way of discovering new artists. You use Love, Ban and Skip controls to both moderate the music being played and progressively customise the service. Go for the Premium paid-for version which ups the quality to 192kbps and cuts out the adverts for £5 a month.

• Band Of The Day
This gorgeous magazine-meets-music app is the spiritual antipode of the all-you-can eat approach of services such as Napster and Spotify: instead of serving up hundreds or even thousands of new tracks each day, Band Of The Day focuses on just one performer, or group of performers, each day. You get the full in-depth treatment though: review, background biographies, videos and more, plus the option to buy the content you like if you so wish.

BBC iPlayer Radio
The mighty iPlayer rightly attracts a lot of attention for the diversity and quality of its video content, but often its audio aspect gets overlooked, which is a real shame. If you can’t be bothered with trawling through the world’s internet radio stations, the searchable catalogue of genre-based content on the iPlayer should be more than enough to satisfy. There’s a huge range of listening choice on offer, with everything from contemporary and classic music through to comedy, drama and lectures on tap.

• Capriccio
This enthusiast-driven and comparatively inexpensive (69p) app allows iOS devices to support a far wider range of audio formats, including FLAC and OGG Vorbis. Its performance is excellent so long as you steer clear of the inbuilt equaliser options (which can be easily bypassed), and it does a fair job of bringing in album artwork and metadata even from fairly obscure audiophile recordings. The only real criticism of note is the interface, which is a bit haphazard – but worth persevering with.

• Golden Ear
Although pricey (£5.49) Golden Ear is widely regarded as the gold standard for lossless music replay on your iOS device. It’ll support up to 24-bit/96kHz lossless files, handles a wide range of formats (including FLAC) and provides a slick, professional-looking user environment, with decent album art access plus some useful playlist themes. As with Capriccio, it’s simple to load up using iTunes File Sharing.

 

• Rdio
Rdio is threatening to encroach on Spotify’s territory: you get 320kbps music streams (as with Spotify); access to millions of songs (as with Spotify) and the interface is, if anything, even cleaner and easier on the eye. It’s no surprise that following Rdio’s lead, Spotify has abandoned its previous insistence on a Facebook-driven sign-up to its Premium service.

 

 • Spotify
Comfortably the most popular streaming app, Spotify’s only vice is that it takes a little fiddling to get it stream over AirPlay (expand the album art, and you’ll see the AirPlay icon, which is otherwise hidden). Quality’s good for a system of its type, and the music library is vast, with over 19 million tracks now available. You can stream over Wi-Fi or 3G, or download up to 3,333 tracks to your iOS device’s hard device.

Andy Kerr.

9 Comments

  • Thomas Shafer says:

    Great blog. Couldn’t agree more. For us music lovers, AirPlay is the best thing since CDs came along.

  • José says:

    Well, I agree that airplay frees us from cables.
    Now my question is how to be freed from Apple?

    As much as I love apple, I am concentrating all my music and playing it through a Linn DS system. How can I stream the music in my NAS (with Twonky installed) to my Zeppelin Air? I am puzzled!!

    Help is appreciated….

  • Andrés Cavallin says:

    I searched for many months on the web, and finally I found the answer to my question on this article: What format is used by Airplay? According to this post is a lossless format, and since I hear no sound difference when streaming through airplay, this information must be accurate. I just wanted confirmation.
    By the way, I have all my CDs ripped in lossless format, and that is what I stream. The quality of downloaded MP3s (even purchased ones) is noticeable lower, at least to me.

  • Brian F says:

    I heard from someone that there might be Android compatible software coming out. Is this true?

  • Patrick Butler says:

    Hi Brian,

    There are a number of airplay apps available for the Android platform that will allow you to sent music to an airplay speaker. While I’ve not personally tried either of these, they have been personally recommended to me:

    1. iMedia Share: http://www.imediashare.tv/android-guided-tour
    2. Honey Player: http://www.honey-player.com

  • Mario says:

    I have several B&W AirPlay speakers (A7) installed. Now I search for a device which can redirect my CD player or my LP Turntable to the AirPlay speaker (something like a preamp). Can anybody recommend such a helpful device?

  • JohnNewport says:

    Mario – if you’ve found an answer to your question, or if anyone else has an answer please help! We can’t be the only ones who don’t want to bother ripping our entire CD collection to be able to play the music without cables. There has got to be a way to stream FROM a CD player – what is it?

  • Mark Smith says:

    I went Airplay 2 years ago and haven’t regretted it for one moment. I can’t see the logic of an argument that tries to argue convenience against commoditisation unless one may not gain pleasure without effort? Good luck with that one!

    Anyway ALAC versus FLAC. It’s down to the library systems for me. iTunes is king here and is happy up to 24 bit/ 192khz. The iPad makes a great control and display unit with iTunes remote installed.

    The Zeppelin Air is a great second system and makes a good soundbar for the TV as well.

    Bad things? Making sure everything’s on the latest version of iOS and the lack of any 24bit receivers yet (other than a PC or Mac with Airserver installed). Until Arcam’s airDAC arrives (November?) everything gets downsampled to 16bit/44 kHz.

    The best guide I’ve found to computer audio set-up is here: http://www.audioquest.com/pdfs/CA-Setup-Guide.pdf

    I have 5 airplay devices scattered around the house including an Apple TV feeding an Arcam rDAC into a Meridian 502 pre-amp and 557 power. I sold my £17k Meridian CD player on ebay 18 months ago because the new set-up sounded better and I’d stopped using it.

    Ripping 1,500 CD’s took a few months but the pay off is being able to listen to music either on the hifi or throughout the house when we’ve got guests. Creating playlists on the fly to suit your mood or your guest’s is pretty good too.

    I can still listen to a complete album when I want to and when I want the full experience the LP12 always welcomes me back :-).

    It was cheap to get started too. Just do it!

  • Mark Smith says:

    Meridian CD Player clearly £1,700, not £17,000. However, the basic point still stands, get away from the physical artifact because it’s not adding anything, it just gets in the way of enjoying the music. Unless it’s vinyl of course……………

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