Apple AirPlay 2 vs AirPlay: What’s the difference?


(Cybertech) – AirPlay, Apple’s proprietary wireless streaming protocol, received a major update in the form of AirPlay 2 in 2017.

For years, Apple offered AirPlay so that you could instantly share audio or video between your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, an Apple TV, or another AirPlay-enabled device. Apple’s HomePod and HomePod mini speakers also use the protocol, but with AirPlay 2, multi-room audio is possible.

Here’s what you need to know about the original protocol and how AirPlay 2 improves it.

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Apple AirPlay 2 vs AirPlay: What’s different?

  • AirPlay doesn’t offer multi-room audio; AirPlay 2 does
  • AirPlay lets you stream from any Apple device to your speakers or TV
  • AirPlay 2 lets you play from speakers over Wi-Fi, and it’ll stay in sync
  • AirPlay 2 lets play different songs in different rooms with multiple HomePods or HomePod Minis. 

AirPlay, which debuted in 2010 as an evolution of AirTunes, is a protocol developed by Apple that allows wireless streaming between Apple devices over Wi-Fi. Apple has also since licensed AirPlay to manufacturers for them to use in their products in order to be compatible with Apple’s devices. In 2017, Apple announced AirPlay 2, an update to the protocol, and it brought support for multi-room audio.

Compared to Bluetooth audio streaming, AirPlay is supposed to sound better due to wider bandwidth that Wi-Fi provides. As for the AirPlay 2 update, it adds the ability to stream music to multiple audio devices simultaneously. You could use it to cue a song on your iPhone and play it in multiple rooms around the house at the same time, or choose which AirPlay speaker to stream to in your house.

AirPlay 2 was announced before the original – now discontinued – HomePod was even released, but AirPlay 2 unlocks many features in the speaker and its bite-sized companion, the HomePod Mini, including multi-room and stereo pairing (the ability to use separate HomePods as left and right speakers). It will also let you ask Siri to play music in a specific room or throughout the house. AirPlay 2 is also “built throughout iOS”, so you can play music to select speakers right from Apple Music or the Home app.

Plus, any third-party apps using the AirPlay 2 audio toolkit will let you do the same thing. Another cool AirPlay 2 feature is the ability to create a shared “up next” playlist, or multi-user playlists right within Apple Music. So, with AirPlay 2 and Apple Music, your friends can add their own music to the mix. You even take an incoming call or play a game on your device without interrupting the music.

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Apple AirPlay 2 vs AirPlay: How do you control it?

  • AirPlay 2 can be access from the Control Center, Home app, or in-app controls
  • AirPlay 2 is also baked into Apple TV and MacOS 10.13

AirPlay had its limitations. But with AirPlay 2, you can pick a song and control the volume of your AirPlay 2‑enabled speaker from Control Centre, Music app, Home app, the Lock screen, or in‑app controls on your Apple devices. You can also ask Siri to play songs; just say the song and room. You’re not restricted to using Siri with the HomePod either, as he/she plays with other third-party speakers as well. 

You see, provided you have one of the more recent Apple TVs, you can use it to send audio to speakers around your home, rather than just coming from your iPhone or iPad. Any supported speakers that are connected to the Apple TV, be it a soundbar or speaker system, will become AirPlay 2 speakers. You’ll can also send audio from your iPhone or Mac to your Apple TV and your other speakers simultaneously.

But the main thing to remember is that AirPlay 2 adds speaker controls to Apple’s Music app and Home app, so you can individually control all of your AirPlay speakers from your iPhone. You can also ask Siri to play songs on different speakers, though only Apple Music subscribers can take advantage of this function. Even better, AirPlay 2 can be used with other HomeKit devices to create scenes. 

When you play music from your iOS device, you can select which speakers and control individual volumes of those speakers. These controls can be found in Control Centre by swiping up from the bottom of your iPhone’s screen. Neat, right?

Which Apple devices support AirPlay 2?

  • AirPlay works on all older iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Apple TVs
  • AirPlay 2 is compatible with recent iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers
  • AirPlay also works with devices as old as the Apple iPod Touch 2015 and the original HomePod and HomePod Mini. 

AirPlay works on all older iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Apple TVs, while AirPlay 2 is compatible with the most recent iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers.

Any device that can run Apple iOS 11 or later is also compatible with AirPlay 2. These include devices from the iPhone 5S and onward, to the 2017 iPad or newer, any iPad Air, any iPad Pro, and iPad Mini 2 or later. 

It also works with Apple iPod Touch 2015 (sixth generation) and both the HomePod and HomePod Mini.

Which third-party devices offer AirPlay 2?

  • AirPlay is supported on several older speakers and soundbars
  • AirPlay 2 has been supported by many brands as well 
  • Many Sonos speakers offer AirPlay 2

AirPlay was supported on several older speakers and soundbars from third-party manufacturers. AirPlay 2 was more restricted at launch but is now widely adopted. Brands offering support include Sonos, Denon and Marantz, Bose, Bang and Olufsen, Beats, Naim, Devialet, Dynaudio, Polk, McIntosh, Bowers & Wilkins, Libratone, Definitive Technology, and Bluesound, among others.

That doesn’t mean these brands offer full support though.

For instance, newer Sonos speakers, including the Sonos Five, Arc, Sonos One, Move, and Roam support AirPlay 2, as will future Sonos products. However, older Sonos players – like Play:3 and Play:1 – don’t support it.

Meanwhile, some manufacturers, like Naim and Libratone, offer the ability to simply run a software update on their speakers to benefit from AirPlay 2 features, but others need you to buy a completely new speaker.

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Apple AirPlay 2 vs AirPlay: Which is better?

AirPlay 2 has been available on all iOS versions from iOS 11.4 onward so it’s been around a while now.

Following the update, AirPlay 2 opens up a whole world of multi-room streaming capabilities that were previously not available on the iPhone or iPad, such as controlling multiple speakers, which, up until AirPlay 2 launched, you were only able to do on the MacBook.

It’s not just iPhone owners that benefit though, as AirPlay 2 also brings with it multi-room playback for the HomePod and HomePod Mini. 

Writing by Maggie Tillman. Editing by Britta O’Boyle. Originally published on .


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