It’s a tough call at the top between Apple and Sonos’s best AirPlay speakers, but we’re plumping for the
HomePod mini on the basis of its lower price tag, excellent sound quality and deep integration with Apple’s software ecosystem.
The HomePod mini can’t match the bass punch of the full-size HomePod, but the output is still far better than we have any right to expect at this size and price. (Just to reiterate, it’s a third of the price and a seventh of the weight of its
For jazz, rock and classical we were blown away by its clear, rich sound. And while it’s not quite got the welly to deafen your neighbours with house music at 3am, it does fill a room beautifully – especially when teamed with a second model as a stereo pair.
HomePod mini review for more information.
Read our full
Review Apple HomePod mini
Sonos was the first company to really popularise multi-room speaker systems, and it was also the first to add smart voice technology to its multi-room speakers when it launched the
Sonos One towards the end of 2017. The voice technology in question is Amazon’s Alexa, but Sonos has released a software update that adds support for AirPlay 2: it’s now compatible with Apple’s HomePod and allows you to stream music and audio from any app on your Mac computers or iOS mobile devices.
The Sonos One is essentially an updated version of the existing
Play:1 speaker, but the addition of internal microphones and the Alexa technology bumps the price up to £199/$199.
That’s still a lot cheaper than the full-size HomePod and of course, the One is still compatible with other Sonos multi-room products, and can used as part of a home cinema set-up. And, rather ingeniously, if you’ve got an older Sonos speaker that doesn’t support AirPlay 2, you can use the One to control those other speakers as well.
As well as including AirPlay 2, the
Sonos app supports a wider range of streaming services than any of its rivals: 52 at the last count, including Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal, as well as specialist services such as
Nugs.net which plays live gigs, and
Qobuz for jazz and classical. And, of course, the app handles the multi-room side of things quickly and easily, allowing you to pair two of the Sonos One speakers for stereo, play different songs in different rooms, or the same song on every speaker all at once.
But a good app wouldn’t count for anything if the sound wasn’t up to scratch. As we mentioned, the One is essentially an update that adds Alexa to the original Play:1, so the two speakers provide very similar sound quality. But that’s certainly not a disappointment, as the One produces a bigger, better sound than you have any right to expect from a speaker that stands just 162mm tall.
Sonos doesn’t reveal the power of the two internal amps, but the One is perfectly capable of filling a medium-size room with sound. Its power is matched by clarity too, bringing a silky warmth to Karen Carpenter’s voice on Yesterday Once More.
The bass is a pleasant surprise too, given the speaker’s compact dimensions, and there’s a satisfyingly firm slap to the bass guitar on The Big Sky by Kate Bush. The One is also able to keep an eye on all the details as the avalanche of drums and chanting vocals mount up in the closing section of that song.
Our only minor criticism here is that the One can’t quite reach some of the really high frequencies – such as Roger Taylor’s shrieking falsetto on Queen’s Somebody To Love. We’d also like to see a wider range of connectivity features, as the Sonos One is limited to just 2.4GHz Wi-Fi and Ethernet, with no Bluetooth or even a simple 3.5mm connector.
But when it comes to sound quality, value for money and multi-room flexibility, the Sonos One yet again confirms Sonos as the leader in this increasingly competitive market.
And, if you’re on a tight budget, there’s now a second model – called the
One SL – that ditches the microphone and voice controls, and just provides the speaker on its own for £179/$199.
Read our full
Sonos One review on sister site Tech Advisor.
JBL Link Portable
AirPlay speakers have always tended to be a bit pricey but, at just £129.99/$179.95, the
JBL Link Portable is one of the most affordable AirPlay 2 speakers currently available. And, as the name suggests, it also offers a number of additional useful features including a rechargeable battery and lightweight, portable design.
Available in six different colours, the Link Portable is a little larger than portable rivals such as the Sonos Roam, but the cylindrical design of the speaker still stands just 170mm high and 88mm in diameter, and weighs 0.74kg. It’s ideal for slipping into a backpack or travelling bag when you leave home, or you can just pick it up and carry it out into the garden when you’re at home. The Link Portable is rated IPX7 for water resistance so it can handle some rough weather when you’re outdoors, and its rechargeable battery can last for up to eight hours at a time. There’s a handy charging cradle included with the Link Portable for use indoors, but there’s a USB-C cable as well, so you can charge it up from your laptop or other devices when you’re on the move.
The Link Portable can be used with Bluetooth when you’re away from home, but when you’re indoors you can connect to your Wi-Fi network and use it either with AirPlay for Apple devices or Google’s Chromecast for Android. The cylindrical design of the speaker works well, helping it to beam music all around and create a satisfyingly full sound, despite its relatively modest 20W output.
The galloping drums on Slade’s Run Run Away land with a firm, weighty thud, and the Link Portable lets Noddy Holder’s rasping voice ring out loud and clear on the chorus. In contrast, the Link Portable is able to bring a light touch to Prince’s delicate falsetto and the tinkling piano on 3 Chains Of Gold. There’s a dramatic touch of Queen bombast halfway through the song, and the Link Portable does a good job of capturing all the detail in Prince’s multi-tracked harmonies, before ending with a flourish and wailing like crazy on the final shrieking guitar solo.
It could, perhaps, deliver a little more impact with the deep bass on my favourite Billy Eilish tracks, but it’s still a good performance from such a compact and affordable speaker. And, with its lightweight design and support for both Bluetooth and AirPlay 2, the Link Portable is a really versatile speaker that is at home both indoors and outdoors.
Sonos Beam we reviewed a couple of years back has been discontinued, and we haven’t yet had a chance to review the new Beam 2 that’s just been launched. But in the meantime, Sonos has come up with the
Roam – which has to be the smallest and most portable AirPlay 2 speaker we’ve seen so far.
The Roam is a real mini-marvel, measuring just 168mm high when you stand it upright, 62mm wide and 60mm deep, although you can also lay it flat on the ground or on a desk or table if you prefer. It only weighs 0.43kg, so it’s easy to carry around in a backpack when you’re travelling – in fact, it’s so small that you could probably even slip it into a jacket pocket without too much trouble if you needed to.
It’s well suited for outdoor use too, with a rechargeable battery that lasts for up to 10 hours, depending on how loud you like your music. The Roam is also really sturdy, with an IP67 rating for water and dust resistance – and, according to Sonos, that means you can actually submerge it in 1m of water for up to 30 minutes, so it’ll cope with the soggy British weather with no trouble at all.
Even the battery charging is clever – you can charge it with the USB-C cable included with the box, but the base of the Roam works with Qi wireless chargers, so you can just sit it on the same charging pad that you use for your iPhone, or buy one of Sonos’s own
wireless chargers for £44/$49.
When you’re outdoors you can just use it as a conventional Bluetooth speaker, although the Roam isn’t at its best in Bluetooth mode as it doesn’t support either Apple’s AAC codec for Bluetooth, or AptX for Android. But, when you get back home, you can just switch the Roam into Wi-Fi mode and use it as an AirPlay 2 speaker on your home network.
And the sound that it produces with AirPlay streaming is pretty remarkable for such a compact little speaker. The soaring orchestral sound of The Waves, by Max Richter, is really impressive – clear and detailed, and with just enough power to really wash over you like, well, waves of sound. But switch to something a bit noisier, and there’s a crisp crunch to the jangling guitar riff on Blondie’s One Way Or Another that will really get the mood going at a BBQ or an outdoor music event. The bass could be a little firmer, but that’s asking a lot from such a tiny little speaker, and at this price the sturdy design and clear, detailed sound of the Roam make it an absolute bargain.
Harman Kardon Citation 300
Harman Kardon has a wide variety of speakers in its Citation range, from a cute little bedside alarm clock to large stereo speakers costing more than £2,000. The sweet spot for us, though, is the mid-range
Citation 300, which costs £349.99 in the UK – but isn’t widely available in the US, as Harman thinks that the minimalist ‘Scandi’ design of the speakers is more suited to European tastes.
The design is very attractive, with the speaker wrapped up in a special woollen fabric called Kvadrat, which is available in either black or grey. Designed in Denmark, Kvadrat is a sturdy type of wool that is designed to be dirt-repellent and flame-retardant, so it’s well suited for use in different rooms around the home.
The speaker measures 180mm high, 306mm wide and 142mm deep, and weighs 4.1kg, so you’ll need a bit of shelf space to set it up but, as we mentioned, there are several other models in the range – including the portable
Citation 200, which we also like a lot – so you can easily find a model that’s right for your home.
The smart design includes other features too, such as a small touch-sensitive control screen, which allows you to adjust volume and other settings, and even displays album artwork for the music that you’re playing. The speaker supports dual-band Wi-Fi for connecting to your home network, but can also work with Bluetooth when required. Our only complaint is that there’s no 3.5mm audio connector for wired devices, such as my old CD player.
The Citation 300 does support AirPlay 2 for Apple devices, but the bad news is that it also works with the Google Home voice assistant, and you actually have to use the clunky – and privacy pilfering – Google Home app when you initially set up the speaker for the first time. But once that’s done the Citation shows up as an ordinary AirPlay speaker in the sound controls of your Mac or iOS devices, so you can then delete the Google app and switch to AirPlay instead. It’s worth that initial bit of hassle too, as the Citation 300 sounds great.
The clarity of the sound is immediately obvious, with Roger Taylor’s swooping falsetto cutting sharply through the air on The Kiss, from Queen’s Flash Gordon soundtrack. The orchestral strings have a lush, romantic feel to them, and the Citation 300 catches all the little details, such as the gentle, warbling flutes that punctuate the surging strings.
At the other end of the spectrum, the size and weight of the speaker means there’s real body to the sinister, threatening electronic bass on You Should See Me In A Crown by Billie Eilish. It’s not the cheapest AirPlay speaker currently available, but that versatility makes the Citation 300 a great choice for playing many different styles of music – and with 100W output, it’s powerful enough to form the centrepiece of your multi-room home music system.
Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin (2021)
Bowers & Wilkins’ Zeppelin was a landmark product for Mac users – and it’s great to see it back again.
Originally launched in 2007, the Zeppelin was the first hi-fi-quality speaker system for the iPod, and really helped to boost that device’s credibility amongst audiophile music fans. A few years later an updated Zeppelin was also one of the first speakers to support Apple’s AirPlay software for streaming audio over Wi-Fi. However, the Zeppelin was left behind when Apple released AirPlay 2 – with its new support for multi-room music – so it was discontinued a few years ago. But now, with very little fanfare, B&W has launched a
new version of the Zeppelin that adds support for AirPlay 2, along with a number of other new features too.
Available in either ‘midnight grey’ or a silvery ‘pearl grey’, the new Zeppelin initially looks very similar to its predecessors, with the eye-catching oval design that gives the speaker its name. But on the inside, the Zeppelin has been completely redesigned, with a pair of high-frequency tweeters and mid-range woofers located on each side of a central sub-woofer, while the entire unit is powered by a roof-rattling 240W amplifier.
As mentioned, the new Zeppelin now supports AirPlay 2, along with Bluetooth and Apple’s AAC codec and the AptX Adaptive codec that is used on many Android devices, and Spotify Connect too. My only minor complaints are that the Zeppelin only seems to work with 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, and it’s completely reliant on Wi-Fi or Bluetooth for streaming, with no wired inputs for connecting to devices such as a CD player, or maybe even an old iPod.
The sound quality, though, is terrific, with the massed harmonies of Queen’s Somebody To Love ringing out bright and clear, and a lively, ringing tone on Roger Taylor’s shrieking falsetto and crashing cymbals. At the other end of the spectrum, the Zeppelin delivers the bouncing bass on Bad Guy by Billie Eilish with a firm, taut sound that immediately gets you tapping your foot. It easily fills the room with sound even at just 40% of maximum volume, so the Zeppelin will be great for getting the party going over Christmas and the New Year.
It is a little pricey, at £699/$799, but that’s only slightly more expensive than Apple’s AirPods Max, and the Zeppelin is certainly better value for money. What’s more, its room-filling sound and AirPlay 2 support mean you can share its excellent sound quality with everyone in your home.
Yamaha MusicCast 20
Yamaha doesn’t make too much fuss about its MusicCast speakers, but it actually produces one of the widest ranges of AirPlay speakers of any audio manufacturer. That range includes several speakers that support AirPlay 2, as well as soundbars for use with your television, specialist hi-fi receivers, and even a turntable for super-hipsters listening on vinyl.
We opted for the entry-level
MusicCast 20, which has an RRP of £199, but is available on sites such as Amazon
for as little as £149 (or
about $230), making it one of the most affordable AirPlay speakers currently available. Despite the low price, the MusicCast 20 supports Bluetooth and dual-band Wi-Fi, and also includes an Ethernet interface for rooms where your Wi-Fi signal might be a bit weak. The only omission here is the lack of a 3.5mm audio connector.
You’ll need to use Yamaha’s MusicCast app to set up the speaker initially and, to be honest, the app is a bit fiddly to use, with a variety of settings spread across a whole series of menus. But once you’ve downloaded the software update for AirPlay 2 you can just ignore the app as the MusicCast 20 will be available within the iOS control centre, just like any other AirPlay speaker.
The speaker’s 40W output isn’t spectacularly powerful, but it creates a light, detailed sound that will be more than adequate for a bedroom or in the kitchen.
The MusicCast 20 stands just 186mm high, 150mm wide and 130mm deep, but it creates an attractive, open soundstage that allows Enya’s Only Time to float gently through the air in my office, and it pulls out all the details in the light percussion and the ethereal chanting harmonies. At the other end of the spectrum, the MusicCast 20 does a good job with the deep, sinister electronic bass of Prime Evil by the Orb.
In fact, it’s the higher frequencies that reveal the speaker’s only real weakness, with the shrieking falsetto and mariachi horns of Knights Of Cydonia by Muse sounding a little underpowered. But that’s forgivable in such an affordable speaker, and if you want a bit more power then the MusicCast 50 is
available for £329 (or
$500). Or you could even buy a pair of the MusicCast 20 speakers and link them together for wireless stereo for only slightly more than the cost of a single Apple HomePod.
Belkin SoundForm Elite
Belkin is best known for its extensive range of docks, chargers and other accessories – including a really useful little AirPlay 2 adaptor called the
SoundForm Connect (£89.99/$99.99). This allows you to add AirPlay 2 Wi-Fi streaming to any existing wired speakers, so it’s a great upgrade option if you already have a good set of speakers that you like to use at home.
And, more recently, the company has also started to expand into the audio field, collaborating with the hi-fi specialists at Devialet to make its first speaker, called the
SoundForm Elite. Devialet makes classy speakers, and Belkin makes chargers, so together they’ve come up with a cleverly designed little speaker that also includes a built-in wireless charger for your iPhone.
There are two versions of the SoundForm Elite available, though – one that works with the Google Assistant for voice control, and one that has AirPlay 2 and Amazon Alexa – so make sure you buy the right one.
Available in either black or white, the cylindrical SoundForm Elite is neatly designed, standing 168mm high and 162mm in diameter – in fact, it looks rather like the original Apple HomePod, apart from the fact that the top section has been sliced away to make room for a wireless charging panel that provides 10W power for your iPhone. The compact design is great if you want to have the speaker sitting on your desk while you’re working, allowing you to listen to some music whilst also charging your iPhone and keeping an eye on calls and text messages.
It’s also quite powerful for such a compact speaker – you probably wouldn’t want to use it as your main music system for a party at home, but it’s more than powerful enough for listening to some music in the bedroom or kitchen. Audiophiles may find that the sound is a little bass-heavy, but it works a treat on the jangling percussion and the infectious bass line on Blondie’s Rapture, and it’ll certainly work well for dance music too. There’s also a nice warm tone on vocals and higher frequencies, which is very effective for delicate acoustic ballads such as The Blower’s Daughter by Damien Rice.
My only complaint is that I’d like a little more clarity on the mid-range for my 70s guitar rock oldies. And, to be honest, the SoundForm Elite does look a little expensive when compared to some of the newer AirPlay speakers that are now available – so watch out for some discounts during the Black Friday holiday period. Even so, the compact design and built-in charger of the SoundForm Elite are really useful, and should earn it a place on a lot of desks for people who are now working from home.
Ikea Symfonisk Lamp Speaker
Ikea describes its
Symfonisk lamp as ‘stereo furniture’. That’s because this tasteful table lamp also houses a high-quality speaker system – complete with support for AirPlay 2 for multi-room audio.
The cylindrical base of the lamp, with its woven fabric cover, actually looks a bit like Apple’s own HomePod speaker – except that it’s got a smart, hand-made glass lamp shade sitting on top. Of course, strictly speaking, it’s not actually ‘stereo’ as it’s just a single speaker, but with a price of just £150/$179 you could buy two Symfonisks and use them as a stereo speaker system for only a little more than the price of a single HomePod.
The lamp part of the Symfonisk is controlled by a simple On/Off switch on the side, which operates separately from the speaker, so you don’t have to turn them both on at the same time. There are three buttons for music playback on the base of the lamp, but most of the time you’ll control the Symfonisk from your mobile devices.
The speaker uses Wi-Fi for streaming audio – there’s no Bluetooth – and you’ll need to use the Sonos Controller app to get started. Fortunately, the Controller app runs on Mac, Windows, iOS and Android. It also works with an impressive range of music streaming services, including Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal, so it’s got all the bases covered.
And the device’s AirPlay 2 support means you can stream from any Mac or iOS app without having to use the Sonos app. It’s also compatible with other AirPlay 2 speakers – and worked with no trouble at all playing music alongside my HomePod – or you can pair two Symfonisk speakers together for a wireless stereo system.
None of that would matter if the sound quality wasn’t up to scratch, but the Symfonisk performs very well for a speaker in this price range. There’s plenty of detail on Queen’s multi-layered Somebody To Love, and pretty respectable bass on Prime Evil by The Orb. It’s not the loudest speaker around, but it produces an attractively spacious sound that will be perfect for a bedroom or kitchen, and at this price the sound quality and AirPlay 2 support of the Symfonisk are a real bargain.
Read our full
Sonos Symfonisk Lamp review on sister site Tech Advisor.
Libratone Zipp 2
We’ve always been fans of Libratone’s Zipp speakers. They sound good, obviously, and Libratone was also one of the first companies to support Apple’s AirPlay streaming software several years ago.
The Zipp speakers also included features such as Bluetooth streaming and ye olde 3.5mm audio connector that Apple’s own HomePod lacks. And all that was wrapped up in a light, portable design with a rechargeable battery that allowed you to easily carry the Zipp from room to room, or out into the garden for a BBQ in the summer.
That portable design worked really well, so Libratone hasn’t made any major changes for the
Zipp 2. But, on the inside, it has refined the speaker drivers to provide a stronger, more precise sound. There’s also a ‘room correction’ feature, similar to that of the HomePod, that automatically adjusts the sound to suit the layout of the room around it.
The Zipp 2 now supports AirPlay 2, so it provides versatile multi-room connectivity, and can be connected to the HomePod and other AirPlay 2 speakers as well. And the final touch is the inclusion of a new microphone that allows the Zipp 2 to listen out for your voice commands – although it uses Amazon’s Alexa rather than Apple’s Siri (which Apple keeps just for the HomePod, sadly).
The Zipp 2 is a little more expensive than its predecessor, at £279, but it’s available for a lot less now.
Unfortunately, Libratone went into bankruptcy earlier this year, although it seems that a change in ownership may allow the company to continue trading. That might raise questions about the future of the company and issues such as technical support for its products – but it also means that you can now buy models such as the Zipp 2 at much reduced prices.
How to choose an AirPlay speaker
There’s a lot to think about when buying an AirPlay speaker so make sure you read this buying advice before splashing the cash.
Music streaming & compatibility
Having your favourite music follow you around your home is great, but conventional multi-room speakers often have significant limitations. Many, for example, will only work with a limited number of streaming services that are built into the apps provided by each manufacturer.
As you might expect, most will work with Spotify, while
Deezer also get a lot of support. But for some reason, Sonos is one of the few manufacturers of multi-room speakers that also supports Apple Music. In fact, some speakers only provide apps for iOS or Android mobile devices, which means that you can’t even play music from iTunes on a Mac.
The other big problem with conventional speakers in the past was that you have generally had to buy them all from one manufacturer when assembling a multi-room setup because rival speakers were incompatible and wouldn’t work together.
AirPlay vs AirPlay 2
The speaker market changed dramatically in 2018 with the release of Apple’s updated AirPlay 2 software. Released to coincide with the
HomePod launch, AirPlay 2 has also been licensed to a number of well-known manufacturers, which means there’s now a wide range of compatible speakers available. In fact, every model in our top 10 works with AirPlay 2.
The first version of AirPlay, released back in 2010, was like a souped-up version of Bluetooth, allowing you to stream audio from any app on your Mac or iOS devices to any AirPlay-compatible speaker and freeing you from reliance on the manufacturer’s apps. AirPlay also uses a Wi-Fi connection, which means a higher bandwidth than Bluetooth and better sound quality – not to mention longer range.
The simplicity and versatility of AirPlay is great, but – like Bluetooth – its original version was only designed to work with one speaker at a time. AirPlay 2 takes Apple into the multi-room market, with the ability to stream music to several speakers in different rooms. (Alternatively, you can
create a HomePods stereo pair in the same room.)
But the real game-changer with AirPlay 2 was ‘interoperability’, the ability to link together speakers from different manufacturers for the very first time. This means you can
mix and match speakers around your home – picking, for instance, a
HomePod as your main living-room speaker, a little
Sonos One in the bedroom, and Libratone’s portable
Zipp 2 for drinks in the garden – and have them all linked up to play music simultaneously.
Which version of AirPlay is supported?
The important thing to remember is that there are now two types of AirPlay speaker. Some older models will use the original version of AirPlay – which is limited to streaming music to one speaker at a time – but new speakers (and certainly all the speakers in this article) focus on AirPlay 2. Some will have the AirPlay logo on the packaging, but this doesn’t specify whether it’s AirPlay or AirPlay 2. It’s therefore important to check which version is supported by any speaker before buying.
Given that AirPlay 2 has been around for three years, it would be surprising to see a manufacturer release an AirPlay 1 speaker right now, but it doesn’t hurt to check. You don’t want to get caught out.
It’s also worth mentioning that some older AirPlay speakers can be upgraded to work with AirPlay 2 as well. Libratone’s new Zipp 2 uses AirPlay 2, but it’s possible to download a software update for the older first-generation Zipp speakers that adds support for AirPlay 2. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with all AirPlay speakers, and some models are stuck with basic AirPlay.
Sound Quality vs Price
The fact that Apple licenses both AirPlay and AirPlay 2 to other manufacturers has other advantages too. Namely, the option to choose from a wide range of (often lower-cost) third-party speakers from companies like Sonos and Ikea.
At the other extreme, some really expensive hi-fi systems in the pipeline offer AirPlay 2 support for audiophiles and home cinema buffs. These options give you flexibility: you can spend heavily on a really high-quality speaker for your living room, for example, while opting for a less expensive model in the kitchen.
Indoors and Outdoors
Some manufacturers provide more specialised speakers too, such as soundbars that you can use with your TV, or sub-woofers that can provide a bass boost for parties, or for sound effects when watching films.
Some even include rechargeable batteries and lightweight, portable designs so you can pick them up and carry them from room to room – which is certainly cheaper than buying a new speaker for each room – or take them out into the garden for a barbecue.
Connectivity is another key issue. The HomePod has been criticised for relying on Wi-Fi for streaming, with no option for quick and easy Bluetooth streaming for Android and other non-Apple devices. It doesn’t have a 3.5mm audio connector either, which would allow you to use it with a CD player or other audio devices.
Fortunately, many AirPlay and AirPlay 2 speakers provide a greater range of connectivity, allowing you to play music from a wider range of devices than the HomePod. Sonos has even announced it will be releasing an AirPlay 2 amplifier soon that can form the centrepiece of a serious home entertainment system.
In other words, AirPlay 2 is here to stay.