AirPlay vs. Bluetooth: Which receivers and speakers should you buy?

“When it comes to wirelessly streaming audio from a phone, tablet, PC, or Mac, people generally rely on one of two technologies: Bluetooth or AirPlay,” Joseph Keller writes for iMore. “If you’re trying to make a decision between Bluetooth or AirPlay speakers, there are some things you should be aware of, as both methods have their own pros and cons.”

“The biggest point in favor of Bluetooth is compatibility. Every modern consumer device from feature phones to high-end laptops comes with Bluetooth support built in. It’s a standard controlled by a board rather than a single company. And because it’s universal, as long as your phone/tablet/computer and your speaker have Bluetooth, you don’t require any additional hardware, allowing you to broadcast directly from your device to the speaker,” Keller writes. “While peer-to-peer AirPlay, which works similarly, does exist, it’s not common and a wireless network is often required in order to use AirPlay.”

“If you live in an Apple-centric home, filled mostly with iPhones, iPads, and Macs, then you might want to heavily consider AirPlay,” Keller writes. “First, AirPlay offers excellent sound quality, and… there’s pairing, or rather, the lack thereof. It’s true that you’ll usually have to set up an AirPlay speaker with your home wireless network, but once you do, that’s it. You don’t have to pair it with any devices.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: We’ll be all HomePod inside most places (or will be once stereo paring and multi-room audio appear with AirPlay 2) and Bluetooth outdoors with rechargeable speakers that are at home on the beach, while camping, etc.

24 Comments

    1. Nope… when hardwired you are using the da converter in the phone. With AirPlay you are using the one in potentially a much better piece of equipment as far as the da converter is concerned.

    2. You’re largely correct in that hard wiring generally introduces fewer losses than wireless systems, but in many situations running wires is impractical.

      My house is made mostly from stone and oak and those materials are very visible and part of the decor. Running cables discretely is impossible, so wireless distribution is the only option for me. However I don’t like AirPlay because it won’t allow me to use analogue sources, such as vinyl records, TV sound, or my original recordings.

      My solution is to use high quality wireless distribution fed from my HiFi pre-amp. Whatever I select on my HiFi gets transmitted around the house. The transmitters and receivers I use are professional radio microphones. I have some old ones which are no longer useable for their original purpose because the frequency has been re-allocated, but in my village, those frequencies are still unused, so I can have a pair of transmitters attached to the HiFi and several pairs of receivers feeding appropriate amplifiers and speakers in various rooms. The lowest quality speakers used are JBL Control 1 speakers, with better speakers in the dining room and master bedroom.The kitchen uses a commercial wireless speaker system which allows for convenient battery operation for portability, with just enough operation range to be useful elsewhere.

      Oddly enough, the one place where I use cabled distribution is in my garden because it was easy to run a pair of balanced audio cables from the HiFi into the garden. There are XLR audio sockets ( with an HDMI connector for video too ) built into the BBQ area where I can either plug in small speakers for family occasions or a full blown PA system for large parties.

      I would have liked to have used AirPlay, but I haven’t yet discovered any simple and practical way of feeding analogue recordings into an airplay system. My HiFi is the heart of my AV system and whatever I select as a source is heard elsewhere around the house. Using AirPlay would mean that my Mac would have to be the heart of my A/V system, which is an entirely different principle and would preclude many things which I do on a daily basis.

    1. There’s a big difference between bluetooth’s lossy compression scheme and Airplay’s lossless compression scheme. Bluetooth has a limited range. Airplay piggybacks on your wifi network giving it much more range. They are very different audio technologies. Airplay is better. Bluetooth is more convenient and cheaper. I use both but we shouldn’t muddle the issue by saying they are equally mediocre. That is wrong.

      1. Compare to wired?

        But I’ll respect your take on the matter. Here’s the thing, if I have to get Apple sanctioned devices to use Airplay, I won’t. It’s way too limiting.

        BTW, I have a B&W A7 that does not have Bluetooth, but does have Airplay, and I wired an Echo Dot to it. So on that, I use neither.

        1. Wired isn’t convenient. It is the best technically. The ranking would be wired, Airplay, bluetooth. Airplay is very good. I’m willing to trade for the convenience of it because the audio quality can be excellent. Any system can be terrible if you set it up wrong. Bluetooth is bottom of the barrel but okay if you don’t care much about audio quality and let’s be honest many people do not.

          You can get a $2,400 Devialet Phantom speaker that is airplay capable. You can also get receivers that will make any speaker airplay capable. It’s not that limiting.

            1. Double Twist supports Airplay now on Android. A number of other Android apps do also. I just read an article that listed the top ten Airplay apps for Android. There’s probably a lot more than ten. Maybe you don’t have the latest information. The article I read was from 2018.

            2. I can attest that with my B&W at least the Android Apps are absolutely terrible. Even the iPad is far from perfect. It could be B&W implementation however.

              I’ll stick with broad and ubiquitous. That’s AUX and BT for me.

            3. I find it hard to believe that you have tried all the Android airplay apps extensively. Reviews are positive for some of these apps. You are not stuck with Apple on the player side. You can use airplay on android if you want to.

            4. I repeat I have tried several, not all, and they utterly stink. Further, even my iPad Pro has hickups, and I even left room to place the blame on B&W fir the iPad hiccups. It does not make sense, for me, a user of multiple devices to be restricted in how to use a speaker. Whether it’s Doubletwist, which I last tried too long ago to remember, or twhcih device. AUX and BT work with almost anything. For quality I use AUX for convenience BT. Airplay has not proven to be a panacea for me.

            5. I’m pointing out that your statement “But on the player side, the transmitter, I’m stuck with Apple” is not correct. If you are happy with bluetooth go with God and be happy.

            6. But it is true. The only one’s that work well with Airplay, with caveats, out of what I tried are Apple’s own products. You could say it’s “Apple Quality”, but to me, “Apple doesn’t play well with others” and is too narrowly limited in terms of devices.

              Are you really going to argue the ubiquity of BT and AUX vs. Airplay?

            7. You’ve created a strawman now. I didn’t say anything about bluetooth or wired inputs other than exactly what they are. Our responsibility as commenters on a tech site is to provide correct information. Your information is not correct. I understand your experience with airplay on android has not been good but many others have no problems using airplay on android. You wouldn’t want to give readers bad outdated information would you? Airplay works on Android. That is the correct information.

            8. Airplay does not work well on Android. I tried several apps, did you? That is the correct information, granted from a data point of one.

              Airplay does not work perfectly with an iPad either, granted from a data point of one, an possibly due to third party speaker implementation.

              Airplay is proprietary and non-ubiquitous.

              You did not say it, I did.

            9. If airplay isn’t working well from an iPad Pro on your B&W speaker then it’s the speaker or your network not airplay. A data point of one and you feel confident making the statement airplay does not work well on Android? Are you kidding?

              Airplay is proprietary. Correct. Airplay is non-ubiquitous. Correct. Then we have three incorrect statements from you.

              1. Bluetooth and airplay are equally mediocre. Incorrect.
              2. On the player side I’m stuck with Apple. Incorrect.
              3. Airplay does not work well on Android. Incorrect.

              Reasonable intelligent people have to agree on facts please. Your single bad experience with airplay does not allow you to make a blanket statement that airplay does not work well on Android. Airplay works fine for lots of other people on Android. Just not you. Probably because of your speaker.

              BTW, I don’t have to do it myself to watch videos of people using airplay on Android. I can see that it works fine.

            10. I said as much, that it can be a B&W issue.

              The benefit still doesn’t outweigh the lock-in and is still inferior to wired.

              Better yet, remote control the hard wired pc attached to the speaker.

  1. Wireless everything and anything is a PITA and will never be as dependable or fast as hard wired. Still it is a necessary evil, which is great when it works. I’ve never had connectivity issues with things connected by Ethernet, have you? It just makes me furious that Apple has abdicated the router business, which is surely the backbone of all this connectivity. Isn’t it? Perhaps I’m missing something and admit I haven’t used any mesh systems. This seems like an enormously wasted opportunity by Apple to not integrate all their devices with a router, perhaps one built into the Apple TV or HomePod, which just works by easily connecting all the existing Apple devices and future proofs connectivity of future Apple devices that may include smart home devices such as alarm systems, lighting, and even VR/AR devices and others yet to be imagined. If I must buy a third party router, there goes my security. Why should I stick with the Apple ecosystem if I can’t build it on an Apple Foundation? Man, I hope Apple reconsiders this.

  2. Depends on your use.

    If you want a portable speaker for the beach or maybe yard, Bluetooth.

    If you want audio quality, better range, easier control for your entire house then Airplay kicks Bluetooth’s ass, no question.

  3. Sadly, all the wireless stuff has, in a way, degraded home audio down, from the days of “Hi-Fi”. Everything has to be wireless, everything has to be digital. It IS convenient, but NONE of the wireless speakers can produce the sound waves of a nice Cerwin-Vega system, wired to a powerful amp.

    1. I see too many TV shows where the sound ends up several frames out of sync. I would like a simple control on my TV remote to adjust the sync so that by moving a slider, either the sound or picture could be delayed a little so that they really are back in sync. Tweaking up to eight frames either way would solve these issues. Eight frames is a huge amount, about a third of a second, which means that in normal speech, it’s one whole word out.

      Ideally I would like smart sync, where the TV can tell for itself if the moving lips are no longer in sync with the audio, but that would be more of a technical challenge.

      Of course the real solution is for TV distribution people not to screw up the sync in the first place, but as it’s been happening for twenty years or so, I don’t see them ever getting their act together.

    2. I sync a pair of 1More Bluetooth in-ear headphones to a Samsung smart TV, adjust the volume on the TV to my wife’s comfort listening zone, and the headphones to the volume [louder] I want.
      Works great! …I’m happy, wife’s happy.

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