Blog Post

AirPhones: The True Potential of AirTunes on Your iPhone


I like my Airport Express with AirTunes. I use it to connect my home theater set-up to my iTunes (s aapl) library, and more frequently, for listening to Internet radio via iTunes. But it’s always bothered me that I couldn’t use it to listen to audio from any other source beyond iTunes. I don’t know about you, but the majority of my video collection is in non-iTunes-compliant format, and so when I’m watching movies, I have to run a super long mini-stereo capable from my Mac to my stereo to get the sound working.

Overnight, a solution appeared via my iPhone (and iPod touch) in the App Store. It’s called AirPhones ($6.99, App Store), and it’s an app that lets you stream any audio directly from your Mac to your iPhone or iPod touch. Or, at least it claims that you’ll be able to hear any audio. I found out that wasn’t exactly the case, but more on that later. Let’s just say that it definitely lets you hear more audio than your iTunes-connected Airport Express.

apmainThe iPhone app that makes up half of the AirPhones setup is not much in and of itself. Basically, all you see is a volume slider on a blue background with the AirPhones icon above it. It will display warning messages if you’re not connected, instructing you how to connect, but if it is working, it won’t tell you anything. On the computer side (which currently has to be an Intel Mac), you’ll need to download and run AirPhones Server, from which you will activate the audio streaming.

Setting up AirPhones was not at all difficult, and I actually like the server app, which takes up very few system resources, and hides itself well as a menu bar item (dock icon can be turned on, but there’s really no need). From the preferences window, you just turn on the server and it will automatically detect and connect with any devices on your local wireless network running the AirPhones app.

picture-112Once they’re connected, your Mac’s volume is muted, and instead any sound is played via your iPhone’s speaker or connected headphones/speakers. At least that’s the case with audio from most sources. iTunes, Quicktime, and Firefox all played nice, but popular media player VLC did not, with sound playing from the Macbook’s speakers despite the connection being up and running between AirPhones Server and the app on my iPhone.

If you try using this in conjunction with AirTunes, you’ll notice there is a slight delay when it comes to the sound delivered to your iPhone or iPod touch, which means it’ll have to be an either/or solution when it comes to playing music. Likewise, the video is ever so slightly out of sync with the audio with AirPhones. I still found it very tolerable, because the lag is minimal, but some perfectionists might take issue. Hopefully future updates will correct this minor latency.

Overall, it’s a handy solution, especially if you’ve got mulitiple iPhones and iPod touches lying around the house. They could easily become the basis for a wireless set-up that Sonos would charge you an arm and a leg for, and you’ll definitely hear it when you have a call coming in, to boot. And while $7 is a little steep for an iPhone app, once you have it, you can put it on as many devices as you want, so you can go ahead and recruit the whole family’s devices for the cause.

23 Responses to “AirPhones: The True Potential of AirTunes on Your iPhone”

  1. I second a request for interfacing the iPhone/iTouch with Airtunes. My Airport Express is hooked up to a good DAC and such an app would be pretty sweet for getting quality audio off these Wifi devices. True, the iTunes remote app does kind of the same thing since if I’m home with my iPhone and Airport Express, my Mac with full iTunes library is probably around as well, but it’d be nice when having similarly equipped friends over, and vice versa. This probably hasn’t been done for the same reason that getting songs off iPods is intentionally made difficult.

  2. AirPhones user here, I want to say that I highly recommend it.

    It may cut out, but try adjusting volume. Lower volume on the phone or iPod and higher on the desktop will run it slightly better.

  3. AirFoil is something I’ve used in the past – one thing I noticed though is that the audio often didn’t sync well with whatever video I was playing on my Mac. Can anyone tell me if they’ve seen this problem with AirFoil? Also, does AirPhones work better?

  4. I find its cutting out all the time. Mostly when I am on the lock screen when its running the app cuts out the worst. App needs a lot of fixing before its good. Especially for that price.

  5. Albatross

    Hi great app I love it. I’ve noticed a slight sync problem with audio/video. Is there something you can do about it in future updates? Do you think to implement remote controls like Appe Remote?
    Btw do you have a mail address to write in to get support?
    If you want to contact me to get feedback write to securealbatross(at)gmail(dot)com

  6. bloodriver


    I really love the app, it does get a little staticy at times though. Love to be able to play wow on my iMac without having to be tangled in cords or blasting my roommates with sound. Thanks man!

  7. Hi, I’m the producer of AirPhones. Airfoil is cool, I have it myself, it serves a different purpose. The point of AirPhones is to allow you to watch DVDs or any audio with headphones from across the room. Great if you want to watch a movie in bed while someone is sleeping. It’s also great for watching TV from your computer and keep up with the audio if you grab a snack in the next room. I’ve found that you don’t need all the visual information, so long as you have the audio. Anyway, hope you dig it.

  8. Airfoil is great, but it requires you to have an Aiport Express or second computer hooked up to the sound system. I think the potential with AirPhones is that the iPhone/Touch is replacing the need for a $100 Airport Express. I think it has a lot of potential for a lot of people. I’m also looking forward to the iPhone/Touch app from Rogue Ameoba you mentioned, Brad. Hopefully the competition will get the two apps into a feature/price war.

  9. Interesting, when I saw the headline I was hoping that this app would stream audio FROM my iphone TO my airport express. I think that would be way more useful. Why would I want to listen to music from my laptop on the tinny (mono) iPhone speaker?


    P.S. also a huge fan of airfoil..

    • DemminJaanu

      [[Why would I want to listen to music from my laptop on the tinny (mono) iPhone speaker?] Ethan, 2/20/2009]

      actually, having a little iPhone dock next to your stereo (with it’s built-in 1/8″ plug) allows you to play on a big stereo – so your iPhone acts like a wireless audio reciever for your PreAmp.

  10. What about Airfoil for your Mac? As well as Airspeakers for on other Macs/PCs to act like AirTunes units. I use it rather religiously to port my audio from ANY application on my Mac to another place.

    In addition, it comes with a special video player that uses the Perian codec and it delays the video feed to sync with the audio feed.