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How to set up multiroom audio with AirPlay speakers and iTunes

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Turning your entire house into one giant speaker is not only possible, but likely already probable. That is, provided all of the speakers in your house are AirPlay enabled. If they are, then it is surprisingly simple to send the audio from your iTunes music library to all of your speakers simultaneously.

To start, you will need to check and see if all of your speakers are truly Airplay enabled. If not, here are some suggestions for different types of AirPlay-enabled audio setups; or if you prefer, how to make your existing audio equipment, no matter how old it is, AirPlay enabled.

Airplay Audio Devices

AirPlay audio equipment

Home theater receivers – More and more home theater components are becoming network devices, which includes adding in support for features like Apple’s AirPlay. A while back I took a look at Denon’s AVR–4311CI and its built-in AirPlay abilities. The advantage of using such a setup is that you can play your music library through some of the best audio equipment and speakers available. Sites like Crutchfield make it easy to search for similar AirPlay enabled component audio products from reputable brands like Yamaha, Marantz, and Denon if you are looking to upgrade.

Dedicated speaker systems – For smaller rooms you may not need something as large or powerful as a component-based audio system. Another way to extend the reach of your music library around your home is to purchase a dedicated standalone speaker system that is AirPlay enabled. While many of these solutions cannot plan any music on their own, they will connect to your home network and can play music from any of your iOS and OS X devices. Apple has a list of such speakers that it recommends in its online store that include Bang & Olufsen, Bowers & Wilkins, Libratone and Bose to name a few.

Mobile speaker systems – Not every corner of your life needs to be wired for sound; sometimes, you need to go wireless. For a truly mobile audio product, what you need to look for is a W-iFi enable speaker that supports AirPlay. The iHome iW1 AirPlay wireless audio speaker is just such a device. And with its rechargeable battery freeing you from being next to an outlet, you can certainly move it around to where you need it most. As with the other solutions, it is important that your AirPlay speakers are all on the same home network.

Apple TV and Airport Express

Non-Airplay equipment

Apple TV – Provided you have an HDMI port, you can use the Apple TV to extend the reach of your music library to your television set. Surprisingly the Apple TV also comes equipped with an optical digital output (sometimes called S/PDIF or TOSLINK) in addition to the HDMI port that you can use to connect the Apple TV directly to your high-end component-based home-theater equipment. This does limit you to some of the more modern and expensive home-theater products. And unfortunately you still need to connect the Apple TV to a display in order to configure and use it.

Airport Express – Not as widely known is the fact that Apple’s Airport Express is more than just a wireless router, it is also an AirPlay enabled device. The advantage it has over the Apple TV is that you can configure the Airport Express remotely without having to attach it to a display. It can also connect to older audio components. With the ability to support both standard audio out as well as optical digital out, the Airport Express can bring your music library to almost any audio component you could possibly have on hand. Just be sure you have the right cable; audio to RCA (separate right and left) or audio to TOSLINK (mini-TOSLINK). You can even use a straight audio to audio connection.  About the only limitation is that the speakers will need to have their own amplifier, be it built-in or external.

iTunes and the iOS Remote

Full house of sound

Desktop iTunes as the source – While it is true that any app on either iOS or OS X that has support for Apple’ AirPlay technology can send their audio output to any one of the afore mentions speakers, it is only Apple’s own iTunes software on the desktop that can output the same audio to multiple AirPlay enabled speakers at the same time. When playing music in iTunes on the desktop you will notice at the top of the menu — where you select which AirPlay enabled speaker system to use — there are two options to choose from; Single and Multiple. Selecting Multiple will allow you to direct your audio output to more than one AirPlay enabled speaker system at a time. This is what will enable you to play the same song in every room, turning your whole house into one giant speaker. There are even separate volume controls for each AirPlay speaker that allow you to balance the sound around the house without having to be in every room.

Sorry, no Bluetooth – Unfortunately the ability to include additional speaker systems stops short when it comes to Bluetooth. While you can pair Bluetooth speakers with any OS X or iOS device and use the Bluetooth speakers as the default sound output for that device, you cannot add that same paired set of Bluetooth speakers to the list of multiple AirPlay enabled speakers. So if you were thinking you could add your Bose SoundLink or your Jawbone Jambox to your whole house speaker system think again.

Third-party limitations – Another limitation to this setup is that you can only use iTunes on the desktop to send the same audio to multiple speakers simultaneously. You will not be able to do this using any of the AirPlay enabled apps on your iOS device as they can only send their audio output to a single set of AirPlay enabled speakers. This is also true for any AirPlay enabled OS X apps you may have like Vox a popular and easy to use iTunes replacement app on OS X. They too are limited to sending their output to just one AirPlay enabled speaker at a time.

iOS remote app – The good news is that you can control the whole setup directly from your iOS device using Apple’s Remote app. With it you can select which music you want to play, independently control each speakers volume, and even control the playback of the audio. To do so you will need to enable Home Sharing on both your desktop version of iTunes and your iOS device using the same Apple ID.

10 Responses to “How to set up multiroom audio with AirPlay speakers and iTunes”

  1. Regarding iOS and playing music on multiple speakers.

    There is an app out there that can do it (without the need for a Mac or PC running).
    It’s called “Multiroom Music/Radio Player by WHAALE for Airplay speakers =

    It’s still a bit limited in terms of music sources (currently local music on the device + UPnP media server + internet radio) but other (streaming) sources will come…

  2. surfmike

    You wrote:
    “There are even separate volume controls for each AirPlay speaker that allow you to balance the sound around the house without having to be in every room.”

    “With the ability to support both standard audio out as well as optical digital out, the Airport Express can bring your music library to almost any audio component you could possibly have on hand.”

    What if you use optical digital out to a DAC, can you still control the volume the same way as if you used 3,5mm audio out?

  3. I had problems streaming to two different airplay speakers using Airfoil, the speakers got out of sync after 15 minutes or so and meant having to disconnect and reconnect manually – a real pain. Airfoil support were very helpful but my problem remains. I heard about an alternative to Airfoil called Tuneblade, took a chance with it and hey presto no more sync problems. The audio quality is not as good as Airfoil but they are working on it.

  4. Pixelperch

    You can direct sound from any app on your iOS device to multiple airplay speakers by running both Airserver and Airfoil on your PC. (Airserver is the conection to your IOS device and Airfoil redirects that conection to multiple airplay speakers.

  5. FarmerBob

    The ability to stream to multiple devices can easily be seen when you access the AirPlay icon. that’s not news. What was missed was the lack of audio quality and fact that things will often not sync and it will not play the audio out of all devices at the same second. That’s why I am hardwired throughout the house. Far better AQ and no sync issues.

  6. Michael Camilleri

    When you say “it is only Apple’s own iTunes software on the desktop that can output the same audio to multiple AirPlay enabled speakers at the same time.”, this is simply not true. I am an avid Airfoil user too and it does exactly that: takes desktop system audio (or even more intelligently audio on an application basis, say just Spotify) and distributes it to one, a selection or all Airplay devices. It also enables you (free) to turn any iPhone into WiFi headphones to your system, which I find just brilliant. Check facts first please.

    • Point taken on the use of absolutes.

      The context within which I was referring to on OS X was for music library apps like iTunes and Vox, or through the system preferences when playing back music from WinAmp , Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, Amazon Cloud Player or Google Play. The usual places people playing music would look.

      Even Apple’s own iOS apps do not support playback to multiple AirPlay speakers simutaneously as their OS X version of iTunes does. Without the aid of audio utilities like AirFoil, this is still one unique feature that iTunes on OS X has out of the box that some of the other music playback apps on both iOS and OS X do not.

  7. iTunes is a good start, to get everything setup, but you’ll soon tire of its limitations. I second the plug for Airfoil ($25). Airfoil also has a remote app ($5) that can control a number of third-party music apps. If you want to listen to other sources, like Pandora, Airfoil is the way to go.