AirPlay lets Apple users stream audio and video, plus mirror their device’s screen, on another device. The technology is built into the iPhone, iPad, MacBook, and Apple TV. It’s the easiest way to cast audio or video from your iPhone to Apple TV (or the Apple HomePod if you’ve got one).
But those are limited options. What if you don’t have an Apple TV? Or you want to mirror your iOS device’s screen to your PC? Buying a $149 Apple TV or a $349 HomePod just for this is quite an expensive solution.
You don’t need to spend as much. You can get the same functionality for free using software, an old laptop, or a $40 dongle.
The Anewish Wireless WiFi Audio Receiver is like a Chromecast Audio on steroids. It’s a little dongle that you can plug into your existing speaker system to instantly convert it into an AirPlay speaker. And because it works over Wi-Fi and not Bluetooth, the audio is uncompressed, there’s no lag, and you can play music over AirPlay. This means there’s no setup required on any of your devices.
The dongle sits between your speakers and your iOS device. Connect the auxiliary port from your speakers to the Anewish receiver, power it up using micro-USB, and turn on the speakers.
Using the built-in WPS feature, you can even connect the receiver to your Wi-Fi network directly. This means it can keep playing audio from online services like Pandora even if your phone is off (you can use controls on your speakers to control playback for online services).
If you install the companion AudioCast app, you can hook up multiple receivers together and create a synced multi-room audio setup. You can use the app to stream from services like Pandora or Spotify on all your speakers. There’s also support for DLNA and UPnP streaming.
AirFoil is a specialized software for streaming audio from your Mac or PC to any kind of device that you can imagine. It’s an easy way to stream music from your Mac or PC to Bluetooth speakers, Chromecast, Apple TV, or even the HomePod.
The app uses some secret sauce to give you lag-free multi-room audio, even if you’re using a combination of AirPlay and Bluetooth speakers. There’s a bit of a delay when you start playing something. But once the stream syncs up, you’ll get seamless audio on all the devices.
AirFoil solves the compatibility issue of high-quality wireless audio streaming, and takes the confusion and guessing out of the equation. Just put AirFoil between the source and output, and forget about looking for a specialized solution for every scenario. Using AirFoil on your Mac, you even can stream audio from an unsupported Spotify app to your Chromecast.
With the free AirFoil Satellite app, you can turn your iPhone or iPad into an audio receiver. This way you can stream audio from your Windows PC or a Mac to your iPad. You can give AirFoil a try for free; a license costs $29 for Mac or $39 for a Mac and PC bundle.
Download: AirFoil (Free trial, $29)
While AirFlow specializes in audio, AirServer’s specialty is video. Specifically, high-quality, lag-free screen mirroring across platforms using AirPlay, Google Cast, and Miracast. This is a great solution if you want to turn your old Mac or PC into a universal receiver. AirServer is especially helpful in a work setting where you might have to deal with a variety of sources like iOS, Android, and Windows.
Once you install and set up the AirServer app on your Mac or PC, it acts like any other AirPlay receiver. Connect your Mac or PC to a TV, make sure all devices are on the same network, select the AirPlay option from the Control Center, and you’ve got a high-quality, local stream.
Download: AirServer (Free trial, $20)
4. Make Your Own Raspberry Pi AirPlay Receiver
The Raspberry Pi is a versatile credit-card sized computer whose uses are only limited by your imagination. One common use case for a Raspberry Pi is to build a media center. You can install the ever-popular Kodi on Raspberry Pi, enable the AirPlay receiver setting, and call it a day.
There’s one downside though. If you’re using iOS 9 or newer, you can only stream audio using AirPlay (there’s no support for video or screen mirroring).
Once your Kodi setup is up and running on your Raspberry Pi (or any computer), go to Settings > Service Settings > General > Zeroconf and enable the Announce Services to other Systems option.
Now go to the AirPlay tab and select Enable AirPlay Support. Your computer is now an AirPlay receiver!
A Kodi installation can be quite heavy, however. If you want to create a lightweight solution using something like the new Pi Zero, you can do that as well.
You’ll need to manually set it up though. All it takes is entering some commands. The following video shows you how:
AirPlay Receivers vs. Bluetooth Speakers
Have you asked yourself if you even need AirPlay? After all, AirPlay is a proprietary technology and any supported hardware is going to cost a lot more than just a pair of standardized Bluetooth speakers.
AirPlay makes sense if you’re all-in on the Apple ecosystem. But it’s not the only way to cast audio and video to another device wirelessly.
In the past few years, Bluetooth has come a long way. Bluetooth 5.0 supports multiple outputs, has a range of up to 1,000 feet, and supports Low Energy protocols. It’s a good time to ask if AirPlay or Bluetooth is best for you.
And if you’re looking for a receiver for your home theater setup, look at our recommendation along with other affordable components: