Update AirPort Express Base Stations to Add AirPlay 2

Apple may have discontinued its AirPort Wi-Fi base stations, but in a surprise parting gift, the company has released a firmware update to the AirPort Express that gives it AirPlay 2 capabilities like multi-room audio. If you have an AirPort Express connected to speakers through its audio jack, first use AirPort Utility on the Mac or iPhone to update its firmware to version 7.8. Once you do that, you’ll be able to play audio simultaneously through the AirPort Express and to other AirPlay 2–enabled devices, such as the HomePod and Apple TV.

How to Make the Most of Apple’s New AirPlay 2

In June 2017, Apple threw back the curtains on AirPlay 2, saying it would play the same song on multiple speakers (with AirPlay 1, this is possible only in iTunes) or play different songs on different speakers. Subsequently, Apple released the HomePod, promising to add multi-room audio and stereo sound with linked HomePods in the future.

For many years now, Apple’s AirPlay feature has made it possible to stream audio from an iOS device or Mac to an AirPlay-enabled speaker, AirPort Express base station, or most recently, a HomePod. Because AirPlay transfers sound over a Wi-Fi network, it eliminates the need for stereo wires and lets you put your speakers where you want them.

Apple recently released three updates—iOS 11.4, tvOS 11.4, and HomePod 11.4—with an eye toward delivering AirPlay 2 and these promised features. Once you’ve installed these updates, here’s how to start enjoying AirPlay 2’s improvements.

AirPlay 2 in iOS

To take advantage of the multi-room audio capabilities in iOS, start playing some audio. Then open Control Center, press the audio card to expand it, and tap the AirPlay  button in the upper right. You see a list of available output devices; those that support AirPlay 2 have a circle to the right of the name. Tap one or more of those circles to send the audio to that speaker. If an app has its own AirPlay button, you can also tap that to access the same controls.

The iPhone can’t play audio simultaneously with an AirPlay 2 speaker, which is why there’s no circle next to iPhone in the image above. Although AirPlay 1 devices—such as the AirPort Express base station (Speaker Express above)—still work singly, they can’t be included in a multi-room set.

AirPlay 2 in tvOS

Once your Apple TV is running tvOS 11.4, it can become an AirPlay 2 speaker, sending audio through your TV, soundbar, or home theater system. It can also broadcast its own audio to other AirPlay 2 speakers.

To enable an Apple TV for AirPlay 2, go to Settings > AirPlay > Room, and bring your iPhone or iPad close to the Apple TV. Accept the prompt that appears on the iPhone or iPad, and the Apple TV joins other AirPlay 2 devices associated with your Apple ID.

Once it’s set up, you can send audio from the Apple TV to different speakers. In a video app, swipe down from the top of the Siri Remote, select Audio, and then select one or more speakers (not all video apps offer this feature).

For music, the steps are a little different. Start playing some music and then, from the Music app’s Now Playing screen, swipe up and to the left to highlight the AirPlay  button (if no icons are showing at the top of the screen, press the Menu button to display them). Or—this is much easier!—just press and hold the Play/Pause  button on the Siri Remote. Then, as in iOS, select the desired AirPlay 2 speakers with circles to the right of their names by swiping down and clicking the touchpad.

You can also send all Apple TV audio to AirPlay 2 speakers by going to Settings > Video and Audio > Audio Output and selecting the desired speakers.

Other AirPlay 2 Improvements

AirPlay 2 includes a few welcome performance improvements. A larger streaming buffer makes for fewer audio drops, and tighter device syncing provides a faster response when you play or pause the music. Another plus for iOS users is that taking a phone call or playing a game won’t interrupt playback.

Siri works better with streaming audio as well. You can specify which speaker Siri should play through, as in “play David Bowie’s Hunky Dory on Dining Room,” and play the same music through all your speakers with a command like “play the Brandenburg Concertos everywhere.” You can even move audio from one speaker to another—try asking your HomePod to “move the music to the Apple TV.”

AirPlay 2 speakers are now HomeKit accessories, so you can start and stop them in the Home app. That’s about it for now, but we hope a future update will let us integrate audio into HomeKit scenes and automations, so your HomePod could automatically start playing soft jazz when you walk in the door from work.

Finally, although it’s unclear whether this feature is part of AirPlay 2, a pair of HomePods can now act as stereo speakers. Once each HomePod is running 11.4, a new option to pair them appears in the HomePod settings in the Home app. Select the HomePods, assign them to the left and right sides, and you can enjoy true stereo music.

It may sound as though all AirPlay 2-compatible speakers come from Apple, but in fact, a wide range of speaker manufacturers—including names like Bang & Olufsen, Bose, Denon, Marantz, Polk, and Sonos—have committed to supporting AirPlay 2, either with updates to existing products or in new speakers. Look for such products later in 2018, and, in the meantime, we hope you enjoy using AirPlay 2 with HomePods and Apple TVs.

Use AirPlay to Send Audio and Video to Remote Speakers and TVs

In the old days, when you wanted to play audio on a stereo or connect your Mac to a TV, you needed a cable. The details varied over time and with different devices, but one thing remained constant: cables were always a pain!

To eliminate the need for fussy cables, Apple developed a wireless transmission technology called AirPlay. With AirPlay, you can send audio and video from one device to another, making it possible, for instance, to play music from your iPhone on a standalone speaker or put a webcast video from Safari on your Mac onto the big screen in your living room. You can even use AirPlay to mirror your iPad or Mac screen on a large-screen TV.

With AirPlay, it always takes two to tango: a device that sends the audio or video, and another device that receives it. When it comes to receiving audio and video via AirPlay, you have four options:

  • An Apple TV (second-generation or newer) can receive both audio and video and play it on a TV
  • An AirPort Express base station can receive audio and pass it on to a stereo
  • Various manufacturers sell standalone AirPlay-enabled speakers that can play audio
  • The Airfoil Satellite app from Rogue Amoeba turns a Mac, Windows PC, or iOS device into an audio receiver. Airfoil Satellite for Mac or Windows is free with the purchase of Airfoil, which adds AirPlay support to more apps.

How you send audio and video varies by device and what you’re trying to accomplish:

  • In iOS 10, when you’re playing audio or video that you want to send via AirPlay, swipe up from the bottom of the screen to reveal Control Center, swipe left to show the Media pane, and then tap the destination device in the list.
  • On a Mac, to send audio or video from iTunes via AirPlay, click the AirPlay icon to the right of the volume slider in the toolbar, and choose a destination. When you’re playing audio, you can click the + to send audio to multiple destinations at the same time.
  • You can also send certain videos from Safari or QuickTime Player to an Apple TV. Click the AirPlay  icon in the playback controls and then choose your Apple TV.
  • On a Mac, you can send all the audio (from all apps!) to an AirPort Express or AirPlay speaker by clicking (or Option-clicking in older versions of OS X) the Sound   icon in the menu bar and choosing the destination device. You can also choose a destination device in the Output view of the Sound system preference pane.
  • To send audio from any Mac app to an AirPlay speaker without sending your entire system audio there, use Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil.

AirPlay’s last neat trick is that you can use it with an Apple TV to mirror your Mac or iOS device screen (where the same image appears on both screens) or use an AirPlay-connected Apple TV as a separate display to extend your Mac’s desktop. This is a good way to play video on an Apple TV if you need to use an app other than iTunes, Safari, or QuickTime Player. Here’s what you do:

  • In iOS, swipe up from the bottom of the screen to reveal Control Center, and in the leftmost pane, tap the AirPlay Mirroring button and choose your Apple TV.
  • On a Mac, click the AirPlay   icon in the menu bar and choose your Apple TV from the list. Once you’ve selected it, click that menu again to choose whether you mirror your Mac screen to the Apple TV or use the Apple TV as a separate display.

If you have trouble with AirPlay, make sure both devices are on the same Wi-Fi network and that all software has been updated to the latest version. If that isn’t sufficient, restart each device, along with your network router.

AirPlay isn’t perfect, but Apple has been improving it in every new release of iOS and macOS, so if you would like to extend your iPhone’s musical reach or play video from your Mac on your HDTV, give it a try!