You may have heard of Apple Airplay, but how does it work and why do we love Airplay speakers so much?
What, why and how?
The iPod and its descendants have had a huge effect on the hi-fi industry. From the moment that Apple developed the well known ‘dock’ fitting on the iPod from the third generation onwards, the wider hi-fi industry has worked to accommodate the iPod in a way that no other third party device has ever really enjoyed.
However, the various iPod docks in all their various shapes and sizes have all had one common issue. Physically connecting to the docking station. This meant that you took a device renowned for its interface and put it somewhere you couldn’t interact with it anymore and had to control it with a remote instead.
Surely there had to be a better way than this? Why not send data from the iPod straight to an amp and speakers wirelessly instead? Easier said than done though, as the original iPod wasn’t wireless. Early attempts meant attaching a ghastly additional dongle or connector to your iPod, stealing away its dashing good looks. We all know this isn’t a very ‘Apple’ thing to do, so this eventually led to, you guessed it… AirPlay.
The concept of AirPlay – wireless transmission of material from an Apple device – has (sort of) been around for longer than people think. The first method of wirelessly sending audio from your iTunes library to a supporting device was AirTunes which believe it or not debuted in 2004. AirTunes sent information from your iTunes library to a dedicated Apple receiver that could be connected to your hi-fi. This was pretty revolutionary stuff for 2004 (Where one megapixel camera phones and Playstation 2s were the bees knees), but AirPlay which debuted in 2010 took wireless connectivity to the next level.
First and most importantly, AirPlay covers the use of the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad as devices you can transmit from. Your computer doesn’t need to be powered on to make use of it and you can sit with that rather fabulous interface to hand and control your music with the Apple device itself. Perfect! Secondly, the content that AirPlay can stream from your device has expanded dramatically. As well as your iTunes library, you can stream audio from a huge variety of apps directly to the receiver. You can now also send video as well if the receiving device supports it.
The third improvement is the biggie. While AirTunes made transmitting audio to an existing system easier, AirPlay IS the system. With portable products in particular, we can make an all-in-one speaker system that is the perfect size and shape for modern requirements. Once you have carried out the one-time setup procedure, you can place it completely out of the way. Your iDevice becomes the source of the audio and the point of control for your speaker. What’s more, you can still send audio directly from iTunes on a Mac or PC. With no physical connection required, an AirPlay compatible device is completely independent of any other hardware you might have.
The other big benefit of AirPlay is that it supports more than one device. You can have multiple speaker units (or other AirPlay devices if you want to battle whose music collection is better) and each device will show up as a selectable option when you press the AirPlay icon. This means that your iDevice becomes the central control point for a very effective multi-room system that has no wires and requires no changes to your home. You can then adjust the volume for these devices independently and have different AirPlay sources control different devices. Alternatively, if you want to slide from one room to another dancing Risky Business style, you can select the option to have every device play Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock & Roll at once.
AirPlay realises the ideal of listening to your iDevice while still being able to use and interact with it (and with some Apple games becoming pretty much a worldwide religion, this is more important than ever before). You can send a huge variety of material to an AirPlay receiver and most importantly, the number of Apple devices that natively support AirPlay is huge so there is a good chance you already own one.
This convenience is not at the expense of quality either. When you establish a connection between an AirPlay source and AirPlay speakers, the encoding for the transmission is basically the same as the system used to encode Apple Lossless. The stream is capable of supporting a 44.1kHz (lossless audio) sampling rate. This means that AirPlay is capable of supporting a CD quality signal as well as compressed material.
In case you haven’t worked it out, we’re big fans of AirPlay! It solves the problem of docking your iDevice and at the same time introduces control and playback options that were unthinkable even a few years ago. We’ve carefully designed our products going forward to take full advantage of AirPlay. (don’t worry, we ‘re still looking out for you Apple haters out there too) and we think that the combination of our sonic knowhow and Apple’s carefully worked out brainchild will blow your socks off.