The Apple HomePod has been out for a hot minute, and now that the AirPlay 2 firmware update has rolled out, it means that the HomePod is more than just a great-sounding smart speaker. It’s versatile. It can be configured with another HomePod in a stereo pair (here’s how) or a multi-room system. And controlling the entire system is as easy as quick accessing the Control Center on your iPhone or iPad. Or you can just ask Siri. Basically, it’s the easiest and (arguably) the best way to stream music if you have an iOS device.
The other cool thing is that, unlike Sonos, the HomePod plays well with others. It can control or be configured with other speakers throughout your home that support AirPlay 2, meaning if you want multi-room audio but don’t want multiple HomePods, you don’t have to. At the minute, there aren’t too many third-party speakers that support AirPlay 2, but Apple has confirmed that they’re coming. Bang & Olufsen, Bose, Bowers & Wilkins, Marantz, Marshall, Naim and Sonos are just a few of the third-parties rolling out a firmware update with AirPlay 2 support shortly.
For those well-committed to Apple’s ecosystem, there’s still more on the horizon. The AirPlay 2 update isn’t available for Apple TV yet, but we fully expect it to be released in the coming months; and when it is, you’ll be better able to control your TV with your voice. We also expect a “TV mode” update that enables anybody with an Apple TV and multiple HomePods (and other potentially other AirPlay 2-enabled speakers) to configure them in a multi-channel surround sound system, similar what Sonos is able to do with their soundbars. Until then, however, we’ll just have to wait.
Apple is opening up a brand new door for home audio with AirPlay 2. If you an iPhone or iPad, and haven’t yet invested in a home audio system (or you want to start a new one), these are our favorite speakers to get you started. Remember, the HomePod is an excellent smart speaker but it’s limited in terms of connectivity. And if you don’t subscribe to Apple Music, one of the below wireless speakers might be the better option. All the speakers support AirPlay, and those that don’t yet support AirPlay 2 will most likely be updated in the near future.
The Good: The HomePod is the best-sounding smart speaker we’ve ever heard, with the pricer the Google Home Max ($399) and now the Sonos Beam ($399) being its only real competitors. When it comes to music, it’s the smartest smart speaker, too. It can tell you detailed facts about the song playing or the artist and the album, and it’s way more knowledgeable than other speakers — but only if you’re streaming Apple Music. The HomePod is really a personalized extension of your iPhone. It can read back or help you send iMessages. It can call people. And it can control your smart home. Most recently, you can configure two HomePods in a stereo pair.
Watch Out For: You really need to be steeped in Apple’s Ecosystem to get the most out HomePod, and that especially includes being an Apple Music subscriber. The HomePod can’t recognize different voices or multiple users, so whoever’s Apple ID is tied to the HomePod will need to trust those who are interacting with it. (It’s also a good idea to “disable personal requests” on your HomePod, too.)
Drivers: 8; seven individually-amplified horn tweeters and a high-excursion top-firing woofer
Frequency response: N/A
Connectivity: AirPlay 2, Bluetooth 5.0
Weight: 5.5 pounds
The Good: The Sonos Beam is a great-sounding smart speaker and soundbar for your TV, and it seamless syncs your TV with your other Sonos speakers (should you have them).It has Alexa built-in, and if you own an Amazon Fire TV you’ll be able to control your television almost completely with your voice (change channels/apps, adjust volume, turn TV on/off). Since it uses your TV’s HDMI ARC port and it supports CEC, you can still use your TV’s remote to control the volume.
Watch Out For: The Sonos Beam supports AirPlay 2, but it doesn’t have Siri built-in, meaning you’ll have to give Siri voice commands through your iPhone or iPad — it’s nowhere near as seamless as using Alexa. It doesn’t support Dolby Atmos or DTS Virtual:X surround sound technologies.
Drivers: 7; four full-range woofers, one tweeter, three passive radiators
Compatibility: Amazon Alexa, AirPlay 2 (July), Google Assistant (sometime in 2018)
Spec: 6.2 pounds
Naim Mu-so Qb
The Good: Aside from the larger and more expensive Naim Mu-so ($1,200) and Devialet Phantom ($1,690), this Qb is best reference quality hi-fi speaker that supports AirPlay. It supports Bluetooth aptX, Airplay, Spotify Connect and Tidal. And from an aesthetic point-of-view, this speaker is gorgeous. It has arguably the best-feeling volume knob of any speaker — a trait that Naim Audio’s speakers have become known for. Also, the small speaker punches far above its weight class and can deliver 300 watts of shockingly well-defined sound. AirPlay 2 will be rolled out as a software update.
Watch Out For: There’s not much to dislike about the Mu-so Qb, other than it’s expensive and it’s really designed to only work in a multiroom system with Naim’s other expensive speakers. When the AirPlay 2 update rolls out, that’ll change.
Drivers: 7; two dome tweeters, two midrange drivers, a custom-made subwoofer, and two passive bass radiators
Power: 300 watts
Connectivity: Apple AirPLay, Bluetooth (aptX), USB, 3.5mm, digital optical
Weight: 12.3 pounds
The Good: As good as the Devialet Phantom sounds, and it sounds wonderful, listening to the speaker is also a visual and visceral experience. The speaker’s two huge woofers, located on either side, work in perfect symmetry, like a heartbeat, alongside its two other front-facing drivers — the result high-res sound with zero saturation or distortion. It’s an engineering marvel, of sorts, that also is easy to use; you can stream via Bluetooth, Apple Airplay or Spotify Connect. You can also pair multiple Phantoms in a multi-room system, which you can configure using Devialet’s companion app.
Watch Out For: Devialet makes two other speakers that look nearly identical, the Silver Phantom and the Gold Phantom, both of which are more powerful and more expensive — so watch out for that. There’s no volume or playback controls on the speaker, so it has to be controlled by your smartphone. The aesthetic of the Phantom is aggressive and won’t be for everyone.
Drivers: 4; midrange, tweeter and two huge woofers
Frequency Range: 16Hz to 25kHz
Power: 1200 watts (peak)
Connectivity:: Bluetooth, Apple Airplay, Wi-Fi, Spotify Connect
Weight: roughly 25 pounds
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay M3
The Good: The Beoplay M3 is the smallest and most affordable wireless multi-room speaker by B&O Play, and it’s really a more design-focused competitor to Sonos’s Play:1. The main thing the speaker has going for it, other than the way it looks, is you can stream music to it in numerous ways, including Bluetooth and Airplay. (The other Beoplay multi-room speakers — the Beoplay M5 ($599) and Beoplay A9 ($2,699) — also support AirPlay.)
Watch Out For: It’s optimized to play in a multi-room system with other Beoplay speakers via Chromecast, so the initial setup process will have you download both the Beoplay and Google Home apps. The process can be cumbersome. There’s no integrated virtual assistant. For what it is, the speaker feels expensive.
Drivers: 2; 3.75-inch woofer, 3/4-inch tweeter
Frequency Range: 43Hz to 22kHz
Connectivity: Apple AirPlay, Spotify Connect, Bluetooth, Chromecast built-in
Weight: 3.2 pounds
Riva Audio Wand Series
The Good: Riva Audio’s Wand Series of wireless multi-room speakers, consisting of the Arena and the larger Festival, offers numerous connectivity options (Chromcast built-in, Spotify Connect, AirPlay, Bluetooth and aux) sound terrific. They support hi-res streaming (up to 24-bit/192kHz) and are also integrated with ADX’s patented “Trillium” technology, which essentially enables each speaker to play stereo audio thanks to creating by creating its own virtual channels. (This is a feature you can turn off if you don’t like.)
Watch Out For: Fairly expensive. The on-speaker buttons don’t feel as polished as a Sonos speaker. It requires several apps to set the speakers up, which is similar to the Bang & Olufsen’s Beoplay line of wireless streaming speakers.
Drivers: 6; three ADX Trillium drivers and three passive radiators
Frequency Range: n/a
Connectivity: Chromcast built-in, Spotify Connect, Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay, DLNA, aux
Weight: 3 pounds
Drivers: 10; three woofers, three tweeters, four passive radiators
Frequency Range: n/a
Connectivity: Chromcast built-in, wi-fi, Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay, DLNA
Weight: 14.2 pounds