AirPlay support - time to do it properly


Sonos have had a form of AirPlay support for quite some time but frankly it has always been a disappointing kludge even if it got the job done. For those unaware the current and only solution involves buying an Apple AirPort Express WiFi basestation, you then connect the audio output from the AirPort Express to the audio input on a Sonos device. You would then AirPlay stream to the AirPort Express and it outputs to the Sonos.

This of course means spending more money for an AirPort Express or even several but also adds an extra device in the link with the possibility of additional overhead and small audio quality loss. In reality it was 'good enough'.

Unfortunately Apple have just discontinued both the AirPort Express and the AirPort Extreme. (The Extreme could not do this as it does not have an audio output.) No other device has ever offered this functionality. This means that going forwards it will effectively be impossible to use AirPlay audio streaming with Sonos. (I can see the secondhand prices of AirPort Express devices on eBay going up. 🙂 )

Therefore it is time for Sonos to solve this problem properly the way they should have done it in the first place which is to provide built-in support for AirPlay in their systems. Many AV Receivers e.g Denon, Yamaha, etc. have built-in AirPlay support as do other brands of wireless speakers e.g. Bowers & Wilkins. Whilst I believe most if not all of these are doing it by including a hardware chip with official AirPlay support the AirPlay protocol has been reverse engineered and open-sourced and implemented in many software programs purely as software. I believe the original need for the hardware approach was to include support for FairPlay protected music tracks but as iTunes music has not had such protection for many years and there are various legitimate approaches for upgrading your music to remove such FairPlay protection using a software only approach without FairPlay support is a realistic solution. (Obviously AirPlay Mirroring is never going to be possible with Sonos which is an audio only device so the fact you might need to stream FairPlay protected videos is not relevant.)

One could argue Sonos' previous short-sightedness is now coming back to bite them and if they had previously added this AirPlay chip when designing the new(er) Play 3, Play 5, etc. devices then most of their product line would already be compatible. (The older Sonos Connect devices might predate this.)

53 replies

Userlevel 7
Badge +22
Airplay - why would they devote anytime to airplay. Apple doesn't even devote anything to it. If they were to support a new standard it would be something like Google Chromecast Audio which fits much more into the Sonos model of directly fetching audio vs. attempting to stream through a controller. Long post for a dead horse.
Userlevel 7
Badge +21
I literally have zero idea where the need is for this
Apple don't need to devote any time to AirPlay because it already works well and is supported by most other brands. Supporting AirPlay does not in anyway detract from directly fetching audio - this argument by the way was totally spurious as it would equally apply to Google Chromecast.

By the way, Chromecast can already be done in the same way as the now discontinued AirPort Express i.e. via an audio in connection. Sonos also support Google Play directly. Logically Sonos should also consider implementing Chromecast support internally.
I literally have zero idea where the need is for this

Choice is good.

Clearly Sonos did originally feel there was some merit in AirPlay support because they did come up with their current solution.

AirPlay is far more convenient for providing connectivity for visitors, they can AirPlay directly from their iPhone, Mac or even Windows if they have iTunes on it. Think house parties. In the past this would have perhaps been achieved via an iPod dock.
this argument by the way was totally spurious as it would equally apply to Google Chromecast.
Only if the device was mirroring its own audio to the Chromecast. For apps which formally support Chromecast the stream is handed off to the Chromecast device itself, for it to pull directly.

Therein lies the fundamental difference between Chromecast (and Sonos) and Airplay. In the latter case the stream has to traverse the local wireless network multiple times, and is dependent on the mobile. It's an inherently more fragile architecture.

Not for nothing have other manufacturers such as Bose dropped Airplay support.
^^ What ratty said.
"AirPlay already works well". A Google search for AirPlay dropouts will quickly debunk that "alternative fact", lol.
AIrplay wasn't even done properly, as proven by the fact every alternative casting service since Airplay (Chromecast, Spotify Connect) uses the Sonos "stream direct from the source" method instead of the "use 3 times the bandwidth going through the unreliable mobile device" method of Airplay.
Userlevel 2
I'd love to see Airplay implemented into Sonos! However I don't think this will ever happen. Isn't there some kind of royalties to be paid to Apple if a product is marked as Airplay-enabled? This is stopping Sonos IMO. And the fact all Apple users will not use Sonos' controllers anymore if they have the option to just Airplay it from every device.. (even Apple TV)
Sonos obviously doesn't care about whether their controller is used or not, they just spent multiple thousands of man-hours developing Direct Control so that users can use third party apps to control Sonos. Though you are partially right about the other case, Sonos is not big on paying licensing fees; they try to remain device, service, and manufacturer neutral where possible. Also, as stated by the founder and (then) CEO, they consider Airplay, Bluetooth, and any other technology which streams through the device instead of direct from the source to be inferior technology.
So, I just purchased a Play 1, was hoping it would be the first step toward a house wide sonos system. However, I find it mostly useless to only be able to play music from whatever apps happen to be blessed by the Sonos app on a device.

"AirPlay already works well". A Google search for AirPlay dropouts will quickly debunk that "alternative fact", lol.
I've used AirPlay for quite a while across multiple devices, never an issue. So, @chicks, claiming that just by virtue of a google result showing that some people have had issues makes it a bad technology is silly.

I literally have zero idea where the need is for this
I think it is quite clear where the need is - to play content other than that blessed by the Sonos app on a Sonos speaker.

As it stands now, it appears I have to spend a minimum of $400-500 to be able to use the pseudo-solution of connecting an AirPort Express.

I certainly like the concept of being able to stream audio individually to each speaker or combine them, but the restrictions on available content to stream are too much for my use. Looks like I'll have to return the Sonos and keep looking for a better solution of me.
AirPlay requires three times the bandwidth of Sonos, Chromecast, or any other properly designed casting protocol, so yes, it's a piss poor design.
AirPlay requires three times the bandwidth of Sonos, Chromecast, or any other properly designed casting protocol, so yes, it's a piss poor design.

You stated that simply because a google search returns results of people having issues, the technology was a failure. Anecdotal observations one way or another don't equal difinitive evidence. I and all people I know who use it, most of which I aided in setting up have little to no issue with it at all. So, to all of us it is a great technology that enables most any content from a number of devices to be shown on any screen in the office or house. In a business setting, it has been amazing for working with display screens and projectors. Rock solid and easy for any user to take advantage of.

As to your claim of bandwidth usage being another apparent deciding factor in a technology being a total failure, why? What does it matter if bandwidth usage on a local network is higher? How much bandwidth do you suppose a .h264 audio/video stream take on a network? If that's your bottleneck, then why not look at better network equipment?

In my experience on a home network with 4 users, streaming content to a tv has 0 impact on any other network activity. In a business environment we have also had 0 negative impact from AirPlay network usage.
Then you should go find Airplay speakers that do multi-room streaming. Oh wait, there aren't any. Airplay can't do multi-room streaming because it's inferior technology (as we've stared numerous times). Bose even had to redesign their entire multi-room line, dropping Airplay in the process, because they couldn't get it to work reliably. Does being abandoned by a multi-billion dollar audio company suffice as evidence of something not "working well"?
Then you should go find Airplay speakers that do multi-room streaming. Oh wait, there aren't any, because Airplay can't do multi-room streaming because it's inferior technology (as we've stared numerous times). Bose even had to redesign their entire multi-room line, dropping Airplay in the process, because they couldn't get it to work reliably. Does being abandoned by a multi-billion dollar audio company suffice as evidence of something not "working well"?

No, it doesn't.

I get it, you all hate Apple. Whoopie! You can poo poo airplay all you want. The bottom line is it works, it does what it was designed to do. I've setup many scenarios of AirPlay both for homes and offices. We have an AppleTv in multiple rooms, and you can stream different content to each from different users and devices. A multitude of content.

I would love to stream the same content to multiple rooms And have it synced, and that is why I started looking st Sonos. However, you can only stream content from the list of approved sources in the Sonos app, and that's not working for me.

If Sonos included airplay and allowed me to combine devices to a single airplay stream, that would be wonderful. But I get it, airplay is from the evil apple and how dare anyone suggest a company work with apple. Since airplay sucks so much, fine. Come up with something else. I don't really care how it's accomplished. Putting a $200'speaker in each room is doable, having to spend substantially more than that isn't.

How are you currently streaming content other than Apple Music or Spotify to multiple rooms?
Typing this from one of my two iPads. Yeah, I hate Apple, lol.

No problem streaming from any of the 40-odd providers supported by Sonos, not to mention any local NAS or PC, or the thousands of internet stations, multi room, in perfect sync, without the dropouts so common with AirPlay.
Userlevel 2
I also never had problems with AirPlay. @chicks, are you Sonos' lawyer or something? The fact is AirPlay is available on more devices than Sonos will ever sell, so it is a big market. Why not make things compatible with one another? The cost of Sonos speakers is already on the higher end, so paying Apple royalties is not a reason. The products are even sold in Apple stores and advertised to work with Apple Music (you also get 3 months free when you purchase one).
Regarding the services, there are a lot available. The problem is the controller is not that user friendly and convenient to use compared to Apple software. Actually when I think about it, where is YouTube??? The biggest video network (music videos, live recordings, concerts, etc.) is missing.
Well, I'm sure you can understand how from your tone one could draw the conclusion you hate Apple, but fine, you only hate AirPlay. I'm still looking for options and solutions before I bring back this speaker. And I've never experienced a dropout for myself and if anyone Iv'e setup an AirPlay system for has, it hasn't been bothersome enough to mention, including offices that use it for A/V presentations several hours a day at least. Every system will have faults for some and not others, I choose not to consider anecdotal faults to be grounds for declaring the entire system "piss poor design", when I experience an issue, I attempt to find solutions for my scenario as I am here.

I get that the Sonos app has a crap ton of music sources, but that doesn't solve the issues I'm looking for in a wireless whole house audio system. And it's quite possible that what I want doesn't exist yet, wouldn't be the first time I've had to hobble together a multi part solution for what I wanted to accomplish.

So, this may even have been the wrong thread to go on this tangent, other than I believe that AirPlay support would solve exactly what I'm looking to do which is select any single or group of speakers to play any content on my device.

- I'm at my computer and would like to use the Sonos speaker in the room for computer audio
- I'm watching a video on my phone or iPad and would like to use a Sonos speaker for the audio
- I've got my laptop and would like to move around the house and even out to the patio area and be able to have the sound sent to any or all of the speakers involved
Userlevel 2
Badge +1
It's been said before, but Airplay needs to be done right before Sonos should even bother with it. The fact is, streaming from a device is inefficient.
Well, since AirPlay is taking the focus in such a negative connotation for so many, then ignore AirPlay and use something else or create something else.

I have a speaker directly connected to my network, I would not expect such limitations on what devices and content could be played through this speaker.

Whatever the mechanism, I just want to be able to make more use of a speaker than just a glorified radio.
Yes, Sonos has an API for apps to cast to it directly. Spotify uses it, and Google appears to use an earlier version. Pandora may be looking at it, too. Roon just announced Sonos integration. Personally, i greatly prefer the Sonos app, which allows universal searching across all the services I subscribe to, including the NAS, a huge plus that no one else offers, plus the rock solid stability of SonosNet. Also looking forward to Sonos/Alexa integration.

Airplay offers no advantage to me, and IME drops out constantly on a WiFi that has zero issues with HD videos via YouTube and Roku. You may have noticed that Apple has quietly killed off its AirPlay devices. Hint?
Sonos and Alexa would be incredibleI I've got Alexa all over the house with those dots.

I was just trying to play Podcasts from the sonos app and that was an exercise in frustration as it just pulls all local stored podcasts on my phone, so I'd need to go back to using some catching service, but looks like the only one in Sonos is Stitcher, at least that was the only one that looked familiar.

I'll have to look at what other sources might make use of the API.
Userlevel 2
You may have noticed that Apple has quietly killed off its AirPlay devices. Hint?
OK, now I know you have absolutely no clue what you're talking about...
Apple has killed off their Macs? Or perhaps iPhones and iPads? Because when you say AirPlay devices, this is what it means.
Now, if you mean Airport devices, that's a whole other story. Apple calls their routers Airport. And even then I don't follow your logic. An Airport device is not needed to Airplay content. A basic router will do. And as others have said, AirPlay works without problems for many. Now, of course when someone has a problem, he will cry online about it. But all the other millions of people out there using it daily? What about them?
"AirPlay device" is actually Apple's convention for target devices, such as their now obsolete AE. See 4. here: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204289

iPads and iPhones are called iOS devices. Just so you know.
Well the decision to discontinue the AE had 0 to do with AirPlay, as that was nowhere near the primary, secondary, tertiary, or even lower actions of the device. It was just something that "could also" be used in that way. I would say the AppleTV is the primary and arguably only AirPlay device then.

But again, this isn't an Apple Forum, so not sure any of that really matters.

After reading much more, and seeing the outrage at the discontinue of AirPlay on Bose forums, I think there may be other paths here. Linking multiple bluetooth speakers together, while definitely having it's own set of problems, would allow AirPlay to be used in multiple rooms, synced together. Since AirPlay is still my primary method of exporting audio/video from an iOS or MacOS device to an A/V system like my TV or Stereo system.

I started playing with two UE Boom 2 speakers set up in either stereo or double, and there is supposed to be a way of using more than just two speakers, so that might be a little fun adventure to play with.

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