I struggled to find straightforward, up-to-date information about this around the Web, so figured I’d write a quick post in case anyone else out there is attempting to do the same thing.
Basically, I was looking for the cheapest and easiest way to stream audio from Spotify and other applications on my iPhone and iPad to my stereo / home theatre system. The idea was to replicate the functionality of a basic Sonos system without forking out $500 for Sonos equipment.
The simplest solution I found — and one that’s actually surprisingly elegant — is to use an Apple Airport Express, which incorporates Apple’s AirPlay wireless streaming technology. The Airport Express is essentially just a small wireless network router with a 3.5mm audio output jack built in (standard headphone socket size). The new models retail at $99, but I managed to pick up a slightly older one on Craigslist for just $30.
Once you’ve got your hands on an Airport Express, the setup is pretty straightforward. All you need to do is plug the Airport Express into an outlet, and hook it up directly to your powered speakers or audio receiver using a standard audio cable (pictured above). From there, fire up the Spotify application on your iOS 5 Apple device (iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch) and begin playing a song. Then, double tap the home button to reveal the multitasking bar at the bottom of the screen, scroll all the way to to right to reveal the AirPlay icon (pictured left), and tap it to instantly route the sound via the Airport Express and through your speakers. From that point any and all audio output from the device you’re using will stream through your speakers, so you have complete control from the palm of your hand to change tracks and playlists, control volume levels etc.
More than Spotify:
The great thing about this solution is it’s not just the Spotify app that supports AirPlay. It works with the pre-installed Apple Music application, too, but also with the YouTube, Netflix, Pandora, MOG and Hulu apps, amongst others. All you have to do is tap that AirPlay icon from within a supported application and you’re away. You can watch YouTube content on your iPad, for example, while streaming the audio through your stereo equipment with no need for cables. Another great feature is that anyone connected to your network can also send audio to your speakers, making it easy for them to share content, too. You can even password protect access.
AirPlay also supports streaming to multiple devices. As a result, it’s possible to set up different Airport Express-connected speaker sets in different rooms or zones. After tapping the AirPlay icon, you can simply choose where you want the audio to go.
It’s worth noting you can also use an Apple TV instead of an Airport Express to achieve similar results. The devices retail at the same price of $99, but the Apple TV only features an optical digital audio output, as opposed to the standard 3.5mm analogue jack that the Airport Express includes. If you’re just looking for the simplest way to stream audio, therefore, the Airport Express is probably your best bet.
A single-room Sonos setup costs around $500, while the AirPlay method cost me a grand total of $30. It’s fair to say AirPlay probably isn’t as flexible as a full-featured Sonos setup in terms of what it’s possible to achieve, but for my needs AirPlay is more than sufficient. It also has advantages over Sonos, allowing you to stream audio from other apps besides just Sonos-compatible ones such as Spotify, Pandora and Napster. For most users, therefore, the AirPlay solution is probably a much more viable, and affordable option.
*UPDATE: I’ve had a couple of people asking about the equipment in the image above. The desktop amplifier is Dayton DTA-100a, and the unpowered speakers are Energy CB-5s. The image itself is courtesy of Macworld.