Apple just released new versions of iOS, HomePod, and tvOS that support AirPlay 2, a huge upgrade that lets you play music from your iPhone on multiple devices in multiple rooms. Here’s how it all works.
We’ve been testing this feature out at HTG HQ and we’re really impressed. We were playing music on a HomePod and an Apple TV playing through a TV’s speakers at the same time and everything stayed in perfect sync. The music filled the room perfectly despite playing through two completely different devices at once.
So What’s AirPlay and Why’s Version 2 Better?
Built into your iPhone, iPad, or Mac is the ability to play audio (or video) from the device in your hand to another device that supports it. So if you’re watching a video on your iPhone and you want to play it on your TV, you can use AirPlay to play it on the bigger screen, assuming that you’ve got an Apple TV hooked up. This also works for playing music, you can send music from your iPhone to your TV, HomePod, or AirPlay-compatible speaker.
The problem, for so long, is that you could only stream music to a single device at a time, which was a huge limitation, especially considering that Sonos has had multi-room audio for years, and Alexa added it to their smart speakers recently. So if you wanted to have music everywhere in your house streaming from your iPhone, it was really difficult.
AirPlay 2 adds the ability to stream music from your iPhone to multiple speakers or devices across any number of rooms in your house. As long as everything is hooked to the same Wi-Fi network and supports AirPlay 2, you can stream across the devices. So if you have a HomePod in your kitchen and Apple TVs hooked up in the living room and bedroom, you can play music across all of these rooms at once with just a tap.
What Devices Support AirPlay 2?
This all sounds great, but unless you have compatible hardware, it’s not going to help you much. If you want to stream to multiple devices, here are the devices that actually support AirPlay 2:
- iPhones and iPads on iOS 11.4 (Here’s how to check and update it)
- iTunes on macOS or Windows
- Apple TV – running at least tvOS version 11.4 (Here’s how to check and update it)
- HomePod – running at least HomePod version 11.4 (Here’s how to check and update it)
- Any third-party speaker that has listed support for it. This includes Beats, Beoplay, BeoSound, BeoVision, Bose, Bowers & Wilkins, Denon, Marantz, Naim, Polk, and some Sonos speakers. You can check out the full list of speakers that have announced support on Apple’s site, but you’ll have to check with the manufacturer to make sure.
It’s worth noting that iPhones and iPads can be used as the controller device, not as the speakers. Which makes sense, of course.
How to Play Music Across Multiple Compatible Devices
Playing music across multiple devices, even if they are in multiple rooms, could not be easier. Just pull up Control Center on your iPhone and long-press on the Music control to open it up.
Once you’ve got that open, click on the AirPlay icon to choose your speaker output, and if your devices are all updated with the latest version, you’ll see circles next to the devices that can be selected. You’ll notice in this screenshot that my Apple TV 2 doesn’t have a circle—that’s because I haven’t updated that device to 11.4 yet.
Once you’ve got multiple devices selected, you can adjust the volume levels individually per device. You might have to hit the Play button again, but otherwise, it’s this easy to play audio across multiple rooms.
From iTunes on Your macOS or Windows
You can’t use AirPlay 2 from just anywhere on your Mac to stream to multiple speakers (yet), but you can do it from iTunes really easily, assuming you’re running the very latest version of iTunes—check the App Store to see if there’s an update. If you’re using Windows, make sure you’re on the latest iTunes.
Once you’re sure that you’re using the latest version, just start playing some music and click the AirPlay icon. You can select multiple devices, volume levels, and play music across your Mac, HomePod, Apple TVs, or other compatible devices all at the same time.
How to Enable Stereo Support for Multiple HomePods
If you have more than one HomePod in the same room, you don’t need to manually select both HomePods at the same time every time you want to play some music in the room. AirPlay 2 now supports setting them up as as Stereo Pair, which makes them appear as a single speaker to your iPhone or other output device, and plays the music across both of them.
Even better, when you do set them up, the HomePods will automatically split out the audio into Left and Right and play correctly on the two speakers in stereo mode.
To set this up, open up the Home app on your iPhone, and then long press on your Homepod, select Details, and then you’ll see the settings for the HomePod.
Once you’ve opened up the settings screen, you should see an option for Create Stereo Pair. Tap that and follow through the prompts to select multiple HomePods and put them into a pair. You’ll be also prompted to select which one is right and left, and you can swap them easily.
Once they are paired together as a single speaker, they will appear in your list as a single option and can be used just like any HomePod, but the audio will be synced in stereo mode across them.
AirPlay Usually Requires Your iPhone to Be Present
It’s probably obvious, but it’s worth mentioning that if you’re playing music from your iPhone and using AirPlay to play it everywhere in your house… it’s actually playing off your iPhone. So if your iPhone has a hiccup or needs to restart or you just need to leave the house, the music is going to stop playing. It’s also going to stop playing if you decide to say, open a video game.
The one instance where this isn’t the case is when you’ve used Siri on the HomePod to start playing music—that doesn’t require your iPhone or any other device, as it’s playing directly on the HomePod.