Whether it’s via my iPhone or iPad, one of the primary uses of my iOS devices has been listening to music. Music was Apple’s first foray into the portable world via the iPod, and while lately productivity and gaming get top billing when discussion the use and future of iOS music, whether loaded on the device or streaming, remains a primary function for many end users.
Most listening is done via headphones/earbuds, from the included EarPods to high end over-the-ear headphones costing hundreds. If you’d like to listen to your music via a traditional speaker the default option has been a Bluetooth speaker. There’s a wide range to choose from, in both price and quality. While they can be a fine solution, there is another option with some significant advantages: AirPlay.
Bluetooth speakers (including streaming audio in newer cars) provides reasonably good sound quality and easy connectivity. My phone instantly connects to my car when I start it up; the same with the Philips bluetooth speaker box I use at work. While my non-audiophile ears can’t discern it, the sound played via Bluetooth is compressed. Since iOS devices don’t typically play uncompressed music files, the dual compression may be unpalatable to some listeners. Furthermore, the convenience of instant pairing can be a pain as much as pleasure if you have more than one device you’d like to send music from. Unpairing and paring the new device is doable but hardly elegant, Lastly, Bluetooth has a limited range, optimally about 30 feet (and under some circumstances less than that).
AirPlay has been touted during some of the Apple corporate PR events, but isn’t discussed much beyond that. I’ve used AirPlay with my Apple TV to play video from my iMac that hasn’t been converted into an Apple TV-friendly format or to be able to watch things like Amazon Prime video that aren’t yet part of the Apple TV’s apps, but there’s more to it than just pushing video to the TV. There are some very high quality portable speakers that use AirPlay instead of Bluetooth as the means of wirelessly sending your tunes.
When searching for a portable AirPlay speaker I settled on Libratone. Their products are as visually appealing as they are functional, and the Zipp matched the parameters I needed out of a portable speaker perfectly: good sound quality, portability (backed up by an internal battery), and easy wireless connectivity with any device. The Zipp pairs with your wifi network, providing audio playback the same way the Apple TV does. Swipe up from the bottom of your iOS device’s screen, tap the AirPlay icon, select the Libratone device and you’re done. No pairing, no numerical codes, and none of Bluetooth’s limitations. I use my Libratone as a step up from the iPad’s internal speaker when watching TV shows in the kitchen, and as an extension of my iMac when grilling (controlled by my iPhone). Should I need to take it out of the warm embrace of my home’s wifi there’s no issue as the Zipp’s PlayDirect feature allows you to directly connect your device to the speaker via wifi.
AirPlayuses the AAC lossless codec, so there’s no further degradation of your audio. Wifi has a much better range than Bluetooth and can handle a wall or two between source and destination device, and as mentioned earlier doesn’t require pairing like Bluetooth device do making it much more convenient if you plan on using the speaker with multiple devices.
The Zipp isn’t cheap, but it is comparable to other high end Bluetooth speakers like the Big Jambox from Jawbone (both are $299), but there are quality Bluetooth speakers out there for considerably less. That being said, if you’re in the market for a portable speaker be a smart shopper and know exactly what you need out of the device. You might find like I did that an AirPlay speaker fits you needs much better.