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Bluetooth vs AirPlay – What are the differences?

We all have mobile devices that we use to listen to our music collections and increasingly we are all wanting to leverage our existing investment in our top quality hifi equipment are an output for these devices. Whether you have a smartphone, tablet or personal media player I bet you’ll agree that the in-built speakers are never good enough for when you want to listen to them without headphones.

Well, if you are an Apple device owner (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch etc) then you have two clear options for wirelessly playing your music through your speakers….. AirPlay or Bluetooth. But what is the difference?

First things, first… What are these two technologies?

Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard that was created by a group of companies back in the 90s and is found in a wide range of electronic devices that includes laptops, mobiles, cameras, printers and increasingly in cars. Bluetooth speakers allow audio to be sent wirelessly over short distances. Basically, it is widely adopted and implemented and many manufacturers use it.

AirPlay, on the other hand, has been developed by Apple and they developed it to enable users to stream digital audio and video content to other AirPlay-supported devices. Apple saw that by developing their own approach, not only could audio be wirelessly sent, but video too, making a much richer experience for the end user.

They are both completely different technologies. For example, unlike Bluetooth, which connects devices directly to each other, AirPlay creates a connection using an existing Wi-Fi network. This is fine for use at home or where an existing Wi-Fi network exists, but on the move it can be an issue.


For Wirelessly Listening To Music, Is One Better Than The Other?

This is down to personal preference, really. There are certainly some pros and cons to each:

Bluetooth devices generally need to be within 10-20m of each other to communicate. As AirPlay uses a local Wi-Fi network, wherever the network goes AirPlay will travel. This is great when considering using multiroom speaker systems etc. You can put the device in your pocket and walk out of the room and not worry about interrupting the music or audio.

AirPlay uses lossless compression for great quality audio. Bluetooth doesn’t. This generally means you get a better audio experience when using your Apple device over AirPlay to your speakers instead of Bluetooth.

Device Control:
AirPlay allows you to directly communication between the iOS device and the AirPlay speaker. This allows you to control things like volume. Bluetooth only lets you control of the original device that your music is streaming from.

Support & Integration:
One big drawback with AirPlay is that it is only supported on devices built to work with Apple AirPlay. Bluetooth is much more widely adopted and therefore on your travels you are more likely to come across speakers and devices that support Bluetooth rather than AirPlay.


Therefore, if you are an Apple device user and want to play your audio using AirPlay, your options are to either buy an AirPlay-compatible speaker (our list of the best currently available is here) or to add an AirPlay receiver to your existing home hi-fi or speaker system (or even your car stereo) using an AirPlay receiver, such as the Neet Airstream.


Check out our list of the best music receivers here.


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