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An Introduction to Wireless Audio For the Home

Music is more portable than ever, with the reliance on physical media seemingly a think of the past. And portable music means more possibilities. One particular area where we can reap the benefit from this is in terms of home audio, where it’s easier than ever to share music with different devices for playback.

Key to this is the huge growth in smartphones and tablets – devices that can stream music from the internet, or play back MP3 files – that can transmit music, podcasts, radio and other audio directly to a receiver attached to your stereo, an audio device designed for the purpose, or to some other form of wireless speaker.

Bluetooth is perhaps the most pervasive way to transmit audio between devices. It’s not only incorporated in many new devices, but it’s also in older laptops and phones, too, while Bluetooth speakers are very reasonably priced.

The downside is that the quality of audio can differ quite drastically, while Bluetooth has traditionally been quite a power drain on a device. However, this is now changing with the more efficient Bluetooth 4.0 standard, and we’re seeing this in more devices such as newer smartphones.

Apple AirPlay

Apple has its own wireless audio standard for transmitting audio between certified devices. Called AirPlay, it works with the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. Only some high-end audio units and speakers have so far been certified, though prices are coming down from the hundreds of pounds that they were.

AirPlay uses your wireless network and integrates directly with the device so, say you’re playing a track on your iPad, you can choose which AirPlay output device you want it to stream to.

AirPlay also works with video and can be used with the Apple TV, so you can use your TV to play back audio and video from your iPhone, for example. Another Apple device that AirPlay works with is the Airport Express, which plugs into the wall and features a 3.5mm audio jack. It’s quite compelling it means as you can add AirPlay functionality to an existing stereo.

Sonos multi-room and more…

Another option is to buy a wireless audio setup for true multi-room audio. The most well-known of these is Sonos, which enables you to wirelessly stream your existing music collection to other Sonos devices in different rooms.

Peripheral manufacturer Logitech also has a decent wireless audio system, known as Squeezebox. Various devices are available that enable you to stream music from a Squeezebox server or from the music available on your Mac or PC.

Depending on the system, these multi-room devices also often incorporate services such as Spotify and Last.fm, enabling you to stream audio directly from the internet. Often you will need to be a paid-for rather than free member of these services to use them with devices like Sonos – for Spotify, for example, you will need to have a Premium account.

Both systems also have smartphone/tablet apps available that you can use to manage your music and wireless music devices.

Whichever solution you choose, you’ll find that you’re able to enjoy an enhanced music experience at home – whichever room you’re in.

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