Speaker & Amplifier Choices for AirPlay

By | June 24, 2014

When I first started using AirPlay audio, it was with Bose Acoustimass speakers & a subwoofer for each of two AirPlay zones combined with an AirPort Express as the audio-input into the speakers. When the AirPlay receiver is reliable the Bose setup works well. And there is the added benefit of having the subwoofer with the amp built-in.

However, I didn’t have enough pairs of speakers to have music every place I wanted it, so I was either playing music very loud to hear it in another part of the house or outside… or moving the setup around to wherever I needed it, which is a pain. And the only reason I was using the Bose speakers is because I received them for free – I had no interest in buying more Bose speakers to enable rooms in the quest for my whole-house AirPlay audio setup.

I’ve already determined that AirPlay + AirportExpressWiFi + iPhoneWifi = Crappy Audio Quality so I wasn’t interested in WiFi Speakers with AirPlay built-in (Wirecutter review). And I wasn’t interested in switching to a BlueTooth speaker setup, so that left me to pin down what I didn’t like about my current setup.

One AirPlay zone example setup consists of:

  1. A Bose Acoustimas Subwoofer and two satellite speakers.
  2. An AirEnabler Kit, USB Audio Dongle, and USB power adaptor.
  3. Hard-wired network connection
  4. 3.5mm to RCA Stereo cable


  1. “Dumb” analog controls. Manual dial to set the balance and volume levels that persist when the unit is powered off and on. This makes it easy for the iPhone to be the master volume control.
  2. Reasonable sound. The amp is built in to the subwoofer. Bookshelf speakers can often sound like crap. But this setup sounds good – good enough to be cranked up and fill the back-yard with sound without sounding distorted.


  1. The system is not designed to be portable, so it is heavy and takes up more space than I want for ‘simple speakers’.
  2. Not very wife-friendly. Because the system gets moved around the AirPlay player ends up with a name like ‘Rover’ which isn’t very descriptive of where the unit is set up at any given point.
  3. Requires a rats-nest of cables and a power-strip to get working.
    • Power to the speakers/amp
    • Power to the AirEnabler AirPlay receiver (via Apple USB power adaptor since Amazon reviews say the included power adaptors are garbage.)
    • 3.5mm to RCA Stereo cable
    • USB Audio dongle on AirEnabler

The setup works reliably. It doesn’t require being rebooted every other day (like the Raspberry PI setup) and doesn’t inexplicably loose its ability to play audio (like the Airport Express occasionally does.)

Next up: Taking the best of this setup and connecting it up to permanently installed ceiling speakers and a dedicated amp.

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