Why I Chose Airplay Over Sonos

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by Amadeo, Jan 6, 2014.

  1. Amadeo, Jan 6, 2014
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2014

    Amadeo macrumors member

    Jul 11, 2008
    I'm admittedly not sure if I'd call it an investment so much as blind loyalty, but per my request I received two Pioneer A1 speakers for Christmas. I had been debating — for weeks — whether I wanted to invest in building out an Airplay or Sonos system.

    I'm not sure if any of you have encountered this same dilemma, but my decision to go with Airplay more or less boiled down to these factors:

    - I'd consider myself an Apple-faithful. Probably to a fault. So, I'm big into native Apple integration whenever possible, and Airplay offers me that. Especially as someone who uses commercial-free iTunes Radio instead of Spotify and Pandora, and as such is an iTunes Match and iTunes desktop user. Not to mention, Sonos would have meant yet another place to manage/access my music, when I prefer to have everything stemming from one centralized place.

    - The cost of building a Sonos system is at least twice the cost of building an Airplay one if you use Pioneer's A1, A3, & A4 lineup. Compare Sonos' Play:1 at $200, to Pioneer's A1 at $100. Or the Play:5 at $400 to the A4 at $200. And I hate when folks cite Sonos' Airplay support via Airport Express, as if it wouldn't cost an additional $100 per speaker. Not to mention the clutter of extra cables lying around.

    - Despite what it looks like on the surface, Airplay is actually rather flexible in comparison to Sonos. Sonos is for music and music only. And that’s great if that’s all you desire; then it’s undoubtedly the superior option. But Airplay provides me with the flexibility to stream anything to a speaker. Whether that be music, a TED Talk, a podcast, a TV show or movie, etc. The fact that Airplay is leveraged by so many app developers, and isn't exclusive to any one app, is a big plus for me. And despite what people say about Airplay being locked to a singular iDevice, it's free from those restrictions if you stream from a computer running iTunes. I tend to do that to mimic Sonos' coveted multi-room audio experience, controlling things using the Remote app on my iPhone/iPad.

    All that said, I won't pretend it's been unicorns and rainbows thus far. I started encountering some of the problems I read about, as well as some new ones. Airplay is admittedly a bit unreliable. The audio does occasionally pop in and out, which is especially prevalent when I use a video app and stream the audio to a speaker. More often then not, it eventually decouples itself and stops streaming the audio altogether. And in my experience, I've had the speakers not only disconnect from iTunes (desktop), but go so far as to entirely disconnect from the wireless network.

    Although it isn't ideal, the audio popping out every once in a while is an annoyance, but it doesn't kill me. It's the video/audio and the disappearance from iTunes and/or the wireless network that drives me mad. From what I've gathered, however, Airplay is subject to your network's bandwidth. So, in theory, a router with big throughput (i.e. AirPort Extreme) should be able to handle it better. But that may be wishful thinking.

    In a sense, on top of all the above reasons, I suppose I did choose Airplay as an investment. An investment in the idea that Apple will improve its features and reliability over time. Is that foolishly optimistic thinking of me? I’m starting to think it might be since they don’t make the supporting hardware (outside of Apple TV). What do you think about Airplay’s future? And have you ever been faced with this decision?
  2. xMacMusox macrumors newbie


    Nov 28, 2010
    Kansas City
    I've been a avid user of airplay since its inception, was a Apple TV 2nd gen early adopter and use airport express, and a denon avr to achieve my whole home audio, I've looked at the sonos stuff, seems overpriced for sure, esp since Im in the market for a sound bar for a living room tv and their offering is steeply priced with no sub> And with Airfoil you can even make use of an old iPod touch and a sound dock (i have a four/ five year old bose dock) and have a portable airplay station. I have had minor glitches and skips, and less now sense I upgraded to newest airport extreme. Im sticking with airplay, drank the cool aid long ago:apple::D
  3. MiesVanDerRobot macrumors member

    Aug 28, 2012
    It's not necessarily an either/or proposition. I made a Sonos Soundbar and an AppleTV the core of my system. The Apple TV lets me Airplay anything I like to the TV and/or sound system, and the Sonos system gives me listening zones and an iPad app that integrates all my music sources in one place.

    They're a potent combination.

    I'll grant that the Sonos stuff is pricy, but the sound quality is good and the user experience is well executed. And if you use an Apple TV as your hub, it's not an extra "$100 per speaker", it's just the one-time cost of the AppleTV.
  4. Dunk the Lunk macrumors regular

    Oct 27, 2007
    Just wondering if you've have any idea what wifi protocol (i.e. a/b/g/n/ac) the Pioneer speakers use? I've been thinking about investing in an AirPlay or Sonos system for while but I'm finding it hard to find out what protocol various Airplay speakers use. All my mac devices are AC, while my iPhone is N - I don't want speakers throttling my system, which I presume is the problem you're having?
    This seems to be the major advantage of Sonos as they're on a different network.
  5. Cartaphilus macrumors 6502a

    Dec 24, 2007
    As a satisfied user of multiple Airport Expresses and Apple TVs served by an Airport Extreme and feeding independent component systems throughout the house, my experience would support the OP's reasoning. I upgraded the speed of my Internet connection, and that resolved the cutout issues I'd also encountered.

    I did want to mention one aspect of the system that I thought worth passing on: in the kitchen I had overhead speakers installed in the ceiling which we often feed and control with an iOS device. The amplifier and Airport Express are stored in a storage cabinet in the adjacent laundry room, and the speaker wires run through the ceiling. Instead of leaving the amplifier on all the time, or having to turn it on manually, we use a Parasound Zamp v.3 which detects a signal arriving from the Airport Express and turns itself on. I imagine there are other amplifiers with this feature as well, but the Parasound (two-channel) is all solid state, compact, and delivers excellent sound quality. In other rooms the amplifiers can be turned on with a remote control, but where there is no line of sight to the amplifier from the space served by the speakers, a signal-detect amp can be very convenient.
  6. takeshi74 macrumors 601

    Feb 9, 2011
    I really didn't need the features that Sonos offered and didn't want to have to use their speakers and equipment. I have an AppleTV, receiver and speakers in one room. Another room has a Klipsch airplay speaker. Another room has our home theater and the Denon receiver has airplay built in. Airplay just better served my needs and preferences and budget.
  7. MagnusVonMagnum macrumors 601


    Jun 18, 2007
    I looked at Sonos like 6 years ago and went with 1st Gen ATV and Airport Express. The flexibility of being able to to do video in addition to music was a great boon and at the time and I think it was cheaper even then than Sonos. The newer ATV2 and 3 are way cheaper than the 1st Gen ATV was so it makes even more sense now. I don't find iTunes to be a limitation for music. Video is irritating with no AVI and MKV support, but I have ATV hacked for XBMC for that. The iPod "Remote" was a big factor early on, but I Think Sonos has its own App for that now (didn't then).
  8. dgalvan123 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 16, 2008
    Been talking about this dilemma with a buddy of mine. He has decided to move in the SONOS direction, having now purchased a pricey "Playbar". I'm leaning toward Airplay.

    I am not convinced that the benefits of SONOS are worth the extra price. But I'm still on the fence as I haven't "bought in" to either yet. At least not on the audio front.

    The only real benefits I see for Sonos are:

    1. The ability to play different music on different speakers at the same time, from the same source. With Airplay from iTunes on a computer, you can play the same music to multiple speakers at the same time, but not different music to different speakers. Still, you can essentially replicate this by having multiple sources: an iPhone drives an airplay speaker in one room, a mac drives airplay speakers elsewhere.

    So I don't see this as a significant benefit. And I'm not even sure how often I would want multiple different music titles playing at the same time in the same house from the same source. When my kids become moody teenagers, they'll probably just have their own airplay speakers in their rooms, which they'll drive from their own idevices.

    2. Being on a separate network. This means less data sloshing around on my main home network. I'm already using my network to send high-def video from my mac to my two AppleTVs (though I used wired ethernet for that, still it's all going through the same router). And I could imagine that air played music could get interrupted or choppy when other network traffic is high. Not a problem for SONOS, as it's basically using a parallel wifi network just for itself. Still, not sure that added reliability is worth the extra cost.

    I'm not in a huge rush to buy in, either way, but right now I'm leaning toward the Pioneer A4 for my great room, and the A3 for outside (it claims to be water resistant).
  9. Amadeo thread starter macrumors member

    Jul 11, 2008
    Well, that's assuming all you use is Apple TV. My point is that I use Airplay speakers sprinkled throughout my apartment in addition to my Apple TV. For all the Sonos speakers that aren't hooked up to your Apple TV, which I'd imagine would be most of them, you'd be spending $100 each to make them "Airplay compatible".

    It took me a while to figure out just exactly what the wifi protocol was on the Pioneer speakers as well, because I was curious as well. I'm sad to say that it's B & G only, at 2.4GHz. Not even the option for 5GHz. So, a bit disappointing in that sense, because you can't switch to the less crowded 5GHz frequency.

    This is precisely one of the reasons I rarely ever cared about that feature, despite Sonos using it as a major selling point. I rarely, if ever, would want to play different songs in different rooms. If anything, having the same song playing throughout the house, so I can walk throughout my home without missing a beat, is what I'd want. I don't have any kids, but exactly what you said is probably going to be the case for most homes anyway. They'll have their own music libraries, and their own speakers in their rooms.

    And for the record, I came home this evening and started streaming iTunes Radio from my iMac to my Pioneer speakers in the kitchen and bathroom, and it's been working flawlessly; despite a snafu this morning when the bathroom speaker wouldn't connect. Like I said, when it works, it's amazing.
  10. Amadeo, Jan 6, 2014
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2014

    Amadeo thread starter macrumors member

    Jul 11, 2008
    And I spoke too soon...for absolutely no reason whatsoever (all I'm doing is streaming music), the Pioneer speakers entirely disconnected from the network... :mad:

    I've got to be honest...this is a developing situation. It's disconnected twice today, when you include this morning's situation. Best Buy's extended holiday return period is still available for me...I love Apple and the potential of Airplay. But I've had to troubleshoot my speakers so many times since getting them because of Airplay connectivity issues...
  11. notjustjay macrumors 603


    Sep 19, 2003
    Canada, eh?
    And I think that right there is another of Sonos's strengths. It, like Apple, "just works". There's no geekery involved (well, it's there if you want it, but it's not needed). Installing Sonos is as easy as plugging in a unit and pressing two buttons on another unit to register them together. Since they create their own network you don't even need to worry about that. And in the years that I've had mine plugged in 24/7, I have never seen it crap out or disconnect.

    Posters above mentioned the ability to play different music in different areas of the house -- this is definitely a Sonos strength, but the other major one is the ability to have 100% perfectly synchronized music all across the house too. I know you can do this with AirPlay but I have not tried it -- in my house, playing music from my phone to my Apple TV seems glitchy enough as it is without adding more devices into the mix. I'm sure it has something to do with network congestion in my area -- again, an issue that Sonos simplifies by using its own mesh network.

    Is it worth paying extra for Sonos? Obviously that depends on the user. By the way, Sonos Play:1's are pretty inexpensive and sound pretty good for their size. I think Sonos engineered the little guys as a gateway drug into their ecosystem...
  12. coops macrumors regular

    Sep 10, 2009
    I'm trying to figure out how old my simple Sonos system is... 5 years at least, I think.
    One box connected to the apple Time Capsule, where I store all my music - some mp3, but mostly FLAC.
    As noted this box then generates its own network mesh down to the living room 'box' which connects to my audio system - previously a Kef setup, now Bose. My downstairs box is therefore just the receiver version and you can use any audio equipment you like...

    For other rooms you could use a similair box and amp and speakers etc, or a Sonos speaker set etc, up to you.

    Very easy to setup and just as easy to add 'remotes' to the system - whether the Sonos remote or your ipad or iPhone, the ipad remote app is excellent.

    Never had an issue at all with the system, and the audio stream has never dropped out etc. (the original Sonos remote I had with the click wheel did have its battery eventually weaken and that's when the free ipad remote app gave me the perfect excuse to buy an ipad2 at that time).
  13. saintforlife macrumors 65816

    Feb 25, 2011
    Just curious...what kind of internet speeds are you getting now after the upgrade?


    I can't tell you how timely your post is. I had seriously begun researching this very topic over the past couple of days and I wasn't sure which way go - Airplay or Sonos. But I think you helped make my decision easier.

    I know you are using Pioneer speakers for your Airplay speakers. Just wondering if you have had any experience with the Bose Soundlink system?
  14. Amadeo thread starter macrumors member

    Jul 11, 2008
    I don't have any experience with Bose Soundlink, but don't let my testimony sway your decision. Airplay is certainly cheaper, but this evening's experience, is making me re-think the whole investment. I'm not eager to spend TWICE the amount spent on my Pioneer speakers, but the network disconnections are driving me up the wall...I'm just really going to hate losing native Apple software support if I jump ship to Sonos :(
  15. Diatribe macrumors 601


    Jan 8, 2004
    Back in the motherland
    I have been mulling over this for a while using Airplay currently. My two issues are that one, I need a computer to be on since there is no iTunes server software for a NAS and second, the audio dropouts are getting on my nerves a bit. Does anyone have a new a/c router and can tell whether it gets better with more bandwidth?
  16. MiesVanDerRobot macrumors member

    Aug 28, 2012
    Mostly right. What I'm limited by is that I have only one simultaneous Airplay "input" to the Sonos system. I can't Airplay from the iPad and watch Netflix on AppleTV at the same time, or Airplay my laptop to the living room while someone else Airplays Spotify in the bedroom. What I *can* still do is Airplay via the AppleTV to the soundbar and use the Sonos app to stream something else to other speakers.

    Ultimately, the cost is $100 per Airplay input, not per speaker. The speakers are all on the Sonos net...you just need a way to bridge the Airplay input into that net. If in the future I want more input, as I understand the Sonos system I should be able to just add one Airport Express and have two Airplay access points instead of one. I can then stream that signal wherever I like in the system, not just to the unit it's connected to.

    That doesn't make the speakers themselves any cheaper, but it does make the cost of scaling the system up less terrifying. :D
  17. Amadeo thread starter macrumors member

    Jul 11, 2008
    Holy ****...you're a genius! I didn't even think of it that way. It didn't even occur to me, until you said it, that all of the Sonos speakers are daisy-chained (wirelessly). So, if I'm understanding you correctly, If I Airplay to one Sonos speaker (via an Airport Express), it will daisy-chain that signal to all the speakers in the network that are configured (in the Sonos app) to play synchronously?

    Please tell me I understood that correctly...
  18. MiesVanDerRobot macrumors member

    Aug 28, 2012
    That's how I understand it. Bear in mind that I currently only have the one AppleTV as an Airplay bridge, so I would definitely verify your planned setup with Sonos before making a big buy. But that is the beauty of the Sonos system...all the speakers are on a shared mesh network, so once you have your content in the network, you can send it wherever you like.

    And also, it integrates with your iTunes library (albeit not with iTunes itself), so you can still use iTunes to manage your database (ratings, playlists, etc).
  19. Danno Bonano macrumors newbie

    Jun 17, 2013
    I use Both

    I use both ATVs and a Sonos system. I have ATVs on two video systems, and Sonos connects on two audio sytems and a Sonos Play 5 in the Kitchen. I manage all the music from iTunes.
    Sonos has the advantage of flexibility (easily playing multiple zones (same music or different, same volumes or different) and the app on the Mac or iPhone/iPad is really nice. The other advantage is sound quality. Different people may prefer one (Sonos vs ATV) or the other, but they do sound different. The Sonos system is also more immune from dropouts, although my microwave oven will stop the play of the Sonos....I have to click "play" again after the microwave stops.
    The ATV is obviously intended primarily for video, but it does audio well too, especially if you pass the digital output to a decent quality digital to analog converter (DAC). Sharing the WiFi though means that there are many more dropouts (usually just a few moments of silence) but that does get anoying. The remote app on the iPhone/iPad is also not nearly as nice as the Sonos. It is however cheaper, so you get what you pay for.
  20. Cartaphilus macrumors 6502a

    Dec 24, 2007
    We have nominal 25 Mbps download from Comcast; actual is around 22 most of the time. Upload is around 5 Mbps.
    I have the Bose SoundLink II, which, as I'm sure you know, uses Bluetooth. It's a terrific portable system with fantastic sound quality for its size. If you can listen to one in a store nearby you'll know if you'd be happy with it. Range is very good for BT, but obviously not nearly the range of wifi. The rechargeable battery is excellent, lasting longer than I've ever needed it. There's an optional cigarette charger for it too. Although most people these days listen to streamed digitized music, there is an input jack if you ever need it.

    Bose engineers for accuracy in its systems and speakers, but any comments board will have a fair number of people who aren't happy with the Bose sound, and especially at the premium price. It's a pretty personal choice, and I think getting whatever you think is the best sound quality for your investment in powered speakers or in components is far more important than the method of transmission and control.

    If you need full-sized speakers the Airport Express is a great way to feed them, and you can also play vinyl, CDs, or tape. if your music media, room size, volume level, and bass preference don't require more than a Sound Link or other BT powered speaker, then for me anything else would be overkill.
  21. Uofmtiger macrumors 68000


    Dec 11, 2010
    The Synology DS Audio app has Airplay built in. If I wanted, I could start the DS Audio app from 100 miles away from home and have it play on my Denon receiver within seconds. I know because I did this on accident one day.

    The issues with streaming different music to multiple players is an issue on the computer, but Synology has figured out a way around it. Through the DS Audio app, you can send a different song to different airplay receivers without a problem.

    While some are touting Sono's sound quality as better than the Airport Express, I am not sure because I haven't tested them against each other. However, the Airport Express has a digital out that is bit perfect with CD quality files (16/44.1). What this means is that it will send a bit perfect audio stream to your outboard DAC (receiver) for processing.

    Obviously, for video, Airplay kills the Sonos. The Sonos is only for music and Airplay works with audio and video.

    The Airplay devices work with just about every audio app for the iPhone (I haven't run across an audio that doesn't work with Airplay in a very long time). The Sonos has built in apps, so it would not have the same library as iOS. Also, the iPhone/iPad control center works with Airplay which makes it easier to get to if you own iOS devices with iOS7.

    Airplay is built into more products. My receiver, which has been calibrated for my room with Audyssey has Airplay built in. I can simply send the audio to the receiver and it will flip the receiver on and let me control the volume in the app. The Sonos, if you have one that can be hooked up to a receiver, will require you to turn the receiver on separately.

    The main upside to Sonos is that it creates its own network and that can be beneficial to people with old routers or other issues. I don't want to play this feature down, but I have several Airplay setups that work with an Airport Extreme without the audio dropouts described. I do have one Airplay device (Philips Fidelio SoundRing ) that does seem to disconnect from my network, but I think there is some time out feature built in that I haven't researched. With my Airport Express units I have not had the issue.

    The other possible issue with Airport Express is the digital out may cause issues with some DACs. It doesn't send a signal between songs, so the DAC may have to reconnect and you could miss the first second of a song. I have several DACs and have never had the issue, but it does require research if you want to use it with a DAC.

    Also, the Apple TV2/3 are not bit perfect with 16/44.1. All audio is converted to 48khz. For audiophiles, this is a big deal. Most everyone else won't notice a difference.
  22. Madmic23 macrumors 6502a

    Apr 21, 2004
    I have a Sonos system in my house. I agree that it's expensive, but it works really well. I have the Connet Amp in my basement, powering four in-ceiling speakers in my living room. I have the whole house wired for in ceiling speakers, and plan on expanding the system over time. I also have a Play:3 in the master bathroom, which is great when getting ready.

    A few corrections though. You mentioned that you would need an Airport Express hooked up to each Sonos speaker for Airplay. That's actually not the case. You could hook an Airport Express up to one Sonos unit, and then share that input to the others in your house. Or, you could skip the Airport Express and use the Sonos app on your phone to play anything that's on your phone directly to your Sonos.

    Also, you don't need to manage two music libraries. I have the Sonos App installed on my iMac, and it just uses my iTunes library, complete with playlists and smart playlists.

    I actually find myself using all of the free internet music services like Songza more than my own music now.

    Another feature which I really like but haven't used too much yet is the alarm setting. You can program your Sonos to come on at a specific time of day and play a specific song, playlist, or music source. Sort of like a clock radio, but better. You could have it turn on for an hour when you get up in the morning, or have the music already playing when you walk through the door at night.

    The only downside I've found is that it can't play iTunes DRM'd music. Not an issue now, but I have a few albums from years ago that still have the DRM. I'm sure I could delete them and redownload them, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

    Having said all of that, yes, I wish Sonos was cheaper. I'd really like to expand my system to the rest of the house, but the cost is slowing me down :(
  23. Uofmtiger macrumors 68000


    Dec 11, 2010
    I don't own a Sonos, but my understanding was that you needed the app to be supported on the Sonos for it to play. Is this incorrect?

    With Airplay, I could be using my iPhone to play iTunes Radio (or any other app) over bluetooth in my car and walk in the house and simply switch the output stream to an Airport Express. Is this possible with the Sonos?
  24. Madmic23 macrumors 6502a

    Apr 21, 2004
    No, it doesn't work exactly like Airplay.

    The music on your phone can be streamed from the phone to your Sonos equipment. If you're listening to the song on your headphones and want to continue listening to it when you get home, you would have to stop the song in the music app, open the Sonos app, and play the song from your phone to your Sonos.

    The point I was trying to make is that you don't need the Airport Express if you just want to play music from the phone. The Express offers the benefit that you mentioned.

    You could have an Airport Express hooked up to your Sonos and Airplay to the express, then open the Sonos App and switch the source on your Sonos speaker to the Airport Express, but then you're using two apps to control your music, which is getting a bit messy to me.

    I choose Sonos over other whole home audio systems, like the ones offered by Home Theatre Direct, Nuvo, or Crestron because of the benefits of just using one app.

    If you think Sonos is expensive, don't even get me started on Crestron. Granted, it does a lot more than music (full home automation), but you can buy a car for the same money as full fledged Crestron system.
  25. CoffeeMonkey macrumors regular

    Feb 23, 2003
    Having recently bought a Synology NAS, I really wanted to like Audiostation and the DS Audio app, but I just found it frustrating. I probably could have lived without the star-rating based smart playlists in iTunes, but unless I missed something (which is entirely possible) the functionality of Apple's Remote App (especially with regard to turning multiple zones on & off, and managing volume levels independently. And one time I got two different songs playing on two different zones, and could not figure out how to re-synch them.

    Did I miss something in DS Audio?

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