AirPlay and Sonos are systems designed to stream music and other media throughout your home over a WiFi network. The biggest difference between the two systems is that AirPlay relies on existing devices while Sonos offers consumers a self-contained system that includes speakers, an amplifier, and a subwoofer.

Comparison chart

AirPlay versus Sonos comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartAirPlaySonos
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Introduction AirPlay is a proprietary protocol stack/suite developed by Apple Inc. that allows wireless streaming of audio, video, and photos, together with related metadata between devices. The Sonos Multi-Room Wireless HiFi System allows streaming of music in multiple rooms by wi-fi. Expansion can be achieved through the addition of the wireless bridge, which allows for greater range.
Manufacturer Apple, Inc. Sonos
Website http://www.apple.com/airplay/ http://www.sonos.com
Device None specifically for AirPlay; compatible with all Apple devices and some third party devices. Speakers, sound bar, subwoofer, amps, wireless bridge.
Device Price Relies on an existing device; no device purchase necessary. $199.00 - $399
Audio Formats MP3, AAC, FLAC, WAV, AIFF, WMA MP3, AAC, FLAC, WAV, AIFF, WMA
Internet Radio Yes Yes
Satellite Radio Available Yes Yes

Software and Hardware

Apple invented AirPlay and the technology is supported on all modern Apple devices — computers, iPhones, iPads, iPods and Apple TV. But AirPlay is not hardware; it's software that relies on a network of existing devices to stream music. For example, you could listen to a song on an iPad in your living room, and have that same song playing on a third-party wireless music boombox in your garage through the AirPlay network.

Sonos is a self-contained wireless streaming music system. That means that you purchase a physical Sonos device to stream your music using Sonos software.

The following video provides a more detailed comparison:

Streaming

The Sonos controller app for mobile devices allows you to connect to services like Pandora and Rdio and use the Sonos app to stream music from either service to your speakers. The Sonos app also supports "universal search" i.e., searching for an artist, album or song across all your connected streaming services. This makes it a powerful and user-friendly way to play all the music you have access to. The Sonos mobile app is available on both iOS and Android.

Streaming with AirPlay works a little differently. iOS devices can stream music from iTunes to speakers (or devices like Apple TV) that support AirPlay. Other apps on iPhones and iPads can also stream to AirPlay-enabled devices. Here's how Pandora guides its users on using their service with AirPlay.

Devices

Sonos manufactures and sells the following devices:

However, the application you can control your Sonos system with can run on any third-party device.

Most Apple devices, including Apple TV, can use AirPlay to stream music. So, if you own one or more devices, you may not need to purchase more. However, there are AirPlay-enabled speakers available from third-party manufacturers, including Bose, Phillips, and Bowers and Wilkins.

Wireless bridge

To enable a Sonos system in your home, you must purchase a wireless bridge. This device connects to your home wireless router and then sends a signal to other Sonos devices. You can think of Sonos' wireless bridge as a “sender” device, and the Sonos speakers as the “receivers.” In April 2014, Sonos announced that they were working on upgrading their technology so that the Sonos BRIDGE would no longer be necessary.

AirPlay also uses “sender” and “receiver” devices, however those can be any AirPlay-enabled device. For example, an iPad could be a sender, and an Apple TV could be the receiver – the Apple TV could then stream media to a television.

Other media

AirPlay does not just restrict itself to streaming music; it allows users to share other content from connected devices. For example, you could share a photo library from your laptop on your TV by connecting it to your AirPlay network. You can also use AirPlay to stream movies from your computer onto your television.

Sonos is strictly a wireless music streaming system, and cannot stream other media.

Removing devices

Since AirPlay relies on your existing devices to control and play music and other media, it is harder to remove one of those devices when necessary. For example, if you're streaming a movie from your iPhone to your TV that streaming would end if you had to leave the house with the iPhone.

Sonos has the capability to connect directly to subscription services, freeing up your other devices.

That way, if you're streaming music off of your satellite radio subscription, Sonos will link directly with the service, not through another computer device.

Shop AirPlay and Sonos

The pricing for Sonos hardware is listed below:

All Sonos equipment is available on the company's website as well as on Amazon.

Apple offers AirPlay free on all its devices, and as part of the free iTunes download. Amazon sells many Apple devices as well as third-party devices compatible with AirPlay, often at a discounted price.

References

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