AirPlay for music works really well, but is hampered by a frustrating lack of compatible accessories. In particular, I’m loathe to invest in speakers that have AirPlay built-in, in case I ever decide to switch to Spotify, which has its own incompatible Spotify Connect system.
The only official way to add AirPlay to traditional speakers is via the Airport Express, a fairly expensive solution. There are a few 3rd-party options out there as well, but since I just bought a Raspberry Pi, I decided to go the DIY route instead. Here’s a how-to guide on how to build your own.
Note: you’ll need some basic familiarity with the Terminal and a terminal-based text editor, but if you’re not comfortable there yet, this is a great project to start practicing those skills.
- Raspberry Pi 3rd generation (with built-in wifi)
- A nice Raspberry Pi case (I got this one, though the official case should be out now as well)
- USB audio adapter
- A 2A USB power supply
Raspberry Pi & Power
I went for the latest 3rd generation Raspberry Pi, as it has built-in wifi and makes setup quite a bit simpler, but the 2nd gen model should also work just fine. It can be a bit picky about power supplies though, so make sure you pick something that delivers at least 2A continuously, like our tizi Tankstation line. And finally, you don’t really need the case, but it makes it feel much more like a real product, so get it if you plan on leaving it all hooked up for a long time.
The built-in audio jack on the Raspberry Pi sounds dreadful. I thought the reports might be overblown, but it sounds pretty distorted and crackly even to my non-audiophile ears. So the USB audio adapter is a must-have. The one I picked worked out of the box.
You’ll need two bits of software:
- Noobs / Rasbian (or another suitable OS)
There are a few audio specific OS alternatives out there, however at time of writing none of them worked with the latest Raspberry Pi. Do check out x and y though, if they’re supported on your Pi it’s probably the easier software stack to use.
Make sure you install Shairport-sync, not the original Shairport it’s based on, as that doesn’t support iOS 9 devices. You’ll have to download it directly, as it’s not in the default repo when I checked.
To install it, follow the instructions on the Github page and you’ll have it up and running in no time.
I’d recommend you go in this order:
- Install Noobs / Raspian
- Get remote access via ssh and VNC set up and make sure they’re both still available between restarts
- Install Shairport-sync and also make sure it’s started after reboots
- Test it out using the built-in audio jack
- Plug in the USB audio card and make sure your music plays via that as well
And that’s it: a fairly inexpensive AirPlay solution for any set of speakers. I’ve got mine connected to a set of Audioengine A2 and it works really well and sounds great.
- Raspberry Pi 3rd generation (Amazon DE)
- A nice Raspberry Pi case (Amazon DE)
- USB audio adapter (Amazon DE)
- A 2A USB power supply (Amazon DE)