How to make the Mac your whole house audio jukebox

All you need is your Mac and the right kind of speakers. Thanks to AirPlay, you can make music wherever you have Wi-Fi. There's a bonus tip in here too, to help you control your Mac from your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.

Set up iTunes

iTunes is that app that some of us love to hate. I've ranted about it before, and changes since then have arguably made iTunes worse rather than better.

Having said that, iTunes is unquestionably the easiest way to manage your digital music on the Mac. Once you have your music loaded in to iTunes, you shouldn't need to do anything else except play the music on whatever speakers you'd like to use. When you have AirPlay speakers attached, should should see them listed by clicking on iTunes' volume button. You can select multiple AirPlay speakers if you want to stream music everywhere, instead of just on one speaker system.

The Apple TV is also an audio output system, so iTunes should find any Apple TVs running on your network. If you have nice speakers hooked up there, you can stream audio to your Apple TV sound system. That's what I do in my living room, where I have an Onkyo soundbar hooked up to the Apple TV.

If you want to make one Mac the main jukebox for your home, but you want to share the music you have there with other Macs, you certainly can. Click on the File menu in iTunes, select Home Sharing and enter your Apple ID. That will enable you to share music, movies and other iTunes content with up to five computers in total, also logged in using that Apple ID.

Sharing music isn't required to stream music, however. If you just want to play the music in your iTunes library, you're all set already.

Set up AirPlay speakers

AirPlay speakers enable you to stream audio from iTunes. AirPlay speakers connect to your home Wi-Fi network and appear as an output option in iTunes on the Mac and the Control Center on the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

There are some big advantages in choosing AirPlay over Bluetooth. The range of AirPlay is anywhere you have Wi-Fi. So you can listen to music anywhere you can get connected, instead of only within a range of about 30-100 feet from the host computer, as is the case with Bluetooth. What's more, any device or app capable of AirPlay is able to use it.

Here's a roundup of some of the best AirPlay speakers:

You can go from mild to wild on AirPlay equipped speakers, but there's really no need to spend a lot. Any AirPlay speaker works the same, so if you have a limited budget, you can find cheap speakers too. Here are three AirPlay-equipped speaker systems that cost less than $100:

iHome iW2:

  • $64.99 - Buy now (opens in new tab)

Philips AD7000W:

  • $74.99 - Buy now (opens in new tab)

Sony RDP-XA700IPN:

  • $99.99 - Buy now (opens in new tab)

AirPort Express

If you already have a stereo system you love, you can connect it as an AirPlay-compatible speaker system using Apple's AirPort Express, a small Wi-Fi router that includes a 3.5mm digital optical audio jack. You can connect it to an input on your home stereo or entertainment system, and it'll appear as another AirPlay option in iTunes.

  • $94.99 - Buy now (opens in new tab)

Download Remote

Remote is a handy app made by Apple that lets you control the music playing on your Mac, PC or Apple TV. It works with iTunes and iTunes Radio, and enables you send music to any AirPlay speakers connected in your house. You can even control the volume on each speaker independently.

What's more, it's absolutely free. All you need to use it is a Mac or PC with iTunes and iOS 7.1 or later.

Working with Sonos?

Sonos makes lovely whole-house speaker systems that work differently than AirPlay. Sonos devices connect together using their own "mesh network" to enable wireless music streaming. We're big Sonos fans at iMore, so we've compiled some helpful how tos.

Your tips?

How are you handling audio in your home? Let me know!

  • I'm a huge fan of the Griffin Twenty. I loved the first generation and recently upgraded to the current second generation. I'm happy to say it's a big improvement with the addition of Bluetooth. I highly recommend it if you're looking for a way to power your small bookshelf speakers or large floor speakers.
  • Can't believe you didn't mention the Airport Express which has Airplay built in (the Airport Extreme does't). With the AEX you can hook up any speaker system and make it wireless. Been doing this since it was called AirTunes. Also, Rogue Amoeba's AirFoil App will allow you stream anything from your Mac to an AEX.
  • That's what I've been doing for many years. Sent from the iMore App
  • Added AX stuff, you're right - I should have mentioned it.
  • I love my Sonos speakers but if they don't add a Airplay solution I will not be buying any more speakers. I would love to walk around the house and control iTunes from a Apple watch or ask Siri something and have her respond through the Sonos system.
  • If you have a Sonos Connect you can connect an AirPort Express to it using the RCA analog input, but it's kind of a long way to go just to stream using AirPlay.
  • This IS neat. But say I rarely use iTunes. Is there any way to do this with your general audio output in MacOS? I use a lot of Audio Overload (a video game music player), YouTube (via Safari browser), and a fair amount of Tune in Radio in order to listen to things like hr-iNFO, which I use in conjunction with DuoLingo to bolster my German language studies. But iTunes itself? Not very often. I would LOVE to hear of ways to spread audio throughout the house for cheap, and without having to crank it in one zone to feed the others. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • As mentioned above, Rogue Amoeba make apps to send any content via AirPlay. There are a few others but they haven't been updated in a long while. If you want to turn regular speakers AirPlay-capable inexpensively, there are several guides for hacking a RaspberryPi into a receiver. I made one for fun (I'd rather pay for good AirPlay speakers, like B&W). My RaspberryPi AirPlay receiver works well and I further modded it for car installations, where it remains.
  • Nice guide, Peter. There's something special about whole-home music. Every room in our home has an AirPlay setup, mostly by AppleTVs and a couple Bowers&Wilkins Z2s. Though my WiFi is pretty good, I'm fortunate to have ample Ethernet wiring in my walls. This makes the home media server (headless MacMini) content delivery rock solid. I don't know why it's so popular to trash iTunes, because I love it for serving movies and music to any room and any iOS device. Especially for choosing which parts of our home to fill with music and individual volume controls.
  • Hi! A very interesting post. I daily enjoy this functionality by using my iMac as source of music and with airplay I send it to my AppleTv. My iPad Air 2 is my second player. Its a very nice feature.
    On the other hand, I would like to ask to the post author about the layout of your iTunes. It looks different to mine despite I am using the last update. The selector of target device and the home on the left side its not shown in my iTunes.
    What's the reason? Thanks!
  • Thank you for constructing this post WITHOUT the slider gallery style layout! This traditional post layout is much more preferred!
  • Peter
    Good reminder piece. Maybe you can offer a solution to a problem I have. I use Airport Express to feed music to three amplifier-speaker setups in locations around the house. Works beautifully. However, when I add Apple TV sound setups to the mix, the TV-generated sound is out of sync, to the point of not being usable at the same time as the Airport Express setups. Is there something in TV settings I should be playing with? Also, as othe commenters noted, the Griffin Twenty plus the original Express makes a great power/sound package to pair with speakers you have lying around.
  • I'll add to the conversation with this link to a help article about a whole house audio solution using Apple Airport Express' with a multichannel amp. Off the shelf technology for less.
  • Thank you for this article! This is absolutely exactly what we were looking for. Great tips! -Megan