Airfoil 5: Tom's Mac Software Pick

Stream Any Audio on Your Mac to Remote Devices

Airfoil 5 + Airfoil Satelitte
Airfoil 5 on the left, Airfoil Satellite on the right. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Airfoil from Rogue Amoeba is an audio utility that lets your Mac stream audio from any source to any device on your local network, including other Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, and Linux systems.

But Airfoil isn't limited to just other computers on your network. It can also stream to any Bluetooth connected device, as well as any AirPlay device, such as your Apple TV, AirPort Express, or even your home entertainment receiver, if it supports AirPlay.

Pro

  • Streams to multiple outputs at the same time.
  • Can keep multiple speaker systems in sync.
  • Can remotely control Airfoil streaming from supported devices.
  • Works with Bluetooth speaker systems.
  • Streams audio from any running app on your Mac.

Con

  • Dolby Digital encoding not officially supported.

Airfoil has long been our go-to app for streaming music to the various music systems and computers in our home and office. It allows us to use one Mac to play iTunes, and enables us to both listen to and control the music playback and volume from any of the remote computers on our network.

What’s New With Airfoil 5

At the top of the what’s new list is full support for Bluetooth devices paired with a Mac. And you’re not limited to a single Bluetooth device. If you have multiple devices, say a pair of Bluetooth speakers as well as Bluetooth headphones, they can both receive any audio you care to stream through Airfoil 5.

Speaker Groups allow you to assign speakers or devices to a group, which you can then control with a single click. Groups are a good idea for controlling which speakers are enabled, as well as their volume. A simple example is that you can create a group for each area of your home or office in which you have remote speaker systems.

I set mine up for a LivingRoom group, a RearDeck group, and an Office group. Once I create the groups, I can turn them on or off, and adjust the volume as one unit, even if a group is made up of multiple devices.

Airfoil Satellite is a new app that runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux computers, as well as on iOS and Android devices. Airfoil Satellite acts as a receiver, allowing the device to play back the Airfoil stream, as well as turning any device running the app into a remote control for Airfoil.

The remote control aspect of Airfoil stream is pretty amazing. When I tested Airfoil and Airfoil Satellite, I selected iTunes as the source, and was able to control iTunes volume, and play and pause iTunes, as well as skip forward or back in the currently playing playlist. Airfoil Satellite also displayed the artist and song currently playing, as well as associated album art, if any.

I was also able to use Airfoil Satellite to control the volume of any of the remote speakers, not just the ones directly connected to the device on which the remote app was running.

All in all, Airfoil Satellite, which is included free with Airfoil 5, is pretty impressive.

Manually Adjustable Sync lets you keep all of your speakers in sync, no matter where they are or what devices they are playing through.

Airfoil has automatic sync capabilities, which work pretty well, but sometimes the inherent delay in getting a signal to a speaker or group can be beyond the ability for Airfoil to make automatic adjustments. When one set of speakers is slightly out of sync, you can manually make an adjustment, putting all of the speakers back in sync.

Using Airfoil 5

Airfoil 5 includes both the Airfoil app and the Airfoil Satellite app. The Airfoil app goes on the Mac you wish to use as the source for streaming audio, and the Airfoil Satellite app can be installed on the other computing platforms to which you wish to stream audio.

You don’t need Airfoil Satellite if you’re streaming to directly paired Bluetooth devices or to supported AirPlay devices, such as an Apple TV or AirPort Express.

Once the Airfoil app is installed (simply drag it to your /Applications folder), you can launch the app. When you launch Airfoil, it's installed as a menu bar app, as well as a Dock icon; either can be used to control the Airfoil app. There's also an Airfoil window that shows the selected source for streaming. You can select any open app, including iTunes, as the source, any system audio source, or any connected audio device.

Most of the time, you'll probably be streaming the audio from an app, but if you want to stream any sound your Mac makes, you can select the system audio. Likewise, if you have an audio device connected to your Mac, you can choose that device as the source to stream audio.

Selecting Speakers to Stream To

Below the source section of the Airfoil window, you'll find a list of all detected speakers that Airfoil can stream to. Speakers is a broad category and includes any AirPlay device and any device running the Airfoil Satellite app, as well as any Bluetooth audio devices that are paired with your Mac.

From the speakers list, you can select which ones will receive the Airfoil stream, as well as adjust each speaker's volume. You're not limited to streaming to just one set of speakers, Airfoil can stream to as many devices as you have, allowing you to create a whole home music system running from your Mac, if you wish.

Final Thoughts

Airfoil 5 goes well beyond the capabilities of Apple’s own AirPlay technology, at least when it comes to audio. Video, on the other hand, is missing from Airfoil, something Rogue Amoeba decided not to pursue in the latest Airfoil app. But to tell you the truth, it doesn't seem like anything is missing. By concentrating on audio, Airfoil is my go-to app for streaming music around our home and office. It does the job well, and with the remote capabilities built into the Airfoil Satellite app, I can control the entire music system from anywhere in our home or office.

Try doing that another way, without spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

Airfoil 5 is $29.00, which includes the free Airfoil Satellite app. A demo is available.

See other software choices from Tom's Mac Software Picks.