Using Airport Express and AirPlay with Sonos

How to Stream Music Using AirPlay Through a Sonos System

Sonos is a popular music platform that allows users to stream music wirelessly throughout the home via Wi-Fi. This makes music listening very convenient.

Sonos Play:5 Wireless Speaker
Sonos Play:5 Wireless Speaker. Image provided by Sonos

Sonos Can Be Used With Airplay

Although Sonos is a practical whole-house music playback option, it's a closed system. It works with Sonos-branded wireless speakers and components but isn't compatible with other multi-room wireless options such as ​MusicCast, HEOS, Play-Fi, or direct streaming via Bluetooth.

Select Sonos products work with Google Home.

Out of the box, Sonos isn't compatible with Apple AirPlay. However, there is a way that Apple iTunes/Music fans can stream music content and libraries around the house using the Sonos system. This is done via an Apple Airport Express as a bridge between AirPlay and Sonos.

Apple discontinued the Apple Airport Express in April of 2018, but it may be available new from remaining stock, as well as refurbished or used through select online and brick-and-mortar retailers, and many are still in use. A replacement alternative (AirPlay 2) that doesn't require the use of an Airport Express with select Sonos products is discussed at the end of this article.

Airport Express
Fletcher6 / Wikipedia Commons

Setting Up Apple AirPort Express to Work With Sonos

In addition to the Airport Express, you need a Sonos Play:5 Wireless Speaker, Sonos CONNECT or CONNECT: AMP. Here are the steps to get Apple Airplay to work with those Sonos products.

  1. Connect the Airport Express to AC power.

  2. Set up the Apple Airport Express before proceeding further.

  3. Connect the analog audio outputs from the Airport Express to a Sonos Play:5, using a 3.5mm stereo audio cable, or either Sonos CONNECT or CONNECT: AMP using a 3.5mm to RCA stereo audio adapter cable.

  4. Once AirPort Express is set up and physically connected to a compatible Sonos product, install the Sonos app on a MAC, PC or another Sonos control device.

  5. Go into Sonos Preferences menu and select Room Settings.

  6. In Room Settings, select the room where the Airport Express is connected to your designated Sonos product.

  7. On the Line-In Source Name line, select Apply AirPlay Device.

  8. On the Line-In Source Level line, select Level 4 (AirPlay).

  9. On the line that says Autoplay Room, select the room where you want to automatically start Apple Airplay playback when that option is selected.

Once the above steps are completed, you can do the following:

  • Select line-in from your Music Menu and choose the room where Apple Airport Express is connected to a Sonos device to start playing music.
  • Using your iOS device, go to the Control center, then tap AirPlay and select Apple Airport Express.

What You Can and Can't Do

Using an Apple Airport Express as a bridge, you can stream music stored or accessed on any iOS-compatible device throughout a Sonos wireless home audio system.

The Airport Express only needs to be connected to one compatible Sonos product in the system – The Sonos network takes care of the rest. If you have Sonos products in multiple rooms, you can stream the same music to some, or all of them.

You can't use AirPlay to send different music selections to different rooms but, Apple AirPlay can be used to send one selection to one or more rooms. Another streaming service would need to be accessed to send a different music selection to one, or more remaining rooms.

Consult ​Sonos Support for any additional questions you have about setup, troubleshooting or optimizing Sonos and Airport Express as different users may encounter separate issues. ​

In addition to using AirPlay with Sonos via Airport Express, if you have a Sonos PlayBar included in your Sonos setup, you can also integrate an Apple TV media streamer into the mix. This is not only great for accessing streaming audio and video for your TV and PlayBar, but you can also use the Apple TV device to stream music throughout your Sonos system.

How AirPlay 2 Changes Things Between Apple and Sonos

With the discontinuation of Airport Express (although many are still in use) and the introduction of AirPlay 2, Sonos has adapted by incorporating direct access AirPlay 2 support on the Sonos One (2nd generation), Beam, Playbase, Play:5 (2nd generation) and Sonos Amp products. This means you no longer need to connect an Airport Express to those speaker systems to access an Airplay-based music library. 

Although other Sonos products require the connection of an Airport Express, if those products are paired with the Sonos One, Beam, Playbase, and Play:5 running AirPlay 2 content, they can receive music content without the need for an Airport Express. 

Sonos Beam and pair of Sonos One Speakers both with Alexa Built-in
Sonos Beam and pair of Sonos One Speakers both with Alexa Built-in. Image provided by Sonos
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