Using Airport Express and AirPlay with Sonos

How to Stream Music Using AirPlay Through a Sonos System

Sonos Play:5 Wireless Speaker
Image provided by Sonos

Sonos is an increasingly popular whole home music platform that allows users to stream music wirelessly throughout the home via WiFi. This makes music listening throughout the home very convenient, but there is more to the story.

Sonos Can Be Used With Airplay

Although Sonos is a very practical whole-house music playback option, one of its limitations is that it is a closed system. In other words, the system works only with Sonos-branded wireless speakers and components, and it is not compatible with other multi-room wireless options such as ​MusicCast, HEOS, Play-Fi, or direct streaming via Bluetooth.

This also means that, out of the box, Sonos is not compatible with Apple AirPlay. However, there is a way that Apple iTunes/Music fans can stream their music content and libraries around the house using the Sonos system.

The way this is done is by using an Apple Airport Express as the bridge between AirPlay and a Sonos system.

Apple discontinued the Apple Airport Express in April of 2018, but it may still 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 does not require the use of an Airport Express with select Sonos products is discussed at the end of this article.

Airport Express
Fletcher6 / Wikipedia Commons

In addition to the Airport Express, you will also need to purchase a Sonos Play:5 Wireless Speaker, Sonos CONNECT or CONNECT: AMP.

Setting Up Apple AirPort Express To Work With Sonos

Once you have one of those Sonos products and an AirPort Express, here are the required steps you need to perform to get Apple Airplay to work.

  1. Connect the Airport Express to AC power.

  2. Physically 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.

  3. If you are using a new Apple Airport Express, you need to get through its initial setup process before proceeding further.

  4. Once your AirPort Express is set up and physically connected to a compatible Sonos product, on your MAC, PC or another Sonos control device that has the Sonos app installed, go into your Sonos Preferences menu and select Room Settings.

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

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

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

  8. Next, 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 now 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, access your Control center, then tap AirPlay and select Apple Airport Express.

The Bottom Line on Using Airplay With Sonos and Airport Express

Using a single 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.

In this case, Apple AirPlay can be used to send one selection to one or more rooms, and 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 your Sonos and Airport Express as different users may encounter separate issues. ​

In addition to using AirPlay with Sonos system by way of an 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 added possibility 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 there are many 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 that you no longer need to connect an Airport Express to those speaker systems to access your Airplay-based music library. 

Although other Sonos products still 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 that 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

Disclaimer: The core content of this article was originally written by Barb Gonzalez, but has been edited, reformatted, and updated by Robert Silva.