Bluetooth and AirPlay essentially do the same thing: transmit audio wirelessly. How they go about it, though, is quite different. Bluetooth is a short-range, low-power transmission. This is great for portable devices, easy connectivity, and long battery life. However, in most implementations, it's not able to transmit the same amount of data as AirPlay. Meaning? Worse sound quality. "Bluetooth compresses the data, which compromises the audio," says audio expert Brent Butterworth. "You may not notice this with very compact systems, but with better equipment, it's quite noticeable." AirPlay uses a WiFi connection, which allows bit-for-bit identical transmission of all digital tracks. In other words, your music will sound more like it did in its initial recording and less like a reduced version of itself. Here are five systems we like best.
Best for Audiophiles: McIntosh McAire
It has all the flourishes of a classic McIntosh device – the glossy black face, cool-blue VU meters, and light-up green logo. But the McAire is the mightiest self-contained AirPlay-enabled system available, a 31-pound monster with a 25-watt amp, six stereo speakers, and a host of top-end tech that injects new warmth into your digital files. Simple to connect and operate (if AirPlay's not your thing, you can plug your iPhone into the McAire via its audio input), the system produces the best sound we've heard from a streaming stereo: vibrant and shimmering, with a rich, open soundstage. Even when the bass punches, the highs and mids stay strong. In short, the system gives us faith in the future of digital music. [$3,000; mcintoshlabs.com]