I love my surround sound and after ten years my cinema surround system continues to make up part of my premiere movie viewing experience. When I finish working for the day, I sit back on the sofa with a cup of tea and ask Siri to play something from my movie library or queue up one of the copious amounts of new episodic originals. It’s time to relax and immerse myself in story.
Here’s the thing: whilst I love the satisfying thuds and thunder from my system connected to the Apple TV, for my co-habitants and neighbours during the twilight hours its often to much; even when reducing loud sounds. So late night, I often revert to a discreet viewing experience through my AirPods. It’s a great feature let down by the limitation of only being able to pair one set of Bluetooth headphones at a time.
The lack of audio-sharing on Apple TV is disappointing; a feature shipped with iOS 13.1 that allows users to share the audio they are listening to with a friend by connecting two pairs of compatible Bluetooth headphones to a single supported Apple device. It’s a feature many have been crying out for on Apple TV but it’s an omission that Twelve South have inadvertently solved with their AirFly Pro and AirFly Duo accessories provided your TV has a headphone jack or is connected to a sound system that does.
Originally touted as a way of connecting AirPods to in-flight entertainment systems on aeroplanes, Twelve South’s AirFly accessory had long been on my radar, so when the AirFly Pro Bluetooth adapter dongle became available to purchase at my local Apple Store last week I couldn’t resist.
The premise for their original AirFly was simple: plug AirFly into the 3.5mm headphone jack, pair your Bluetooth headphones, sit back and listen. Two years later and AirFly Pro sports Bluetooth 5.0 allowing two simultaneous Bluetooth headphone connections and the ability to send audio the other way at the flick of a switch.
Given this device will work with literally anything with a traditional 3.5mm jack, I wanted to test how well AirFly Pro would work with Apple TV and two sets of AirPods Pro set to transparency mode. The kind of setup perfect for my friends who are in the early stages of parenting – offering a balance of not waking the new born but being aware should the new mum or dad be called to attention.
AirFly Pro comes with a handy Keychain cap (though I’d replace it pretty pronto as its not to robust), a USB-C to USB-A charging cable, a tiny travel bag, quick start guide, owners guide and one years limited manufacturers warranty.
Setup is relatively straightforward and happens on-device with no additional software to download. Just press and hold the power button for 4 seconds to put AirFly Pro in pairing mode, after which, simply put your Bluetooth headphones into pairing mode and wait for both to pair to one another; indicated on AirFly Pro by a tiny white light. You can add an additional pair by pushing the power button twice to repeat the pairing process. Then you just stick the dongle into the headphone jack and you’re set.
In my few days of testing, AirFly Pro offered a stable bluetooth connection with next to no difference in audio quality, interference, signal range or latency compared to pairing my AirPods Pro directly to Apple TV 4K.
Playback time was the advertised 16 hours from a 2 hour charge whilst paired with one set of AirPods Pro – dropping to 10 hours when connected to two pairs.
One downside to using AirFly Pro to connect AirPods indirectly to your device is that you do lose the ability to pause playback when taking out one AirPod or by pressing its stem. It’s a small gripe, however if you occasionally fall asleep whilst watching TV you may find your Up Next queue is cleared by the time you wake.
I’ve used AirFly Pro successfully with gym equipment, my Nintendo Switch and some legacy iOS devices that don’t support iOS 13’s audio sharing feature, and I’m looking forward to trying it out on my next long-haul flight (hopefully to WWDC20).
Better yet whilst the Apple Store feature editorial specifically highlight AirPods and Beats wireless headphones, AirFly’s product doesn’t restrict you to using the feature with Beats or Apple headphones equipped with H or W wireless chipsets. I tried Bluetooth headphones from Bose, Sony, Samsung and Bang & Olufsen and all worked great!
I favour AirPlay 2 at home and paired with the fact that I don’t drive (god bless Transport For London) AirFly Pro’s AUX IN feature which is best used for “hire cars, boats and non-Bluetooth speakers” is a nice feature I probably wont use.
Had the cheaper AirFly Duo been given the same global distribution I would have opted for that instead of AirFly Pro for my use case.
AirFly Duo offers 20+ hours of playback and has a simpler pairing process with dedicated pairing buttons for both sets of wireless headphones.
Twelve South’s AirFly Pro comes recommended. It’s versatility justifies its price, fitting into so many different use-case scenarios.
As winter draws near, I’m looking forward to collaborating on playlists and sharing a casual walk along London’s SouthBank with an AirFly Pro in tow. Here’s to finding a Keira Knightley to my Mark Ruffalo.
AirFly Pro is available globally at Apple Stores and Apple.com whereas AirFly Duo can be purchased directly from Twelve South. AirFly Pro is currently listed at $54.99 with AirFly Duo priced at $49.99.