Belkin’s Soundform Connect Will Let You Stream Apple Music Lossless Audio to Your Favourite Speakers

Belkin Soundform Connect Credit: Belkin
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Earlier this year it slipped out that Belkin was working on a new product to close one of the biggest gaps in Apple’s AirPlay 2 technology — the ability to stream high-quality wireless audio to any set of speakers in your home.

While many third-party speaker, TV, and even stereo receiver manufacturers have embraced AirPlay 2 in their products, the list is by no means extensive, and if you have your own preferred speakers or high-quality stereo system, you probably don’t want to be relying on shorter-range and lower-fidelity Bluetooth technology to get your audio to your speakers — not to mention the fact that Bluetooth won’t let you send audio to multiple speakers simultaneously.

For many years, this need was filled by Apple’s AirPort Express. In fact, this is actually how Apple’s entire wireless audio initiative got started 17 years ago. Back then, the feature was known as “AirTunes” and was tied exclusively to Apple’s iTunes app on a Mac or PC and availably only as a bonus feature of Apple’s AirPort Express wireless router and extender. The original version of this simple little white box plugged directly into a wall outlet, providing an extra bubble of Wi-Fi coverage, plus an Ethernet jack and a 3.5mm audio jack for connecting to any set of speakers in your home.

It may surprise you to know that Apple actually beat Sonos to the punch when it came to creating the first whole-home audio system back in 2005 with the release of iTunes 6, which expanded AirTunes to support multiple destinations. The technology later grew to become AirPlay in 2010 with the debut of the iPhone 4, and was finally expanded in 2017 into the AirPlay 2 feature that we all know and love today.

What’s perhaps ironic, however, is that while Apple partnered with every willing manufacturer to enable AirPlay 2 support in third-party speakers, smart TVs, and stereo receivers, neither Apple nor anybody else ever offered a new solution as simple and seamless as the original AirPort Express for getting audio into your own speakers.

In fact, there was such a void in this area that Apple actually added AirPlay 2 support as a firmware update to the last-generation AirPort Express — six months after it had already killed off its AirPort router lineup entirely.

In other words, this was such an omission that Apple had to retroactively add it to a discontinued product — likely because nobody else was stepping up to the plate.

Fortunately, it turns out that the earlier rumours that Belkin had something in the works are entirely true, and the venerable Apple accessory maker has just taken the wraps off its new modern accessory to let you bring AirPlay 2 to any speaker of your choice.

Enter the Soundform Connect

As expected, Belkin is calling the new device the Soundform Connect Audio Adapter with AirPlay 2, keeping with the branding for its lineup of headphones, earbuds, and speakers.

The new Soundform Connect naturally comes in much smaller than any of Apple’s AirPort Express units, which isn’t surprising as this device has only one job — transporting an AirPlay 2 stream onto either an analog or digital wired connection. It doesn’t work as a router, Wi-Fi extender, or anything else, so there’s no need for an Ethernet jack of extra hardware.

There’s also no need to make room for an internal power supply, as the Soundform Connect is powered via a USB-C connection, which basically means an external power adapter. This means the entire box only measures 1.71” x 2.44” x 0.75”.

What you will find on Soundform connect is a single 3.5mm analog audio output jack, along with a much more standard Toslink digital optical audio out connection. This is a nice enhancement over the AirPort Express, which used the much less common 3.5mm mini-Toslink connector to save the need for an extra audio port. This means you’ll be able to hook up the Soundform Connect to pretty much anything, from a standalone speaker to a stereo receiver, soundbar, TV, or any other system that accepts an audio signal.

Best of all, this device is fully ready for Apple Music Lossless, since AirPlay 2 can handle CD-quality sample rates of 16-bit, 44,100 Hz (44.1 kHz) resolution.

To be clear, it won’t handle Apple’s new “Hi-Resolution Lossless” format, which offers sampling rates of up to 192kHz, but that’s not surprising as it’s not only a limitation of AirPlay 2, but something you won’t even be able to get even directly out of your iPhone, iPad, or Mac without a specialized external DAC.

The biggest downside is that without an Ethernet jack, you will be relying on a Wi-Fi connection to stream audio to it, however all but the very slowest and most congested Wi-Fi networks should be more than capable of handling a CD-quality AirPlay 2 stream, which only requires 1.4Mbps of bandwidth. By comparison, even mere 1080p HD Netflix streaming requires 10Mbps.

Beyond that, the Soundform Connect will show up in your Home app and appear to your iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV just like any other AirPlay 2 device, and it can also naturally work in tandem with traditional AirPlay 2 speakers, so you could stream audio to your home theatre system using Soundform Connect along with a HomePod mini in your dining room or an AirPlay 2 compatible TV in your den, all at the same time.

Belkin’s Soundform Connect is available for pre-order from Belkin’s website starting today for $99.99, and will also be available on Amazon. It’s expected to start shipping in June, and while there’s no word yet on exactly when it will appear in Apple Stores or at other retailers, although Belkin says it’s “coming soon.”

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