tl;dr version: option+click on the volume icon in the menu bar and select the AirPlay speakers you want to use.
Long, narration version: I’ve been slowly building up the tech in my apartment and this weekend I finally got my wireless sound system going. I have one Airport Express plugged into my ethernet acting as a base station, and a second one elsewhere in the apartment plugged in to my speakers and printer. Getting AirPort set up was the kind of deliciously simple experience we’ve all come to associate with Apple, which probably should have been a hint when I went looking for a way to stream my system audio over AirPlay. Instead I scoured the internet looking for a 3rd party solution, almost spent $15, and eventually found the answer was right in front of me all along.
A little background: AirPlay has existed in iTunes for awhile as this small little icon that could play your iTunes music (but not video sound) to any AirPlay enabled speakers, or any speakers hooked up to an AirPort Express/Extreme. (It’s also been available on iOS for a while on an app-by-app basis: Music has it of course, as do things like Hulu, SoundCloud, Pandora, and tons of others.) I wanted a way to send any audio from my computer, not just iTunes, to my AirPlay connected speakers.
We use AirPlay a lot at my office for video connections, so I’m used to having the icon pop up in my menu bar when there’s something available. With my home setup, nothing showed, even though I could see it available on my phone. So, I went scouring the internet looking for options. Airfoil seemed the most promising, but at $25 it seemed worthwhile to search for an alternative. Porthole promised a simpler experience for cheaper (11 euros) and it had great reviews so I almost bought it without trying it, but then my rational brain kicked back in and I downloaded the trial.
It was then I discovered the 2 second lag in sound that is apparently unavoidable in AirPlay for buffering reasons, which means syncing video is practically impossible. No way in hell was I paying $15 for something that resulted in a 2 second lag, and I’m super grateful I didn’t, because after a little more scouting for how to Airplay directly from VLC I finally discovered it was built in to Mountain Lion this whole time.
Just hold down the ‘option’ key while you click on the speaker icon in the menu bar and you’ll get a whole list of available output devices for your system audio. Sweeeet!
If, for some reason, you don’t see your AirPlay setup in the list, go to Sound Preferences and select it from the ‘Output’ tab there.
Done. Now I can put old episodes of the West Wing on my nice speakers and quote along while I clean my apartment.