Picked up an Airport Express today. This thing has intrigued me ever since it was introduced. Not because it’s a super small and convenient device for creating a high-speed WiFi network — complete with Internet and print sharing. And not because it can also serve as an inexpensive bridge for extending an existing wireless network.
No, what appealed to me about it was AirTunes: The ability to stream music. In other words, to plug into a powered stereo and make those speakers appear “remote” to a copy of iTunes on any Mac or PC on the same network.
Today I finally made good on my desire to get one. My iMac is in a second-floor corner of the house, and the living room stereo is in the opposite corner on the first floor. I wanted to stream my tunes to the living room.
Pretty simple setup:
- Plug in the cables you’ll use. (In my case a 3.5 mm jack audio cable terminating in standard RCA plugs.)
- Plug the device into the outlet.
- Use Airport Utility to set it up.
At step two, the unit ended up flashing yellow, which means something is “wrong”. You’re supposed to use the Airport Utility to find out what, but it would not find my device.
Well, duh! The iMac connects to my Time Capsule via Ethernet, and I had shut off its Airport. Of course, without Airport it can’t see the Airport Express. Anyway, I turned it on, it found the device, and the two “yellow” errors were A) I had nothing in the Ethernet plug (this was intentional, so I ignored the error), and B) letting me know it had nothing but defaults — didn’t I want to set it up?
I did indeed. Unlike the Time Capsule, which I setup manually, for the Express I used the automated approach. First, name the device and give it a password. Then specify that I’ll connect to an existing network — select the network and login. That’s all there is to it; the light is green.
I launched iTunes, and on the Advanced panel in Preferences turned on the option to have it look for remote speakers:
A new drop down appears at the bottom of the iTunes window that list ‘Computer’ and any Airport Express’ names:
I select the Express, then turn my stereo system source to ‘CD’ and the music plays smoothly, beautifully. I can even control the volume via iTunes from upstairs (you can disable this feature).
The ‘Multiple Speakers’ option lets you select from among all the devices in the menu. In my case it means I can play the same music on the iMac and downstairs stereo simultaneously. You could have a house full of these things and play the same music throughout the house. Pretty cool.
To take my setup a step further, I’d like to control this from the MacBook as well. However, the MacBook has only a tenth of the music the iMac has. No problem. I use the Sharing panel in iTunes Preferences on the iMac to share my entire library:
On the MacBook I use the same panel to have it look for shared libraries. Now I just select whatever tunes I want from the shared library, select the Express, and I’m in business.
This is really sweet. The MacBook is serving as the “middle man” to receive music from the iMac and then stream it to the Express. All over WiFi. Perfect!
I’m going on vacation in a couple weeks and plan on taking the Express to use as my own WiFi hot spot at the hotel. I’ll report back on how it serves that purpose, but right now it’s doing exactly what I bought it for.