A couple of friends mentioned the Apple Airport Express to me and it sounded compelling; a super compact 802.11n Wi-Fi base station that could not only serve as a wireless USB print server but could also be used to play my iTunes music on my stereo.
I have long wanted a clean solution for accessing my iTunes collection from my stereo without a big hassle and this sounded perfect. I bought one on Amazon.com for $96 and used my Amazon Prime account to get it here in two days.
The AirPort Express itself is extremely small; about the size of a standard MacBook power adapter. There were instructions inside and a CD containing the AirPort Utility but since I had already installed a Time Capsule I had all of the software ready to go. I simply plugged the AirPort Express into a power outlet inside of our stereo cabinet and ran a mini-stereo to RCA cable from it into one of the inputs on our main stereo receiver. A small green light started to flash so I went over to my MacBook Pro and fired up the AirPort Utility.
There was a new wireless network that I could join so I switched to it and found the new device. So far, so good. The AirPort Utility walked me through a series of questions to configure the device and the next thing I knew it was attached to my existing wireless network and was visible to all of the machines on my network. It could not have been any easier.
I ran downstairs and fired up iTunes on my Mac Pro, where my main music collection resides. Down in the lower right corner of the iTunes window I noticed that I now had a pop-up menu that would allow me to target either my Computer or the cleverly named "David Alison's AirPort Express" for sound output. By selecting the AirPort Express anything I played through iTunes would get pushed out to my stereo now.
I had to play with the volume both on iTunes and at the stereo to eliminate some static issues but was able to resolve that pretty quickly. This was great—my entire music collection was now easily accessable inside of our family room!
Taking Cool to the Next Level
About the only problem with all of this was that since my music collection was downstairs on my Mac Pro I would have to run downstairs if I wanted to select a different song or play list.
Enter the free Remote application for the iPhone and iPod Touch. This Wi-Fi based application loads up on your iPhone and allows you to remotely control iTunes running on your Mac. You simply pair it up and you can control the operation of iTunes right from your iPhone. You can see your album artwork directly on your iPhone too; very cool.
How I Lost My AirPort Express
With everything operating smoothly I was really excited to show Allison how all of this worked. I proudly held out my iPhone with Remote running on it and watched her marvel at our new source of music. Thinking show and tell was over I was about to settle in on the couch to listen to a little Tears for Fears when Allison said:
"David, this is really cool. Can you put that on MY iPhone and hook it up to MY MacBook? I want to listen to MY music!"
Great. I set up the coolest toy I've seen in a while and before I could play a single song all the way through she had claimed the set up as her own. Sure, we have some overlap in our musical tastes but she doesn't care to listen to my 80s rock and I feel the bile rise when some of the "crooners" she likes start belting out their songs.
I quickly got her MacBook and iPhone matched up, then walked away as my shiny new AirPort Express was being used to push Michael Bublé's "Save the last dance for me" out of our stereo speakers.
Oh well, it was great while it lasted. On the bright side my wife is extremely happy.
Got a different way to play your digital music throughout your house? As Roland Orzabal would say, Shout, Shout, let it all out... in the comments.