Review: AirPort Express

A few years ago, I made myself a mini project to try and convert all our CDs into a digital format, like mp3s.  Why?  Imagine having all your music accessible immediately, at your fingers, never having to find a CD again.  It was a nice dream and I got part of the way there.

So, fast forward to today – I have gigs of music stored on some external hard drives.  But what now?

Listen to them on my laptop or through headphones on my laptop?  That’s not I wanted either.

I want to be able to listen to my music on my home stereo!!  But how?

There are many products and solutions out there that try to solve this problem.  For Father’s Day, I was fortunate enough to receive (with a little hint), an Apple AirPort Express!  Yep, no socks or ties – a piece of technology – w00t!!

Unboxing the AirPort Express
Unboxing the AirPort Express

The AirPort Express is a little box sold by Apple.  But what does it do?  Many things, but the thing that attracted me was that it basically is a “remote” speaker for your computer.  I’ve put it near my amp, and plugged the audio out of the AirPort Express into the stereo.  Then, by the magic of iTunes, wifi and some Apple technologies, it appears in iTunes as a “remote” speaker that I can output music to.  You’ll read that it enables you to “stream” audio from iTunes to an amp or speakers connected to the AirPort Express.

So, now I can play all my music that is on my laptop, and the sound comes out of my home stereo.  Not bad 🙂  Works fine as long as I want to control my music from my laptop/computer.

So here are some thoughts:

It’s SMALL!  Yes, upon unboxing the AirPort Express, I was surprised by how small it is.  It’s basically the same size as the power adapter for a MacBook.  Cool.

The AirPort Express
The AirPort Express

It looks SIMPLE!  It follows Apple’s simple yet stylish design philosophies that drive the iPod, MacBooks, etc.  I like how it’s white and smooth.  I like the power plug IS the device.  No extra wires to contend with.  I like the absence of buttons so I can leave it behind my stereo without needing to fiddle with it.  All the configuration is done remotely on a laptop (but see below for some problems I ran into).

It does so many things!  Too many maybe.  Via software that you run on your laptop/computer, you can configure the AirPort Express to be:

  • A wireless bridge – if you want to connect wired ethernet devices to a wireless network.  I could’ve connected the Tivo into this maybe.
  • A wireless access point – if you want to add wireless capabilities to your network.  I didn’t need this as I already have a wireless router.
  • A print server – if you want to connect your printer directly on the network.  Would be good if you want to share a printer between multiple computers.  I might try this one day as we currently share a single USB cable.
  • A set of remote speakers for iTunes – if you want to be able to play music in iTunes and get the sound to be output via the audio jacks
Ports at the back
Ports at the back

I like the selection of jacks (ethernet if you want it to be wireless bridge, or a wireless access point), USB and analog stereo or digital stereo.

I like how you can decide whether it should join your existing wireless network or set up its own.

I would have liked an RCA plug and digital connection to be included.  I have optical inputs in my amp, but I now have to buy a separate cable.

I did run into a problem in setting it up though.  When I used the AirPort Utility on my Dell, it could not connect to the AirPort Express.  I didn’t bother investigating much, because wifey has a MacBook, and it worked perfectly on there.

Also, I’m now frustrated that iTunes is the only officially supported player.  I use Foobar2000 and Media Monkey to organise and play my music on the laptop.  With a bit of Googling, I’ve found these two things that could help:

  • AirFoil – http://rogueamoeba.com/airfoil/ – exposes the AirPort Express as a sound output to Windows, basically allowing you to output all sound/music from Windows and Windows applications to the AirPort Express.  Neat 😉  I guess I could even play games and hear the sound through the AirPort Express 🙂
  • AirPort Express remote speaker plugin for MediaMonkey – http://emilles.dyndns.org/software/out_apx.html – let’s MediaMonkey output its audio to the AirPort Express.

The main drawbacks I see to the AirPort Express is that the music has to be controlled through a computer.  What if I turn off my laptop?  What if I’m sitting in front of the stereo and want to play something?  I’m lucky for now that the laptop is in the same room as the stereo, but if they’re not, then what?

Luckily I’ve also setup my laptop as a Media Server for my PS3, but that’s a story for another time…

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4 thoughts on “Review: AirPort Express”

  1. can you tell me …will Airport Express play ALL audio from the computer. Also will it pick up any wireless system (Dlink router) . I am using the Airport Ex. because I want to play any and all audio from the computer into my stereo system which is in a different room.

    I am starting to think I should have bought Linksys Wireless-G Music Bridge http://www.linksys.com

  2. Wiegand, no – by default, Airport Express will only play music output from iTunes only.

    There is third party software like AirFoil that you can buy separately that will output any audio to the Airport Express, but I haven’t tried it before.

    As for any wireless system, it supports 802.11 a/b/g/n which are all the standard Wireless networking systems, so you should be fine. (See the specs here: http://www.apple.com/airportexpress/specs.html). It’s best to double check with your router documentation or ask the salesperson at an Apple shop.

    Not sure about the Wireless G Music Bridge, but I guess you need to weigh up the costs and what functionality you need. Have you looked up reviews? Here are some:

    http://www.amazon.com/Linksys-WMB54G-Wireless-G-Music-Bridge/dp/B000E5E6KG

    http://reviews.cnet.com/networking-and-wi-fi/linksys-wmb54g-wireless-g/4505-3243_7-31660626.html

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