Before I talk about the product, a short but deserved rant… What a stupid name for a product. AirPort Express? I know it’s because it’s the younger brother to the AirPort Extreme, but even so. I mean – you Google “AirPort Express” and what do you get? Gatwick? Heathrow? Fast check-in? Shuttle busses? Oh dear…!
Name aside, this little gadget allows you to create a wireless network at home that you then connect all your WIFI gadgets to, including phones, laptops, printers and so on. Apple say you can connect up to 20 wireless devices to it, which should be plenty for any normal household. You get all that with a wireless router, though… but the good thing about this is that it’s portable, so if you go away you can create a wireless network in your hotel, holiday cottage or wherever you have a wired broadband connection. One thing to note though is that this doesn’t provide your connection to the BT or cable point – you still need another device to do that part. You also need to look carefully at whether it can do what you want – for example it can only extend an existing wireless network in certain circumstances, otherwise it just acts as a client (which is how we use it).
The reason we bought the AirPort Express was for its ability to stream music from iTunes on our PC through our hi-fi in the lounge, using the iPhone4 as a remote.
To make this happen you plug the oversized charger-looking device into the wall near the sound system you wish to play your music from (ours is with the TV in the lounge), and connect it via either the 3.5-inch headphone-sized socket into a line-in socket on your audio system, or using an optical digital cable for digital audio (assuming your receiver accepts optical cabling).
Setting up the AirPort Express is advertised as being easy. You have to connect it (wirelessly or wired) to your existing network and set it up using the supplied software from a PC or Mac. We found it took a lot of fiddling to get it connected to our WIFI network and for iTunes to be able to see it properly. There were problems connecting it to our router to start with, and problems with our firewall (Comodo). After copious amounts of playing about we found that un-installing the firewall, installing the AirPort Express, and then re-installing the firewall meant things worked just fine on the laptop. However, Comodo wouldn’t play nicely with it on the PC so that’s now running a different firewall – forums seem to indicate this is a common problem with Comodo allowing iTunes to communicate with an Airport Express.
Apart from that slight hiccup, sending our music from our computer to the hi-fi was very easy. You open iTunes, select your playlist or album, press play, and then select where you want the music to play. You can choose to have your music playing on your computer or through the AirPort Express (i.e. on your sound system), or both – which means we can easily fill our house with music, just as we like it.
The other advantage of the AirPort Express and it’s ability to stream music is that you can remote control it using the iPhone4 or iPad. Using the free app “Remote”, which looks, feels and works very much like the standard iPod app (making it very easy to navigate), you can connect to your iTunes library (assuming iTunes is open on your computer), and choose what to play. Just like using iTunes to control the AirPort Express you can choose whether to play on your computer only, Airport Express only, or both. You can also control the volume from your iPhone, which is a very useful feature.
(Yes we called our AirPort Express “Gatwick”… for obvious reasons!)
If you would like friends visiting your home to control the music they are hearing, if they have Remote installed on their iPhone they can make requests from your iTunes library, which affects the play list – great for a party or barbecue where everyone has different taste in music. I am really looking forward to giving this a proper go when the summer arrives. One other option is streaming directly from an iPhone, iPad or iPad Touch to the Airport Express without needing the computer switched on. The main drawback of this though is the battery drain from the constant WIFI use.
Should you buy an AirPort Express? If you want to play your iTunes library through a sound system that’s away from your computer then yes, this is a good solution. It’s fairly easy to set up (eventually anyway) and does the job perfectly. As for its other uses, you’ll have to tell me whether it’s worth it for those – it’s all about the music in my house!
The AirPort Express is £83.00 from the Apple Store, and assuming you have the relevant cables to connect it to your sound system you’ll be ready to go. Remote is a free app.