• Wireless Music Distribution Part Two

    In part two of the wireless music distribution series we get into the actual configuration of an Airport Express and iTunes to distribute music from the music server to another zone / room with AirTunes. Unfortunately the word configuration has a bad connotation when it comes to computers. Much of the time when people read the word configuration they immediately tune out and look for a canned solution that's plug n' play. Fortunately when working with most Apple components and applications the word configuration really means putting a check mark in a box and clicking OK. I'm happy to report that this is the case when enabling AirTunes. Here are some instructions and a video showing exactly how to complete this simple configuration.

     

     

    At a high level sending music to another room with an Airport Express and iTunes is quite simple. (Assuming the Airport Express has already been physically connected to a DAC or AV Receiver via an optical TosLink connection). First configure the Airport Express to allow AirTunes, configure iTunes to look for the Airport Express, select the Airport Express as the output device for the music and that's it. Music will now be sent to the audio system connected to the Airport Express and the digital output will be bit perfect.


    At a more detailed level sending music to another room with an Airport Express and iTunes is just as simple once you know what you're doing. Here are the steps to get everything working, followed by a video that shows each step in sequence. It really is simple and incredibly inexpensive. The Airport Express is only $99 and outputs bit perfect audio!

     

    01. Open the Airport Utility (Applications >> Utilities >> Airport Utility)
    02. Select the Airport Express on the left side of the Airport Utility
    03. Select Manual Configuration
    04. Select the Music tab in the main Airport Utility window
    05. Check the box to Enable AirTunes
    06. Click Update to restart the Airport Express (optional - check to see that the box is checked upon restarting)
    07. Open iTunes
    08. Select Preferences form the main iTunes menu (iTunes >> Preferences)
    09. Select the Devices tab
    10. Check the box to Look for Remote Speakers Connected with AirTunes, and select OK
    11. In the lower right corner of the iTunes window select Computer >> Multiple Speakers
    12. Select the Airport Express check box and click the X to close the popup window.
    13. Music will now play via wireless on your remote audio system

     

     


     

    Configuring AirTunes















     

     

    High Resolution 1280 x 800 version 13.59 MB



     

     
    Comments 26 Comments
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi alex - I have done some listening tests, although not as rigorous as some audiophiles would like. I compared the output of an Airport Express to a Lynx AES16e AES/EBU card vis a Mac Pro. I was able to notice a difference between the two interfaces without to much trouble. The Lynx was the better interface. But, the Lynx is not wireless. There are pros and cons to everything :~)
    1. alex1122's Avatar
      alex1122 -
      I'll buy one in the next couple weeks and report my findings...<br />
      <br />
      Regarding the settings on the macbook--can I leave them on the highest rez, or doesnt it matter?
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      When play music through a wired DAC I always match the sample rate in Audio Midi with the track I'm playing. Wireless via Airport Expeess doesn't use audio midi so he settings won't even matter. The AE tops out at 16/44.1.
    1. dc23's Avatar
      dc23 -
      Chris,<br />
      <br />
      Hope you can help. I'm trying to get my wife set up with iTunes and an Airport on her IBM laptop. Thing is, we're not Mac people, and that's not about to change any time soon. I've been really happy with foobar and EAC on my own laptop PC in the back room. Dirt-cheap but surprisingly not-bad-sounding Behringer UCA202, a WD external hard drive and I was up and running for less than 200 bucks. At first I mainly wanted something just to rip vinyl, and the Behringer seemed to be about the only thing without more than I need...since I already have a phono stage I'm really happy with. I was just testing the waters on the playback side and now I think I'm hooked. Maybe a Benchmark next...<br />
      <br />
      Thing is, for my wife I really need something wireless, and the Airport seems to be about the only fairly cheap game in town. Plus while I like foobar better, I think she'll like the more visual aspect of iTunes. <br />
      <br />
      So I guess what I'm asking is, will this work? And can you offer any setup advice? I'm using dbpoweramp music converter to change my FLAC files to Apple Lossless and keeping it all on my external hard drive, then planning to download iTunes to my wife's laptop and transfer the music files to it. I assume Airtunes (comes with Airport?) will let me set things up so iTunes can send the files to the Airport. We have a wireless network in the house. Some Cisco Linksys whatever device for our internet. Seems to work OK.<br />
      <br />
      So...can I set up her iTunes library on my hard drive, with artwork and everything, and then move it to her computer fairly quickly? Or do I have to set up the library and add on the artwork once the files are transferred? It's her birthday coming up and I'd like to surprise her with suddenly having all her music literally at her fingertip. Nothing to plug in or dick with, just turn on the stereo, open up her laptop and go to. <br />
      <br />
      I guess what I need to know the most is whether I can set up the library, with artwork, on my system (it'll be on the external drive), and then move it to hers with just a couple of keypad taps the night before. As opposed to being up all night loading up all the artwork manually. Or digitally I guess would be more accurate. Your bit on moving an iTunes library (which I assume means including artwork) was a bit apple-centric. Any advice for us in the other 90-odd percent of the world who struggle on quite happily with PCs and Windows?<br />
      <br />
      Sorry to dither on, but I'm trying to write this as I feverishly scan 200-odd CD booklets while my wife is out. Shoulda thought of that first, before learning a hard lesson about trying to track down cover art on the internet. That way lies madness. And very low resolution. <br />
      <br />
      So to sum up: Airport. PC. Airtunes. PC. iTunes. PC. Situating, moving, logistics. PC. <br />
      <br />
      Eagerly awaiting your guidance.<br />
      <br />
      Yer pal,<br />
      <br />
      dc23 <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
    1. paulb's Avatar
      paulb -
      Hi Chris,<br />
      <br />
      You mention that you found the Lynx card to sound better, presumably both were playing via their digital outputs, in which case do you put the difference down to jitter as both should be in theory bit perfect?<br />
      <br />
      I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Airport Express was worse at analogue, it must have a fairly crappy PSU, but when used as a digital transport, I would expect the performance to be pretty good when connected to a decent DAC. The only reason I can think of that it wouldn't be would be a poor jitter performance as it is an optical link.<br />
      <br />
      I was thinking of getting another one for my set-up, my LogiTech Duet is now gathering dust as its user experience pales beside Apple Remote on an iPod Touch. Just too slow and clunky by comparison. I'm currently goin direct from a MacBook Pro digital out to a MF XDAC3/XPSU3 (The additional PSU makes a big difference)<br />
      <br />
      Paul
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      <i>"... do you put the difference down to jitter as both should be in theory bit perfect?"</i><br />
      <br />
      Hi Paul - I really wish I had an answer on this one. I don't have the engineering prowess to venture a guess as to what's going on here. <br />
      <br />
      Both are bit perfect but do not sound the same. <br />
      <br />
    1. alex1122's Avatar
      alex1122 -
      Chris,<br />
      <br />
      Is the difference in the subtle range of "difference between DACS", or when switching interconnects? Or is it a major downgrade going wireless?
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Alex - I wish I could answer your question but there's no way to know what you mean by <i>subtle range of "difference between DACS", or when switching interconnects.</i><br />
      <br />
      The difference between DACs and interconnects can be nonexistent or extremely large.
    1. paulb's Avatar
      paulb -
      Just to be clear on the setup, both were feeding the same DAC through optical connections using the same cable?<br />
      <br />
      If that's the case, then the only device related possibility left is jitter as there is no electrical connection and the data is exactly the same. <br />
      <br />
      The other aspect to consider might be volume, or application of a volume function when using one or other of the outputs. <br />
      <br />
      There can be no difference between a wired or unwired data connection, otherwise I couldn't write this message for example. My guess is that the data going into one or other has had a volume adjustment made on it.<br />
      <br />
      Paul
    1. coot's Avatar
      coot -
      I followed your excellent instructions to connect my Airport Express to my new Benchmark DAC1 with optical. I also tried it with USB but got no signal. Since both units have the connectors - shouldn't it work? Just curious.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Coot - Apple has disabled any audio output via USB. It only works with printers right now.
    1. alex1122's Avatar
      alex1122 -
      (Before I proceed let me once again say this is a great site, with great info and posters, and Chris puts in huge hours with probably not a huge payback... We all appreciate the forum.)<br />
      <br />
      Hmmm. No offense at all here Chris, and at the risk of getting flamed, I find no difference between interconnects at ANY pricepoint (I have lots of $ in wires if anyone wants deals--lol). A blind listening will prove me right here every time--I don't care what anyone says, and I've tried plenty. Lampcord works just as well. As a lifelong musician with pretty damn good equipment, I trust my ears... As far as DAC's, I'm saying there are only very subtle differences between expensive ones and cheap ones. I was very surprised, in fact, that when I did an A/B with an IPOD! (yikes) vs. a Beresford DAC (admittedly a relatively cheap DAC but still...), with volume carefully matched, that there was not a HUGE difference sonically. Audible, definitely there even to a casual listener, but not HUGE. This is an extreme example, and proves the point that once you get beyond the cheapest dac possible (IPOD), the sonic changes are small or non existent. I'm not sure why I was surprised, as this has pretty much been the case throughout my "audiophile" career (amps, preamps, wires, cones, power supplies, candles, gold plated, pure silver, scented audiocandles (OK-i made that up), green edges on redbook cd's (or was it blue?), offerings of virgins, etc, etc ad nauseum). No I haven't tried a $10,000 DAC, but, I have in the past tried many very high end CD players vs. moderately priced ones in critical listening tests and again, found only subtle, if any differences. Even the subtle differences could be attributed to the "expensive wine theory" found elsewhere on this board, as I wasn't listening blind.<br />
      <br />
      Anyway, I digress. My point was I just bought an airport express. Hooked up easily enough (can't get it to work with my existing wireless base yet but that will need some tweaking). Initial thoughts: Has a tiny lag (expected), but aside that, sounds pretty damn good. I will try to A/B when I have some time alone and the fam isn't around, although it will be harder to do than the aforementiond DAC vs IPOD test (I did that by playing the same song at the same time on Macbook & Ipod, volume matched, into two separate inputs in preamp, so I could literally switch back and forth instantly. I won't be able to do this with the wired/wireless test). Also, if anyone cares, I compared the USB output vs. the optical out of the macbook to the Beresford (it accepts either) and found absolutely no sonic difference whatsoever. If anyone cares, I have a counterpoint SA20 hybrid mosfet/tube amp, Krell solid state preamp, Von Schweikert VR4 speakers, a Vandersteen Sub, and a variety of overpriced interconnects.<br />
      <br />
      Having said all that, maybe me being in many bands (including loud rock) my entire life is determental to critical listening (meaning my ears are shot due to exposure to high dB's since I was 12?). Who knows? <br />
      <br />
      OK. I'm going to take cover now...
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Alex - No worries! no need to take cover! I think your opinion is very valuable and matches that of many readers. I agree that the Airport Express is capable of some pretty good sound which is one reason why I write about it in this series of articles. <br />
      <br />
      Plus, as long as your write a comment from your perspective based on your personal experience there really isn't anything to argue about for those who are in to arguing. I don't think anyone can say your opinion is incorrect. I think we get into trouble when people suggest there can possibly be a difference between component A and B etc... You certainly stated your opinion in a way that made me very interested in it and actually it gives you so much more credibility versus forcing an opinion as fact.<br />
      <br />
      Thanks for the comments Alex!
    1. darascal's Avatar
      darascal -
      Hi Chris,<br />
      <br />
      First, thanks so much for creating this site! I have been searching vainly for sources of information that integrate digital audio + high-end audio. <br />
      <br />
      Second, I'm wondering what you meant in your comment "Apple has disabled any audio output via USB. It only works with printers right now". Did you mean specifically for the Airport Express only?<br />
      <br />
      Thanks,<br />
      Russell Harvey
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Russel - You are 100% correct. It's only the Airport Express that has USB audio disabled.
    1. yzurdiaga's Avatar
      yzurdiaga -
      Suggest that one of the bigger improvements that can be made in the Push setup: turn the Equalizer to Off. I've noticed in several tests across Apple Lossless and AIFF that the Equalizer compresses the music's dynamic range. Noticeably different.<br />
      <br />
      Best,<br />
      ken
    1. alex1122's Avatar
      alex1122 -
      Not sure I agree. I haven't done any really critical listening to compare, however I do recall that I could detect no difference between EQ on and FLAT, vs. EQ off. <br />
      <br />
      Not to mention the fact that having some tone control has been very nice indeed. I've always hated that about high-end audiophile equipment even though I grudgingly followed along. Not sure what the logic ever was behind having a piece of music you love and being at the mercy of a shitty mix or recording engineer. Three piece microphone-recorded jazz? Sure. Symphony? Sure. 24 to 48 tracks of amplified, overdubbed, layered, compressed, manipulated rock and roll? I can list dozens of great records that sound ten times better with a bit of EQ added. Not to mention EQ is a damn cheap (and probably singular) way to tweak a system's weaknesses (mainly the speakers).<br />
      <br />
      Just my humble opinion...
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Alex - Oh so true. A little EQ can go along way toward pleasurable listening. I don't go near it when I wan to heat an album exactly how it was delivered (CD or download etc...), but if it sounds good then it is good.
    1. yzurdiaga's Avatar
      yzurdiaga -
      My preference is for naked systems. And, everyone's palette is personal (about wine, too). So I've used some common techniques to maximize my experience with no hindrance to musical dynamism. You may have already tried them, but here goes.<br />
      <br />
      First, turn off the iTunes equalizer. Focus on the highs, but the difference is across the spectrum. I can't live with deadness.<br />
      <br />
      Now, SPEAKER PLACEMENT has a lot to do with equalization, plus how they're presenting a sound stage. Eg, 9db minimum delta in bass registers by moving them off stands, to the wall, then into a corner. Highs will suffer, though (yes, an argument for equalization). Takes some experimenting to make the improvements to your taste. Most rooms have ample flaws, but this works to improve a lot.<br />
      <br />
      Last, the the pre-amp's gain and amplifier's level of output has another very big effect, in combination with speaker response. At the end of the day, no component is that linear in output. Get a system into the sweet spot, and it sounds better. Try turning off the loudness control in your car stereo, and just turn up the volume. Voila, lows and highs return.<br />
      <br />
      My home hifi system's pretty uneven at lower settings, so I turn it up and turn the iTunes volume down. At least that overcomes the pre-amp's tendencies. <br />
      <br />
      So there several controls available that will only make your listening pleasure more. If they're not enough, then there's the equalizer.<br />
      <br />
      If I've more to learn, please bring it on.
    1. defgibbon's Avatar
      defgibbon -
      Hello Chris--This is a great site, and filled with excellent explanations of sometimes complex topics.<br />
      <br />
      I use Airtunes here with my Mac Pro, with a pair of drives configured as a 1T RAID, and love the convenience (especially using my iPhone running remote!) Airtunes' toslink out into my DAC sounds decent, but spdif out from my transport sounds considerably better. Also, I get a fair amount of what sounds like relay chatter from various DACs that I assume is caused by irregularities in the bitstream. For noise reasons my Mac Pro needs to outside of my listening room, so a wireless solution is ideal. Do you know if there's any workaround for this lack of USB audio support? Have you heard of a hack that will enable me to use USB audio out of an Airport Express or Extreme?<br />
      <br />
      Thanks so much, keep up the great work. Cheers,<br />
      John