iTunes 4.6 of higher
Mac OS X 10.4 and higher
Windows XP SP2 or Vista
Works best with Remote on iPod touch or iPhone
A snap to set up and use
Makes streaming music to different rooms simple
Easy to troubleshoot
Terrific when used with Remote
Less useful without Remote
The Apple Airport Express is the perfect accessory for anyone who lives in more than one room and has an iTunes library. This little box is affordable and so easy to use that if you really enjoy music and want to streamline your home audio set up to include just a computer and speakers in various rooms (especially if you’ve got an iPod touch or iPhone), you pretty much need to have it.
What It Is
At first glance, the Airport Express just looks to be a little white plastic box, which, basically, is just what it is. On closer inspection, though, you’ll find plugs for an electrical socket, an Ethernet jack, a USB port, and a stereo jack. And in that small complement of ports, you know everything about what the Airport Express can do.
The device, which plugs into any electrical socket and sits flush with the wall, connects to the web or your local network via Ethernet or WiFi, can connect to speakers or a stereo to stream music from local iTunes libraries, and can be used to wirelessly share printers between multiple computers.
Because the topic of this site is iPods and iTunes, this review focuses on the music-sharing/streaming features of the Airport Express, something the device excels at.
The simplicity of the Airport Express becomes clear in the set up process. Simply connect the device to a power source and speakers, and then run the included Airport Utility to configure and add it to the network, and you’ll be ready to use it. A simple green light on the top if the device lets you know it’s connected to the network and ready for use (red means there’s a problem; yellow that it’s trying to connect).
While you’ll want to be patient and follow the instructions in the right order, you can go from opening the box to streaming music over WiFi in less than 10 minutes. (Add another minute or two if you’ve got an iPhone or iPod touch and want to use Remote, something I highly recommend).
With the device set up, you practically have a wireless home music network without running cable throughout your house or buying too much specialized hardware. Pretty cool.
Using AirPort Express
Just as setting up the device is simple, so is using it. The most basic use for the Airport Express is to stream music from your computer’s iTunes library to the Airport Express and speakers in another room. This is as simple as choosing a menu item in iTunes and pushing play.
And while that’s pretty good – and reliable: I’ve never had a problem with my Airport Express dropping off my wireless network or stuttering – it is a little limited. After all, what if you’re streaming music to the kitchen from your computer in the den and want to change the song? Needing to walk back and forth between rooms diminishes the usefulness.
Here’s where Remotecomes in. I’d recommend the Airport Express to most iTunes users, but for those using Remote, I’d say it’s essential.
Remote is a free program from the App Store that runs on the iPod touch and iPhone and allows you to control your iTunes library from your mobile device. This means no trips to the den. Instead, just whip your mobile device out of your pocket and change the song, the album, the volume, or any number of other things. With Remote, you’ve got a fully realized home music ecosystem, of which the Airport Express is a key component.
Troubleshooting Airport Express
As I mentioned, I’ve had very few problems with my Airport Express; I’ve hardly had to troubleshoot it. Obviously this speaks favorably about the quality of the product. Most problems that I’ve encountered with other people’s Airport Expresses can be fixed by simply unplugging the device and then plugging it back in again.
When using Remote, things get a little trickier, but not much. You just have to be sure that you’ve set the music to stream to the right speakers (to your Airport Express, rather than your computer for instance).
So far, though, this is among the most trouble-free consumer electronics I’ve ever used.
The Airport Express basically does what it sets out to do very well — especially when combined with Remote.
One feature I’d like to see added is video streaming, since there’s no reason that you couldn’t host a movie on your computer but stream it to the Airport Express-connected TV in the living room. That sort of functionality would require some hardware changes to the device, though, and I suspect that Apple would rather sell the Apple TV as its home media server, so I’m not holding my breath for that feature.
The Bottom Line
From its ease of installation and use to its nearly trouble-free operation, the Apple Airport Express is a top-notch gadget. It does what it sets out to do well and does it easily, making it a joy to use and a product that delivers a great experience.
Users who don’t have an iPod touch or iPhone, and thus can’t run Remote, ought to really think through how they’d use it, and in what rooms, before buying. But, anyone who can run Remote ought to have no hesitation at all. There’s something very satisfying – and cool – about being able to control the music playing in my bedroom just by grabbing my phone off the nightstand.