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Create a Wireless Home Audio System with AirPlay, AirPort Express & iTunes

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Updated April 01, 2014

Big-ticket homes often sport wireless home audio systems that connect all speakers in the house to a single audio system that can be controlled by a remote. These systems not only offer terrific sound, they’re unobtrusive (the speakers are often hidden in walls or ceilings) and let your music follow you from room to room.

As anyone who’s looked into these systems knows, they cost thousands of dollars and require contractors to punch holes in your walls or ceilings.

But you can build a similar home audio system using iTunes and Wi-Fi for much less.

ITunes can stream music via Wi-Fi from your iTunes Library to any speakers in your house that are connected to an Airport Express base station (or that connects to Wi-Fi on its own and supports AirPlay. The instructions in this article apply to those devices, too). You can take this a step further, though, and outfit your entire house with Wi-Fi-connected speakers and control them all from a single remote. Here’s how.

For hardware, you’ll need:

  • A Wi-Fi network (I guess you could do this with Ethernet, too, but unless your house has Ethernet ports in all of its rooms, that would get messy). You'll need the Wi-Fi network to stream music to the speakers.
  • At least 1 Airport Express. You'll need one for each set of speakers (you won't need more than one Airport Express and one set of speakers per room, though you may find that not every room needs one. For instance, speakers in the kitchen or bedroom may make more sense than in the bathroom or formal dining room). If the speakers you're using connect to Wi-Fi on their own and support AirPlay, you don't need the AirPort Express.
  • Speakers. Any speakers will do, really, as long as they sound good to you and have a standard audio minijack (this plug looks the same as a headphone jack). If the speakers aren't battery powered, though, you'll need to keep them close to an electrical outlet.
  • An iPhone or iPod touch, updated to the latest firmware, to work as your remote control.

For software, you'll need:

  • ITunes 4.6 or higher.
  • Mac OS X 10.4 or higher or Windows XP or Vista (you will, of course, also need some music in your iTunes Library, but I'm guessing you knew that).
  • Remote, a free app from Apple, available at the App Store (you can substitute other remote control programs if you like; Remote's free and I like it, so I used it here).

Setting Up Your Wireless Home Audio System

  1. Once you've got all the hardware and software, ensure that your computer is connected to your Wi-Fi network.
  2. Then set up the Airport Expresses (or Wi-Fi connected speakers) in the rooms you want to stream music to.
  3. In those rooms, place the speakers where you want them and connect them via the minijack cable to the Airport Express.
  4. Install Remote on your iPhone or iPod touch (in the same way you'd install any other iPhone app. Remote is available for download here).
  5. In iTunes, set the preference for the software to "Look for remote speakers with AirPlay." This option has been removed from newer versions of iTunes; they have this setting turned on automatically.

And with that, you've got a wireless home audio system.

Using Your Wireless Home Audio System

  1. From your computer, go to iTunes. Which version you're using will determine where you see this, but either in the bottom right corner or the top left corner, you'll see the AirPlay icon (a rectangle with an arrow in it). Click it to see a menu with the names of all your Airport Express base stations. Select the one you want to stream music to, start playing the music, and you'll hear it in that room.
  2. You can also stream music to more than one Airport Express simultaneously. Do this by choosing the "Multiple Speakers" item from the Airport Express menu and selecting the speakers you want to use.
  3. With Remote installed on your iPhone or iPod touch, connect the iOS device to your Wi-Fi network. Open the Remote app. After connecting the app to your iTunes Library, you'll see what's playing currently and be able to select new music and create/select playlists.

While this set-up isn’t quite as slick as a high-end home audio system, it can save you a lot of money and having to punch holes in your walls.

Even better, you’ll be able to wow guests at your next party and you’ll enjoy the flexibility of sending music to any speaker in the house using your iPhone or iPod touch.



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