Imagine sitting in your living room, on your deck, or even in your bathroom with a remote control that gives you total control of music throughout your house. Not only does this remote control which song is playing, how loud, and through which speakers, it also downloads metadata about your entire music collection, allows you to see what’s currently playing and what’s coming next, build playlists, and even view album covers. How about if the whole thing integrates with your iTunes collection and the remote doubles as an internet browser, portable .MP3 player, and even a mobile phone? Think it’s too good to be true?
It isn’t. Apple’s latest set of gadgets (with which we’ve recently become enamored) work together to create this awesome multi-room audio capability. We’re in the process of setting it up for our patio and master bedroom, with very positive initial results (review to come later). Here’s how it works:
iTunes Houses Your Audio Collection
The anchor of the system is the iTunes application installed on any suitable computer (Apple or PC) connected to a wireless home network. If you or your kids have Apple’s popular iPod, you’re probably already familiar with iTunes. If not, don’t worry; iTunes is a free download from Apple. The application allows you to purchase many popular songs for $.99 each, and will let you read in and store your CD collection – organizing all of your music into a one-stop-shop, the equivalent of the modern-day jukebox. iTunes also features online radio stations and often includes free music from up-and-coming artists.
An iPhone or iPod Touch Serves as the Remote
To remote control your iTunes application, you’ll need an iPhone or an iPod Touch (official sites) and the Apple Remote Application (official site) available for download for free at that link and in the App store on your device. Connect your iPhone or Touch to your local wireless network, and follow the instructions in the Remote Application to couple your computer’s iTunes application with the Remote. (Setup is simple, and requires only 2-3 steps).
Once the application and the Remote are coupled, your complete audio collection will be visible on the device. Virtually all the features available on iTunes for manipulating audio on your computer are now available on the phone. Press play on the Remote, and your computer will start playing music. Turn the volume up/down on the Remote and you can watch the volume slider on your computer move in tandem.
Got two or more iPhones or Touches? No sweat. iTunes supports multiple, simultaneous remotes controlling the same device.
Yeah, it’s pretty cool….
But, unless your computer is right next to your speakers, it’s not really that useful to have a remote that controls your computer.
Airport Express(es) Take the Music to Your Speakers Wirelessly
Enter the Apple Airport Express (official site). This nifty little device plugs into the wall and serves only 3 purposes. The airport express can:
- Create, join, or extend a wireless network–it can do all three and includes an ethernet jack on the bottom if it serves as the original access point.
- Provide shared network access to a USB printer (via a USB port on the bottom and Bonjour software on your PC/Mac).
- Receive a digital iTunes audio signal across the network and output digital or analog audio (via an optical-capable headphone jack on the bottom) to powered speakers or a traditional audio receiver.
Multiple Airport Express units can be connected to your network to provide separate zones for your audio. You can turn the zones on and off from iTunes on your PC, or from the iPhone / Touch Remote application.
An upper-class audio system that rivals even the best of competitors, delivered with a boatload of additional features at a middle-class price.
Exceptionally Cool Features Summary
So, are you excited to tell your friends about this totally cool setup? Here’s the highlights:
- iPhone / iPod Touch serves as a Remote for your iTunes Collection on your Mac/PC.
- The Remote App downloads all the data about the iTunes collection onto your iPhone / Touch, including album covers.
- Remote controls everything you’d want to control: playback, volume, search, create playlists, and more.
- Airport Express(es) plug into the wall and join your wireless network, then stream audio from iTunes to any location in your home.
- Remote controls which Airport Expresses are active at any given time, giving you total control over multiple audio “zones” in your house.
- iPhone / Touch Remote & Airport Express devices work anywhere in range of your wireless network. Airport Expresses extend your wireless network if you are on a compatible network (e.g., an Airport Extreme-based network).
Where to Buy & How Much?
Many people (we included) already owned some of these components. Here’s the breakdown if you’re starting from scratch.
- iTunes – Free download from Apple.
- Remote Application – Free download from Apple (also availlable via the App Store on your iPhone / Touch).
- iPod Touch – Online or local Apple stores.
- Airport Express – Online or local Apple stores.
If you’re running audio from the Airport Express to a typical receiver, you’ll also need a headphone jack-to-RCA cable to pipe the sound from the airport express to the receiver. If you really want to get fancy and your receiver supports it, you can substitute the RCA-style cable for a mini-TOSlink to TOSLink optical cable (which the airport express also supports and may provide better sound quality).
What do you think? Have you tried Apple’s audio solution?