Help me with my new audio setup.
April 19, 2010 7:19 AM   Subscribe

Right now we play music using the iMac in our living room. But in our new apartment the computer is going to be in the office. How can I get the tunes out of there and into the adjacent living room?

Blasting the volume out of the office isn't an option, so: what kind of new speaker system should I buy?

- We would like to retain a few speakers in the office for when we watch movies, and have at least two in the living room. It'd be preferable to be able to select only one room's speakers to play at a given time.

- Not having to physically connect those speakers to the computer would be a major plus (unless it would sacrifice audio quality too noticeably).

I know wireless systems exist for a regular "CD player plus amp" setup, but with the computer, we don't need an amp. Is there any setup that would satisfy our needs and that can be plugged right into the computer, a la our current three-piece (w/subwoofer) from Altec Lansing? Or, should I just get a regular system and plug the computer in as an auxiliary?

In either case, do you have any particular recommendations on a budget of around $500 (or if not that, the best cheapest option)? Thanks!
posted by Beardman to Technology (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Airport Express?
posted by jcrbuzz at 7:21 AM on April 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

posted by fizzzzzzzzzzzy at 7:22 AM on April 19, 2010

I don't have one myself, but I have friends who say good things about doing this with the Airport Express, which is just 100 bucks. It should be able to do anything you want.

I'd suggest get whatever stereo you want (and the lack of wireless should open up the options for your price), then one of these guys.
posted by Schismatic at 7:24 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Re: Airport Express, do you need a WiFi network in the apartment?
posted by Beardman at 7:30 AM on April 19, 2010

Seconding Airport Express, which will stream from iTunes, and the Airfoil software, which will stream from anything.
posted by Mwongozi at 7:30 AM on April 19, 2010

The AE will *create* a wifi network if you don't have one - and your Mac can connect to it. Alternatively, the AE has an ethernet socket on it, and you can use it wired.
posted by Mwongozi at 7:31 AM on April 19, 2010

Response by poster: The AE will *create* a wifi network if you don't have one - and your Mac can connect to it.

Wait a second. Does that mean that even if I don't have wifi in the apartment, if I got an Airport Express to play music from my iMac, I could also connect to it with a MacBook and surf the web on the latter?
posted by Beardman at 7:38 AM on April 19, 2010

As long as you have a high speed internet input into the Airport Express (from a cable modem, for example), then yes, it will create a wifi network that your MacBook can work with.
posted by olinerd at 7:41 AM on April 19, 2010

Yes, that's right. The only issue I find is that itunes can get a bit flakey if you're trying to do a lot of stuff on the computer while playing music through remote speakers.

If you're looking for a specific product that won't require buying a separate amplifier and speakers, Audioengine2 or 5 series speakers have an electrical outlet in the back to power the Airport.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:48 AM on April 19, 2010

Sorry, to clarify:

Just plugging in an Airport Express into your living room electrical socket and plugging speakers into it create a wireless network, and will allow your Mac in the office to connect wirelessly to it and stream your music. However, this will not allow other Macs to connect to it wirelessly and have internet access.

If, however, you have a nearby cable modem you can also plug into the Airport Express, you now create an Internet-connected wireless network your other computers can use.
posted by olinerd at 7:49 AM on April 19, 2010

Beware that the range on the Airport Express is a bit anemic. Its wireless capabilities are generally only good for the room it's in, and those directly surrounding it.

The other caveat is that The Airport Express only supports streaming from iTunes out of the box. If you want to stream audio from any other app, you'll need AirFoil, which is $25, and has worked flawlessly whenever I've used it. I use it for Pandora.

As for using it as an access point:
*If you can, connect your cable/dsl modem directly to the AE, and voila -- instant wireless network.

*If your modem is stuck in the office, your iMac can also act as an access point. Set your AE up either as an Airport Client, or a WDS relay station. The nuances of this are a bit more convoluted, but the point is that it almost certainly can be done in such a way that you get music in your living room, and wireless on your laptop. Alternatively, buy a "real" 802.11 base station so that the laptop isn't dependent on the iMac.
posted by schmod at 7:53 AM on April 19, 2010

I've got an Airport Express and am using it in exactly the way you want.

I can confirm what olinerd says: it's an either/or deal. Either you use it to create a wifi network, or you use it to receive a music signal over wifi and pass it along to your stereo (or you can use it as a wireless network extender). In my house, it's receiving its signal via the house's wifi router (an Airport Extreme, fwiw), which is connected to my computer over wires. If we stream from my wife's Macbook, playback will sometimes abort, since she typically leaves wifi turned on, even if she's plugged into the wired network, and somehow that creates a problem.
posted by adamrice at 7:57 AM on April 19, 2010

adamrice, I wasn't trying to say it was either/or. I use mine for both streaming and browsing on a regular basis. If you are doing any sort of heavy downloading, then yeah, the streaming performance certainly suffers. But for your standard email checking, Twittering, news-reading, etc, I find the iTunes streaming to be just fine.

I just didn't want the OP thinking it created a web-browsable access point simply by virtue of being plugged in. You still need the hard internet connection into it (or another wireless AP to extend)
posted by olinerd at 8:02 AM on April 19, 2010

Either you use it to create a wifi network, or you use it to receive a music signal over wifi and pass it along to your stereo
I think I know what you're trying to say here, but it's misleadingly worded.... assuming that at least one airport express is plugged into a live net connection, the same AE can be used for both wifi and airtunes simultaneously.

To break this down as simply as possible:

You need two airport expresses. Plug one of them into whatever is currently giving you internet access (i.e. run an ethernet cable from your cable router or whatever to the AE.)

Now you have a WiFi network in your apartment. Set up your iMac (and MacBook) to connect via AirPort instead of via ethernet.

Now take the other AE and plug it into the wall near your stereo. Run a stereo mini cable from the AE to the stereo's aux in. Enable AirTunes on this AE. Now you can play music from iTunes (and only iTunes) directly to this stereo's speakers over the wifi network. You can also, if necessary, set up this secondary AE to extend the range of your wireless network; whether you'll need to do this is going to depend on how far apart the rooms are, how thick the walls are, how much interference there is in your building, etc.

If your iMac is old enough that it isn't WiFi capable, or if you'd just prefer the iMac to have a wired connection, you'd need one of those Airport Expresses to be an Extreme instead, so that it could accept both wifi connections (for the airtunes and laptop) and a hardwired ethernet connection for the iMac.

(I do second what olinerd says about streaming performance being imperfect. Ours stops when the microwave is running, or when I use a cordless phone. The phone thing turns out to be pretty convenient, though: I pick up the phone, the music automatically stops, I hang up, it starts up again.)
posted by ook at 8:23 AM on April 19, 2010

Here's a possible set up for you.

Office/computer room: Have your modem installed there, and use an AirPort Extreme* ($180). Hard wire desktops for best connections. You can also network USB printers and hard drives. Buy a standard set of computer speakers ($50+) for the office. Plug these into your computer or network, your choice. (computer makes more sense unless you'd like to pump music from a laptop)

Living room: I'd set up the fancy speakers here and plug into an AirPort Express ($100) and have it act as a bridge to your wireless network. You can name this Express "Living Room", and in iTunes you will be able to play music to that room's speakers. If you are using an optical digital receiver/decoder, and optical 3.5 headphone cable ($20-ish?) you can have multi-chanel surround sound (with appropriate files of course).

*You could use a cheaper wireless router, but I wanted the extra features and have been very happy with mine. I find that the Extreme has great signal for my whole apartment (which is small). It's fast and stable enough to stream videos to our PS3. Wireless printing rocks too. You can also keep computer far far away from drinks at parties, and still pump tunes into the living room.

I loved my Express, which finally toasted it's self after 5 years, 4 moves and 24/7 use. I compare this to my parent's wireless router body count of 4 over the same time period.

All in all, I don't want to come off as a kool-aid drinking apple fangirl, but they do this stuff pretty well.
posted by fontophilic at 9:54 AM on April 19, 2010

We've been doing the Airport Extreme+Express(es) for several years now, and it works great. This is the solution you've been looking for!

Plus, if you have an iPhone, you can control the various places you've got music (e.g., computer, kitchen, living room) from the phone remotely: including toggling on and off music in the various places.
posted by leahwrenn at 11:17 AM on April 19, 2010

The airport express is a good option, but if you want ultra simple, get this wireless music system from audioengine ( It's only $100. You can connect it to self-powered (computer) speaker or to a stereo that you might already have. There's no configuration involved; it is reallbplug and play.
posted by reddot at 8:04 AM on April 21, 2010

Also, their A5 powered speakers have a USB power port, which will not power an airport express. It will work with the wireless system I just posted though. The A2 speakers do not have a USB port.

I use the wireless system in my house for a situation similar to yours, and it is great. I also own some of their speakers and love them as well.
posted by reddot at 8:08 AM on April 21, 2010

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