How can I stream audio at home to my stereo?
September 24, 2011 3:04 PM   Subscribe

How can I stream audio from several PCs (or one external-hard-drive-based music library) to my downstairs stereo?

You Are Not My Tech Support - BUT - I've been trying to research this, but I'm totally confused. I have a massive collection of mp3s and CDs - my CDs' musty smell bother the wife so they must stay in the basement, my mp3s are on the upstairs computers (Win XP and Vista), , and my nice stereo that we use for "family music listening" is on the 1st floor, as is a clunky Dell Inspiron laptop.

I'm trying to cook up a system where I can rip my CDs and consolidate them with my mp3 collection, store them on a nice big external hard-drive, and then stream it to the 1st floor stereo. We already have our own wifi network.

Is it as simple as buying an Airport Extreme, using the headphone out to the stereo's line in, and then using iTunes on the Inspiron to control what goes to the stereo? Does the Airport play well with PCs? (This thread indicates I might need a program called Airfoil - I'm more than happy to pay $25 for that, if need be.)


(and if it helps/complicates matters, wifey will have an iPad by Xmas)
posted by audiodidactic to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's not an Airport Extreme you'll want - it's an Airport Express, or an Apple TV. The former has a 3.5mm jack for output, the latter, HDMI and optical audio out. Airport Express is just a wifi router. (Why the most expensive device is missing a feature the $100 device has is a mystery to me, but that's where it stands.) You just buy whichever one works best for you, plug it into your stereo, and then iTunes can just send music to it. Your upcoming iPad, or any other iOS device, can also control the whole shebang from anywhere on your network, enhancing convenience and laziness.

My understanding is that Windows iTunes should be able to pipe music to Airplay devices just fine, though my setup is all-Mac so I can't test that myself.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:14 PM on September 24, 2011

Just confirming that it does work fine through windows iTunes as well. I have one airport express hooked up to my stereo, and a second one hooked up to speakers in the kitchen. They're great!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 3:30 PM on September 24, 2011

Airport Express is a super product.

In my house, I have had two different PCs (one Apple, one PC) sending music to two different Airport Expresses in different rooms. Itunes just shows them as different output devices.

$90 or so each, earlier versions are available on eBay. Small and unobtrusive, they have an audio output cable that plugs into an AUX input on your remote amp via an 1/8" stereo to RCA phono plug adapter. Volume is controlled by iTunes and by your remote amp. Airfoil is only required if you want to send non-iTunes audio out to the remote amp.
posted by FauxScot at 3:47 PM on September 24, 2011

...oh, and you can use the things to extend your airport network (as I do so my neighbor can use my wireless internet.) Up to three or four Airport expresses, I recall, but only in one more layer.
posted by FauxScot at 3:49 PM on September 24, 2011

Awesome, thanks all. Airfoil would be for something like Spotify or Pandora from the PCs? (What about Spotify or Pandora from the iPad?)
posted by audiodidactic at 3:58 PM on September 24, 2011

There isn't yet (as far as I know) an iPad Spotify app. You could use the iPhone version in 2x mode.

The Pandora app gives you the option to output directly to any Airport Express or Apple TV on its wireless network.

In fact, nearly all iOS apps have this feature.
posted by jeffch at 4:03 PM on September 24, 2011

FYI - If you check on craigslist you'll find airport expresses that run just as good as new that run about 60 bucks. I got 3 of them over the years for that price
posted by Poet_Lariat at 4:04 PM on September 24, 2011

And just to add a bit more love for the Airport Express, the audio-out isn't just "1/8" stereo to RCA phono plug adapter" as FauxScot mentions, but it is actually a TOSlink connection and can therefore output a digital (S/PDIF) signal, so long as you have a phono-TOSlink adapter thingy...

I have two Airport Expresses (old generation, not wireless-N) and they're awesome - although I had to tape over the activity light for the one in the bedroom, as the only options seem to be "Always on" and "Flash on activity"....
In addition to these, I have an current-gen (i.e. ver2) Apple TV which is perhaps more awesome; it doesn't have the option to connect a printer (as far as I'm aware) but as others have mentioned, you can stream video to it... even when it's switched 'off', it will wake up when required - something that's not available on the Airport Express.
posted by Chunder at 5:45 PM on September 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Preface: This isn't the cheapest solution, but it has other benefits that might be worth considering.

Possible Solution: Add a Playstation 3 to your home entertainment center. It's definitely more expensive than the $60 for an Airport Express and takes up a bit more space. However, it will allow you to stream virtually any media from your PC to your stereo/entertainment center via wifi. Of course, you'll also be able to play games, Blu-Ray discs, and stream Netflix/Hulu Plus/Vudu etc. Since your upstairs computer is XP/Vista, I think you'll need an additional program (freeware/donation, see here to get the streaming enabled. Windows 7 eliminates the need for PS3 Media Server, although PS3MS allows you stream more file types than Win 7 is natively capable of.

I have Win 7 on my PC, and as long as the computer my files are stored on is turned on, I'm able to listen to any of my ripped music, watch movies from my hard drive, and view slideshows of all my digital photos. The PS3 is also DLNA compliant, so I can play media directly from any compatible device (my Android phone for instance) right on the big screen.

Refurbished PS3s can be found at major retailers for ~$160, though I'm sure eBay/Craigslist etc. might turn up cheaper options. I bought a used old school 60 GB PS3 "Fat" 3 years ago, and it's been rock solid. CSB: It even survived having 3 DVDs jammed into at one time by a 3 year old.

Good luck!
posted by EKStickland at 5:58 PM on September 24, 2011

FWIW, I just had an airport express give up the ghost. older ones (in a specific serial number range) apparently had a higher-than-expected failure rate in a component on the power board. the symptom manifests as a dead unit.

IF you buy a unit on eBay, look for ones less than a year old and you should be safe.

Apple won't fix them out of warranty, generally, and they are too inexpensive to repair. The cases are also ultrasonically welded together, so no easy screws to remove to gain interior access. It's all hacksaw and/or Dremel work.

IF you find a broken one and WANT to repair it, then you will have to add a supplementary power supply to replace the dud. Both 3.3V and 5V sources are required, and a surprising amount of current (.75 and 1.2 Amps, respectively.) There isn't more that 5% of the entire power board visible. The layout is extremely good, ambitious, but it is NOT made for maintainability. Only an idiot (I qualify) would even consider doing it, and your cosmetic senses will be offended, I assure you. Ick.

The only advantage that I can find from having opened my dud today is that I discovered a mini UHF external antenna connector. That's useful, at least to Uber Geek. I'll be adding an external antenna to my repaired dud.

(I added this for completeness to this thread, and realize it's off topic slightly.)
posted by FauxScot at 7:01 PM on October 1, 2011
posted by FauxScot at 7:02 PM on October 1, 2011

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