iPad + ? = music
May 16, 2012 6:31 PM   Subscribe

With all this tech, surely there's a way to listen to music in my living room?

I have more than 100gb of music sitting on a hard drive connected to an iMac in the upstairs office and a wireless network. I also have an iPad and an iphone, a ~8-year-old AirPortExpress, and a fairly high-end, but old, stereo receiver and wired speakers.

What I want to be able to listen to music in the downstairs living room, preferably through the nice speakers we already own, controlling via the iPad. Ideally I'd like to be able to access the entire music libary on the computer upstairs, but could live with just streaming whatever I happen to have loaded on he iPad.

Last time we tried this, the airport express was involved and the result was terrible: frequent dropouts and crashes, plus I had to run upstairs to cue each album.

Is there a way to make this happen with the tech we already have? Or a simple, inexpensive enabling piece? I don't want to invest in Sonos or go back to Roku (we tried that once, too). An AppleTV seems like an obvious choice, but I've been burned by performance issues.

It kind of hurts my head to read about this stuff. I just want it to 1) sound good, 2) be simple to operate, 3) be inexpensive (under $200), and 4) not be complete fugly. Should I suck it up and just buy Bluetooth speakers? Or is there a better way?
posted by libraryhead to Technology (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
If you can get HDMI through your speakers somehow the Apple TV is what you want. You can use Apple's Remote program to play music from your library through the apple TV without a problem. I've been running this setup for a couple of years now and haven't had any problems with it at all. It also works for movies you can play in iTunes and just about anything you can play from your iPad, regardless of the app (YouTube, Spotify, etc).

Since you're Apple everywhere else, it's the easiest and cheapest way to do it.
posted by mikesch at 6:40 PM on May 16, 2012

Can you say why you can't just plug the speakers into the iPad?
Are they not "computer speakers"?
One thing I do is, in my living room, I have a -- gulp -- turntable -- and amplifier and speakers, as in days of yore, and when I want to listen to the music on my laptop or iPad through that setup, I have a connector thing that connects the cable with the tiny plug that plugs into the iPad (or any laptop, of course) to the cable that goes into the back of the amplifier (into AUX IN or something like that).

It cost about $10 or something for that cable that plugs into the amplifier and the little connector that lets me convert that cable into the little cable that goes into the iPad.

But probably you're talking about some other kind of situation.
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:06 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

The speakers are not powered. They need an amp.
posted by libraryhead at 7:07 PM on May 16, 2012

what's a stereo receiver? is that an amp? or just a "tuner"?
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:10 PM on May 16, 2012

oh sorry, I was too quick. So you'd need to buy another piece of (obsolete?) equipment in order to do what I do. Sorry if this is no help.
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:11 PM on May 16, 2012

I've suffering from learned helplessness on these issues, but I think the "receiver" is functionally equivalent to an amplifier: it outputs sound to the speakers. It has a variety of inputs circa 2002, but I doubt could take a direct cable from the iPad. In any case I need to do that part wirelessly because I'm typically on the couch reading metafilter on the ipad and the stereo & speakers are on the other side of the room.
posted by libraryhead at 7:24 PM on May 16, 2012

You can get a 1/8" to RCA adaptor, assuming the Ipad has a headphone jack. Just turn the Ipad volume up all the way, plug the RCA plugs into the receiver's AUX input, and use the receiver to adjust the volume. I'm currently listening to my Ipod hooked into an amplifier hooked to a pair of speakers, so it's pretty easy.
posted by Slinga at 7:33 PM on May 16, 2012

Logitech Squeezebox.
posted by notyou at 7:34 PM on May 16, 2012

but I doubt could take a direct cable from the iPad.
Any of the audio input pairs should be able to take a signal from the iPad, as long as they aren't phono / turntable inputs.

All you need is a 3.5mm stereo to RCA adapter.

Your Airport Express dropouts suggest that the wifi connection is marginal.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:36 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

What b1tr0t said -- except you'll want your 3.5mm-to-RCA adapter to be male-to-male.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:47 PM on May 16, 2012

Can you not plug the AirPort into the stereo? If so, then you activate AirPlay on the iMac and then control playback using the Remote app on one of your iOS devices. AirPlay has been occasionally unreliable, but restarting iTunes on the iMac should fix that. If you are having frequent problems, I agree with b1tr0t that you need to troubleshoot your WiFi.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:48 PM on May 16, 2012

If you have an amplified receiver with an extra input, and the airport express didn't work because, well, it's a lousy piece of hardware, then pick up an Apple TV2 (the black one.) Much higher quality, much more reliable, and can still act as a feed (via airplay) for audio from your computer's iTunes. You'll need a TV hookup for initial setup, but after that you can run it headless. Just make sure the audio outputs (they aren't as comprehensive as an airport express) are compatible with your receiver. Pretty much just HDMI and digital out, really, so if your receiver is from 2002, you might be out of luck.

Logitech also made some great Squeezebox products -- I currently run four in my house off of a mac mini, and it's a dream setup for relatively little money -- but most of the good stuff has been discontinued, and the server-side software can be a bit finicky. You can likely pick up a speakerless unit (designed to run with a receiver) on eBay. I even have one in my closet, picking up dust, and if I plugged it in I wouldn't get the latest-greatest (like Pandora support) like the newer boxes have, but I'd be able to stream from the squeezebox server software via software on the iPad (that's what I do now with the speaker'd squeezeboxes, works great.)

Finally, I know you had crashing and dropout problems with that airport express, but there are a few things you might want to try (if you still have it): first, run it wired on the network instead of wireless, and second, make sure it has lots of airflow around it. Those f'ers run super-hot, and that level of heat + wireless (and sometimes even wired) makes for a messy connection, as you well know. I only recommend this because you presumably already still have it, so it is worth a shot.
posted by davejay at 7:49 PM on May 16, 2012

Oh, by the way, dunno why you had to run upstairs to cue the albums, but here's the setup I'd use to see if I could get my (your) existing hardware working:

#1: Your music collection on your upstairs computer, in iTunes, with airplay set to feed the airport express;
#2: Your iPad running iTunes, set to control the upstairs computer;
#3: Your airport express plugged into the stereo.

Unless i'm crazy, that will allow you to see and control the upstairs-computer iTunes from your iPad, and anything you do on the iPad will then feed to the airport express.
posted by davejay at 7:53 PM on May 16, 2012

Actually, I might be crazy. Ignore what I just said, and try this instead (I just did this with my Apple TV, not sure if you can do it with your airport express):

First, my Apple TV is set up with home sharing, as is my Mac, so my Apple TV can see all the music and whatnot on my server. Then I use Apple's Remote software on my iPad to access my Apple TV, and through it, pick songs from my Mac and play them through the Apple TV. Works like a charm.

So if you have a compatible digital audio input on your receiver, there's your solution, with the purchase of an Apple TV. If not, then see if iPad + Remote allows you to access your airport extreme, and if so, if the airport extreme can pull and play music from your Mac the same way the Apple TV does (and it won't cost anything to try.)

Good luck!
posted by davejay at 8:00 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, so it isn't obvious, but:

1. Set up your Mac with iTunes. Already done, I'm sure.
2. Set up your airport express, and set your Mac's iTunes to play through it (via that little airplay button in the lower right corner of iTunes.)
3. Confirm that you can now play music from your Mac, and hear it in the airport express setup.
4. Install Apple's Remote software on your iPad, open it, and hopefully your Mac will appear there. It didn't for me -- it defaulted to Apple TV -- but if you press the double-box button in the upper left, you'll get a list of available servers, and my Mac was there. Select yours the same way, if it wasn't there by default.
5. Now you have control of your Mac's iTunes, and playing anything from your iPad should make it come out of your airport express.

Let me know if that doesn't work, so I can give up in shame. :D
posted by davejay at 8:03 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

AirPlay (AirTunes? Whatever they're calling it these days) is definitely what you want, through the Airport Express or an AppleTV. The Apple ecosystem makes it (relatively) simple.

The catch is that all the devices need to be on the same network subnet in order for them to find each other. If you're using the same wifi connection for everything this shouldn't be a problem.

In iOS 5.x they've made it a lot easier to find the AirPlay option -- a little box with an arrow pointing up into it will show up next to your music player controls (even on the lock screen!) if it's available.
posted by neckro23 at 8:19 PM on May 16, 2012

I feel your pain with the AirPort Express; I used my first one for Airtunes streaming from my computer for many years, but the frequency of dropouts just got higher and higher. I finally sucked it up and bought a new one, and the system has worked fine since then. I use davejay's technique to change the music playing off of my computer without getting up (only with an iPhone instead of an iPad.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:57 PM on May 16, 2012

What b1tr0t said -- except you'll want your 3.5mm-to-RCA adapter to be male-to-male.
Yes - if you buy a long adapter. Long M/M 3.5mm stereo cables are a lot more common than long M/F 3.5mm cables. So if you buy a short one like I linked, then go with female on the 3.5mm side. Then you can use whatever extension cable you want.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:29 PM on May 16, 2012

Looks like apple tv is the way to go. I can only hope the airport express was a fluke. Thanks!
posted by libraryhead at 4:56 AM on May 17, 2012

You can save the money and not get an AirPort. Get the app called StreamToMe. You can browse file folders on your desktop computer using your iPad and play back audio or video files (or view pictures) over your local network. Works like a charm, and plays FLAC and other obscure file formats.
posted by ism at 11:59 AM on May 18, 2012

You can save the money and not get an AirPort. Get the app called StreamToMe.

Unless I'm missing something, that app only plays music on your iPod's/iPhone's speakers. It won't work to stream music to "nice" speakers attached to a conventional stereo system, which is what libraryhead wants to do.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:41 PM on May 18, 2012

I was using a Belkin Bluetooth adapter connected to my stereo for a while and it was pretty nice. It worked with my iPhone directly as well as with my laptop or my wife's or whatever. I have an airport express but only use it as a network extender. I decided to invest in Sonos and haven't been happier. I thought about AppleTV but we don't have HDTVs.
posted by reddot at 6:04 AM on May 20, 2012

Johnny Assay: are you intentionally leaving out the possibility of using a minijack-to-RCA into your vintage receiver? That's what I do. I know the DAC supposedly isn't great, and you can buy external DAC's, but at that point you might reconsider what it is you're trying to achieve.
posted by ism at 1:06 PM on May 21, 2012

I suppose I was implicitly assuming that the OP wanted to be able to use his iPad to stream music wirelessly, without it being physically tethered to the stereo system. But if that's not a concern, then a simple cable from the iPad to the stereo would work fine.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:40 AM on May 22, 2012

For future searchers: Apple TV worked a charm. Currently Airplay streaming to the stereo, with music stored on upstairs hard drive, controlling via downstairs laptop or iPad. The only wires are between the hard drive and router upstairs, and amongst the stereo components downstairs. No new cables between floors or across the room and no problems with dropouts or crashes.

But... we did end up buying a new TV. So much for that $200 budget. 1080p is gorgeous, though.
posted by libraryhead at 8:35 AM on May 29, 2012

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