will an airport express g work for me?
April 8, 2008 2:45 PM   Subscribe

Ok, since apple has released the new 802.11n revision of the Airport Express, and ebay is getting some decent deals on the 802.11g models, are there any strong reasons to get the n version if I just want to stream music from itunes?

Basically I just don't want to be tethered to my stereo. I might want to have a printer eventually but I haven't owned a printer in a long while.
I'll be using either a time capsule or an airport extreme (n) for my routing and you know... stuff. I plan on using AirFoil to connect to audio from movies and FLAC (until itunes supports it if ever).

Is there anything about the 802.11g version of the Express that would eventually piss me off over the n version? I listen to a lot of high bitrate music (320 cbr and FLAC) so that's a concern for me.
posted by SECONDHANDSMOTE to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I use the 802.11g to stream music. It works perfectly 99% of the time, but every once in a while it hiccups because data can't be transmitted fast enough. I don't know if N would solve that problem, but that's my experience.
posted by mpls2 at 2:54 PM on April 8, 2008

No, 54mbps is more than enough to transmit audio streams. The only reason it should ever hiccup is if you aren't getting a good signal.
posted by knave at 2:58 PM on April 8, 2008

802.11g is more than adequate to broadcast any audio the AirPort express can decode. Any hiccups will be related to either RF interference, or other devices consuming excessive bandwidth. 802.11n based hardware could skip for those reasons as well, though in some situations it may be less likely to.
posted by lgerbarg at 2:59 PM on April 8, 2008

802.11g claims 54Mbps nominal transmission speed. That might be lower, dependent on local interference and the like; mine's more like 45 thanks to plenty of microwave radiation here. My brain-dead calculation says this is already about 135 times more bandwidth than you need.

The real killer isn't bandwidth, but jitter. That is, how much variance is there in the time between packets A and B and the time between B and C; alternatively, how much variance is there in the latency of packet A and the latency of packet B. Since audio, and video to a lesser degree, need a consistently-timed stream of samples in order to reproduce the analog experience for you, this can be a problem. However, buffering usually takes care of this... certainly enough for the sort of jitter found on your home wifi installation. I doubt that -n helps this appreciably, since it has more to do with single-packet-duration interference than it does with modulated bitrate.

802.11n does claim to have superior interference avoidance than does g, and maybe greater range. All this means, however, is that you have a greater chance of reaching nominal bandwidth with -n than with -g. Except for especially noisy environments, or in very expansive installations, I can't see that it would help in this situation.

The only thing I would worry about in this situation is whether or not you think Apple will continue to support the -g version of the hardware, or if they'll stop rolling out firmware updates or cripple features.
posted by Netzapper at 3:14 PM on April 8, 2008

Not sure about the new version, but I have the 802.11g model and it takes a good 5-10 seconds for audio to start once you hit "play" in iTunes. Very annoying.

This is at 8 feet from my Mac.
posted by mphuie at 3:14 PM on April 8, 2008

If your network is N-based, get the N Express. If anything on your network is running G, the whole network goes down to G and you lose the benefits of N.

Also, anecdotally, I just switched from a G Express to N for my music and it seems a lot quicker. That is, I change the volume on my compy and the volume out of the speakers changes right away without lag.
posted by wemayfreeze at 3:16 PM on April 8, 2008

I plan on using AirFoil to connect to audio from movies and FLAC (until itunes supports it if ever).

It has been a while since I tried that, but I always experience a delay using AirFoil. That doesn't matter for music, of course, but it made movies impossible to watch. I don't know if the 'n' upgrade will fix that.

But for music, I love it.
posted by mullacc at 3:17 PM on April 8, 2008

Not sure about the new version, but I have the 802.11g model and it takes a good 5-10 seconds for audio to start once you hit "play" in iTunes. Very annoying.

This is at 8 feet from my Mac.

5-10 seconds as it buffers up the data so that it doesn't skip while actually playing back.

The distance from the Mac is immaterial.
posted by Netzapper at 3:18 PM on April 8, 2008

The advantages of 11n over 11g are the following:

1. better range
2. more bandwidth
3. dualband

The airport express is dualband, so it can use the 5Ghz range as well as the usual 2.4Ghz range, which is relatively free of interferance. This is only of use if you also have a dualband 11n card in the client.

Under ideal conditions, where you're the only person using the wireless and not sharing the channel, you can get ~6MB/s transfer speed on 11g - more than enough to stream a 0.04 MB/s (really!) audio stream. Even with lower speeds at range, on a crowded band, 11g is more than enough for audio.

Now, a video stream at up 2MB/s is a different mattter, which is not unusual for HD. Significant interferance, or sitting a distance, or just downloading a large file can get annoying on 11g.

11n is faster, but more greedy, taking up more space on the spectrum - a problem in a crowded area. 11n can do about 17MB/s using 2.4GHz, and up to ~37MB/s using dualband, under perfect conditions. Real word scenarios, you'll not be that much faster than 11g, unless you're sitting right next to it. If other people are sharing the same access point though, doing some heavy video/file usage, 11n does have a significant advantage.

Any hiccups are likely to be down to interference or band crowding, which will affect both 11g and 11n pretty much equally.

Personally, I'd stick with dirt cheap 11g kit for now, and wait for 11n to come down in price - don't forget, you'll need all the kit to be 11n, or you'll be running in 11g mode anyway.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:28 PM on April 8, 2008

ArkhanJG has a good point: having an N router does no good unless you have an N adapter at the other end.

I'm happy with my Airport Express G model. The only complaint I have is that it occasionally drops out and gives an iTunes error, but then it reconnects and works fine. When it's working (95% of the time), it works great.

BTW, the newest version of Airfoil does a really good job with video. You just have to use their built-in video player and it syncs with the audio automagically. There is quite a bit of buffering going on which causes a significant delay up front, but it beats the hell of my MB's tinny speakers.
posted by GS1977 at 4:09 PM on April 8, 2008

Response by poster: I am using a MacBook with 802.11n/g/b wireless, and my network will soon be based around a 500gb Time Capsule or Extreme, both n devices. Initially however I will be using it with a linksys b/g router.

Several of you have mentioned the lag associated with the g, how is the n for video sync through airfoil or itunes itself? That might be a deal breaker as I love a good movie night.
posted by SECONDHANDSMOTE at 4:37 PM on April 8, 2008

The only issue with buying a used 802.11g model is that the AXP does have something of a QC problem -- the power supply on mine burned out after 2.5 years, and it's a widely documented flaw in the design. The refurb models are $69 on the Apple site, with a one-year warranty; also, Apple will replace a busted AXP if you have AppleCare on anything else; but I wouldn't want to buy one that's had a couple of years of use, and is ready for that power supply to pop.

(FWIW, it worked fine in streaming FLACs using Airfoil while it was working, though with the buffer that others have mentioned.)
posted by holgate at 5:04 PM on April 8, 2008

One of the things that no one has mentioned is that nearby 802.11b networks to your 802.11g network will totally degrade the performance of the 802.11g network - often to worse than it would be if you were just running a straight 802.11b network. 802.11n is not immune to this problem, but it is much better than g is.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:17 PM on April 8, 2008

Leopard can have serious problems connecting to a g network. If it works, it'll work great, but I'd be wary of upgrading just yet.
posted by seanyboy at 11:33 PM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Since you already have 11n client kit, and are considering streaming video, I'm revising my advice to go for an 11n express when the leopard issues are resolved. 11n is a definite improvement for streaming video, especially at longer ranges.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:19 AM on April 9, 2008

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