(Updated 5/13/2010) With Apple’s new Remote App for the iPhone and iPod Touch, the teeming masses who couldn’t afford hyper-expensive schemes (cough – Sonos – cough) to connect their digital music collections to their stereos suddenly had an alternative. If you load Remote onto your iPod, you can control iTunes on the Mac in your office from the couch in your living room. And it’s pretty full control, choosing what to play by album, artist or play list as well as a simple search function. You can even adjust the volume.
Now, suddenly, Apple’s $99 Airport Express is an incredibly great and desirable little piece of equipment. This mini wireless base station has a stereo out connection. The idea is you keep your music library wherever it is and virtually hook it up over wifi to your stereo system or even just a pair of powered speakers somewhere else in the house. Before now, that wasn’t a great solution because you had get up from where the stereo lived and go back to the computer where the music lived to change songs or select a new play list. Now, your iPod or iPhone can function as a super-smart remote control with all the visuals and you don’t ever have to run back and forth. Couch potato nirvana!
Simple, right? So I loaded the Remote App on my iPod Touch and got an Airport Express. I plugged in the Express and connected it to my stereo with a simple audio cable. Then I pulled up Apple’s Airport Utility program on my laptop and set up the Express and…hmm, not so simple after all.
Seems that Airport Express and the Actiontec wireless router that Verizon makes us use with their otherwise awesome FIOS system don’t play nice together. You can’t actually use the Airport Express as a wifi network extender, my original plan. The Actiontec is already running a wifi network in the house and even sends decent reception down to the stereo closet. But the Express and the Actiontec don’t speak the same language, although they both as only the Apple product supports “Wireless Distribution Standard,” or WDS (UPDATE: I used to think both did but Actiontec now clearly says they do not support WDS). In fact, when I used the Airport Utility to set the Airport Express to “extend a network,” it froze up, couldn’t be reached anymore and I had to unplug it and press the factory reset button. Youch. Don’t try that one at home, kids.
In the end, I had to be a bit klugier than I had hoped. I plugged one of Netgear’s great Powerline HD adapters (which run ethernet over the electrical wiring in your house) into an outlet by the stereo, ran an ethernet cable to the Airport Express and set the Express to run its own wifi network. That means setting the Express to “Create a wireless network” under the “wireless” menu in the Airport Utility. Key detail: the Actiontec router is still in charge of dealing with the Internet and handing out network addresses so the Express also has to be set to “bridge mode” on the connection sharing setting which is under the “Internet” menu in the AIrport Utility (see below).
Once I got all that working, I went upstairs to my Mac and in the lower, right-hand corner of iTunes a new selection menu appeared letting me designate where to output the sounds from iTunes. The choices were my computer, the new living room Express or both at the same time. Apple calls this feature AirTunes, I believe. I set iTunes to send music to the Express.
Then on my iPod, in the Remote App’s settings, I selected add a new library. On my Mac, the iPod appeared under devices in iTunes and asked for a four-digit PIN code. Sure enough, the iPod was displaying the code and, once I typed it in, the Remote app was “paired,” or linked to, that iTunes library. You can pair the remote with multiple libraries and choose which to control – just remember to assign your libraries different names under iTunes’ “Shared name” setting. My laptop and desktop Macs had defaulted to the same name in both copies of iTunes. MacWorld has a more detailed run down of using Remote here.
So…after just an hour or so of fiddling, I finally had my amazing set-up set up. I recline on the couch, beverage in hand. I sip and put the drink down. I grab the iPod Touch and meander through my entire music library, including all of the zillions of tracks I bought from the iTunes store that are locked up with the Fairplay DRM. Even the Sonos can’t play Fairplay-protected tracks. I select a track or an album or a play list and it starts to play instantly on my stereo. Even though I’m viewing the music library that sits upstairs on my Mac, it’s much like looking through the local collection on my iPod Touch. I can shift the volume, as well. I pull up Dire Straits album Communique, put down the iPod, pick up my drink and drift off to the fantasy land of tech nirvana where everything works right and all the children are above average.
Yes it’s no use saying that you don’t know nothing
It’s still gonna get you if you don’t do something
Sitting on a fence that’s a dangerous course
Ah, you could even catch a bullet from the peace-keeping force
Even the hero gets a bullet in the chest
Oh yeah, once upon a time in the west