I’ve had two Roku Soundbridges for quite a while now. I started with just the one soon after they were first released in the UK, and I loved it so much that I bought a second one soon after for another room. The principle is simple – they’re merely audio streamers that use your iTunes library to wirelessly pipe your music to an attached hi-fi. The good bit is, the system works seamlessly and they look nice, which is always a bonus.
However, a couple of months back, my original Soundbridge gave up the ghost. After extensive testing, I came to the conclusion that it was shafted (I think it may have been the power supply) but try as I might, I couldn’t get it working again. I looked around for a replacement unit, but it turns out they’re now as rare as rocking horse poo, and the only place I could get one was secondhand on Fleabay. I considered alternative options like the Squeezebox Duet and the Sonos multiroom system, but they were way out of my price range. I thought about an Apple Airport Express, but discounted it because I needed to be able to control it without sitting at my computer.
However, it was while I was researching these options that I came across the iPhone/Touch remote app for controlling iTunes. I’d never really noticed it existed before as I had no real need to use it, but I decided that it just might be what I was looking for to make the Airport Express a viable option. I searched around a bit more, but strangely I couldn’t get a definitive answer about whether I would be able to use it to remotely control an Airport Express attached to iTunes. Not even the combined geek-knowledge of Richbos and OliTee could answer the question.
I figured that there *should* be a way of using the Remote app to control iTunes to, in turn, stream its music to the Airport Express – all via wi-fi. If it did what I wanted – and if it worked correctly – it would be quite an elegant solution. I could be sat in the kitchen, use the Touch to browse the iTunes library held on my iMac, choose some music and tell it to be sent to the Airport Express in the lounge. Or was I just expecting too much?
First things first – I downloaded the free Remote app via the Apple App Store. Dead easy, and all done in seconds via the Touch itself. Within no time I was enjoying controlling iTunes using it, despite being sat only two feet from my iMac. So far, so good – but a bit pointless without the Airport Express.
I managed to secure myself an Airport Express on eBay for the very reasonable sum of £45, and just two days later I was feverishly unboxing it. I figured that I might be able to just plug it in and get cracking, but even though its an Apple product, it’s not *that* clever. There’s still some configuration to be done – but it’s reasonably simple.
Firstly, my Airport Express was still configured to its previous owner’s settings, so as soon as I tried to connect to it with my iMac it requested a password. Fortunately, it’s an easy job to do a factory reset and wipe the unit of its configuration. Hold down the reset button for ten seconds, and there you go.
Once that was done, I ran the Airport Setup Utility on my iMac. My mac is normally hooked up via ethernet, but for this step I had to activate the built-in wi-fi so that the iMac and Airport Express could talk to each other. Very quickly the iMac had detected the wireless signal that the AE was broadcasting, and I connected to it. The utility then takes you through some simple steps to find out how you want to use the AE. I opted to make it a client device on my existing wi-fi network (which was sufficient for my purposes) and with that it was set up and raring to go. A 3.5mm jack to stereo RCA lead to connect it to the AUX input on my hi-fi and I was ready to unleash some tunes.
I fired up iTunes, and after a bit of searching I located a previously unseen dropdown menu in the bottom right of the screen which listed both my computer and the new Airport Express as speaker options. From this you can choose one or both to determine where the audio from iTunes gets sent. I chose both, just for fun, and hit play. I was pleasantly surprised to hear my music emanating from both my computer speakers and my hi-fi speakers in the other room, both in perfect sync with each other. Result!
So then – moment of truth. I switched on the iPod Touch and selected the Remote app. I went to the ‘settings’ screen (from where you choose which iTunes library to connect to) and, right there in front of me, were two new menu options for ‘Speakers’ – it listed my iMac and my Airport Express, with on/off switches next to them! I navigated through to my library, found a new album and pressed play on the Touch. Again, without so much as a hiccup, the music changed on both computer and AE.
I then discovered that you can activate and deactivate the speakers from the ‘Now playing’ screen without having to go back to the ‘Settings’ page every time. Simply tap the album cover, and not only do you get shuffle, repeat and genius options at the top you also get speaker options at the bottom. I spent a good five minutes switching the speakers on and off – just for fun!
So the upshot of all this is – yes, it works as I wanted it to. And it does it beautifully. So well, in fact, that I’m thinking of eBaying my other Soundbridge and buying another Airport Express. It’s a brilliant, elegant and simple solution – how very “Apple”…