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Apple AirPort Express review

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Apple AirPort Express
  • Apple AirPort Express
  • Apple AirPort Express
  • Apple AirPort Express
  • Apple AirPort Express
  • AirPort Express MB321B/A Wireless Access Point (IEEE 802.11n draft, IEEE 802.11a/b/g)

Summary

Our Score:

8

User Score:

When just about every router these days also packs in wireless, and Ethernet-over-power adaptors are a better solution than Wi-Fi for the majority of situations anyway, AirPort Express, ostensibly a wireless adaptor, might seem a little niche - even for Apple!

As ever with Apple, however, things aren't so simple. Yes, the AirPort Express does indeed plug into your wall rather neatly and accept an Ethernet connection, which it then makes available to the world via a Draft-N wireless connection, but that isn't {i}all}/i} it does. If you take a look on the underside of the unit, you'll also find a USB port and a 3.5mm audio jack next to the requisite Ethernet port.

The USB port makes it possible to connect a USB printer to the AirPort Express unit and share it either over Wi-Fi or Ethernet. More interesting, perhaps, is the audio jack, which enables music stored on a PC or Mac to be streamed - using what Apple calls AirTunes - to the AirPort Express and output to an amplifier or a set of powered speakers, from iTunes.

Cleverly, this is both an analogue and a digital output, so if you have ripped your CDs to your Mac or PC in the Apple Lossless format (FLAC isn't supported in iTunes, remember) you can stream that lossless music around your house. As the AirPort Express wireless can also be used as a range extender for an existing connection, it's possible to have a few dotted around the house all hooked up to different speaker systems and streaming different music.

The upshot is similar functionality to a Sonos system but at a fraction of the cost. And since the whole affair is managed from iTunes on your Mac or PC this means there's the added benefit of control from the free Remote application for the iPhone and iPod touch. Furthermore, the compact design makes this a very unobtrusive solution.

Clearly a sub-£70 AirPort Express, or even a couple of them, can't substitute for a proper multi-room setup, like those offered by Sonos but it's a damn good alternative if you're on a budget. The only major complaint I have is the inability to stream from a NAS device - especially as all of my music is stored on one. Not only is it a little convoluted to stream media from a NAS box to a Mac or PC, and then via AirTunes to your AirPort Express, it also seems like an excessively power-hungry way of going about it.

Gav66

December 16, 2009, 9:45 pm

I've had one of these for a few years now and it works a treat. Being able to send my iTunes library from my PC to my home theatre system is great for parties - add in the Apple remote on the iPhone to control iTunes and you're good to go.

Castalan

December 16, 2009, 9:59 pm

They are nice as a travel router but ....





there's a major problem with using it to stream music ...





iTunes - yuck - no thanks

Mick Davies

December 16, 2009, 10:24 pm

download Airfoil and you can stream spotify through it

Hamish Campbell

December 17, 2009, 12:46 am

poos. I had thought putting the itunes library on a NAS (isn't it called itunes server?) would mean one could get the music going directly to my stereo directly. Well obviously one would use the pc or iphone remote to kick it off, but then it would hopefully keep rocking on its own until shut down again. But this is not the case it seems.

Alex Dodis

December 17, 2009, 1:05 am

Being a Windows user, I can recommend a cheap output module for WinAmp or MediaMonkey called Remote Speaker Output Plug-In (http://emilles.dyndns.org/soft... by Eric Miles which can stream music in the same manner as iTunes! Note that the digital output of AirPort Express can be connected to an external DAC (I use a Beresford TC-7500 http://www.homehifi.co.uk/main... for high quality streaming of FLAC music to my remotely connected stereo.

Premfab

December 17, 2009, 1:27 am

To use this, all you kit needs to be from Apple - shudder!!





I don't think I'll be replacing the Sonos anytime soon. Count me out.

Orinj

December 17, 2009, 1:29 am

It's about time TR reviewed this product given the number of times it gets mentioned in people's comments.





I only bought one for its music streaming capabilities but must admit that it can suffer from muted drop outs if you don't set it up and shield it away from other equipment properly.





The sentence saying "it's possible to have a few dotted around the house all hooked up to different speaker systems and streaming different music" must be clarified by saying that you need a different computer and iTunes setup if you want different music to be played.





@Mick Davies > I also use Airfoil and if you combine it with the Airfoil Speakers application on an iPod Touch or iPhone it can turn it into another Airport style music streaming device.

Dan97c

December 17, 2009, 6:22 pm

A couple of these sprinkled round the house together with an iPhone and an AppleTV to act as the 'always-on' itunes server is a lovely solution which I get much enjoyment from.





Definitely agreed though with the occasional but infuriating audio drop outs - which I put down to the 7.4.x firmware and so went back to 7.3.2. Everything fine since then, but I have to resist the temptation to update everytime it asks me as I know now that it risks leading to problems. When it comes to the families music and AV set up - 'if it aint broken dont try and fix it'. I'll be staying on 7.3.2 till the end of time.

Hamish Campbell

December 17, 2009, 10:34 pm

@Dan - So Apple TV Itunes can act as an always on itunes server but a NAS that says it's itunes server errr compatible cannot do this completely?


Its that I think Apple TV is pretty expensive and I'd rather by a western digtial mybook world edition NAS and have itunes server on that, then use just an iphone to play music through to a stereo. Do you think I can do that?





Mr Google is struggling to find me the anwers.

CountryBumpkin

December 18, 2009, 2:59 am

So this couldn't be used to get internet to a ps3 at the other end of the house with a non wireless router(very old fashioned i know)?


If not what would you suggest?

Jay4d0

December 18, 2009, 4:51 am

here's what I think I'd do:


have an (always on) ACER revo kind of device on the back of the TV connected through HDMI (one that can do HD flash for iplayer, ect.), attached to that is a couple of TV tuners (could be DVB-T/T2 or DVB-S) through windows media center for recording works great, along with a slimline bluray drive under the TV, iTunes can simply run in the background in the taskbar a couple of airport express' bedroom, kitchen, you can even add an external HDD one with RAID and it would make an ultimate NAS device (although USB 2.0 would suck USB 3.0 would be fine), all used by a logitech diNovo Mini and an iPod Touch - apologies for boring you all but I think it would be a pretty sweet setup

Hugo

December 18, 2009, 9:43 pm

BigDown - As long as your house is not too big, such as the PS3 would be in range of the Wi-Fi from the AirPort Express, it would work.

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