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8/10

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Review Price £74.95

Apple AirPort Express

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.
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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.
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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.

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