Apple’s AirPlay technology lets you wirelessly stream audio (and video) from your Mac, iPhone, iPad or iPod touch to any AirPlay-enabled devices around your home. When streaming from iTunes (or from other Mac applications via Airfoil [www.rogueamoeba.com]), you can stream to multiple devices at the same time. That means you can build a whole home audio system for a fraction of what dedicated systems might cost you.
The only problem is that, even though AirPlay debuted back in November 2010, few audio systems with integrated AirPlay support have been released. (JBL’s On Air Wireless, uk.jbl.com, is one of them). So if you want to stream music around your home via AirPlay, you might want to assemble your own system. Here’s how.
1A. Set up the hardware (existing speakers)
If you already have a stereo system, either computer or powered speakers, or an iPod/iPhone speaker dock with an auxiliary-input jack, all you need to set up AirPlay is an AirPort Express Base Station (www.apple.com/ukstore [£79] for analogue or digital audio connections) or an Apple TV (£101; digital only), along with an audio cable. Once you’ve configured the AirPort Express or Apple TV to receive AirPlay streaming (see step two), setup is easy.
Apple’s compact network adaptor has its own audio connector, which can handle analogue or digital connections
If your speakers have analogue input, you run a standard analogue cable – with a 1/8in stereo miniplug on one end and either a miniplug or left/right RCA plugs on the other – from the AirPort Express audio-out jack to the speakers’ input.
If you have a speaker system (or, more likely, a home cinema receiver or a dedicated digital-to-analogue converter [DAC]) with an optical-digital audio input, you run an optical cable from the audio-output jack on the Apple TV or AirPort Express to an optical input on your audio system. The Apple TV requires a standard TosLink connector; the AirPort Express uses Mini-TosLink.
1B. Set up the hardware (new audio system)
If you don’t want to use your existing audio system, you can put together one specifically for AirPlay. For example, you could buy a compact, low-power amplifier, a good set of bookshelf speakers, and AirPort Express.
Your amplifier options are numerous. We recommend a Class T amp, which will generally give you 10 to 50 watts of efficient power in a tiny package. Amphony’s 200 microFidelity Mini Amplifier (£44.15; www.amphony.com) is a solid choice. If you want a step up in quality, we’d recommend the Audioengine N22 (£139 www.audioengine.org.uk).
For speakers, if you’re on a budget, consider the Mission MX1 for £150 (www.mission.co.uk) or the Monitor Audio Bronze BX2 for £250 (www.monitoraudio.co.uk). For better quality, there’s Paradigm’s Atom Monitor (one pair, £360; www.paradigm.com).
To set it up, use a standard speaker cable to connect the speakers to your amplifier and then connect AirPort Express to the amplifier as described earlier.
1C. Set up the hardware (the in-between route)
If you don’t want the hassle of a separate amplifier and speakers, there’s one other option: self-powered speakers. One of our favourite AirPlay systems is AirPort Express paired with Audioengine’s A5 powered speakers (which cost £260). The AC-power outlet on the back can host AirPort Express, too. Just run a short cable between Express and the A5’s audio-input jack, and you’re ready to go.
One of the simplest AirPlay systems uses self-powered speakers, paired with an AirPort Express network connection
2. Enable AirPlay
To stream audio to an AirPort Express or an Apple TV, you must connect it to your network and then enable AirPlay on it. On an Apple TV (second-generation only), go to the Settings menu, choose AirPlay, and make sure the AirPlay option is set to On.
For AirPort Express, you must launch AirPort Utility (in /Applications/Utilities), choose AirPort Express, and then click Manual Setup. Click the Music icon in the toolbar, and then check the box next to Enable AirTunes. You can also rename AirPort Express here.
3. Let the music play
Once you’re all set up, streaming audio to your new system is easy. In iTunes, you click the AirPlay button (formerly the Speakers pop-up menu) in the lower-right corner of the iTunes window, and then choose AirPort Express or Apple TV as the destination. (To send audio to multiple AirPlay destinations, choose Multiple Speakers.)
In an AirPlay-enabled iOS app, you just click the AirPlay button and choose the destination. Turn on your audio system, make sure it’s set to the correct input (if it has more than one input, that is), and sit back and enjoy the magic of wireless audio.