Island in the Net

A personal blog by Khürt Williams, full of imagery, and inchoate ramblings on coffee, and geekery.

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Create a Multi-Room Wireless Speaker System with Apple Airport Express and AirPlay

Robin Birkel recently wrote an article about using Apple TV to create a multi-room wireless speaker system. It’s a novel solution that’s easy to implement. But Robin’s solution wouldn’t work for my home. I love movies but perhaps I love music more. We have one TV in our home connected to the Apple TV, TiVo, Wii U, and Sony Blu-ray DVD. Using the Apple TV as a basis for a multi-room audio system isn’t doable.

A few years ago I created a multi-room wireless speaker system using Apple AirPort devices. I have three of these devices in my home configured to work as a wireless mesh network. This configuration extends my wireless network to all corners of my home and even extends out into the back yard. Every Apple Airport has an audio jack. I connected a powered speaker to each Airport. Using AirPlay, anyone on my wireless network can stream music to any speaker from any Mac, iPad or iPhone. I can also stream music to the speakers connected to my AppleT V. iTunes on the Mac supports multiple speakers. From the Mac I can stream music to specific wireless speakers. The volume for each speaker can be controlled independently. That covers the inside of the house but what about the backyard. That’s the largest room in the house!

I have three portable speaker systems. Two are Bluetooth and one has I have them setup to stream music from my iPhone or Mac via AirPlay on my wireless network. The Bluetooth speakers are great for backyard parties or where you want to allow your guests to play their own music. We have a few teenagers in the family and at large family gathering they love showing off their favorite music. With the Bluetooth speakers everyone gets a chance to choose and I don’t have to give out my wireless network password to allow them to use AirPlay.

But sometimes as a host, I want to use a specific playlist I created to set the mood. When hosting a party, it can get quite hectic, and I may not want to dedicate my phone to Bluetooth music streaming duty and run down my battery. During a recent store sale, I purchased an iHome iW1 AirPlay Wireless Stereo Speaker System with Rechargeable Battery. With this speaker, I can wirelessly stream music from iTunes, iPad, iPhone and iPod touch via AirPlay. Summer parties are a blast. I have music from a playlist on my iMac streaming throughout the house and the backyard via AirPlay.

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Create a Multi Room Wireless Speaker System with Apple Airport Express and AirPlay, Screen Shot 2015 12 13 at 9.31.33 AM

iTunes uses AirPlay to send a single audio stream to multiple speakers.

But I want more control. I don’t want to leave my iMac logged into my account. I don’t want to rush to the iMac when I need to adjust the volume of the music on one of the speakers. I want to use my iPhone or iPad to control the setup. That’s the problem Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil solves.

Airfoil is a $30 app for OS X and Windows that captures any audio source on a computer and streams it to multiple Airfoil enabled receivers. Each receiver can be configured independently. I can stream music to any of my AirPlay enabled devices — Apple TV, Airport Express, iHome iW1 — and control them via the Airfoil app on my iPhone or iPad. I can even use my iPhone as a receiver. I can dock my iPhone into one of my Bluetooth speakers and stream audio from another Airfoil device to that iPhone.

There is a slight delay when enabling a receiver but after that all the devices stream in sync. Airfoil works with music services like Spotify and iTunes Music. Because the Airfoil app can hijack any audio source I can even stream audio directly from the web. For example, I can listen to Soundcloud, Pandora or setup a playlist of YouTube music videos and stream the audio via Airfoil. Airfoil is also available for Windows, Android and Linux users. The Airfoil receiver software is free to download. For $40 you purchase the Mac and Windows software as a bundle.

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Create a Multi Room Wireless Speaker System with Apple Airport Express and AirPlay, Screen Shot 2015 12 13 at 11.28.59 AM

Use Airfoil to stream to AirPort Express units, Apple TVs, iPhones, iPads, and iPods Touch, and even other Macs and PCs!

To recap. My Multi-Room Wireless Speaker System uses:

  • Airport Express and Apple TV devices configured to stream audio to connected speakers via Airplay.
  • Airfoil or AirPlay to stream audio/video sources to these connected speakers.

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