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Extend Your Wireless Network and Play Tunes with AirPort Express

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With her AirPort Express, Maria Langer has figured out a way to get some phenomenal sound from some of that ancient Mac equipment collecting dust in her living room (along with the more modern stuff, of course).
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When the AirPort Express with AirTunes came out in 2004, it seemed like just another frivolous toy I could use with my AirPort-equipped PowerBook. Apple, you see, billed it as a tool for playing iTunes music on stereo speakers. You’d plug the AirPort Express into a regular power outlet and use a mini-stereo-to-RCA cable to connect it to your stereo system. You could then use AirTunes to send iTunes data to the AirPort Express via wireless connection. AirPort Express would then send the information to your stereo and it would play the music through your stereo speakers.

Cool, yes. Frivolous—at least to me—definitely.

But I had to get one to try it out. That’s one of the pros and cons of writing about Mac OS technology. I get to try this stuff out. But I also have to pay for it. Fortunately, the relatively low $129 AirPort Express price tag made it pretty easy to swallow. (I wish I could say the same about the 30-inch Cinema Display I’ve been yearning for.)

What I found, however, is that the AirPort Express can perform this frivolous task and provide some real benefit. How? By extending my existing AirPort network.

In this article, I’ll explain how to configure an AirPort Express to perform two tasks: extend the range of your existing AirPort network, and play music via iTunes on your stereo.

What You Need

To follow along with the instructions in this article, you need a few things:

  • AirPort Express. This is a pint-sized AirPort base station with the added ability to connect directly to a stereo system. You can learn more at the AirPort Express web page.
  • AirPort-compatible network. You can create an AirPort network with an AirPort Extreme base station, another AirPort Express, or even a wireless network set up with some other wireless router—such as your DSL router. I’m assuming that the network already exists, so I won’t explain how to set it up. (To learn more about setting up a wireless network with an AirPort Extreme base station, see my Peachpit Press book, Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger: Visual QuickStart Guide.)
  • Latest version of the AirPort software. Download this from the AirPort Express web page if you need it.
  • AirPort-equipped computer. You need the computer to configure the AirPort Express and to send iTunes data to it.
  • Latest version of iTunes. You can get that from Apple’s iPod + iTunes page.
  • Stereo. You’ll need this to hear the music. Don’t have a stereo? No problem. You can do this on the cheap by buying a pair of powered speakers—like the ones you might already have connected to your computer. They’ll most likely already include the cable you need to plug the speakers directly into the AirPort Express (see the next item).
  • Mini-stereo-to-RCA cable. This cable has a mini-stereo plug at one end and two RCA connectors (right and left audio) on the other. You’d use it to plug into your stereo system’s audio-in ports.
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