Airport Express Arrives!


So far I've played both iTunes Music Store songs (128KB) and my own AAC encoded CD collection (224KB) and I can't tell a major difference through my speakers vs. listening to it through the VBR MP3 on the Home Media option of the TiVo when I had my music collection encoded with VBR MP3 prior to re-doing everything in Apple Lossless earlier this year.

So here is my attempt at a product review. My Airport Express arrived today after ordering it the day it was announced. I cancelled an order on the Roku SoundBridge that I was waiting on (looks like I'd still be waiting on it for that matter). The idea of the airport network extender as well as a stereo interface for all my purchased music on the iTunes Music Store on my home theater setup was really appealling. More than the SoundBridge idea in that the Airport Express was $129 + $39 for an OPTICAL cable kit (along with a regular cable kit, and a power cord extender.

If you've not seen the Airport Express here is the stock photo from Apple:



Now, at first glance after opening the box (packaged similarly to the iPod in that it is a sleeve around a fold out box. I really like this box design, very neat & clean packaging and easy to open but also easy to keep should you be a pack rat like me and save boxes.

At first glance, my thought was 'oh, that's big' I was thinking along the lines of the PowerBook power adapters that I had as far as a visual size reference. It's a tiny bit bigger (but, in the grand scheme of things it's small) than I had expected but that was no big deal. I snapped it into an outlet, and a light on the side opposite the power plug glowed yellow, and then after a while started flashing. I had expected this behavior because my network is WEP encrypted.

I popped in the CD that came with the device and the install was straight forward and very easy. You answered a few things and then agreed to the iTunes license/Apple Software license and it installed a copy of iTunes and the Airport Software 4.0. iTunes is the same v4.6 as is available on the web now, but the Airport Software 4.0 is new and not yet on the web that I know of. It installed without a hitch and rebooted.

Upon reboot the 'Airport Express Assistant' launched and basically I had to click a few times, make sure it found the right Airport Express, say that I wanted it to join my existing network, extend it, and then it was configured. I love things when they are that butt simple.

Now if I hadn't had a network already with the two Airport Extremes already bathing my house in wireless goodness I could have just plugged it into the wall, plugged my cable modem into it, and started surfing. I wouldn't even had to configure it if I was happy with 'Apple Network <last six of mac address>' as my SSID and an unencrypted network you'd be good to go. So if you're a Windows user and just want a cheap cool little device it appears that is all you do. I don't have my CD drive in my work laptop to see if you can configure it from a Windows machine. Since I'm no longer Windows at home I can't test how to configure it in a non-Apple environment.

So after installing it on my Powerbook I went upstairs and installed it on Angi's FP 800Mhz iMac. This iMac has the Airport network card in it, so only 802.11b. Her machine has the 320GB external drive that currently holds all our music in Apple Lossless format.

Then I plug the Airport Express into it's permanent home behind the Home Theater setup. I have a Sony TA-E9000ES Pre-Amp, a Sony TA-N9000ES Amplifier wired into some Klipsch Reference series 3 speakers. Right now only the front & the sub are attached and running due to a recent remodel, but for what I was doing that's all I needed.

After the reboot for the new airport software I attempt to play music from the iMac because it has the bigger selection than my PowerBook. I selected a song and hit play - and something weird happened. The music would start, vanish, start, vanish. I was wondering if this was a lossless thing because sometimes I can't stream from the iMac to the Powerbook because the lossless files are just so dang big (40 - 60MB per file) and the 802.11b of the iMac can't keep up apparently even if they're next to each other.

So I picked a iTunes Music Store song off of Angi's list and tried to play Woody's Roundup.

Same thing.

So I switched to my Powerbook G4 12" because it has an Airport Extreme card in it. I just picked something at random and there were no drop outs at all. Then I picked Woody's Roundup out of Angi's computer's shared songs and it played just fine. So I'm guessing that you need an 802.11g machine (Airport Extreme) to really play it. I could read the manual and check but then that'd be cheating.

So far I've played both iTunes Music Store songs (128KB) and my own AAC encoded CD collection (224KB) and I can't tell a major difference through my speakers vs. listening to it through the VBR MP3 on the Home Media option of the TiVo when I had my music collection encoded with VBR MP3 prior to re-doing everything in Apple Lossless earlier this year.

This thing is great. You just pick whether you want to play it on your computer, or one of the listed devices (in my case, Home Theater) and hit play. It takes about 2 seconds to connect up and off you're going.

Great device, can't recommend it any higher. I'm seriously debating another one or two to get those hard to reach corners of the house that my current airport layout doesn't cover. I'll probably move one extreme into the laundry room behind the door or something and then an Airport Express into my office so I can keep the Canon S9000 printer hooked up.

Great stuff.

Posted: Fri - July 16, 2004 at 09:03 PM           |


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