Before buying the Mac, even though I have a fairly extensive CD library of over 300 albums, I found that I was listening to music less and less. In the most part this was due to the fact that whilst I live on the south coast I work in north London and so don't get home until fairly late and by then I'm usually too tired and just want to sit in front of the TV. It was also partly due to the fact that quite often I just didn't want to listen to an entire album but would have like to listen to several tracks by a range of artists but just couldn't be bothered to keep swapping CD's. Now that I have the Mac I still don't get home any earlier but, thanks to iTunes, I can immediately listen to any tracks or tracks that I want. The only problem I found with this is that, although my JBL Creature 2 speakers are very nice computer speakers they simply are no match for a proper hi-fi amp and speakers.
This is where Apple's Airport Express comes in. I have the Mac in one room but the hi-fi is in another and I really didn't want to trail audio leads half way around the house in order to connect the two together. With Airport Express you can connect it to your hi-fi and then iTunes 'beams' the music to it wirelessly a process which Apple call AirTunes.
Aiport Express is not just about AirTunes, it also can extend your wireless network to give you greater range when using a laptop or PDA far away from your router for example and it can also act as a print server allowing every computer in the house to print to the one printer wirelessly. What's more the latest version of Airport Express supports 802.11n which gives very fast network speeds.
Setting up of the Airport Express is actually very simple. I have read a few reports of some people having problems with it initially but it seems that all of those people were using PC's and whilst Aiport Express happily works with both PC's and Mac's it is ultimately a network device and Windows has always been a pain to configure when it comes to network devices. If you own a Mac though it really is simple. The first thing you have to do is to plug the Airport Express unit into the mains and then connect it to your router with a RJ45 cable (not supplied - which I think was naughty of Apple). This is so that you can configure the unit and give it your network details and passwords etc so that it can allow access to the Internet through it. Once this simple configuration is performed (by the software that is supplied) it is written to the devices memory. You can now unplug the RJ45 cable and, if need be, move the device to another room. When you plug the device back in it will start to boot up which takes a couple of minutes and it will automatically connect to your Mac or PC. The great thing about it is that you are not aware of it's existence until you launch iTunes when you'll notice in the bottom right hand corner a new button appears. Clicking on this button tells iTunes where it should play your music. The choices are:
Over the PC speakers (so you'll hear it over the computer but not over the hi-fi)
Over Airport Express (so you'll hear it over your hi-fi but not on the computer)
Both (so you'l hear it over the hi-fi and your computer)
In terms of audio quality there is absolutely no degredation of signal and so the audio quality is identical to listening to the MP3 or CD direct. The only downside to the whole AirTunes experience is that you can't remotely control your iTunes library from Aiport Express and if you make any changes to the EQ in the iTunes mixer it takes several seconds for these changes to be sent to Airport Express and therefore heard over your hi-fi. Apart from that Airport Express is fantastic and I am now in the process of ripping all of my CD's. So far I have over 15,000 songs enough for over 44 days of continuous music!