Saturday, January 5, 2008

Multi-Room Music Nirvana

When we hosted an open house on New Years Day, I wanted to have music playing in the main area of the main floor of our house, where there is currently no stereo. As a quick makeshift solution, I brought my inexpensive Altec Lansing speakers into the room, placing them in unobtrusive locations and hiding the subwoofer under a coffee table. I put my laptop on the hearth and streamed an iTunes playlist all day. It worked great.

That proof of concept prompted me to come up with a less makeshift solution. After several hours of research, I decided that while solutions like the Sonos and Squeezebox were nice, they also cost more than I was ready to spend for what would effectively be background music. But $99 for an Apple AirPort Express sounded just right.

So this afternoon I went to a local computer store and purchased an AirPort Express with AirTunes. I also bought a cheap set of powered speakers, but that's another story (which I'll get to at the end).

After plugging in the AirPort Express and letting it boot up, it's indicator light blinked amber, indicating that it was not connecting to my existing wireless network. Since I have an existing Linksys wireless router, the AirPort would not connect automatically. It took a few minutes to sort that out, but by going into the AirPort Utility and manually configuring the AirPort Express so that it was simply a client on the existing network, I soon had that problem sorted out.

I think it's a bit miraculous that after simply adding the AirPort Express, iTunes now has a new selection in the lower-right that lets me select where I want to stream my music.

The whole thing works so well, and the experience was so satisfying, that I'm ready to go out and purchase a few more of these things so that I can stream music to additional rooms. AirPort Express is perfect.

Now, the speakers, unfortunately, are another story. Years ago I picked up a set of Altec Lansing 221 speakers for my office. They consist of two small satellite speakers with a hefty subwoofer. While they're certainly not audiophile quality by any stretch of the imagination, they cost me $49.99 at Costco and have a nice clean sound through the entire frequency range, and a full but balanced bass. But these speakers apparently are no longer available.

I purchased a set of Edifier speakers from the same place that I purchased the AirPort Express. I had never heard of them before (it's a Canadian brand) but they were all that the store carried and since I could easily return them, what did I have to loose. They were, in a word, terrible—incredibly weak in the middle frequencies and almost no bass response in spite of the subwoofer. So I drove over to another store and picked up a set of Logitech X-240 speakers. The frequency response was much better, with nice clear treble and substantial bass that I could easily adjust thanks to a control knob on the subwoofer (something my Altec Lansing speakers lack). But when no music was playing, these speakers have a very noticeable hum. So they're going back tomorrow as well.

So while I've found nirvana in terms of streaming music to any room in the house, I am still searching for a decent set of inexpensive (under $100) powered speakers. Like I said, this is for background music when we entertain. When I want to really listen to music, I'll turn on the stereo. I'll probably add an AirPort Express to the stereo as well. Why not? But if anyone has a good recommendation for some inexpensive powered speakers, please pass it along, because I'm still searching.


  1. I have a set of Logitech X-230 speakers that sound great and have no noticable hum when no music is playing. The subwoffer on this set also has s level control knob. Hope this helps you out in your speaker selection.

  2. Keith:

    It's nice to know that not all of the Logitech speakers exhibit the same kind of hum. But the hum was definitely there on the X-240 (and was also noted in a review published in PC Magazine).

    I did end up purchasing a set of Cyber Acoustic speakers that aren't bad.

    Thanks for your comments.

  3. Sir, I have seen your Roof tutorial in the form of PDF File and in a Video. I downloaded it but it is missing now. Pls tell me, where the same is available for download. Thanks.