With so many of us signing up to the MP3 phenomenon, Apple is hoping to allow you to make use of your MP3 tracks stuck on your computer in the spare room and give you the ability to listen to them on a hi-fi anywhere in the house.
The AirPort Express with AirTunes not only allows you to wireless transmit your songs from your PC or Mac to your hi-fi, but also offers wireless printing and a wireless network all for a device that’s no bigger than a power adapter.
The main crux of the machine is its 802.11g wireless network capabilities, either via setting up a new network or connecting and extending the range of an additional network. As a standalone network, the unit works a treat. Simply plug in a dsl or cable modem and away you go. We tested the unit with both a G4 PowerBook with AirPort functionality and a HP NX7010 laptop with built in wireless connectivity and connecting either to the AirPort Express cause no problems.
The unit comes with software to ease the installation process, and from here you can choose whether you want to create a new network, add the unit to an existing network and additionally whether you want to extend that said network. Unfortunately you can only extend the network if you’re running an AirPort Base Station so PC users be warned that it won’t extend your current Linksys or other variant network.
Aside from the Wireless g network capabilities the biggest selling point of the AirPort Express is its ability to allow you to transmit your MP3 tracks or a CD to your hi-fi. The unit comes with a 3.5mm stereo jack, which with the right cable - no included in the box - allows you to listen to your tracks on your Hi-fi. The whole process works very well indeed and in our tests we found no loss of quality over the network.
Updating iTunes, the AirTunes side of the package now allows to stream to any AirPort Express you have to the network. This handily diverts the sound from your computers speakers to the AirPort Express you’ve selected and works in a similar way to transmitting your laptops screen to a secondary monitor.
Like all Apple products this unit worked within minutes of getting it out of the box. We were also able to extend the range of our current wireless network. What’s the catch? To make full use of the unit and play your MP3s on your Hi-fi you need to run iTunes, fine if you’re a Apple Mac user, but maybe not so great if you prefer another music management programme on your PC. The system does allow you have multiple units working together to completely blanket your house in Wi-fi however you can’t broadcast to more than one unit at any one time.
Almost as an aside to the main focus of the unit is the addition of a USB socket, that allows you to connect a USB printer to the network. The addition of this is welcomed, but also implies that Apple are expecting you to either have more than one or not necessarily want it in the lounge next to the Hi-fi. Either way it is a quick, and cheap way of networking any printer to your wireless network and for users of a more than one machine a simple way of saving the hassle of having to unplug your printer from the other computer before using it.
Overall there is little to fault here with the AirPort Express. As a hardened PC user for so long it's was nice to see a networking device that simply worked first time out of the box. It's disappointing that the unit will only extend an AirPort network rather than any wireless G network, however its ability to work just as well with a PC as it does an Apple Mac was also very refreshing. Users wishing to steer clear of iTunes however should avoid, as you can't use the AirTunes element without iTunes.