I spent the weekend trying to discover what my options are for getting audio from the kitchen computer to the stereo in the living room. There are two ways to do this: wired and wireless. I have a wireless solution already, a Bluetooth receiver, that I bought for use in my study, but the sound was fairly unappealing and, worse, the connection seemed flaky. The wired solution would be ideal, because there is a Cat 5e cable already running from the living room equipment cabinet, for lack of a better phrase to describe where the television, the DVD player, the stereo, the NAS, and the Airport Extreme (our router) all sit and the Mac Mini in the kitchen.
What I think I want is a device that can sit on the network and that iTunes will recognize as a legitimate receiver. That seems like easiest way to do this. There are a variety of protocols for streaming audio over the internet, but I don’t know any of them and I would’t know where to begin with a home-grown solution.
Off the shelf it is, then, and an obvious place to start would be one of Apple’s devices, because we have already invested in that particular platform, or set of platforms.
What we have used, on occasion, up to this point is a beloved 12-inch PowerBook, which doesn’t require a wired network connection, because I think the ethernet port is broken on it, but it does require being woken up to work and it seems like a fairly dumb use for a much more flexible machine, a machine we would rather have our daughter using for her homework.
We also have an Airport Express we purchased when we lived in our old house so that we could bridge our wireless network into the backyard so we would work while Lily played. (Our old house was built in 1956 and featured amazingly solid construction with brick on the front and masonite siding on the other three sides. I think our problem was that there was an early form of foil wrap used under the siding. We had to place the Airport Express on a window—the window we put in the kitchen—in order to get a signal out of the house.) We were delighted to discover that we did not need the Express in the new house, and so we have reserved it mostly for traveling. The Express will sit on a network and it will act as an audio receiver, but I don’t think I want it sitting in the same cabinet as the Extreme. That seems to me to be asking for trouble. The advantage of the Express is that it already paid for and it offers analog audio out in the form a stereo mini plug.
A second alternative would be to invest in an Apple TV, which at $99 is neither an expensive nor a cheap solution. Unfortunately, aTV’s audio output is optical, and our rather aged Sony receiver is both analog and mechanical — that is, it’s RCA all the way. We can buy a box to convert digital to analog, but that’s another $25+. (When we win the lottery, however, we will look forward to upgrading our entire audio-video infrastructure and none of this will pose a problem.)
But what about a device that would play well with AirPlay, like the Airport Express or Apple TV? Almost everything on [this list][list] is either a speaker or a receiver, with the only devices meant to sit between the computer and a receiver, with speakers, being the aTV and the AE.