Apple's Airport Express is an unsung hero in the world of media sharing. About the size of a deck of cards, it has two purposes. The Airport Express plugs into a wall to extend wifi from your wireless router and acts as an access point. Its other job is as an AirPlay device that can stream music or audio from your Apple iPhone, iPad, iPod or from iTunes on your computer.
The Airport Express has a mini-jack port to connect to powered speakers or a stereo. And it has an Ethernet/Local Area Network (LAN) jack to connect a wired network device. The only other thing you'll see on the Airport Express is a light on the front that shines green when it is connected to your home network and ready to stream. It shines yellow if it is not connected to your home network.
To set up the Airport Express, you'll need to run the Airport Utility on your Mac or PC. If you use an Apple router, the Airport Extreme, you will already have the Airport Utility installed on your computer. Otherwise, install the Airport Utility on your Mac or PC and it will walk you through the steps to get your Airport Express up and running.
Using the Airport Express as an Access Point
Once set up, the Airport Express will wirelessly connect to your home network router. If set up to do so, it can share that wireless connection with up to 10 wireless devices, to allow them to connect to your home network. While wireless devices that are in the same vicinity as the Airport Express will probably be in the range of the router, devices in another room or further from the home network router may be better able to connect wirelessly to the nearby Airport Express.
In this way, the Airport Express can extend the reach of your home wifi network. This is particularly useful to extend to a music streaming unit in the garage, a computer in an adjoining office, or a Roku box in granny unit near your house.
Using Airport Express to Stream Music
Apple's Airplay lets you stream music from iTunes on your computer, your iPod, iPhone and/or iPad to an Airplay-enabled device. You can use Airplay to stream to an Apple TV, Denon, Marantz and other Airplay-enabled AV receivers, as well as to other Airplay devices. Or you can use Airplay to stream directly to an Airport Express.
To stream music using the Airport Express, connect it to an input on your AV receiver or stereo — any input other than the "phono" input — or connect it to powered speakers. Be sure that the Airport Express is plugged into the wall and that the green light indicates the it is connected to your home network.
You can now use Airplay to send music to your Airport Express. To stream music from your computer, open iTunes. At the bottom right of your iTunes window, you will notice a drop-down menu that lists the available Airplay devices. Choose your Airport Express from the list and the music you play in iTunes will play over the AV receiver or powered speakers that are connected to your Airport Express.
On an iPhone, iPad or iPod, look for the arrow-in-a-box Airplay icon when playing music or audio. Tapping on the Airplay icon will likewise bring up a list of Airplay sources. Choose the Airport Express and you can stream music from compatible Airplay-enabled apps from your iPad, iPhone or iPod, and listen to the music through the speakers or stereo connected to your Airport Express.
While streaming to the Airport Express is immediate, you must be sure that powered speakers connected to the Airport Express are turned on; if the Airport Express is connected to an AV receiver, it must be turned on and switched to the input where you have connected the Airport Express.
Multiple Airplay Devices Can Create Whole Home Audio
Add more than one Airport Express to your home network and you can simultaneously stream to all of them. You can also stream to an Airport Express and an Apple TV at the same time. This means that you can play the same music in your living room, and in your bedroom and in your den, or any place you put an Airport Express and speakers or an Apple TV connected to a TV.
It's as though you are sending your music wirelessly to any part of the house.
The Airport Express can also be used with the Sonos devices as part of a Sonos system. Read our supplementary article why you should use an Airport Express with your Mac and your Sonos device.