Apple's AirPort Express - What You Need To Know

The Apple AirPort Express adds flexibilty to a home network and music listening

Airport Express
Airport Express. Fletcher6 / Wikipedia Commons

Apple's Airport Express is an unsung hero in the world of media sharing.

The AirPort Express is a very compact device that measures 3.85-inches wide, by 3.85 inches deep and slightly less than 1-inch high. It requires an AC power (such as a wall socket) to operate.

The primary purpose of AirPort Express is to extend WiFi from your wireless router and acts as an access point.

Another role of the AirPort Express is that it can access music or audio streamed from your Apple iPhone, iPad, iPod or iTunes that you access via your computer, and using AirPlay, play it on a connected powered speaker, stereo, or home theater system.

Airport Express Connectivity

The AirPort Express has two Ethernet/LAN ports - one designated for connection to a PC, Ethernet hub, or a networked printer, and another for wired connection to a modem or Ethernet-based network. It also has a USB port that allows you to connect a non-network printer, which enables users to add wireless network printing capability to any printer.

In addition, the Airport Express has a 3.5mm mini-jack port (note photo attached to this article) that allows it to be connected to powered speakers or, via RCA connection adapter (that has a 3.5mm connection on one end and RCA connections on the other), to a soundbar, sound base audio system, stereo receiver, home theater receiver, or any type of audio system that has an available set of analog stereo audio input connections.

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.

AirPort Express Setup

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, such as the Airport Extreme, you will already have the Airport Utility installed on your computer. Otherwise, if you are using an Airport Extreme, 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 and extend your network to the Airport Express.

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, which allows all of 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 by becoming an access point. This is particularly useful to extend to a music streaming unit in the garage or a computer in an adjoining office.

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, and AirPlay-enabled home theater receivers (which are very common now), as well as to other AirPlay devices, such as an iPhone. Or you can use AirPlay to stream directly to an AirPort Express.

To stream music using the AirPort Express, connect it to an audio input on your stereo/AV receiver, or connect it to powered speakers. Be sure that the AirPort Express is plugged into the wall and that the green light indicates that 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 home theater 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 a stereo or home theater receiver, it must be turned on and switched to the input where you have connected the AirPort Express. The sound quality will determine by a combination of quality of the source media files and the capabilities of your audio system and speakers.

Multiple Airplay Devices And 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, 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 in combination with as part of a Sonos multi-room audio system.

Disclaimer: The core content contained in the above article was originally written by Barb Gonzalez, a former home theater topic contributor. It has been reformatted, edited, and updated by Robert Silva.