I got an iPhone a few weeks ago. It seemed like something that would be interesting and fun. It turns out that a few killer apps are making it a game-changer for me.
One of those apps is called Remote. It basically turns your iPhone into a remote control device for your iTunes. This was the final straw for me – the one piece of the whole home technology puzzle that sent me into a giddy spasm of euphoria.
You see, I live for music. The way it moves me and grooves me. The way it triggers creative thoughts and helps me remember people and places and feelings in my distant past. When I am feeling down, music can lift my spirit. And when I’m feeling good music can make me fly.
So we have music playing in the house often and I have been seeking an affordable whole home audio solution for several years. I tried a number of the early systems, like Creative’s Xmod, but found spotty performance and poor quality hardware. Of course, there are a number of quite pricey solutions on the market (Sonos, Zon, Squeezebox), but these systems always struck me as the wrong approach for me. With the rapid pace of technological innovation, it never made sense to me to spend thousands of dollars on a system that would be eclipsed within a few years.
All I wanted to do was move the music around. It should be easy, I thought. Turns out, it is. Here’s my whole home audio solution.
The family computer is an iMac – a big, beautiful, shiny Apple. On that computer, we run iTunes because there are iPods floating around all over the house. The iPod brought iTunes into our lives and it’s stayed there, not because its a great piece of software but because its convenient (that’s the way Apple likes it, but that’s for another post). This base machine sits in the family room and pre-dates the whole home audio quest.
Apple’s AirPort Express device acts as a node on your wireless home network (oh yeah, you’ll need one of these too – a wireless home network). Each one plugs into the wall and has a mini-jack output that can go to any powered speaker system. iTunes uses a little-known built-in functionality called AirTunes to talk to these devices. So, if you have an old-fashioned stereo like we do, you can run the mini-jack to RCA connector into your stereo receiver and now your stereo speakers can be controlled by iTunes. We have four AirPorts currently in the house and they can be moved around depending on our needs.
The Powered Speakers
In addition to the two stereo receivers connected to the AirPorts, we have two roaming speaker sets. I’ve found the Bose Companion 2 powered speaker system has great sound – a nice rich low-end and good styling – for a great price. We have one of these set-ups in the kitchen and one in the bedroom. When weather permits, we could move one or both to the backyard and party our faces off.
Which brings me to where I started. If the above set up wasn’t amazing enough, I now have the Remote app for the iPhone. This means I can walk around the house and control the iTunes application via my iPhone. I can turn on and off remote speakers, browse songs, select playlists, skip songs, pause a song when the phone rings.
The Bottom Line
This whole-home audio system works like a charm and its a fraction of the cost of the high-end systems. You do not need an iMac to run iTunes – it runs fine on a Windows PC and AirTunes can talk to the AirPorts. Mind you, I’ve never tried the iPhone Remote app with the PC.
Final cost breakdown for my four-zone whole home audio set-up, leveraging an existing stereo received and home theatre receiver looks like this:
- 4 AirPort Express @ $100 each = $400
- 2 sets of Bose Companion 2 powered speakers = $300
Technically, if you didn’t have any existing speakers, you’d have to get two additional Bose speaker sets – which brings you right up to the $1,000 mark.
Obviously, there are many ways to improve on this system and increase the cost, but I challenge anyone to build a better system for the money.
Drop me a line if you need any help setting yours up. Makes a great Father’s Day gift!