This article was first published on 2007-09-20. Due to the age of this article, it is included here for archive purposes only.
I hope that one of the first things you’ve done once you started up your new Mac is load up iTunes with all your music. It’s one of the sort of life changing steps when getting a modern computer if you love music and haven’t already done it.
I listen to music all day long on my Mac while I work, but what do we do when we want to hear this great music library around the house and over nice speakers? There are several options at various prices to consider. Let’s take a look!
First, let’s discuss what this article is not about, but might be your best solution: an iPod. iPods take a copy of your music library and make it mobile. One handy use for your iPod is to connect it to your home stereo or powered speakers and enjoy. It’s easy, fairly cheap, but it’s not iTunes. Besides, I use my iPod primarily in my car and to run with, so it’s not really that handy in my home.
A quick word about speakers. There are two types of speakers we will refer to for our purposes: Powered and standard. Powered speakers plug into the wall and carry their own amplification internally. These are generally cheaper, but the high end can cost more than low end standard speakers. They are also usually smaller than standard speakers. Standard speakers are the kind you plug into a receiver or amplifier that is usually a component of a stereo or home media system.
At this point, you should know if you have powered speakers or a stereo system that you want to connect to your Mac. Personally, I’m good with powered speakers. They are cheaper and often look interesting. If a louder, top quality experience is for you, get a component system with standard speakers.
OK, let’s move on to some iTunes solutions. These can be categorized as direct connection, dumb wireless connection and smart wireless connection. Most these solutions will require that you have your Mac running iTunes turned on to listen to your music.
The cheapest, easiest solution is the direct connection. If your Mac is close enough to to your stereo or speakers, just run a cable from your audio out port to your powered speakers with a male-to-male 1/8 mini jack cable. If you are using a stereo system, you will probably want a 1/8 inch male to RCA male cable. Super easy!
This is usually a case of just upgrading your computer with nice speakers. If you live near an Apple store, go on in and check out all the speakers in the iPod section. These will all work for your Mac too. Then go home and order them on the internet to get a better deal.
Dumb Wireless Connection. What I mean here is that the connection doesn’t provide any bells and whistles. It just connects your Mac to some speakers. The primary device here is Apple’s AirPort Express (AE, $99) withAirTunes.
This is the perfect solution if your Mac is out of cable range of your speakers, but close enough where controlling the music from your Mac is not tedious. Basically, you plug in the AirPort Express into an outlet near your speakers and connect the two as described above, but substituting the AE for your Mac. Once the network is established, you select your speakers in iTunes as where you want the music to be heard.
Smart Wireless Connection. This solution is like the AirPort Express in that you have a wireless connection from your Mac to your speakers, but you get a whole lot more with it. For these solutions, that means getting a remote control and some visual display of what music you are finding and playing.
If you want to play your music through a home media center, the leading contender here is the Apple TV ($299). Of course you can watch TV with it, but don’t forget it will play your iTunes library too. One advantage to the Apple TV is that because it syncs to your primary Mac rather than streams from it, your Mac can be turned off while you play music. But it also can stream music from many Macs on your home network if you choose. There are obviously lots of other benefits to the Apple TV that you can discover at the website.
If cost is no issue and you want the ultimate audio solution, you should check out Sonos. This system will wirelessly connect your music to any number of speakers all around the house and give you complete control in configuring what plays where. The remote is also robust, yet familiar and is where the system display is. The only real downside is that it can easily run over $1000 in components, but if that is typical for you, give it a good look.
And somehow, they managed to incorporate the iPod scroll wheel into the remote without bringing on the wrath of Steve. Probably because he uses it at his house.
What if you want a dedicated wireless connection that’s not too dumb and not too expensive? Well, take a look at the the SoundBridge ($149, $299 with integrated speakers) by Roku. It connects like the AirPort Express, it has a remote that controls the music and it has has a display on it to lets you know what you are doing. If you get the one with speakers, you can skip the whole connecting it to speakers or a stereo part.
One Important Note: Only the Apple products can play your music bought from the iTunes Store.
A last thought. Don’t forget that you can recycle an old Mac to act primarily as an iTunes player in your house. If that’s all you are using it for, you can run it on a fairly old and cheap Mac. It’s the "Reuse" part of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
Have you found a great way of getting your iTunes to your home speakers? Let us know about it in the Comments section below!