Like me, do you ever want to control iTunes audio independently from than the maximum audio of your system? I love audio. I love music. However, I also want balance between my system volume and my iTunes listening experience. I am happy to report that I have found the solution—AirPlay!
AirPlay is a media protocol over WiFi that Apple developed specifically to allow wireless streaming of music through iTunes. As a result, it will allow you to drive iTunes audio independently from your system’s volume.
Now, what will work with AirPlay? What are inexpensive as well as expensive means for using it?
I’ve been researching this stuff for a couple of months. This blog post documents my current findings. Maybe it will help you out, oh random reader.
Before I get into all of the details about the desired rigs and setups, my current conditions ought to be noted. First, I’m using an iMac that only has a 3.5mm output port—no TOSLINK. Second, by extension, I’m using OS X with iTunes. Third, I have Klipsch 2.1 Computer Speakers connected to my 3.5mm output. It has a 6″ driver for the subwoofer. For future reference, note that I have an AirPort Extreme router. Now, I have the Klipsch main volume set to about 33% (an approximation) with OS X set to 50%; the subwoofer volume on the Klipsch controls is also set to the recommended 33% (an approximation). Meanwhile, I typically have iTunes at 33%. The problem I experience is that my iTunes is dialed in where I want, but system sounds and other applications, such as Safari with YouTube, can be overpowering until I adjust that application’s or media’s volume. I would prefer that the system be at 10% while iTunes ranged from 33%-100%. Unfortunately, I cannot do that with this setup. In my research for finding a solution, AirPlay is just what I need to free iTunes from the system’s volume limits.
I should also mention that there are AirPlay speaker solutions. However, they typically do not have the latest Wireless N or Wireless AC technology. The moment you connect up a Wireless A, B, or G device to a Wireless N or Wireless AC network, it will reduce the quality of the network itself, which would be an undesired effect. Furthermore, these speakers and docks are typically expensive for what you get. Besides, said speakers and docks do not have good bass range, and neither do they have subwoofer outputs. If you want quality bass, you will want a different option, such as the ones below.
If you want AirPlay on the cheap, there is at least one solution. Get an AirPort Express and a 3.5mm mini to RCA cable. These will cost you about $120 total. Then, connect them up to your existing stereo as follows:
- AirPort Express 3.5mm Output > 3.5mm mini to RCA cable > Existing stereo RCA input
iTunes will allow you to stream your music wirelessly to this Express. The volume is totally independent of your system, so it can be as loud as the stereo is set to, but iTunes can control the volume from within the application. You could set the stereo hardware to half volume and then adjust the software volume in iTunes or from the Remote app for iOS.
If you want a good AirPlay setup, which I would assume is a 2.1 speaker system, you might want to consider purchasing an AirPort Express, 3.5mm mini to RCA cable, a powered subwoofer, such as the Pioneer 8″ subwoofer, a subwoofer mono cable, and the iLive ITP180B soundbar (it happens to be an iPhone/iPod docking tower). The soundbar is cheap, but it has one rare feature: a subwoofer output. For the cost, you cannot go wrong. For the subwoofer, I would recommend an 8″ driver. Anything less is not going to get you the full range you would want (my Klipsch system has a 6″ driver, and I can attest that it does not give me all of the super low booms that my 8″ Pioneer subwoofer gives over AirPlay in a different room); anything more will be overkill. This setup would cost no more than $350, depending on the subwoofer you get and where you buy the gear (Amazon seems to have some great deals). The setup would be as follows:
- AirPort Express 3.5mm Output > 3.5mm mini to RCA cable > iLive RCA Input; Subwoofer Output > Subwoofer cable > Subwoofer Left or Mono Input
The above setup is probably what I will be doing. I’m not made of money, so it is an appealing solution. However, I did figure out a premium solution that would replace my Klipsch setup and add AirPlay.
Purchase a 7.2 receiver with multi-zone capability and built-in AirPlay. You can connect your computer’s speakers through this setup as well as the AirPlay speakers in a separate—independent—zone. If money were no obstacle, here’s what I would do:
- Pioneer VSX-1123-K
- Pioneer 8″ Subwoofer (x2)
- Pioneer 4″ Bookshelf Pair (x2)
- 15′ subwoofer cable (x2)
- 30′ 14-gauge speaker cable
- 6′ CAT5 or higher ethernet cable
- 6′ 3.5mm mini to RCA cable
This gear would cost around $1200 depending on where it was purchased. Here’s how it would be set up:
- Zone 1 (Computer speakers)
- Computer 3.5mm Output > 3.5mm mini to RCA cable > Pioneer Receiver RCA Input
- Pioneer Receiver Left, Right Speaker Outputs > 14-guage speaker wire > Pioneer Bookshelf Pair #1
- Pioneer Receiver Subwoofer 1 Output > Subwoofer Cable > Pioneer Subwoofer #1 Left Input
- Zone 2 (AirPlay speakers)
- AirPort Extreme LAN > Ethernet cable > Pioneer Receiver LAN
- Pioneer Satellite Left, Right > 14-guage speaker wire > Pioneer Bookshelf Pair #2
- Pioneer Subwoofer 2 Output > Subwoofer Cable > Pioneer Subwoofer #2 Left Input
This setup is appealing to me, because I would be able to have control over the computer speakers as well as the AirPlay speakers from the same receiver, and then I would have a consistent aesthetic throughout. However, this setup comes at a cost as it is expensive!
No matter how you do it, you can control iTunes volume independently via AirPlay. There are lots of options out there, but it depends on how much you want to spend. You can do it on the cheap, or you can do it for an arm and a leg. In the end, you can be the master of your system’s and your iTunes’ volumes.