AirTunes connection problems

Q: Now that you cover “All Things iPod, iTunes, and Beyond,” perhaps you’d be willing to help me with a troubling problem I’ve been having with AirTunes on my Airport Express device. I’ve been having this issue for months – which means I’ve used various incarnations of iTunes 4 AND 5, as well as several Airport Software versions.

Here’s the problem: I can only play my iTunes audio to my Airport Express for around twenty minutes before I begin to lose connection, with the audio cutting in and out. To get the audio started and reliable again once this happens, I usually need to stop playing, switch speaker selections in iTunes, and reconnect to the Airport Express.

This problem occurs with both my 802.11b (11Mbps) and 802.11g (54Mbps) hardware, so I’m not even sure that it’s a bandwidth problem.

Is this normal? What can I do to fix it?

– Anonymous

A: Hundreds of users on Apple’s Discussion Forums have experienced this same issue, and so have several of iLounge’s editors. Although we have been able to improve our performance, we unfortunately still can’t get it to behave perfectly.

Here are a few suggestions that we’ve tried that may help you out. Some of these come from Apple’s Support website, and some are our own:

  1. Install all available iTunes and Airport Software updates.
  2. Try to reduce the distance (or physical barriers) between your Airport Express, transmitting computer, and any other wireless router that may be involved in your configuration.
  3. Try configuring your wireless access point (whether it’s the Airport Express or not) to operate on channels 1, 6, or 11. These are the only truly independent wireless channels.
  4. Try disabling any firewall settings or software you have active. These features inspect each network packet as they enter and exit your computer, slightly decreasing performance.
  5. It may be helpful to downgrade from WPA to 128-bit WEP, from 128-bit WEP to 40-bit WEP, or to unsecured mode. Each successive step reduces the amount of “overhead” data that must be transmitted per data packet, and may also decrease the processing load on your system.
  6. If you’re on a Mac, you may be able to increase the priority of the iTunes process. This will give it more processor time, facilitating the on-the-fly audio conversion to Apple Lossless format that iTunes does before the audio is transmitted to the Airport Express. This can be done using the UNIX command “renice,” or a friendlier front-end to “renice” such as “DBoost

Regarding items 4 and 5, iLounge strongly recommends you treat these as temporary exercises only to diagnose the source of the problem. It’s generally a very bad idea to leave your wireless network unsecured.

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