iPod for multi-room playback

Kirk McElhearn

Q: I’m thinking about buying an iPod, partly because it seems to be a good solution for a home stereo system. I’m looking for an affordable way to have access to my iPod’s music in at least three rooms in my house. I would be willing to take my iPod from room to room, but the ultimate solution would be to have the iPod located centrally and be able to use it remotely from each room. Does such a solution exist?

Also, which speakers do you recommend? I have heard good things about Harman Kardon and Klipsch.

– Paul

A: We use our iPods in exactly the way you describe: this column’s author, for example, has two 40 GB iPods, one for classical music and the other for everything else (rock, jazz, ambient, electronic, etc.), and uses them to provide music to multiple stereo systems. Connecting the iPod to the stereo with a basic mini-din to RCA cable lets you play music from the iPods through speakers, and you can naturally connect the iPod to any self-powered speakers as well.

But that’s not the only way you can do it.

If you have a wireless network, you can use an Apple AirPort Express, together with iTunes, to stream music from your computer to a set of speakers. The AirPort Express has a mini-din jack so you can connect it to a stereo, or to self-powered speakers, and iTunes streams your music to the AirPort Express. If you want to go all the way, you can buy several AirPort Express units and set each one up in a different room, using iTunes on your Mac or PC to play music to any of them; just select the appropriate AirPort Express from iTunes and start playing music.

Another solution could be to use a FM transmitter connected to your iPod. With a device like this, you could send music from your iPod over the airwaves to your stereo, using a FM frequency that is not occupied by a radio station in your area. If you go to our reviews page, and scroll down to FM Transmitters, you’ll find information on most of the currently available models.

If you want to remotely control your iPod, as you suggest, you could use TEN Technology’s naviPod (see our review here) or Griffin’s AirClick Remote (see our review here).

But these devices are only useful for such things as skipping tracks, changing volume, and pausing or playing your music. Since the iPod is a portable device, it’s just as easy to control your playback from the iPod. You can also see our new review of TEN Technology’s new naviPlay Bluetooth wireless system, which includes a roundup of other upcoming Bluetooth devices that can spread your music wirelessly.

As for speakers, we highly recommend JBL’s Creature speakers (see our thoughts about these here). These tiny satellites and subwoofer provide the clearest sound we have heard at their price point. The upcoming Klipsch iFi speakers will also be excellent, but will set you back a bit more. (Read about these speakers in our
roundup of new products for the iPod.