On Christmas Day I set up the Apple Airport Express I received from Melissa successfully with my existing network and wanted to document what I did since I may change things.

The Airport Express software has a Wizard that helps you initially configure the unit. It’s good because it looks at your computer’s current wireless network configuration in an attempt to help you pick the right way to run the AE. I have a network that at its wired core is homed to my Linksys BEFSR41 router. The Linksys has my cable modem plugged into it, as well as a separate 5-port 100Base-TX Netgear switch and my SMC2655W 802.11B access point. Computers are attached to either free ports on the Linksys or the Netgear.

Since I’d read reports that the AE could integrate with non-Apple wireless nets, I decided to try to get it talking to my network through my access point. I’ve been running my wireless network with 64-bit WEP and MAC address filtering for the longest time with success, and didn’t want to compromise my existing config. I found that the AE didn’t support 64-bit WEP; it supported 40-bit, 128-bit, and WPA2 encryption schemes. However, the Orinoco silver PC card I use on my laptop while at home maxes out at 64-bit WEP. For purposes of this project, I went ahead and disabled WEP for the time being. However, my access point still has MAC address filtering on, with only the addresses of my NIC and the AE (which was printed on it) present. Since I don’t do anything critical on my wireless network that isn’t already taking place in a secured session, it’s not that big of a deal.

After reconfiguring my access point and laptop and verifying connectivity, I used the AE configurator to tell the AE to join my existing wireless net (dubbed “CYGNET”, of course!). It connected up fine and told me that the AE was assigned an address through DHCP. It’s nice to know the address of the AE, but it’s not essential since iTunes appears to broadcast to the local network to find AEs to connect to. However, I may try to use Justeport to pipe content to my AE, so having the address is good. The Airport Express’s management software can be used to find out the address if I forget it or it gets assigned a new one since it broadcasts out to look for AEs like iTunes does.

The AE has an audio minijack (1/8″) that accepts analog or digital (optical) connections. On my receiver I’ve used up the digital optical connections, so I used an analog patch cable to the AUX input to connect the AE up. I haven’t used the Ethernet or USB ports at this point.

Once online, a new button appeared to the left of the EQ button in iTunes and let me direct the output to “My Computer” or “Alex’s Airport” (the name I gave it). Once I selected the AE, the audio played through my stereo without much of a delay. I then reconfigured ICYG to output a 320kbps MP3 stream and connected to it through iTunes. The stream sounded quite good on the stereo, but iTunes disconnected from the stream after a few minutes for an unknown reason. I figured the bandwidth might have been too high, so I set it to 256kbps and it’s been more stable.

At this point, I’m considering moving my Linksys router to the family room with my cable modem and the AE, so I can use the AE’s Ethernet port and reconfigure it as a full-fledged wireless access point. Assuming its range is good from that location, I could then decommission my old SMC access point and set up encryption on my network once again. We’ll see.

The AE is a fun toy. Definitely recommended as a way to pump music from your computer to your stereo in a wireless fashion, if you can deal with not having remote control of the music source. If you want a solution that includes source control capabilities, I recommend the Squeezebox, although I haven’t personally used it.