iPod Unbound! - Lose the buds and share the music

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Home is no place for earbuds. They get in the way while shaving or when your family is trying to ask you a question during dinner. When earphones aren't cool but music is welcomed for all, options include putting your Wi-Fi network to work, broadcasting in FM, and leveraging the Wi-Fi compatibility of an in-hand or docked iPod touch or iPhone.

Since the same songs and play lists that are on your personal iPod also exist in the iTunes library on your computer, disseminating the music is mainly a matter of wirelessly linking your computer to a Wi-Fi-enabled device in another room. The device could be a media receiver that you hook up to your stereo receiver and speakers or it could be a Wi-Fi-enabled tabletop radio with built-in speakers. Owners of non-iPods are likely to have transferred music in their player from the Windows Media Player, which can also be set to share its library with devices on your network.

Network-ready entertainment players abound. For example, Logitech offers both the Squeezebox Duet and Squeezebox Boom. The former serves as a source component for your stereo system and is paired with a Wi-Fi remote that displays text and art in color; the latter is a one-piece unit that contains its own speakers and monochrome display and uses an infrared remote.

Logitech Squeezebox Boom Music System
Logitech Squeezebox Boom Music System

Whole-house audio distribution by Wi-Fi is the most sophisticated and cost-effective way to go. Wireless routers are inexpensive, you can add receivers to other rooms, and you have two-way control. You can even stay with the older 802.11g wireless standard since audio doesn't demand the higher requirements of high-def video.

Playing WAV, MP3, and unprotected WMA files from your computer over your Wi-Fi network is straightforward and supported by equipment made from a variety of manufacturers. But there are roadblocks when a song is encumbered by a digital rights management scheme. If you've ripped the music from a CD or downloaded unprotected songs from the Internet, the music should be able to go the final distance over a home network to adjoining rooms. However, if you've purchased music from an online vendor such as 99-cent tunes from Apple's iTunes Music Store, the majority of media receivers including those from Logitech won't play them. It's no surprise that several products from Apple will. A non-Apple media receiver that will is the Netgear EVA8000 but only from computers running iTunes for Windows. On the other hand, "Eva" might be more than you need, since she also accommodates videos, YouTube, and photo slideshows, and you'll need to connect her to a TV.

As for staying in the Apple orchard, a stylish solution also requiring a TV is Apple TV. Actually, the TV better be an HDTV or at least contain a component video or HDMI input. A less expensive, music-only solution that doesn't use a TV – just your stereo system or even a clock radio with an auxiliary stereo input – is the Apple AirPort Express Base Station with 802.11n and AirTunes. The wireless access point contains an audio output that streams music to your stereo receiver. However, there's no remote or interface. Just think about it. You once had to walk back to the room where the computer (Mac or Windows) was located in order to control the music. But now if you have an iPod touch or iPhone, you can download a free app called Remote which lets you play your iTunes library from anywhere in your Wi-Fi-equipped home.

Apple AirPort Express Base Station with 802.11n and AirTunes
Apple AirPort Express Base Station with 802.11n and AirTunes

A less high-tech approach is to turn off the computer and feed your speakers from your iPod. You can do this either wirelessly or while docked. There is an FM transmitter accessory that you can use. Although it's intended to broadcast music to your car radio, it works just as well at home to transmit to any bathroom or kitchen radio or your FM-compatible stereo receiver. FM transmitters for iPods are available for various iPod models. If you plan to use one of these transmitters, keep in mind that it will likely run off the iPod's battery since its cigarette lighter adapter won't do you much good in the house. So, expect to recharge the player more often. One advantage to home use is that unlike iPod broadcasting in a moving vehicle, the frequency you find with the least interference is less likely to change. Still, unlike Wi-Fi delivery, with FM-casting you're mostly limited to keeping your source (the iPod) and receiver in the same room. Also, the fidelity of analog FM delivery is less stellar than the digital quality possible with Wi-Fi.

DLO TuneStik RF Remote Control and FM Transmitter for iPod
DLO TuneStik RF Remote Control and FM Transmitter for iPod

For the surest fidelity use a receiver that comes with an iPod dock or a port for a docking accessory. If you bought your receiver in the last few years, check the manual or the B&H site to see if there's a docking accessory available. So, for example, Yamaha offers the YDS-11SL as a universal iPod dock for select Yamaha home theater receivers. If you're in the market for a new audio-video receiver, consider one like the Harman-Kardon AVR-354 that contains an iPod docking station.

For any room where there isn't a home theater, a self-contained clock radio with an iPod dock may be a good fit. I'm particularly fond of a reasonably-priced clock radio with stereo speakers and dual alarm settings that combines AM, FM, and HD Radio reception with an iPod dock and a remote. The iLuv i169 comes with four adapters to accommodate various iPod models. (But I didn't need any to attach and charge my iPod touch.) Subscription-free HD Radio lets a station broadcast three different programs at once – including simulcasts of its AM and FM stations – and it provides better sound quality than conventional radio. For example, since I get abysmal reception of WNYC-AM between 6 and 7 am, I can turn instead to WNYC-HD Channel 3 to hear Morning Edition loud and clear.

iLuv i169 HD Radio & iPod Dock
iLuv i169 HD Radio & iPod Dock

The radio has a text display that can show such information as the channel's program genre and the name of the band playing. Recently, I found myself hooked to a tune being broadcast on an HD rock channel, saw on the display that the band was Coldplay. I switched the iLuv's source to my docked iPod touch as it accessed my Wi-Fi network, sampled the selection from the iTunes Music Store, and downloaded the song, "Viva La Vida." No computer was necessary, though when I connected the iPod, the PC copied the tune into my iTunes library. Later, Apple emailed me a transaction receipt for 99-cents. Pretty smooth! By the way, when I want even more listening choices after exhausting those available from AM, FM, and HD Radio or from the music stored in my docked iPod touch, I stream Internet radio through it using such apps as AOL Radio or Pandora.

There's an earphone jack on the iLuv i169 if needed, but what fun is that? With the latest accessories, media receivers, and docking clock radios, an iPod is a terrible thing to waste on your ears alone.