inwallstore-how-to-set-up-six-zone-apple-airplay-at-home

 

 

Apple Airplay is one of the best wireless home audio solutions available.  With its lossless audio design, it sounds as good as digital audio gets when delivered wirelessly.  It is bandwidth heavy but can be overcome with some design considerations.

 

This Do-It-Yourself wireless project will end up costing far less than other solution providers with proprietary equipment.  This project is wireless in the control aspect as it can be controlled via most of the Apple products available. However, the speakers still need to be wired from the central equipment.

 

The system is controllable from anywhere where there is a Wi-Fi network signal. With six Airplay instances operating at once, the Airports need to be wired via ethernet cable to help with the high overhead of bandwidth needed.

 

WHAT YOU NEED

 

[6] Airport Express Modules A1264

These are out of production but can be acquired easily used on Amazon.com, Ebay.com or Craigslist.org. They have easy factory reset buttons and are ready to go in less than a minute. Note though that there are two types that look identical.  The ones to avoid are the ones starting with A108. These do not work with the current Airport Utility provided by Apple OS. The current version is fine, but the form factor of the A1264 is easier to mount than a series of them together.

 

[1] Belkin Power Strip Model BP108000-06

The Apple Express’ fit perfectly and the outlets pivot to give some flexibility in mounting positions.

 

[1] 8-Port Ethernet Switch or similar 8-Port Routers

With a router, the audio traffic can get separated from the main Wi-Fi traffic in your home. However, the setup is a bit more complicated to integrate.  This guide shows the setup on the LAN side of a router.

 

[1] Dayton 12-Channel (6-channel stereo) Multi-room Amp

[6] Y-Adaptor Splitter

[6] 3 foot Ethernet Cables

For control of the system, you can choose from these options:

  • iTouch
  • iPad
  • iPhone
  • Macbook
  • iTunes
  • PC running iTunes

If you’re looking for some apps for utilizing the multi-room aspect outside of iTunes, here are some recommendations:

 

HOW TO SET IT UP

Step 1:  Assemble Physical Parts

  • Arrange the Apple Airplay Express onto the Belkin Power Outlet.
  • Plug in the Y-adaptors into the audio ports.
  • Plug in the ethernet cables into the RJ45 jacks of the Airport modules.
  • Plug in the ethernet cables into the ethernet switch.
Apple Airport Express Audio

Apple Airport Express Audio

Apple Airplay Airport Room Labels

Airport Room Labels

Ethernet switch

Ethernet switch

Note:  This example isn’t a permanent installation example.  The amplifier will create substantial heat. The Apple Airport Express modules should not be placed on top as shown in the example.

Step 2: Configure Apple Airport Express Modules

There are two methods to configure the Apple Airports:

  • Via Airport Utility native in Mac OS under Applications > Utilities > Airport Utility or download for PC
  • Via Airport Utility for IOS available in the Apple App Store

This is a short video describing the step with a screenshot tour of the process.

Step 3a:  Configure iTunes to play music

The computer used needs to be logged into the network being used for audio.  This is a performance design consideration for rock solid audio performance with virtually no drop outs.  If the system shares the main home network, it will contend with the other traffic and the audio may drop out.

This guide assumes that the computer is hooked up to network dedicated to Apple Airplay traffic only named ‘Audio.’

  • Open up iTunes
  • Click on this icon on the top bar in between the volume and information windowApple airplay
  • When it drops down you will see your Apple Airplay rooms listed
  • Click on multiple if you want music to play in more than one room.  You can choose all of them or a specific selection.
  • You can also adjust all the volumes independently.
Apple Airplay iTunes

Apple Airplay iTunes

Step 3b: Configure most any audio app to play through any single zone

In almost all these apps, you’re looking for the universal icon for Airplay:

Apple airplay

Apple Airplay

On their own, these apps will only play to one zone at a time.  However, you can get a program like those mentioned above so that you can play in more than one room at a time your iPhone.  iTunes can natively play to multiple rooms at once out of the box with no extra purchase.

 

APPLE AIRPLAY EXAMPLES

A. Pandora:

It should look like this:

Pandora Screenshot for Airplay

Pandora Screenshot for Airplay

When you touch the icon, it should open to something like this:

Apple Airplay

Multiroom Apple Airplay

B. Spotify:

At the bottom of the screen it will say “Airplay Available”.  Press that and you’ll get your rooms to show up to select one.

Spotify Apple Airplay

Spotify Apple Airplay

C. Songza:

Songza hasn’t integrated their app yet, but it will still work with Apple’s “swipe up” from the bottom of the screen.

Songza Apple Airplay

Songza Apple Airplay

You’ll see this shortcut screen and the Airplay shows up on the lower right:

Songza Apple Airplay2

Songza Apple Airplay

D. In YouTube:

On the vertical screen it will show up on the lower right part of the video playing as you tap the video itself.

YouTube Apple Airplay

YouTube Apple Airplay Vertical Screen

On the horizontal page, it will show up in the lower right after tapping the main screen:

YouTube Apple Airplay Horizontal Screen

YouTube Apple Airplay Horizontal Screen

Most of the apps that have sound are capable of output to an Airplay station.  First, look for the icon. If the Airplay icon is not there, swipe up from the bottom of the screen and select the audio device from the list on the right. Bluetooth devices may show up there are well.

17 Comments

  • Francisco J Zavala says:

    Hello,
    You said, “I’ll hook up one of the Airports to operate as the wifi router for the audio only traffic” ….. I am doing all what you specified here and almost ready to buy everything but I have a doubt about connections. How exactly you connect all ? Starting with the main modem, whats next ? ….I have a main modem=>time capsule as router=> switch=> all devices connected vía ethernet ….

    thank You

    • Brian Kruse says:

      I’ll edit that part to read “I’ll hook up one of the airports to operate as the wifi ACCESS POINT (AP) for the audio only traffic”
      Definitely the wrong terminology in the original.

  • ScottG says:

    What model of amplifier is this? I’m having difficulty finding a suitable amp?

  • Alan Puccinelli says:

    The problem with this setup. (I’ve got the exact one) is that the AirportExpress seems to overheat over time. Especially if its enclosed in a cabinet with other equip. Placing them all side by side on a power strip only increases the likelihood. I would recommend at least spacing them out so there’s airflow between units.

  • I’ve been running this exact same setup for 3 years now but I’m still on the lookout for a way to consolidate the cable mess :-). The greatest strength of airplay system is that any guest can show up with their phone, tablet or computer, log into the wifi network and be guest DJ. The other missing feature is how to drive more than one airplay zone with a phone or tablet.

    • MARK MROZ says:

      The only way I’ve found to do this is with Airfoil, as Brian mentioned. Think of it as a music distribution server—it will let you stream to multiple Airplay devices, as well as Chromecast and Bluetooth. You can then use Airfoil Satellite on almost any device to control Airfoil.

  • pedro2nr says:

    Great article and setup. I would like to recommend for new users to switch from Apple Airport Express to Google Chromecast Audio. The main reasons is: exclude Ethernet cabling and native multi-room support. Not to mention the Chromecast Audio is smaller in size and available at current retail stores.

    • Brian Kruse says:

      I definitely want to write a Chromecast Audio version. The Apple setup still would favor better lossless audio and support for simultaneous synchronized multi room play from iTunes.

    • MARK MROZ says:

      Chromecast has its benefits, but having ethernet is the first thing I look for in a streaming device, for reliability and to minimize RF in our house (for health reasons). Also, it’s nice to be able to use AirFoil to stream my turntable through the house.

  • MARK MROZ says:

    I’m doing a similar setup, and running an iMac with Airfoil. Two really cool features of this:

    1) You can run multiple instances of Airfoil (just duplicate the app) and select different sources for each one, effectively making an audio matrix. I can use this setup to stream my turntable going through a preamp into the iMac to the living room and kitchen, while playing iTunes to my workshop. You can even remotely control each instance with Airfoil Satellite running on a device.

    2) I can send multiroom audio from any device by sending it to Airfoil Satellite on the iMac, which is then selected as a source in Airfoil. I can then use Airfoil Satellite on the device to remotely control the level in each zone.

    Good work!

  • Eddie says:

    Curious. Am I missing something? With today’s tech is this really necessary? What’s the disadvantage of using a multiple zone airplay network receiver and connecting the speakers directly?

    • Brian Kruse says:

      At the time of publishing there wasn’t multi-zone airplay products yet! Also, personally, I’m always on the lookout to build it better for less. I can see a newer version of this with small Class-D amps. I bet I could get it put together under $200 now.

  • Jay says:

    The only products out there are pricey, such as Sonos Amp ($599 each) so for a 6 room, and taking advantage of the multi-room AirPlay 2 offers, you’re looking for about a $4K+ setup depending on quality of speakers. Using the DIY airport express, you can probably build it all for about $800, again, depending quality of speakers and amp. Plus the airport express (2nd gen) offers airplay 2.!

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