Under The Microscope

Three’s Company – Using Nicecast To Send Any Audio To AirPort Express

Update: Since this article was written, we’ve released Airfoil, for both Mac and Windows. With Airfoil, you can send any audio to the AirPort Express with much more simplicity.

Abstract: With Nicecast, you can send any audio to the AirPort Express.
Skip Directly To The Setup Instructions

When the AirPort Express was first unveiled in June, we were a bit befuddled. It took awhile before we could determine if it was good for business, bad for business, or just an interesting device that didn’t affect us much. That’s how weird the AirPort Express is – it’s got 3 major functions, and they aren’t all that connected, logically. It’s not that the device doesn’t make sense, just that it’s odd. Who would expect 1) A cheap AirPort Base Station that does just about everything you need (Only 10 users instead of 50? Darn…) 2) A USB Printer Sharer and 3) A wireless music playback device for your stereo, all in one small, power-brick-shaped package? But expectations aside, Apple made this oddball device, and it’s now available (We pre-ordered, and received ours last week).

There are plenty of in-depth articles, reviews, and physical dissections on the AirPort Express, so I’ll skip that. The real point of this article is to explain how you can use the AirPort Express with all types of audio, not just iTunes. We’ve been getting a lot of questions via email and in our forums regarding the new AirPort Express – people want to use the AirPort Express/AirTunes features with all kinds of audio, and that’s awesome. I’m flattered that people are looking to us for the solution, and it’s something we’ve begun working on with the end goal of creating a smooth and solid way of getting non-iTunes audio to the AirPort Express. In response to questions we received right after releasing Detour 1.5, it likely won’t be a full system output in Detour, even though this is what many people were looking for. The problem is the lag time for audio. – if you set the AirPort Express as the output for DVD Player, for instance, you’d have major audio/video sync issues. We’ll see what happens, however.

Clearly, we’re not sure what the final product will be. The real point is that right now, this very moment, you can use our very own Macworld Best Of Show winner Nicecast in conjunction with iTunes to send audio from any application to the AirPort Express. For those who aren’t aware, Nicecast is a tool we made to 1) Make it easier to set up internet broadcasting and 2) Broadcast any audio, not just audio from applications which support broadcasting. When we originally considered the second point, we saw it as a great way to broadcast iTunes. Little did we know that it would soon be useful for broadcasting local audio right into iTunes. Using Nicecast isn’t the simplest or most elegant solution possible, but it’s damned functional and it’s available right now, and personally, I’ll take gritty functionality over elegant non-existance any day. Let’s get down to it.

Setup Instructions

The easiest way to show how to get audio to the AirPort Express from any application is with a simple example. In our example, we’ll set RealPlayer up to play out through our AirPort Express. The three basic steps are as follows:

Step 1) Open up RealPlayer and play the desired audio.
Step 2) Open up Nicecast, and set RealPlayer as the Source. Start broadcasting, and mute the local output by moving the volume slider in the Broadcast window all the way to the left.
Step 3) Open up iTunes, and set the AirPort Express as the output. Next, go to the Advanced menu, choosing “Open Stream…”. Enter http://127.0.0.1:8000 into this window, and click “OK”. That’s it – RealPlayer’s audio will now come right through your AirPort Express!

In a bit more detail:

Detailed Step 1) Open RealPlayer (or whatever application from which you want to send audio to the AirPort Express), and play audio with it. Just use the application as you normally would to play audio, you don’t need to do anything different here.

Detailed Step 2) Open up Nicecast. If you’ve used it before, you probably know what’s going on. Just set your desired application, in our case RealPlayer, as the Source and Start Broadcasting. If you’ve never used Nicecast, glance over the manual and then go to the Broadcast window. The Source drawer will be open and showing iTunes, by default. Use the Select menu on the right side to change the Source to RealPlayer. Then, click the the Start Broadcast button. As long as the On Air light comes on, Nicecast is all set.

Note #1: You’ll most likely not want the audio to come out of your machine’s local speakers, so you should move the Nicecast volume slider, under the Start Broadcast button, all the way to the left.

Note #2: When Nicecast isn’t currently broadcasting, you can adjust the quality setting at which Nicecast streams. Go to the Quality drawer and adjust as desired – you can safely set this quality very high, to 128 kbps and higher, since you’re tuning in right from your home machine.

Detailed Step 3) Open up iTunes, and adjust the output in the lower right, to your AirPort Express. Then, press Command-U or go to the Advanced menu, and choose the “Open Stream…” option. Enter http://127.0.0.1:8000 in the URL field, and click “OK”. That’s it – you should now hear the audio that’s originating in RealPlayer playing out through the device to which the AirPort Express is connected.

Caveat: If you find this works for you, you’ll need to register Nicecast. Until Nicecast is registered, it will overlay noise on the audio it’s sending to iTunes after 20 minutes of broadcasting. Restarting Nicecast resets this limitation, but once you register Nicecast, you’ll get perfect noise-free audio with no interruptions.

The process really isn’t very tough at all, it just lacks the elegance we desire in a final product. But as noted, elegance be damnned – this solution is fully functional and available now. Give it a try, tell your friends, and let us know if you have any questions.

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