Well, I’ve been debating for some time now which product to get that will enable me to play my PC-based music collection over the living room speakers. For me it came down to the AirPort Express and the Roku Soundbridge.

The prerequisite was; the solution needed to be compatible with my existing hardware and software – which is a Windows based network (soon to include a Mac) and a LinkSys WRT54G Wireless Router.

And so it begins

Sitting there in Best Buy, I couldn’t decide between the $160 AirPort Express and the $250 Roku SoundBridge M1000. Ultimately, it came down to Roku’s remote control and VFD Display; I parted with my hard earned cash and headed home to install the new toy.

Roku Soundbridge

Beyond the tedious task of getting the soundbridge to connect to my WEP enabled WAP, the setup was – as advertised – simple.

Next of course is connecting the device to the stereo. To my disappointment I found they chose to include a composite-to-headphone (yea, that can’t be the proper name) wire. From a product that boasts great flexibility in connection options, this seemed like a silly choice to me as most use cases seemed to be connections with a stereo amplifier. The standard there seems to be composite, not a cheap headphone jack. Luckily for me, I had a spare wire to use here.

Next of course was getting the music to play. The less-than-intuitive approach of requiring you to “queue” up files in a temporary-yet-required playlist was unexpected. Sure it’s conceivable why such a feature would be useful but given I already have playlists defined, it would be more usable if I could simply press “play” when I have selected a desired playlist.

The Good:

  • remote
  • screen

The Bad:

  • wrong wire included
  • poor connection reliability
  • poor usability

Summary

The product must work and given the unreliable connection I lost interest in this product pretty quick. Even when the product was technically working, I found the interface and usability with the remote to be lacking – perhaps they forgot to test with real users? In Malin’s words, “it’s an expensive clock”. Yes, when it’s turned off you have the option of it displaying the time and date.

AirPort Express

“It just works” right? Well, if I had been fortunate enough to have an AirPort Extreme at home I could be so lucky. However, given the technical differences in technolgy between the Apple AirPort Extreme and my Linksys Wireless router, the install wasn’t as easy as a plug-and-play … uhh… listen.

So, after about 15 minutes of staring blankly at the AirPort Admin Utility, I resorted – as we usually do – to ‘asking the internet’. Unfortunately, the first resource I found wasn’t nearly as accurate or helpful as the second.

30 or so minutes after finding the http://arstechnica.com review, not only did I have a router with an usupported firmware version – which had been suggested by Eric – I still wasn’t anywhere closer to getting the AirPort Express operational.

Back to google and I came out with a much more helpful how-to provided by John. When all was said and done, I had the AirPort acting and operating as it should, streaming music to the living room all while extending the wireless network range. Sweet!

The Good:

  • compact
  • it works
  • performance is great!

The Bad:

  • install with 3rd party routers not given any documentation from the apple folks
  • sound can only output to one channel/stream at a time
  • remote isn’t a standard feature, but can be added
  • no display available

Summary

I’m happy with the AirPort Express; it’s compact, performance is great and above all – it works! If needed I can always add the remote later. The lack of a screen isn’t an issue to me as my intention is to open a playlist and let it go.

Next up? I can’t wait for the Mac mini with DVR!

More on the Soundbridge and AirPort Express:

One Response to “AirPort Express vs Roku Soundbridge”

  1. fluffy Says:

    The term is “RCA,” not “composite.” It just happens that a composite video signal also uses an RCA plug, which is probably where you got that name from.