I like my Airport Express with AirTunes. I use it to connect my home theater set-up to my iTunes (s aapl) library, and more frequently, for listening to Internet radio via iTunes. But it’s always bothered me that I couldn’t use it to listen to audio from any other source beyond iTunes. I don’t know about you, but the majority of my video collection is in non-iTunes-compliant format, and so when I’m watching movies, I have to run a super long mini-stereo capable from my Mac to my stereo to get the sound working.
Overnight, a solution appeared via my iPhone (and iPod touch) in the App Store. It’s called AirPhones ($6.99, App Store), and it’s an app that lets you stream any audio directly from your Mac to your iPhone or iPod touch. Or, at least it claims that you’ll be able to hear any audio. I found out that wasn’t exactly the case, but more on that later. Let’s just say that it definitely lets you hear more audio than your iTunes-connected Airport Express.
The iPhone app that makes up half of the AirPhones setup is not much in and of itself. Basically, all you see is a volume slider on a blue background with the AirPhones icon above it. It will display warning messages if you’re not connected, instructing you how to connect, but if it is working, it won’t tell you anything. On the computer side (which currently has to be an Intel Mac), you’ll need to download and run AirPhones Server, from which you will activate the audio streaming.
Setting up AirPhones was not at all difficult, and I actually like the server app, which takes up very few system resources, and hides itself well as a menu bar item (dock icon can be turned on, but there’s really no need). From the preferences window, you just turn on the server and it will automatically detect and connect with any devices on your local wireless network running the AirPhones app.
Once they’re connected, your Mac’s volume is muted, and instead any sound is played via your iPhone’s speaker or connected headphones/speakers. At least that’s the case with audio from most sources. iTunes, Quicktime, and Firefox all played nice, but popular media player VLC did not, with sound playing from the Macbook’s speakers despite the connection being up and running between AirPhones Server and the app on my iPhone.
If you try using this in conjunction with AirTunes, you’ll notice there is a slight delay when it comes to the sound delivered to your iPhone or iPod touch, which means it’ll have to be an either/or solution when it comes to playing music. Likewise, the video is ever so slightly out of sync with the audio with AirPhones. I still found it very tolerable, because the lag is minimal, but some perfectionists might take issue. Hopefully future updates will correct this minor latency.
Overall, it’s a handy solution, especially if you’ve got mulitiple iPhones and iPod touches lying around the house. They could easily become the basis for a wireless set-up that Sonos would charge you an arm and a leg for, and you’ll definitely hear it when you have a call coming in, to boot. And while $7 is a little steep for an iPhone app, once you have it, you can put it on as many devices as you want, so you can go ahead and recruit the whole family’s devices for the cause.