High Variance

How Our Home Music System Got a Little More Complicated and a Lot More Awesome

music apps

Our household is heavily invested in iTunes. We have a big collection on an iMac that never sleeps. We have an AppleTV in the living room and an Airport Express in the kitchen that serve as AirPlay destinations. With the iOS Remote app, we can stream whatever we want wherever we want. It doesn’t depend on Bluetooth or on keeping iPods synced up to date, and now that our wifi network is working well1, it’s great. But I wanted more.

It turns out that our current 13,585 songs is not enough. Pretty often I’ll hear a new “artist”2 on the radio and want to hear more from them. In the olden days I would carefully listen to 90 second samples in the iTMS and fret about whether to invest in the whole album. Now I can login to Spotify on the desktop and listen to as much as I want over and over. If only there was a way to easily spread this goodness around the house. Of course there is.

The key to the system is a piece of Mac software made by Rogue Amoeba called AirFoil. It costs $25 and it will push the audio output of any app to any Airplay destinations. The next piece of the puzzle is an iPhone app called Reemote ($4.99) that remotely controls AirFoil. Another iPhone app called Remoteless ($2.99) lets me control the desktop Spotify and do things like search for artists, albums, or songs to play. Each app requires a free helper app that runs on the Mac. If you’re willing to put up with Spotify’s ads (so far I am), the service is free!

Once Spotify, iTunes, and the two helper apps are up and running, here’s how it works. If I want to play music from my library, I bring up Reemote and make sure Airfoil streaming is turned off to my three destinations. Then I use Remote just as I used to. If I then want to play something with Spotify, I tell Remote to stream only to the computer and tell Reemote to stream to either the kitchen or the living room or both. Then I use Remoteless to get Spotify going. The process is surprisingly efficient when all three apps are on your iPhone’s home screen. The system itself is a little finicky and does occasionally require me to restart Spotify on the desktop, but the extra power is so worth it.

  1. With one click of a checkbox in the Airport Utility, the kitchen Airport Express now does double duty as a network extender. Suddenly reception downstairs went from 1-2 bars at best to mostly 5 bars.

  2. Are Carly Rae Jepson and Owl City artists? By my definition, absolutely!