Category Archives: Released in 2004

Apple Airport Express

Apple Airport Express The Apple Airport Express is not new by a long shot, 6 years in fact, but it does sport a nice feature making it worth mentioning anyway, a feature I failed to mention when commenting on Apple TV: They act as a remote output through what Apple has aptly named Airtunes. You can select Airports and Apple TVs around the house when playing songs from iTunes and have them play through one or more simultaneously. What is more, it has a Toslink connector buried inside the miniscule output jack for a purely digital connection to your sound system, should it support it. Actually, the Toslink connector is much preferred over the analog output due to excessive and quite audible hum from the built-in power supply.

Apple Airport Express There are a few catches. You cannot kill a connection initiated by one computer from another, i.e. you cannot start your music from the computer in the office and then when you get to the kitchen, take a computer there and select another song. This can be a major hassle [to be very diplomatic] if you use more than a few computers. Also you are pretty much limited to playing music via iTunes. There are a few hacks out there allowing you to route sound from other applications to an Airport, such as Airfoil from Rogue Amoeba, but these tools are compromises. Particularly latency is a big issue, especially when watching video and routing the sound elsewhere. Applications competing for the Airtunes connection is another issue adding to the brew of annoyances. Having to manually kill a connection made by Airfoil to open one for iTunes is certainly not befitting my workflow.

Setting up an Airport is straight forward. With it comes a setup application that browses the network for Airports and lets you connect to whichever one you like and configure it. Should you have special needs in terms of authentication protocols or topologies it lets you handle that too, albeit considerably less elegantly.

The Apple Airport Express costs next to nothing so if you already use iTunes, this is a really cost efficient means to a distributed music system. Airtunes has some design flaws but works remarkably well considering.

Headroom Total BitHead

Headroom Headroom started in the early nineties making audiophile headphone amps. Today they boast a phenomenal line-up of more than 20 different DAC adorned amplifiers and aftermarket cable-upgrades for just about every serious headphone on the shelf.

The Total BitHead comes with a built-in USB port which makes it a perfect computer soundcard replacement. It should be noted, however, that the BitHead uses a 16bit D/A converter. The unit comes with velcro pads to affix an iPod or another MP3 player onto it, but quite frankly it is the USB input that makes this gadget interesting. Not an analogue line-in.

Sonos Digital Music System

sonosbundleThe Sonos Digital Music System is more than just a streamer. It consists of a server connected via twisted pair to your network and a controller with a color display. The server relays music to other Sonos devices via their own proprietary wireless network optimized for audio. All Sonos devices can play either their own playlists or play in sync. Everything controlled from the neat little handheld remote.

If you have more than one device only one of them needs to be physically connected to the network. The others receive their data wirelessly from there. There are three different types of devices to choose from: The ZoneBridge that does nothing except bridge the physical and wireless network – an access point, if you will, and two ZonePlayers that have actual playing capabilities. One of these ZonePlayers comes with a built in amplifier – the other without. In my book it is the latter that is most interesting. You simply connect it to your existing system – maybe even with a Benchmark Dac1 for conversion.

The entire system is controlled from up to 32 controllers or from a PC using some cool looking software – very nicely laid out.

Terratec Noxon


This little device has been discontinued for some time but is still worth mentioning, as it was among the first devices to fit into this category of sound equipment. It was this model that laid the basis for Philips’ first endeavour into media hubs, the SLA 5500 [below].

philips5500 The device supports MP3 and WMA files and can receive streams directly from internet radio stations or from an uPnP compatible media server such as TVersity. It has a built-in wireless ethernet and no wired input. Output is a mini-jack. The remote control is fairly well laid out and of better quality than most in this price group. Both devices suffer from a very poor LCD display.

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