You bought the best speakers that money can buy – again. Now you have an old couple lying around the house that is not being used. Why not include them in the future by adding AirPlay audio with an Apple Airport Express? Originally released in 2004 as AirTunes, Apple’s AirPlay standard allows devices running MacOS, iOS, iPadOS, WatchOS or tvOS to stream music directly without the need for cables or wires.
We show you how to take a pair of existing speakers you own and set up an Apple Airport Express so you can start streaming your favorite songs – instantly turning standard speakers into modern smart speakers. So what are you waiting for? Let̵7;s stream some songs.
What is an Apple AirPort Express?
The AirPort line was a series of wireless routers released by Apple between 1999 and 2018. In 2004, Steve Jobs introduced the AirPort Express, a small device that can act as a wireless network switch and access point, plus a USB print server and streaming audio receiver. While Apple has since discontinued its AirPort products, including Express, they can be easily found online for a small fee.
We pay close attention to AirPort Express (2nd generation), as it can be added to any pair of existing speakers you may have and transmit a high-definition audio stream wirelessly thanks to the support for the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard. You may also be successful with the previous AirPort Express (first generation) model, but due to the increased speed of the second generation, it remains the focus of this guide.
You can buy an Apple AirPort Express on sites like eBay.
What type of speakers do I need?
All speakers with a 3.5 mm audio cable are acceptable candidates for this project. If your speakers use other connectors, such as red and white RCA cables, you will need an adapter, as AirPort Express uses a 3.5 mm female audio jack to output received audio. We recommend that you choose a pair of active bookshelf speakers, such as Edifier’s R1280T, if you are looking for a brand new option.
Note the size of the speakers and where you want to place them. For example, even though a pair of bookshelf speakers may sound good in your kitchen, you may not have the counter space – or the desire to mount them on the wall. Also, make sure you have an electrical outlet nearby to power both the speakers and the Apple AirPort Express.
How to add AirPlay to your speakers
Start by making sure you have everything you need to set up your audio streaming equipment. These requirements include an Apple AirPort Express (preferably the second generation), a pair of speakers with a 3.5 mm audio cable (such as a pair of bookshelves or PC speakers) and an iPhone or iPad to complete the installation of AirPort Express.
Factory reset an AirPort Express
First, we want to make sure that the AirPort Express you have purchased or already have on hand is ready to be set up for the first time, so we will do a factory reset. Start by making sure that your Express is not yet connected to the socket.
Step 1: Place the speakers in the desired location and connect them to the wall outlet.
Step 2: Take your AirPort Express and find a good place for it. Let’s restore it.
Step 3: Hold down Restore on the back of AirPort Express – you may want to use the end of a pen or paper clip for this process.
Step 4: Connect AirPort Express to the wall while pressing the reset button.
Step 5: Continue to hold down the reset button until the light on the front of the device flashes green four times, then release.
Step 6: After about 45 seconds, the device has reset itself and is ready for installation. The light on the front should flash yellow at this time.
Step 7: Connect the speaker audio cable to the 3.5 mm audio jack on the back of the AirPort Express and proceed to the next section of this guide to configure everything.
Configure your audio equipment
Then we configure AirPort Express with your existing Wi-Fi network. While Express can be set up in a variety of configurations, including to expand your existing network, this guide will focus on setting up Express only to receive AirPlay broadcasts.
Step 1: Go to either an iPad or iPhone settings app.
Step 2: click Wi-Fi alternative.
Step 3: Confirm that you are connected to your existing Wi-Fi network, marked with a check mark at the top of the screen next to your network name.
Step 4: Near the bottom of the screen, below Set up a new AirPort Base Station tap the name of your AirPort Express.
Step 5: Wait until your AirPort Express prepares, then select Other alternative and knock Next.
Step 6: Select Add an existing networkand then press Next.
Step 7: Select your existing Wi-Fi network, then tap Next.
Step 8: Enter your Wi-Fi password twice, then tap Next.
Step 9: Let the installation process complete, then click Done.
Name your AirPort Express
When choosing where to send the audio from your Apple device, you will probably not want to choose the generic AirPort Express option. Instead, switch to the location of your speakers, such as The Speakers or Bedroom Speakers. Use the steps below to rename how your Apple AirPort Express device appears for AirPlay audio streaming.
Step 1: Download the AirPort Utility app from the App Store.
Step 2: Open the application and click on your AirPort Express.
Step 3: Knock on Edit, then AirPlay alternative.
Step 4: Enter a new speaker name, then select Done.
Step 5: Select Done again and then click Update.
Play audio to your AirPlay speakers
Now that you have set up your AirPort Express and it is connected to your speakers, you can start sending music. Start by making sure the speakers are turned on and turn up the volume to a medium level. If necessary, you can change the volume of the speakers manually later.
Open to play audio to your speakers on your iPhone or iPad Verify Center, then hold down Now Playing , click AirPlay Audio and select your new speakers. For a more detailed overview of how to use AirPlay on iOS or other devices such as AppleTV and MacOS, see our complete guide on how to use Apple AirPlay.
Troubleshooting potential problems
Do you have problems getting everything to work? Here are some of the most common issues you may encounter when setting up your Apple AirPort Express as an AirPlay audio receiver and how to fix them.
Problem: During installation, AirPort Express does not appear for configuration
First, make sure AirPort Express is turned on and a yellow light is blinking on the front. Then try the factory reset settings again according to the instructions. Express only appears for installation if the device is not already configured. If the device still does not appear, close closer to AirPort Express and then turn your iOS device’s Wi-Fi setting on and off again.
Problem: AirPort Express does not appear when you select an AirPlay device
Make sure AirPort Express is connected and fully configured. An Express that is connected and ready will have a green light on the front. Also, make sure you are connected to the same Wi-Fi network as AirPort Express.
Problem: Can’t hear any music playing on AirPlay speakers
Make sure your speakers are connected to your AirPort Express via a 3.5 mm audio cable. If the line is connected and the speakers are on, try increasing the volume of the speakers themselves. Finally, make sure the speakers are working properly. You can use another pair of audio speakers that you may need to test AirPort Express.