Apple AirPort Express Base Station (802.11n) review: Apple AirPort Express Base Station (802.11n)

That audio out is one of the main features that the AirPort Express can hold over Apple's Time Capsule, the pricier AirPort Extreme Base Station, and indeed most other wireless routers. If you plug a set of speakers (or any audio output device) into the AirPort Express, you can then use any iTunes-equipped computer on the AirPort's network to stream music to that device. It's no replacement for a dedicated music-streaming device such as Logitech's Squeezebox Duet, but if you're OK with playing DJ through the iTunes interface on your computer, the AirPort Express can provide a straightforward way to pipe music throughout your house. Apple also still hasn't opened up iTunes' DRM to other audio-streaming hardware vendors, which means the AirPort Express and the Apple TV are still the only networking devices that can stream music from iTunes.

Because audio streaming is generally not that demanding on your networking bandwidth, the benefit of the AirPort Express's move to 802.11n feels like more of a "keeping up with the Joneses" kind of upgrade, although its wider bandwidth opens up the possibility for streaming high definition video smoothly across your network. Other vendors sell non-Gigabit 802.11n routers for between $50 and $100, which made Apple's older 802.11b/g version of the AirPort Express look dated and overpriced. The 802.11n standard certainly has its benefits. The rated specs for the standard include twice the bandwidth of 802.11g (74 megabits per second versus 23 megabits per second), and also twice the range, with about 70 meters for 802.11n versus 35 meters for the older standards. But, as you'll see from our testing, the AirPort Express's actual network performance sits on the lower end of the 802.11n scale.

Performance

Ixia IxChariot maximum throughput tests (at 15 feet)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
D-Link DGL-4500 Xtreme Gaming Router (5.0Ghz)
116.1 
Apple Time Capsule (5.0Ghz)
103.1 
D-Link DGL-4500 Xtreme Gaming Router
81.9 
Apple AirPort Express (5.0GHz)
66.5 
Apple Time Capsule
65.1 
Asus WL-500W 802.11n
62.9 
Apple AirPort Express
52.8 
LevelONe N-One WBR-6000
47.3 

Ixia IxChariot maximum throughput tests with mixed 802.11b/g and draft N clients (at 15 feet)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Asus WL-500W 802.11n
55.1 
Apple Time Capsule
51.5 
Apple AirPort Express
50.5 

Our testing shows that the AirPort Express is actually among the slowest 802.11n devices. Its speed is still plenty fast for streaming music or HD video, but even under the best conditions, at close range on a 5.0GHz 802.11n-only network, it hit 66Mbps, or just barely faster than the Time Capsule in slower 2.4GHz mode. If you have demanding networking tasks in mind, with many users all streaming various kinds of media at once, for example, you will likely want a more robust 802.11n product.

Ixia IxChariot long-range tests
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
D-Link DGL-4500 Xtreme Gaming Router (5.0Ghz)
49.7 
Apple Time Capsule (5.0Ghz)
42.27 
Asus WL-500W 802.11n
29.7 
Apple Time Capsule
21.36 
Apple AirPort Express (5.0Ghz)
18.4 
Apple AirPort Express
11.7 

We also found that the AirPort Express takes a significant hit compared with other 802.11n devices when you use it at 70 meters, or the theoretical limit of the standard. At the 5.0GHz frequency, Apple's Time Capsule is actually near the top of its class at range, posting an impressive 42.27Mbps from 200 feet. The AirPort Express loses more than half of that throughput, coming in at only 18.4Mbps. Its long-distance 2.4GHz performance is lower still. At those speeds, your HD streaming experience would suffer, so if you intend to work the AirPort Express into a media-streaming situation, you will want to keep the various components fairly close together.

What you'll pay

Editors' Top PicksSee All

 

Discuss: Apple AirPort Express Base Station (802.11n)

Conversation powered by Livefyre