I was among the many excited users when Apple released AirPort Express with its streaming music capabilities in June, but not for the same reason as most. Already a veteran user of Elgato's Eye Home and Slim Devices Squeezebox, Apple's interfaceless AirTunes just didn't appeal to me. The fact I could use the device as a mobile base station was initially the reason I wanted one and figured that was where I would get the most use.
While I was impressed with AirPort Express as a mobile Base Station, it wasn't until later that I realized I was missing the best feature of all: AirTunes.
A couple of things impressed me about AirTunes. First, the music sounded clearer and fuller at a lower volume than I was ever able to produce before; The setup was easier than what I expected to stream music and I got a second base station, essentially extending my network. There was one thing that still bothered me: AirTunes had no user interface.
I know I could have just copied my music library to another computer and run it from there, but I have been very careful to have central repository for my music and that was on my server. I could also just share the music in iTunes, but again I have been very careful to keep my ratings and song play count up to date and sharing won't update those items. I needed a piece of software that could stream my music, be a remote control for AirTunes and keep my play count and ratings up to date.
A tall order, but I found something that could do that and more -- Shirt Pocket's netTunes.
Shareware developer Dave Nanian made netTunes as a companion to AirTunes to solve the problems users of AirTunes encountered. Not only does netTunes solve my problems, but it also allows my wife and kids to connect to my music and play my authorized songs on the home stereo.
When installed, netTunes asks if you want to configure the application as a server or client. On my music server, I installed it as a netTunes Server, while on all the other systems I installed it as a client. NetTunes reminds me a lot of VNC or Apple Remote Desktop -- the iTunes window you see is not local, it is actually communicating with the server and showing the iTunes application on my music server.
The quality of music coming through the home stereo is no different than if I wasn't using netTunes -- after all, netTunes is just an interface to the server itself.
NetTunes Server costs US$19.95, allowing an unlimited number of free clients to connect.
I will have a more in-depth review of netTunes this week, but so far it has surpassed my expectations, which I didn't think could be done in this instance.