Now that the rain, sleet, snow, hail, deluge of toads, and other meteorological wonders induced by our ever-cozier atmosphere seems to have slowed, I’ve bent my mind to the matters of outdoor entertaining. I evicted the more venomous members of the local arachnid community, dusted off the grill, and set the goats on the rapidly drying vegetation too close to that self-same grill and the other fire-making apparatus scattered about the yard. With safety issues in hand, it was time to turn to tunes—making my manse more musical.
Having to inhabit the indoors through much of the year, the inside of my home is pretty well taken care of. My main stereo is in the living room and handles radio, CDs, and AirTunes broadcasts over an AirPort Express from my office downstairs. The family room houses the TV, 5.1 sound system, and TiVo. Here I can listen to music DVDs, satellite radio broadcasts offered by Dish Network, and tune into the music library on one of my computers via TiVo’s Home Media Option. The kitchen’s got a boombox for baseball, NPR, and AM radio knuckle-heads. The bedroom and bathroom are blessedly quiet. And the office below stairs is the house’s digital hub, with enough audio and computer gear to make Solomon blush.
So now to conquer the great outdoors.
In designing my outdoor environment I wanted to provide enough audio for my enjoyment but not so much that the sheriff made my house a regular stop on the way to the local bistro du donut . To keep things simple and safe, I wanted no more audio gear outside than a set of small stereo speakers, tucked discreetly behind some bushes beneath an overhang (to protect them from the weather). That plan requires the noise-generating gear to be indoors and accessible via some kind of wireless remote. (After all, a good host doesn’t dash away from his guests simply because iTunes inexplicably blasts “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” from a supposedly-secret “Guilty Pleasures” playlist.)
Of Wires and WiFi
Speakers were largely a non-issue as I had a pair of small no-name indoor/outdoor speakers from years gone by. Old as they were, they carried no standard mounting connector so I picked up two inexpensive universal speaker mounting kits from Radio Shack, drilled a couple of holes in the backs of the speakers and into the side of the house, and, after stringing wire between the speakers and the “B” speaker outputs of my office stereo, I was in noise-making business.
The connection to that stereo from the Power Mac G5 that acts as my music server was already established thanks to an AirPort Express. Oh sure, I could have configured a direct connection from the Power Mac to the stereo’s auxiliary input, but where’s the fun in that (plus, the AirPort Express plays only the music from iTunes and not the Mac’s system sounds)?
With the simple stuff taken care of, it was time to peer into the more complicated issue of remote control.
Playlist’s reviews editor, Dan Frakes, and I have been all over remotes during the past few months—Dan looking at a mess of iPod RF and IR remotes and me evaluating Griffin Technology’s AirClick USB. We’ve also examined our fair share of FM broadcasters for computers and the iPod.
Although the signals of a couple of the FM transmitters I tried (specifically, Sonnet’s PodFreq and Engineered Audio’s Aurius ) were strong enough to broadcast music from my iPod or PowerBook from the patio to the stereo receiver inside the office, I didn’t want to risk leaving my iPod or laptop outside to be subjected to the drippy fog that routinely pours in just after sunset.
IR was out as I didn’t have the line-of-sight required for these things to work. The RF remotes could penetrate the wall-in-the-way, but were also rejected because they didn’t offer me the option to change playlists or provide a way for me to view upcoming tracks. Although I’m capable of compiling a perfectly fine “Outdoor Entertaining Playlist,” I still want the ability to remotely change playlists on the fly if it turns out that my guests’ taste run to Pantera rather than Pentangle.
And that leaves what?
Yup, after turning to all the gizmos made specifically for the iPod and iTunes, I retreated to a $20 Macintosh utility that controls a variety of applications—including iTunes—from a compatible phone or PDA over Bluetooth. Both my Sony Ericsson T616 and Palm Tungsten T2 include Bluetooth, as does my Power Mac. I simply installed Clicker on both the Mac and the Palm, established a connection between the two, and I was able to view the contents of my iTunes library, search for artists, albums, and song-titles; adjust volume up and down; view album artwork—even rate tracks on the T2—from the comfort of my hammock.
Of course, you may lack Bluetooth gear and, if so, you’re better off using an RF remote and putting up with the minor inconvenience of controlling a single playlist. Alternatively, you can look into a more portable solution—using the Altec Lansing inMotion iM7 or Bose SoundDock portable iPod speakers and accompanying remotes we’re so keen on, for example.
If you’ve got the kind of earning power to justify it, you can do all of this very elegantly with the Sonos Digital Music System —a self-contained system that, while pricey, is a dream. If your means are more limited, plug the household boombox into a conveniently placed outlet and use an FM transmitter with your iPod. Or, if you live in a part of the world where people are judged by the circumference of their truck’s tires, feel free to jack your iPod into the Chevy’s cassette deck with an appropriate cassette adapter, crank down the windows, fire up the engine, and enjoy the pleasing melange of music, exhaust, and barbecue smoke.
After all, it’s summer, baby. Live how you want to live!