iTunes / Airplay issues – FIXED

“It just works”, they said.

“Except when it doesn’t” they didn’t say.

What follows is a bit of a rambling post about random playback issues I’ve experienced when using iTunes to stream music to an Airplay. Simply put, for no reason I can fathom, iTunes playback across Airplay will stop. The track is still playing in iTunes but there is no sound passed to Airplay. Searching for this issue has helped me narrow it down to the problem being iTunes, beyond that I’m stuck.

Read on for some lessons learned…

Like any technology, no matter who makes it, there are glitches, weird circumstances that cause hard to trace errors and issues. I work for a software company and I’ve seen this so many times I’ve lost count. You change one thing here and something waaayyyy over there stops working.

So, here’s the deal.

I listen to music. A lot. Most evenings, I’ll watch a bit of TV and then do some work on my laptop, or fire up the PlayStation for a game or three of FIFA, or I’ll just potter round my flat doing some chores. All of these activities have a back drop of music.

I don’t have the largest music collection (in fact, I’m actively looking to cut it down where I can) but with around 24,000 tracks it’s safe to say that my library is on the large side. I’m also a bit of an Apple fan. Not blindly but I like their stuff.

My current setup includes a Synology NAS box which hosts all of my ripped CDs and DVDs, and all of my photos. It’s got a couple of nice big chunky hard drives in it, one for use and one for backup (I also backup to CrashPlan online, can’t be too careful, right?). I’ve a MacBook Air, with an Airport Express setup in my living room with some nice AudioEngine A2 speakers attached.

I also have an Apple TV but that doesn’t really matter (but as a proving point it has been useful).

I use iTunes on my MacBook Air to access the MP3s on the NAS box and I want to play my music on the speakers attached to my Airport Express.

Simple really. Select a track in iTunes, click play and select the ‘Living Room Speakers’ option from the Airplay menu in iTunes.

And when it works, it is that simple.

I typically use albums or playlists so I don’t have to keep selecting tracks and it’s here the issue starts to crop. Every so often (it seems to be completely random) playback will stop. Silence from the speakers. I check iTunes and it tells me the track is playing, just no sound.

If I pause the track, and play it again, the sound comes back. There is no rhyme nor reason to it, in fact the only thing I can think it might be (having ruled out a LOT of other possibilities) is that somewhere in the code of iTunes, there is something that ‘forgets’ the Airplay setting.

I have tried to troubleshoot this, and if you are having the same problem, it might be worth running through some of these too, just to confirm (and who knows, they might ‘fix’ things for you, the Apple Support forums seem to suggest some people have managed to ‘solve’ this even if they aren’t sure what caused it in the first place).

  1. On your router, change your Wi-Fi channel (OSX now has a Wi-Fi scanner built-in). Using the scanner I could see that most other routers in the block of flats I’m in were on channel 11, some on channel 3. I switched mine to channel 6 to minimise disruption (not very scientific I know).
  2. Test Airplay using another iOS device. I have an iPad and iPhone and if I stream music from those devices to the Airport Express in my living room… no drop outs, no silence.
  3. Test iTunes to AppleTV streaming. Again, this confirms that the Airport Express isn’t failing, as with this option, streaming music to my AppleTV then out through my TV, I still get the random drop outs.
  4. Play iTunes tracks on your computer. No drop out for me.

For the longest time I thought this issue was to do with the NAS box I have. But after a lot of experimentation, iTunes seems to be the cause of these issues.

So I need to replace iTunes, simple!

I’ve tried other apps, Enqueue looks good but, of course, Apple haven’t allowed other people to access certain parts of their ‘ecosystem’, so there is no AirPlay support. And that’s where things stand today.

The last piece of the puzzle is to figure out how to get sound from my MacBook, when I’m playing music through Enqueue to stream to the Airport Express across the room.

Suffice to say that, for this example, it most certainly, unequivocably, does not just work.

UPDATE: One option I had tried, then forgotten to revisit (thanks to @shweepa for the reminder) was to Alt+click on the Volume icon. This brings up Airplay selection. I had tried that already but for some reason it wouldn’t allow me to select the option I wanted. A quick google took me to this forum post which suggested a quick bit of sudo command magic and I was able to select the Airport Express from there.

Downside is that ALL the sounds from my Mac go to those speakers, not just the music but, so far, it’s working without any drop outs!

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