I don't have experience with the Airport express but I do know it's capabilities. As I understand the SB3 features beat the AE hands down for eg: you could use the SB3 remote to select your music library whereas AE you could not & the SB3 firmware is upgradeable.
One caveat about using the SB3 is the setup can be a bit technical & if you are not tech savvy like me, it might cause some frustration. The other caveat is Slimserver software to be used with SB3 is in constant development & can be buggy.
Aside from the caveats, the SB3 is an amazing product with a sound quality that will satisfy most audiophiles if properly setup.
Hmmm... I have a bunch of SB3s, and its pure marketing BS to claim an unmitigated victory for SB3s over AEX. Sure, SB3 may have a small remote, but with the small remote comes small UI and small functionality. You use the AEX in conjunction with an Apple laptop and while your "remote" (i.e., the laptop) is bigger, its got a helluva lot better UI and functionality.
That said, SB3 is built with semi-audiophiles in mind, so the parts quality is rumored to be better--you get digital coax out, for starters, whereas you are limited to toslink for AEX.
They just serve different purposes, one isn't inherently better than the other. For my main rig, I use something more analogous to the AEX route UI-wise--I actually use a superquiet SFF standalone PC/USB audio device in conjunction with a touchscreen airpanel--but in rooms where music is more for background atmosphere, I'm happy using SB3s.
Never heard the AE, but am VERY happy with my SB3.
As far as remote control, because the SB music server software is basically a webserver, you can use virtually any web-browser as a remote control, from your laptop to a Windows mobile hand-held. Because Slimserver is open source, there are a ton of options for remote control of the virtual jukebox.
Far as comparing, I'd really only listen to the opinion of someone who's actually a/b'd them on the same system in terms of anything approaching an empirical analysis. Anecdotally, since Slim Devices is focused solely on an audio device and gets tons of focused feedback from audiophiles - their CTO and CEO regulary partipipate in their online forums - and because they seem to be targeting a more audio-savvy markey, I've got to think the SB3 might be a superior audio solution to an Apple mass-market solution. Certainly possible that's false reasoning, but seems somewhat logical to me. Only a side-by-side test would tell for sure.
Anyway, my $$ will usually go to a small competitor (Slim vs Apple) when all else is even close to equal.
You use the AEX in conjunction with an Apple laptop and while your "remote" (i.e., the laptop) is bigger, its got a helluva lot better UI and functionality.
My understanding was that the SB3 can be controlled by a web browser and that the functionality was pretty deep. I also heard it could be controlled by a Palm or Windows CE devise, but I don't know this for sure.
Having used the slimserver core web server, I'll stick by my assertion that Apple w/iTunes is a better UI. Not a perfect UI, but better than what you get with slimserver. B'sides, if you are going to use a laptop anyway, what is the point of an SB3?
I've been using AEX with a Benchmark DAC, I have to say it sounds good and works very well. The playback is seamless, allowing anyone in the family with itunes (ie all of them) to play music on my system without having to go near it. In the past, they were all afraid to touch it in case something might break, now the system gets a lot more use, much better ROI. They just push one button to turn on the pre-amp and amps, and away they go.
It is essential that this connection be wireless so that multiple laptops and computers can play over it, and so that the PCs are not in the listening area (disk drives make a lot of noise, not just fans).
iTunes/AEX is very nice for ease-of-use even for non-techie, non-audiophile, but for myself, I've been wanting to play non-itunes music and internet radio stations. However, Apple does not support other programs, only iTunes can use the AEX to play music (or at least I don't know how to do this). Also, AEX only supports 16-bit, 44.1KHz. The Benchmark DAC1 can handle up to 192KHz at 24 bits; according to squeezebox product description I think it says they can supply up to 24 bits at 48KHz (not clear if this can be done via wireless).
So I'm interested now in this SB3. I wonder if the slimserver allows just any music player to work via the SB3? For example, I'd like to use Windows Media 10 or the Rhapsody service via my audio system, for that I'd need to have an audio driver that makes the slimserver look like a PC audio device or an Apple audio device for iTunes (we have both Macs and PCs). Can it do that? Can I still use iTunes with the SB3, or would I have to keep the AEX path open also for the other users?
I'm going to go study the slimdevices website; if I get one of these jobbies I'll post my results on this forum.
the following program allows you to stream any player, even whatever is playing through your browser.
It is for mac but I would imagine some sort of pc version is available.http://www.rogueamoeba.com/airfoil/
Steverw, you can buy quiet PCs. I use a Serener fanless EPIA small form factor PC with a single NEC spinpoint drive. Its dead silent. Quieter than my laptop.
I want to say 16/44.1 comes out to about 1.4 mbps. Increasing the number of bits/sample to 24 will push the data rate to 2.1 mbps. Going up to 192 kHz sampling rate will then push that up by a factor of 4 again--8.4 mbps. That would be a very good throughput for even 802.11g. I'd worry you would get breakups.
Besides, where is the upsampling going to happen, and why do you think the upsampler in a computer is better than the upsampler in your Benchmark? I know Steve from Empirical believes that the SRC upsampler in foobar is better than anything else, but you are using iTunes, no? I don't know of any iTunes upsamplers or how good they are. So, going to 24/196 may be useless anyway.
Not sure I understand about "wanting to play non-itunes music and internet radio." iTunes will play ripped CDs, wav, ALAC, mp3s, etc. What else do you want to play that you don't think you can? I've got over 15,000 songs in my iTunes, and none of them bought from iTunes Music Store... all ripped from my CDs. iTunes will also play internet radio, although I find that is typically compressed to *&&^%! and not very listenable.
I'm also not sure I understand your slimserver question. Slimserver is server-side software. It runs on a networked machine, and processes instructions received by SBs--usually with the result that Slimserver "pushes" an audio file out to the SB. The SB is an audio network device. So when you say "I wonder if the slimserver allows just any music player to work via the SB3" I'm not sure what you are asking.
I "use" iTunes with SB3s in a sense. I maintain my library in iTunes, but also have slimserver running and importing changes to the library. iTunes is local--it controls playback through the USB device attached to the computer. Slimserver is for remotes--it controls SB3s in other parts of my house. The SB3s aren't just "passive" devices like the AEX, they have a remote control interface that allows you to select songs and have them playback.
You might be able to use something like shoutcast or icecast to set it up so the SB3s become passive... But, don't know how compatible those are with MP10, etc.
Edesilva, thanks for your post. I will look into the NEC disk drives, I'd given up trying to find a quiet drive. All my problems go away if only I could put a dead-silent networked PC driving the DAC. Thanks for the pointer.
But if I can't get the PC to work out, then I need to use wireless, and as you point out wireless has bandwidth and quality-of-service issues. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I think with AEX, all the upsampling, etc the computer can do will be reduced down to 16bit @ 44.1KHz via TOSLINK to the DAC, so the DAC needs to do upsampling all over again. But with the SB3, sounds like I can probably get 24b @ 48KHz to the DAC, and then I could really take advantage of the great software there is out there.
To explain what I meant about iTunes, first consider that I don't have that much source material from CDs, we just don't have that many. iTunes can only play the file if you have the file, so we need either to buy songs (which will get DRMed into one particular player), buy CDs (expensive) or use a streaming service like an internet radio station or the Rhapsody service. That's why it's important to me to find a wireless digital path to the DAC that allows me to use data from non-iTunes pay-to-play or free or DRMed streaming sources. Playing DRMed files or streams requires particular players that would need to work somehow with the slimserver.
Anyway, I think I just need to try it (but first I going to look into those quiet PCs!).
pj10128, that AirFoil looks like exactly what I wanted. Except that they won't support Windows (seems to be a philosophical position).
If you come across music in other formats, iTunes will probably play it--mp3, wav... iTunes should also play streamed internet radio.
As far as the data rate stuff goes, remember that what is on a CD is only 16/44.1. All that stuff about "22 bit superbit" is really about the mastering--redbook CD format is 16/44.1 period end of story. So, unless you invoke an upsampler, the computer isn't upsampling it normally. In fact, many people dislike upsamplers... And, the benefit to be gained by upsampling is going to be dependent upon your upsampling algorithm and how good it is.
Think of it like this... If you want PC to replicate a CD transport, what comes out of a CD transport is 16/44.1...
I have had QOS issues using a SB wirelessly that I have not been able to resolve. It's a clever little device, however.
The big problem with AEX and, I think, SB in wireles mode is that it is all dependent on radio environment. I think both use 802.11 or related protocols in the 2.4 GHz band, which is pretty crowded (includes microwave ovens, some cordless phones, bluetooth...) and doesn't have great penetration through walls. And, there are only a few channels available for 802.11b--there are only three available channels, 1, 6 and 11. While you can set a device to a channel inbetween, you are really then overlapping two channels, and your performance is probably worst. I'd start with Ch. 6--I think Ch. 1 is the default setting (so lots operating there by, well, "default") and Ch. 11 is closest to the fundamental frequency of your microwave oven--which is probably a whopping 500 W, compared to your 100mW or so WiFi device.
When you get interference, the throughput of the system gets ratcheted down to where it becomes more reliable. While max data rates for 11b are nominally 11mbps, in the face of conflicting uses, it drops to 5.5, then 2, then 1... Plus, you have to subtract about 30-40% for overhead, since it uses what amounts to an aloha protocol.
Bottom line, what works for some wirelessly may not work for others. Going to be highly dependent on what else is running nearby, how many walls you go through, how well set up your network is, etc.
Just so there is no confusion, the apple airport base station and express are both upgradable as well.