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Fill your home with holiday music

Whether or not you care for the sound of jingling bells and a rooftop echoing the click, click, click of reindeer hooves, theres no escaping holiday music. Along with ornamented trees, candles, and nogged eggs, its parcel and part of Decembers latter weeks. To join rather than beat the holiday spirit, you may wish to pipe such music throughout your home. Here are a few ways to do soas well as where you might go to find some new holiday tunes.

Home for the holidays

If you live in a smallish apartment, whole-home audio is a cinch. Attach a couple of powered speakers to your computer, phone, music player, or tablet; press the Play button; and crank up the speakers until they rattle the mistletoe dangling in the farthest corner of your home.

If youve moved beyond such small quarters and find yourself needing to fill multiple rooms with music, your job is more involvedand more expensivethough not terribly complicated. As a user of Apple products, the obvious choice is to explore Apples AirPlay technology.

For those unfamiliar with AirPlay, heres the gist: With music stored in your computers iTunes library or on an iOS device, you can wirelessly stream that music to AirPlay-compatible devices. In Apples world this means an Apple TV, and AirPort Express Base Station, or any set of AirPlay-capable speakers.

With an Apple TV or AirPort Express, setup is simple. Just plug in your Apple TV or AirPort Express and configure it so that it uses the same local network as your computer and iOS devices. (The Apple TV and AirPort Express have AirPlay switched on by default.) The Apple TV will play your audio through whatever AV device its connected to, using an optical-audio cable: a stereo or home-theater receiver, a TV, or powered speakers. The AirPort Express plays through any audio device connected to its audio-output jack (which, unlike the Apple TVs jack, handles both analog- and digital-audio connections).

But you neednt stick to Apples AirPlay devices. AirPlay has been incorporated into a number of third-party products, including powered speakers from such companies as Altec Lansing, B&W, iHome, Klipsch, JBL, Libratone, Logitech, Pioneer, and Sony. And if you prefer the speakers you already own, audio companies such as Denon, Pioneer, Yamaha, and Onkyo are shipping AirPlay-compatible receivers.

On the air

To send music over AirPlay in iTunes 11, click the AirPlay icon just to the right of iTuness volume slider; when the list of AirPlay-capable devices on your local network appears, choose the one you want to play your audio through. If you want to stream your music to multiple destinations, click the Multiple button and then check the box next to each AirPlay device you intend to use. Within this AirPlay menu, youll see that you can adjust the volume of each device individually, as well as use the Master Volume slider to raise or lower the volume of all devices proportionally to their individual settings.

If you have a Mac running Mountain Lion, you can stream any audio that Mac produces to a single AirPlay destination. To do so, open the Sound pane of System Preferences, click the Output tab, and choose the AirPlay device youd like to use. (Apples documentation claims AirPlay Mirroring works only with mid-2011 or newer iMac, Mac mini, or MacBook Air models; and early-2011 or newer MacBook Pro models. However, this limitation applies to video mirroring. Any Mac that can run Mountain Lion should support audio mirroring.) If you have an older Mac that doesnt support Mountain Lion, you can instead use Rogue Amoebas $25 Airfoil to stream your Macs audio to AirPlay-compatible devices.

On an iPhone or iPod touch running iOS 6, youll find an AirPlay button on the Music apps Now Playing screen, just to the right of the volume slider. On an iPad it can also be found next to the volume slider, but its visible on every screen as the iPad has more elbow room to display it. Many third-party audio apps also provide the AirPlay button, letting you stream the apps audio over AirPlay. Unlike with iTunes on your computer, its not possible to stream from an iOS device to multiple AirPlay devices simultaneously.

AirPlay alternatives

Convenient and free though AirPlay may be, its not the perfect solution for all occasions. For example, if you wish to play different music in individual rooms from the same sourcemodern holiday music in the living room, traditional holiday music in the kitchen, and soulful holiday music in the bedroom, all playing from your Macs iTunes library, for instanceyoull find that AirPlay isnt up to the task. It can handle streaming one track to multiple units, but not different tracks to each unit.

One solution would be to use a different source device for each room. In this case, your Mac could stream to the living room, an iPhone to the kitchen, and an iPad to the bedroom. If you already own these devices, its an affordable way to go.

But you get greater flexibility from a system designed for multi-room play, such as audio gear from Sonos and Logitechs Squeezebox units. These are wireless hardware systems, consisting of multiple devices, that allow you to stream different tracks to each unit. They support not only music in your iTunes library, but also Internet-based streaming-music services. Sonos provides access to a greater number of these services, but each lets you play music from Pandora, MOG, Spotify, Slacker, Last.fm, and Rhapsody, which each offers more holiday music than any one household can bear. (A recent Sonos software update even lets you stream different tracks from the same iOS device to different Sonos units.) These devices can be controlled from your computer, from free apps you install on your iOS or Android devices, and from dedicated hardware controllers.

Stocking up on holiday music

Youre now up to speed on how to play your music throughout your home. Now, how about some sources for that music?

Your iTunes library is a good place to start. If youve ripped CDs packed with tinsely tunes, youll want to be sure to tag them appropriately as I outlined last year in How to Create a Perfect Holiday Playlist. With properly tagged music, creating holiday playlists is a snap. (And that tagging will help you exclude those very same tracks when the season is over.)

And, of course, you can always purchase more holiday music. As much fun as it is to give rather than receive, if youre looking to pay less for seasonal music, keep an eye on Amazon MP3s Holiday Music store. Its not unusual at this time of year to find popular holiday albums discounted, as well as fairly generic instrumental collections that include dozens of hours of holiday cheer for just a few bucks. You'll even discover more than a few free seasonal tracks.

The iTunes Store lacks these dirt-cheap instrumental compilations, but it does have a good selection of discounted holiday albums priced between 8 and 10 dollars.

Cheaply down the stream

If you seek a collection of holiday music that can get you through the entire party youre hosting, but would prefer to use your piggy bank to adequately fortify the eggnog, turn to Pandora. The free (with occasional audio ads) service has an extensive collection of holiday music. If you prefer your music ad-free, you can purchase a Pandora One subscription (which removes the ads) for $4 a month or $36 per year.

Youve never used Pandora? It works this way: Once you sign up for an account, you create stations (on the Pandora website) based on artists, genres, or tracks. For each station, Pandora streams musicfrom your computer or from free smartphone or tablet appsthat it thinks fits well with the artist, genre, or track youve chosen as the basis for that station. If you hear a track that you like (or hate), you rate it using simple thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttonsthese ratings help Pandora choose future tracks to better fit your tastes. If youre vigilant about training Pandora, youll be amazed at how good its choices become.

The trick to creating a good holiday station is cobbling together an accurate search on the Pandora website. You can do this by combining search terms. For example, entering Holiday will certainly generate a station full of seasonal melodies, but the variety will be extremely broad, which may cause you to spend more time than necessary using the Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down buttons. Instead, create a station along the lines of Holiday Soul James Brown for a festive and funky soundtrack. Or Holiday Elvis Presley for the King to give you some holiday hip action. Or Lady Gaga White Christmas for, well, something unexpected.

And by unexpected I mean that you should be sure that youre familiar with the rendition of the seed track before pulling together your station. It turns out that Lady Gagas White Christmas is a traditional jazz arrangement. Subsequent tracks in that channel will be of a similar style rather than Gagas usual fare.

If you find this to be too much bother, you neednt construct stations from scratch. Pandora has created some for you, including a variety of holiday stations that include Classical Christmas, Country Christmas, Todays Christmas, Hanukkah, Indie Holidays, R&B and Pop Holidays, Family Christmas, and Swingin Christmas.

If you belong to a subscription music service such as MOG, Rdio, Rhapsody, Slacker, or Spotify, youll find that these services have similar holiday playlists, as well as Pandora-like stations. And because you have access to their libraries of millions of tracks, you can create some spectacular playlists of your own.

And there you have it: the gear, the knowledge, and the music to make the holidays more happening. Regardless of how you feel about these celebrations, filling them with musicseasonal or notwill almost assuredly make your spirits brighter. Happy and harmonious holidays to you!


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