June 6, 2013 at 9:18 am

AirPlay on the Highway: Put AirPort Express in your Car for Wireless Audio Awesomeness

airport express in car

Twitter software engineer Ben Novakovic, one of the guys who built We Are Hunted, which would eventually become Twitter #Music, is a clever person.

In his spare time, Novakovic devised a way to modify an Apple Airport Express so that it runs efficiently in your car, allowing you or any of your passengers to play the music on their phone — or even stream it using Rdio, Spotify, Twitter #Music,  or any other app.

This is awesome… at least until self-driving cars ruin the party.

It’s also not the easiest thing in the world, but that is no reason not to try it. And yes, we know, you can use one of those converters that turns your car’s “cigarette lighter” power source into a standard household plug, and simply attach the AirPort Express to that, allowing you to pull off this trick by simply skipping down to Step Eight of this tutorial, where you tweak your phone and AirPort Express settings. However, as Novakovic told us, in that scenario “you are essentially converting from 12V DC -> 110V AC -> 3.3V DC which is a bit of a waste really, and inverters get hot and are just annoying as they can be quite large.”

Good points.

If you are bold enough to pop open an Apple AirPort Express and modify its innards, here’s how to hack Apple AirPort Express to put AirPlay in your car, courtesy of our pal Ben. We edited his original post down a bit to clarify things for the non-technically-inclined, so if you want the unexpurgated version, go here.


I solved a #firstworldproblem today – wireless audio in my car.

Basically, I was fed up with having so many cables floating around and getting tangled, and I wasn’t happy with the compressed audio quality with Bluetooth, so I decided to come up with a better wireless audio solution.


  • AirPort Express – $99
  • Car with an aux input in the stereo and a free “cigarette lighter” power plug
  • Star/Torx screwdriver – $8
  • Regular screwdriver – you already have one.
  • USB cable – we all have spares of these too.
  • Some standard wires
  • 5V to 3.3V DC stepdown converter - $4
  • A soldering iron & some solder – $8
  • Super glue – $5
  • Cigarette lighter-to-USB converter: $5-$15
  • A little electrical tape – $5

1. Open the AirPort Express

Okay, deep breath. First, you’ll need to modify the AirPort Express so that it draws power from a USB cable, instead of its usual household plug. In this post to the North American Subaru Impreza Owners Club forum, user “enjoiful” describes one technique for this, which Evolver.fm paraphrases as follows (you might want to check out his or her photos too, for help with this part).

To pop open the AirPort Express, stick your regular screwdriver in the seams of the AirPort Express at the corners and try some twisting and prying motions. It should pop open easily.

2. Deal with the Boards

Unscrew all of the circuit boards from the AirPort Express. You can get rid of the L-shaped power supply, because we’re going to wire the USB power to the 5V-to-3.3V converter and use that instead.

3. Open the Cable

Cut the USB cable, and peel the wrapping towards the larger plug (the one that normally connects to your computer), because you want to keep that side. This will reveal four wires:

  • Green : USB Data
  • White : USB Data
  • Red : +5V DC
  • Black : Ground

4. Soldering!

We are only interested in the red and black wires inside of that USB cable, because there’s no data coming over the USB cable. After threading the wires through the hole in the side of the AirPort Express (pictured above), solder the black one onto the ground of the AirPort Express (see photos below).

Then, connect the red one to the VIN (voltage input) wire of the stepdown converter, which is green in this photo, and tape around that connection like this:

The stepdown converter has an output wire leading out of it, which is blue in the above photo. Solder that to the power input of the AirPort Express, as pictured above.

Finally, solder the stepdown module’s ground wire (green in the above photo) to the AirPort Express’s ground. So, that’s two wires connected to the AirPort Express’s ground connection; they’re black and green.

When you’re done with all the soldering, you should be looking at something like this:


5. Superglue

You’ve made it through the hard part, hopefully without melting your brain or burning down your house. Congratulations! Now, you’ll want to super-glue everything into place so that it doesn’t jiggle around, potentially causing the solder to break, as you drive over our cities’ pothole-riddled streets.

6. Snap It Together, Tape Over the Hole

Snap the AirPort Express back together. Then, use another little bit of electrical tape to seal up the hole on the edge of the AirPort Express, so that dirt and dust doesn’t get in there, like so:

7. Connect It To Your Car

It’s time to use this thing. Put it in your car, connect the USB power cable to a cigarette lighter adapter, and plug that into your car.

Then, take the audio cable that came with the AirPort Express and connect that to your car’s input. But wait! You’re not done yet, because you’ll need to set up the AirPort Express and your iPhone or iPad the right way (or Android, because those can totally support AirPlay, as weird as that is).

8. Configure the AirPort Express

This looks a bit convoluted, but it’s not, and you only have to do it once.

With the AirPort Express powered up and running, fire up Apple’s AirPort Utility on your laptop, in the car. (You can also do this before tackling any of the steps above, but we wanted to make sure you make it this far before bothering with the software tweaks.) AirPort Utility will display your modified AirPort Express in a list similar to this:

Click the device and select ‘Edit.’ First, give it a name & a password so you can connect to it later to configure it.

Click the ‘Internet’ tab. Choose “Connect Using: DHCP,” and leave everything else blank:

Then click ‘Internet Options.’ In the Configure IPv6 option, choose Local-link only and hit ‘Save’:

Now, head over to the ‘Wireless’ tab. You want to set the network mode to ‘Create a wireless network,’ and give it a name. Select your security level and give it a password – this will be the password you and your friends will use to connect their devices to your car’s wireless audio system:

Click ‘Wireless Options,’ make sure the details appear correct for your region, and press ‘Save’:

Almost done. You’ll need to select the ‘Network’ tab and set the Router Mode to ‘DHCP and NAT,’ like this:

Then, click ‘Network Options’ and set the DHCP Lease time to 1 day. Set the IPv4 DHCP range to to 200, and make sure ‘Enable NAT Port Mapping Protocol’ is selected. Hit ‘Save’:

Okay, now click the ‘AirPlay’ tab. Make sure ‘Enable AirPlay’ is checked. You can give the the speaker a different name if you wish, but I just left it the same as my AirPort Express WiFi name. You can also set an AirPlay password, but there’s no point, really, because people will already need a password to connect in the first place:

Click ‘Update’ to close the dialog and drop you back to the main AirPort screen. From here, you will see the little icon next to the name as an orange dot, and the light on the front of the device will also be orange. To stop this from happening, click the device in the AirPort utility (as per the first screenshot in this section), and click each of the warnings that appear and select ‘ignore,’ as we don’t care about them.

This will turn the little light green, and you’re almost ready to go. And remember, you won’t have to do any of the stuff above this again — it’s locked and loaded. However, you do still need to set up your iPhone for this to work, too.

9. Configure your iPhone or iPad (or Android)

You need to make your iPhone, iPad, or Android connect to the AirPort Express to send music, but to the cellular data network for everything else (including streaming music). We’re going to walk through the instructions for iOS here; Android people using these apps or these ones can apply similar principles on that platform.

Open the iOS Settings menu, tap WiFi, and tap new AirPort Express network. This will connect the iPhone or iPad to your new car-based WiFi network — but you’ll find that because the AirPort Express doesn’t have an internet connection, the Internet won’t work on your phone. But we can fix that. Tap the blue arrow next to the name of the AirPort Express WiFi network to view more options.

From the following screen, select ‘Static’ as the type of IP address, and then enter the following IP address and Subnet Mask:

IP Address : (for example)
Subnet Mask:

Make sure you leave Router, DNS, and Search Domains blank! This tells the iPhone that it should use its cellular network to route internet traffic rather than trying to do it via WiFi.

And you’re done! Just one thing to keep in mind here though: When you’re connected on your AirPort Express WiFi network, the ‘data’ icon at the top of your iOS screen won’t look like the WiFi network symbol, the way it normally does when connected to WiFi. Instead, you’ll see the cellular icon — E, 3G, 4G or LTE, depending on your data plan. Never fear, your phone is actually connected to the WiFi network for the purposes of AirPlay, just like we want it to be:

Just for fun, here’s what it looks like when you play music from the iOS music app, Spotify, and Rdio:



Now, whenever you get into your car, you can simply change the iPhone settings slightly, and you’ll be up and running. And any other passengers in your car with iOS can take over as DJ whenever they want. Happy hacking!

Photos: Ben Novakovic

More Evolver.fm tutorials


  • Evan Judge

    How long does it take to boot up and be running?

  • Dan

    Do you know much this process differs for one of the older style AirPort Express units?

  • joe conery

    why wouldn’t you just use a bluetooth receiver and plug that into your car stereo’s aux jack….or use a casette tape adapter and plug the bluetooth receiver into that?

  • Thomas
  • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

    Followed your instructions to the letter, and the sound is great. But every minute or so, the sound cuts out for a moment. Would love your advice.

  • Meric

    just downgrade airport express firmware to 7.6.2, it is going to solve your problem

  • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

    When I play music from my iPad, it works great. I wonder if the problem is with my iPhone when it tries to connect every minute to check my email.

  • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

    Meric, how do I downgrade airport express firmware to 7.6.2? Tried Googling that but the results are confusing. Thanks.

  • Shane

    I have used an older AX. It works perfectly when I connect directly to the network but when I configured it to run 3G while streaming to airplay I get dead air every 45 seconds or so. It’s like it’s losing the connection briefly. What can I do to stop this? Different channel? Different ip? Help! I’m so close!!!

  • Shane

    Me too brother!!! Why?!?!

  • Shane

    40 seconds or so

  • Jonathan
  • Turbobino

    here’s a great solution for under 50$
    I use it everyday and it works flawlessly.


  • ZeppDK

    mine did the same when i set the networksettings to manually, when setting them back to DCHP the sound does not cut anymore… only problem is that this ofcourse prevents me from using my 3G connection at the same time

  • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

    I have found that when I manually select my AirPlay network it works fine, but when it automatically selects it, the sound cuts out.

  • Mez

    Because BT 2.0 audio quality is shockingly bad.
    You are looking at an actual rate of LESS than 80kbps.
    A nice MP3 will run double that. Very high quality 4x that.
    BT is fine for a shirty car stereo, but for a decent system, It’s unacceptable.
    BT 3.0 was supposed to be a high speed implementation, but I doubt that will ever see the light of day. BT 4.0 is an ultra low power implementation, ideal for a heart rate monitor or scale etc that talks to your phone.

  • Goodhur

    I just posted this on stack exchange. I thought someone may find it useful. It sounds much, much better than bluetooth (I was using a Fipo 30pin adapter).

    My current Airplay setup:

    Radio with Aux audio port

    Dolry HiFi Stone – use direct play, manual dchp just enter ip and subnet .. No DNS- at amazon $89

    Dock cable with USB and audio jacks – about $5 amazon

    SNI-1/3.5 filter or other ground loop isolator – under $10 ebay

    USB Charger for cigarette lighter – you probably have one

    Set up is a little over $100

  • Seb

    I have finished my project today following the instruction on this post. Frustratingly, the sound is horrible compared to the music on FM radio i listen everyday. I would haven’t done this if i knew the Airport Express built-in DAC was really that awful. Digging around and I found Audioengine D1 DAC http://www.amazon.com/Audioengine-D1-24-bit-digital-to-audio-converter/dp/B006IPH5H2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1378507845&sr=8-1&keywords=audioengine+d1 has all the required inputs and outputs to hook up with my AE. Order has been placed, crossing my fingers now..

    Ugh.. there’s another issue. Streaming music from my iPhone keeps getting intermittently drop, 3 – 10 secs each time. Still digging around and hopefully there’s a solution for that.

  • jc21

    I’ve been digging around for a solution for this for days. Only happens with my iphone4, not my friends iphone5. If you setup your phone’s wifi to be Auto DHCP instead of static as stated above, then it solves the dropouts. Unfortunately this also means that you can’t access your cellular data either.

  • jc21

    I think I’ve figured it out for me at least anyway.

    In the AirPort Utility iOS app, do this in order:
    1 – Edit the Airport
    2 – Select “Internet Connection”
    3 – Change this to “Static”, ip address to, router address
    4 – tap “Done” so you’ll go back to the previous screen
    5 – Select “Advanced” -> “DHCP and NAT”

    6 – Change the Router Mode to “DHCP Only”
    7 – Change the range beginning and ending
    8 – tap “Done”, 3 times to go all the way back and select to update your Airport.
    9 – Using the iphone, connect to the network and select a static address as specified by the stops above, but using 10.0.0.x instead.

    After all that, I have no dropouts now. The problem for me was the NAT being enabled, and you can’t just disable it without the utility getting upset about IP’s so that’s why you have to statically set it first.

  • Justin

    So, after having frustratingly successfully recreated this project the sound is impeccable but, I cant stream any radio apps or any music from the cloud servers. If its been saved in the queue then I can play those last few songs.

    In essence, I cant get my LTE data to stream data when connected to the APE in my car. When I first set this up on a bench before finalizing it and putting it into my truck I was able to pull from the cloud. Now I cannot. Anyone have any suggestions?

    By the way, Im using android and windows. Not riding any particular manufacturers nuts. Its just the setup I have.

    Streaming via AirAudio app.


  • Matt Collins

    Hi I have just completed my install and very happy with the result especially with double twist media player, my issue is im getting feedback noise throught the car speakers im thinking from the power out of the usb to the airport express. I put my airport express in my friends car to perfect sound (no feedback) so it has to be something wrong with the usb in the car?
    Help or suggestions would be greatful.
    Also i followed the instructions for ios and get internet over 3g with my wifes iphone while connected to the airport express but cannot duplicate the result with my samsung galaxy s2?

  • CBS

    I just completed my install today too, and I am having the same issue with feedback. It’s horrible! Please post here if you find a solution. I’m stumped. I think I’ll go to Radioshack and see if they can recommend something. I’ll post if I learn something new.

    Oh I should mention that instead of the project above, I am just plugging the AE directly into this Amazon power inverter: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005M0LWXW/ref=oh_details_o08_s00_i01?ie=UTF8&psc=1 I hope this isn’t the issue, because I’d hate to ruin a brand new AE with my horrible soldering skills. Anyway, I’d love to hear your and anyone else’s thoughts. Thanks for the help!

  • Matt Collins

    Please post instructions for android setup of wifi with 3g.

  • Omar

    Did your step down converter come with the 3 prong adapter that plugs into it? The one with the blue and green wires attached? I’m an electronics newb and have no idea where to get that piece. It didn’t come with the converter I got off ebay.

  • Not Hung

    Why don’t you just use a 50 cent aux cable and plug your phone in? You’re inside a car, I’m pretty sure an aux cable won’t have problem reaching your phone anywhere you place it inside your car.

  • selseli

    Can we mirror our iphone screen, if we plug an apple tv (pluged to car multimedia via hdmi) to airplay express and watch internet tv on the multimedia system?

  • Michael Atkinson

    I used a first generation and apparently I need a higher amperage stepdown… The link on here is for a .08 amp stepdown and the load is to high… If anyone has any links for a higher amp output it would be greatly Appreciated

  • Dusan Uhrin

    Airplay to a car windshield (wireless Head-up-display for iPhone/Android)

    Connecting a Raspberry Pi with iHUD. With the option of running Python and creating a wireless network in your car then using a great app called rPlay (which allows you to use your Raspberry Pi as an apple TV). You can use any Application from iPhone/Android and your phone screen is displayed to the windshield wirelessly. Which means You are able to use Siri to search over voice control in Maps enter the location and start the navigator and everything is displayed on the windshield. You don’t need to take your eyes off the road anymore. This Head-up-dispaly and Raspberry Pi combination is the cheapest iHUD on the market. More info on http://nomotravel.com/ihud-head-up-display/

  • Gsarfin

    Try a ground loop isolator or resistor spark plugs. “Feedback” is coming from your vehicles electrical system and your audio setup ground looping or picking up oscillations from your motor/electrical system.

  • Andrew Zimmerman

    Because that wouldn’t be overly complicated and cool!

  • Parkerific

    Was able to find something at half the price of an airport express that is plug and play, check out airenabler.

  • http://evolver.fm Eliot Van Buskirk

    Thanks, I will.

  • Pete

    Why can’t you just get a power inverter?

  • JD

    will this kill my car battery? can I unplug it when I leave the car?

  • http://www.henriksoderlund.com/ HeNkiSdaBro

    Thanks for this recommendation. However, as with all bluetooth receivers they famously compress the audio signal rendering lower quality music through the speakers. Airplay has the capability to stream lossless audio over wifi-n which is great! Bluetooth also has less range than a wifi device.

  • hi ho

    Just take a look to the pololu http://www.pololu.com/product/2110

  • Bruno Gagnon

    First great idea. Also you can have the Airplay Express for 75$ if you buy refurbish from Apple website. Also all you have to do is get one of these:


    and you are all set.

    I will buy on for each car in the family.

    Thanks Again


  • Bruno Gagnon

    No if you plug in 12 volts outlet that shuts out when you remove the key.

  • Bruno Gagnon

    only problem is airenabler uses a digital to analog converted that is very cheap that it sound as bad as BT… unless you upgrade it for 20$ an over. Airport Express is simpler an less wires…