My network looks like this:
Time Capsule (single band 802.11n (b/g compatible)) with an 802.11n compatible Airport Extreme (2011) and also an Airport Extreme 802.11g (2008). The Airport Extremes are both set to join the network (not extend it) and used only for Airplay.
The potential bandwidth "bottleneck" in your current network configuration is the 802.11g AirPort Express. Even though it is configured as a network client, any network client that is operating in the 802.11g Radio Mode will affect the overall bandwidth of the 802.11n network being provided by the Time Capsule.
To verify this, try temporarily removing the 802.11g Express from the network. I suspect that your bandwidth performance will improve if all of the other wireless clients are "n" capable.
That's why I bought the new Airport Express. Unfortunately it doesn't work with AirPlay.
Sorry, but that is not true. ALL generations of the AirPort Express Base Station support AirTunes/AirPlay ... even the latest 2nd generation of the 802.11n model.
Please check out the following Apple Support article for details on using the AirPort Express for AirPlay.
FWIW. My current network configuration is a 4th gen TC that is being extended by a 4th gen AirPort Extreme. I also have a 1st & 2nd gen 802.11n AirPort Express base stations configured to join the extended network solely for the purpose of AirPlay. In my case I do not experience any stuttering with either or both Express base stations streaming.
My main wireless network is configured to use the "802.11n only (5 GHz) - 802.11b/g/n" Radio Mode with WPA2 Personal as the wireless encryption type. Following this AirPort User Tip, I get a consistent 30+ dB SNR measurements at the locations of the Extreme and both Express base stations.
I only have a single non-"n" wireless client that I use occasionally and my portable phones are DECT-6 models so there is little or no additional Wi-Fi interference in the area to adversely affect the TC's Wi-Fi network.
The key to streaming is high and consistent bandwidth availability.
Maybe it is because I have an older (single band) Time Capsule. I believe it is a 2nd generation unit. I don't think it is a bandwidth problem because my old airport express (802.11g only) works fine in the same spot where the new 4th generation airport express stutters constantly. The new one should connect at least as well if not better than the old one but it doesn't.
I also tried "upgrading" the network from b/g compatible to "n only 2.4ghz" on the Time Capsule but the stuttering continues. The only way i get uninterrupted music playback is by using the old 802.11g airport express with the Time Capsule network set to b/g compatibility instead of n.
Perhaps my Time Capsule needs to be replaced. It might be defective after 2+ years of constant use. I will try updating the equipment again next year and probably replace it all at once.
I bought a new Airport Express today to replace my original one that I bought in 2005. Using it as a router and for Airplay. Airplay worked just fine for years. Set this new one up, and Tucker, I'm having exaclty the same problem as you. My new one now fades in and out (in terms of volume) and then the audio starts dropping completely. Really. Really effing ****** this thing doesn't work properly straight out of the box.
2009 17" MBP
New Airport Express
Using optical out straight into a DAC
10.6.8, Airport Utility 5.6.1
No ideas really. Except the standard "wait and see if a firmware update makes it better." Or you could send it back and buy a refurb of the previous generation from the online Apple store. It would save about $30 and they actually work as expected. You could also buy an AppleTV for the same price and use that without a display for music streaming. I have one of those also and it works great as an AirPlay device. The only downside is that you have to attach a monitor to do software updates and configuration options. It doesn't show up in the airport utility so every time they update the software you have to attach a display.
I am sending mine back and continuing with the old one from 2007 for now. I might try "upgrading" again next year.
Just wanted to let you know that I pinned the problem down but there is not fix yet I guess. The problem is only apparent when using the optical out to an external DAC. I assume that most people don't use the optical out so it hasn't been a big deal. When I connect headphones to the airport express and use its internal DAC (yuck) it works just fine. No skipping or stuttering. When I connect my optical cable and external DAC (the one that works great with my 1st generation 802.11n model and with my 802.11g model) the 2nd generation airport express is not useable with AirPlay. Anyone want to confirm this with their express?
Note to Apple: Some of us use the optical out on the airport express base station. Please fix it. Thanks for the love and product testing.
I assume that most people don't use the optical out so it hasn't been a big deal.
In my case, one of my Express base stations is connected by optical to my Denon receiver and works great.
Like you, a number of folks actually do "bypass" the base station's internal DAC and feed their analog audio equipment via an external DAC. I haven't seen any wide-spread reports that they were having the same issue as you.
Ok last update. The new airport express 802.11n 2nd generation works correctly as an AirPlay device when connected optically to one of my DACs but not when i connect it to another DAC I own. It also works correctly when using its own internal DAC. So, I guess it is more jittery than previous models which throws off one DAC causing it to stutter but not the other or something like that. Just to say it again, my previous generations of airport express base stations didn't have this problem and worked correctly with both DACs. Maybe Apple will address this in a firmware update.
The DAC that the new model works with is a Musical Fidelity V-DAC (1st generation).
The DAC that the new model does not work with is a Peachtree Audio Decco 2.
I am using my 1st generation Airport Express 802.11n with the Peachtree DAC while I type this and it is working absolutely fine so this problem is definitely with the new 2nd generation Airport Express 802.11n and not with the DAC.
It may be an optical issue, and it may also be DAC specific. I have two different DACs, and the one I normally use was the one not playing nice with the new AE. I tried my other one and it worked fine. My first generation AE did just fine with both of them. Weird. I may try to take it back anyway to see if that makes a difference.
Great info to know, Heath. My Benchmark DAC1 USB worked fine with both, but the TEAC UD-H01 does not play nice with the new AE. I actually have a third DAC on hand (I'm an audio reviewer), an Arcam D33, and it worked just fine with both as well. Very weird.
Those are nice products that you have. Hope you like them.