At its heart, the AirPace WAD-01B is a 802.11b/g wireless access point and it has all the amenities you would expect from such a device. It even looks like a normal wireless networking device from afar, but once you get closer, you notice a couple things you won't see on any other wireless access point. On the back panel of this otherwise innocent looking networking device are analog and digital audio outputs. Even stranger still, the AirPace is the only networking device I know of that has a remote control. It needs all of these additions because the AirPace is a wireless audio access point.
In addition to normal wireless access point features, the AirPace is also capable of operating as a wireless client that can connect to an existing wireless network. The AirPace is equipped with a standard RJ45 Ethernet jack that can connect to an existing wired network or it can be connected to a nearby computer to lend it wireless capabilities. If the feature list stopped here, the AirPace would be a very versatile little device but we haven't even gotten to the key feature yet. While in client mode (wired or wireless), the AirPace unit is capable of receiving audio streams from other computers on the network and it can output the audio stream using its compliment of analog and digital audio outputs. That means that as long as the AirPace unit is hooked up to a set of speakers and connected to your network, you can play audio from any machine on the network and listen to it wherever the AirPace is.
The concept of streaming audio over a network connection is nothing new. Slim Devices Inc. has been offering similar functionality since 2001 with their Squeezebox network music player. Where the AirPace shines is in its chosen implementation. While the Squeezebox is strictly a network music player, the AirPace is a wireless access point with audio streaming functionality tacked on and can be used as a standard access point. Both the Squeezebox and the AirPace require software to be installed on any computer that wishes to stream audio over the network. However, Squeezebox's software limits you to certain audio file types while the AirPace client software acts like a sound driver and allows all audio to be streamed.
A Closer Look
The AirPace WAD-01B is made of plastic with a high-gloss piano black exterior. It resembles a compact wireless router. On the front are activity and status LEDs that indicate power, Ethernet activity, wireless activity and audio stream activity. On the rear is a row of connections and a detachable antenna. The AirPace unit has three different audio outputs; a S/P DIF optical output, 3.5 mm analog audio output and a stereo RCA analog audio output. While the AirPace is capable of receiving surround sound audio streams, it is merely a pass-through device. It does not have any decoding capability so it cannot offer analog surround sound outputs. Luckily you can connect the S/P DIF optical output to a receiver capable of decoding surround sound signals. However, the utility of wirelessly streaming a surround sound audio signal is questionable.
Bundled with the AirPace is a very compact IR remote and a short Ethernet cable to get you started. The little remote only has six buttons and is meant to be used with the AirPace unit when it is configured as a wireless audio system. The six buttons control various multimedia functions like volume, changing the track, playing and pausing the music. The remote doesn't work as you might expect. When the AirPace unit has established an audio connection with a computer running the AirPace client software, commands from the remote are relayed to the computer, where the AirPace client software then performs the appropriate actions. Think of the buttons on the remote as a portable, wireless version of the media buttons found on many "multimedia" keyboards. Unfortunately the small size of the remote makes it especially easy to misplace and we wished the AirPace unit had a similar set of controls on the unit itself as a backup. The remote is also completely useless when the AirPace is not being used as a audio system.