Wireless Home Audio Notification System


My job often requires that I check on my e-mail from time to time outside of regular working hours. It’s just part of the nature of what I do.

Several months ago I was given a different kind of cell phone to use. Not only did this one have better reception but it also had the capability to check my e-mail. Of course, that developed into a bad habit of frequently checking my cell phone at night and on the weekends. Often when I checked there wasn’t anything new that needed my attention, but there have been several times that I did need to respond to an e-mail or take action on something after hours.

What to do? I still needed to know if I received an important e-mail but I didn’t want to have to think about it constantly.

For the past few months I’ve been thinking about finding a way to have audio play from my Mac in another room to speakers in the living room. One option was to try to send standard computer audio to my home theatre receiver. A problem with that method is properly converting the signal to a different wire type and ensuring the signal would not degrade over the distance from one room to another. That wasn’t insurmountable but the other problem was. The second problem, which was the reason I didn’t run it to my receiver, was very simple. If I ran the audio into my receiver that meant in order for it to work properly I would have to leave the receiver set on a specific input. While that input is in use I wouldn’t be able to use others, which meant I couldn’t have the system working and watch a movie or listen to a game in surround sound.

Before spending a penny on this project I abandoned that concept rather quickly and instead started to look at wireless speakers compatible with a computer audio output. Those were not difficult to find, but the prices were higher than I thought they should be.

In the end, I journeyed to the local RadioShack. At first the only option was a pair of 900 MHz wireless speakers that cost about $200. The cost was more than I wanted to work with. However, after browsing around the little store for a while I stumbled upon a wireless audio transmitter/receiver set for about $70. It still wasn’t cheap but I liked having the flexibility to use whatever set of speakers I chose.

While there I also picked up a Y splitter for the computer (so I could still use the desktop’s primary speaker set) and an inexpensive three-speaker set to setup in the living room.

To sum up a rather long post I was able to get it to work using the transmit/receive set (only with audio – I ignored the USB connector) and the cheap speakers. I was not able to get the signal to work from the far wall of my bedroom to the opposite wall of my living room. In fact, I was only able to eliminate noise (usually seemingly random ‘pops’) and establish a constant, clear transmission by placing the units within line-of-site of each other (despite the fact that they are radio based). I also had to tinker with my wireless router settings. I suspect much of the problem with getting the signal cleaned up can be traced to a number of wireless routers in my area, which operate on 2.4 GHz (the same frequency as the transmitter/receiver). I also suspect that the composition of my walls is partially responsible for dampening the signal.

Now, I don’t have to think about checking my e-mail. I have a specific notification sound for general e-mail from my work account and some sounds that play only when I receive e-mail from certain people or when certain events happen.

It’s nice not having to think about my e-mail constantly.

Update 08/28/2011: The wireless home audio notification project has been revisited (and works), though I’m not using it for e-mail notification.

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