Update, April 2016: Since iTunes 12 and Apple Music, I now store my entire collection in the cloud and am able to access/control it from anywhere, easily, and to redirect the output to any AirPlay device. So the notes below are no longer relevant.
Scenario: Music collection on an iMac in the office on one end of the house, pumping music over Airport Express to stereo in the living room on the other. Need to be able to remotely navigate collection and control playback from a laptop in the living room.
Seemingly perfect solution: iTunes Remote app for iPhone, connecting to the office Mac via wi-fi. Close, but not quite. At first, iTunes Remote app seems like the perfect remote control, complete with album covers. But a real remote you can pick up and operate on a moment’s notice, no strings attached. The iTunes Remote app, on the other hand, takes around 10 seconds to re-connect to the remote library every time you want to use it. You wouldn’t accept that kind of delay from any other remote control, so iTunes Remote gets annoying fast.
Alternative 1: Enable iTunes Sharing on the office Mac, then launch a copy of iTunes on the living room laptop and access the shared library. Configure iTunes to send music from the laptop directly to the AEX. Problem solved? Not quite. I rely heavily on the ability to rate tracks as they roll through. 1 or 2 stars for the tracks I can live without, then periodically cull duds from the collection based on ratings. Tracks with 4 or 5 stars form the basis for my best playlists. Unfortunately, when connecting to a remote library in this way, you have read-only access, and no way to rate tracks on the remote box. Bzzzzzt, deal-breaker.
Alternative 2: Third-party software. There are a few shareware packages available in this niche, but the only one I found that worked reliably was Jonathan Beebe’s open source Remote iTunes. The interface is a stripped down clone of iTunes itself, but its remoting ability includes something iTunes does not – the ability to authenticate as an admin user. Enter the IP of the office Mac, a username and pass, and give it a few seconds to pull across the music library index. Once connected, it stays connected, and you get the ability to rate tunes on the remote system. It’s not perfect, but close enough for jazz.
I’d love for iTunes itself to grow this ability so I’d have access to all iTunes features. Alternatively, I’d kill (not literally) for a desktop version of the iPhone Remote app. But Remote iTunes gets the job done with less pain than anything else I’ve tried.