Control4’s new Wireless Music Bridge basically puts the entire world of music exactly where people want it: right in the palm of their hands. Remember a few years ago when everyone asked whether an audio system supported iPod or not? The hottest logo on a component was the “works with iPod” tag, ensuring customers they could jack in their music player and enjoy their library. And how many docks did you sell or install so people and their guests could enjoy iPod music throughout their homes?
Today, does anyone even actually still use iPods for music listening? Plus, you have the further issue of lightning connectors and Android or Windows devices. Now it’s no longer about docking and is all about streaming. Whether it’s AirPlay, Bluetooth, or DLNA, people expect to be able to reach beyond their personal library of music and the physical constraints of docking and tap into the cloud, wirelessly enjoying every song ever made.
This review is going to be pretty cut-and-dry; if you’re a Control4 dealer, you’ll want to pay close attention because it’s a product you probably will be selling a lot. And if you’re not a Control4 dealer…well, read on to maybe be jealous or something.
Control4 has steadily added awesome features to its automation and control system, but whether using one of the HC800’s dual analog outputs or a full audio matrix system, there has still been a pretty big hole in the company’s audio distribution offerings. Control4 came out strong with solid Rhapsody integration and then upped the streaming music ante by adding TuneIn earlier this year. But still, that left gaping holes in the form of Pandora, Spotify, Mog, Songza, Slacker, and Grooveshark. The truth is, with the speed that streaming services continue popping up, it’s practically impossible to support them all. Except it isn’t. And that’s what makes Control4’s new Wireless Music Bridge (WMB) so incredibly cool and powerful. It basically puts the entire world of music exactly where people want it: right in the palm of their hands.
The WMB isn’t the most impressive-looking component. In fact, it’s a small, black, plastic box little bigger than a paperback book with basic connections around back. But that’s OK, because once it’s installed, you or your clients will probably never have to touch it again.
The WMB supports Control4’s Simple Device Discovery Protocol (SDDP), meaning once connected to the home’s network, it appears as a newly discovered device, automatically loads the correct driver and identifies the device and its IP address. This makes the install lightning fast; the whole process from unboxing to configuring to listening took me around five minutes.
There are some cool configuration options that make adding some “automagical” customer experiences a snap and are performed via simple drop-down selections in the WMB’s setup. For instance, you can tell which room(s) to automatically turn on and start playing whenever the WMB receives a signal. Just start beaming music to it, and the system turns on and starts playing. You can also configure how long the system should wait before automatically powering off when the music stops. This is great for listeners in the habit of just pausing music and leaving a room. Now in X-number of minutes the room will automatically power off. Also, a smart override feature keeps the WMB from hijacking the system if it is already on and in use.
Control4 recommends connecting the WMB via Ethernet, but it can be configured for Wi-Fi operation as well. I have two 8-port Gigabit switches in my rack, so I went hardwired. I connected the WMB’s coax digital output to my Marantz pre-pro and its analog output to the input on my HC800. From there, the WMB’s audio signal is digitized and made available for streaming to other Control4 systems around the house. In my case, this meant I could access the WMB in my bedroom HC250 system. The only drawback here is that there is a pretty significant delay between the main room and the streamed rooms. However, a more typical install would have WMBs located in each listening area or connected to a housewide distribution system, both of which would eliminate any delay problems.
Once installed, the WMB appeared under my list of AirPlay devices, and it just worked. I streamed Pandora, Songza, YouTube, and my iTunes library to it with no trouble. I also paired my iPhone5 to the WMB via Bluetooth and, well, same thing. It just worked. I then fired up J River Media Center on my PC and used DLNA’s “Play To” feature to beam high-res 96/24 FLAC files to it, and Rebecca Pidgeon’s voice sounded as beautiful as ever.
Also cool is that music metadata is relayed from the WMB to other displays throughout the home– the on-screen GUI, Control4 touchpanels, or the MyHome control app.
In a way, the WMB is the perfect example of technology neutrality. Apple, Android, Windows, Bluetooth, it doesn’t care where the music comes from or what technology was sending it. The WMB just makes it available for your listening pleasure. The iPod is dead. Long live the Wireless Music Bridge!
Easily adds a massive selection of music distribution services to Control4 systems; simple installation
Delay on digitized streaming
• Supports AirPlay, Bluetooth and DLNA wireless music streaming
• Network connectivity via 10/100 Ethernet or 802.11 b/g WiFi
• Stereo analog and Coaxial Digital audio outputs
• Supports SDDP protocol for easy installation
• Supports up to 96 kHz decoding with DLNA
• Requires Composer OS 2.5.0 or later
• Dimensions: 6.29 x 4.72 x .1.57 (W x D x H, inches), 1.05 pounds