Hands On: Control4 Wireless Music Bridge
Streaming your music everywhere any way you want
Control4’s new Wireless Music Bridge is blessed with a pretty boring name. It’s like calling something a knife that cuts bread, but as a product, it’s not really meant to stand out, to be the star. Rather it’s meant to get out of the way so you can let your music be the center of attention, and it does that really freak’n well.
The Wireless Music Bridge (I’ll call it the WMB or Bridge) is a small accessory product for owners of Control4 home automation systems. Its purpose is to get music from people’s iPhones, Android tablets and sundry other little wireless doodads into their home A/V system via Control4.
The past year or two has seen the market awash in wirelessish music solutions. Sonos is probably the most well-known, or at least the one most companies think they’re competing against, but every little speaker company has some variety of Wi-Fi, AirPlay and/or Bluetooth thing for playing music from their phones and tablets. But until the WMB there was no easy way to play your phone’s Spotify tunes through your home speakers via your expensive Control4 system.
Now you can, and while it seems like a simple thing, it’s a simple really cool thing. The device doesn’t play any music directly. It has no built-in streaming services, radio or hard drives. It’s a bridge to march your portable music over. The WMB supports Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay, and DLNA, which covers pretty much any kind of smart phone or tablet you can find.
From your integrator’s standpoint, installing the WMB is easy. Your installer will be in and out of your house in no time. The WMB connects to your network, in most cases via your system’s Ethernet switch (it can be connected via Wi-Fi too). Once it’s configured in the Composer program, it’s ready to play.
Now here’s the neat part—you don’t need to have a Control4 remote, touchscreen or app in your presence to make the WMB work. You don’t need any special app. You just need the device that holds your music (or music services). Once you select a song and use the Bluetooth or AirPlay icon to select the WMB as the playback system, your whole audio system will power up automatically—Control4 makes that happen. You can adjust the volume from your phone or with any of the standard Control4 interfaces. What this means is that a house guest who doesn’t have the Control4 app on her phone can still play her music on your system—my teenage daughters and their friends think this is amazing.
Once it’s all set up and your installer has pulled out of the driveway, using the product is a simple matter. As noted above, you can use the Bridge with AirPlay, Bluetooth or DLNA. If you think you’ll be wandering around the house with your phone in your pocket, while playing music, then you’ll want to use AirPlay or DLNA because the range is better than Bluetooth. For those to work you’ll need to have the Bridge connected to your wireless network. Since my Control4 system is confined to just one room, I stayed with Bluetooth. Note, though, when using Bluetooth, you may hear a buffering pause of half a second every now and then.
Both AirPlay and Bluetooth are slap simple to use with the Bridge. In your phone’s setting you connect to the Bridge as you would any other wireless device, then when you start a music track or a music app, just tap the AirPlay/Bluetooth connection icon and your music starts coming from your system speakers. DLNA is a little wonkier (in my Samsung Galaxy tablet I need to open the AllShare app and find the WMB).
The WMB’s Bluetooth functionality is actually easier than any other Bluetooth device I’ve used, and that’s because it requires no pairing mode or passcode, unlike most Bluetooth speakers. In your phone’s settings (in my case, an iPhone 4S) you just tap on the name of the Bridge and the connection is made—no waiting for the code to be transmitted, no pairing mode, just simple. If someone else in the house wants to play something from their phone, they just locate the Bridge in their Bluetooth menu and Voila, it’s done. Why can’t everything work this way?
I’ve been using it for a few days now, mostly for listening to Pandora or music from my iTunes library. Previously, in order to listen to Pandora I had to turn on the entire theater, which meant powering up the projector, waiting for it to come to full brightness, and then selecting Pandora from my Roku apps. The process worked fine and sounded great, but it took too long and I don’t like turning on the projector just to listen to music. Using the Bridge I can listen to Pandora on my full system without even picking up a remote.
You music isn’t limited to the room you’re in or the room the Bridge is in. You can play music in any room in the house via the Bridge, or you can have separate Bridges for each family member.
Wait, you say, doesn’t Control4 already have an iPhone dock? Well, yes, but that iPhone dock limits the audio output only to the iTunes library—so no app music. Plus this works with your iPad, Kindle HD or Samsung Galaxy phone. Also, with the Bridge you’re not limited to what services are built into the component, because there are none. Anything on your phone can play on your music system. You can even play the audio from Youtube videos over the bridge this way. I like using the Bridge for listening to Ted Talk Youtube videos.
While the Wireless Music Bridge does essentially a simple thing—connecting your smartphone media to your large A/V system, and a lot of other devices are available to do this in more basic applications, this is a first for an integrated system. More than that, it operates with the ease that owners of a professionally-programmed home automation system expect. If you’re a Control4 owner, get this. You’ll use it every day.
Control4 Wireless Music Bridge
• Full integration with Control4 touch screens and on-screen displays
• Ability to automatically turn on one or more audio zones
• Multiple units can be added to a single system allowing every family member to have their own assigned Wireless Music Bridge
• AirPlay for all iOS and Mac OSX devices
• Bluetooth Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP)
• DLNA support for Android and Windows based devices
• Stereo analog and Digital Coax outputs
• 10/100 Wired Ethernet or 802.11 Wireless Ethernet options
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