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Review: Control4 Wireless Music Bridge—More Than Meets the Eye

Sections: Audio, Reviews, Smart Home, Streaming

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Control4 Wireless Music Bridge frontI just got back from a sweaty jog with Bruno, and although I’m grateful to be out of the heat, our trip around the neighborhood came to an end at exactly the worst time. I was mere minutes away from the end of my friend Mandy’s new podcast and didn’t want to stop listening. A month ago, that would have meant leaving my earbuds for another ten minutes or so, or maybe a trip to my home office, a quick iTunes sync, and further listening on my desktop sound system. Today, though, I merely poked the AirPlay button on my phone, pulled out the earbuds, and let Control4’s new Wireless Music Bridge take over, fire up the home theater system automatically, and resume my podcast on the best speakers in the house while I sipped a glass of lemonade in my comfy chair.

Granted, if you’ve bought a new receiver in the last year or two, that functionality might not sound so amazing (at least not until you hear everything else the Wireless Music Bridge can do). But I don’t have this year’s receiver. Nor last year’s model. I have a completely non-networkable, un-AirPlay equipped Anthem D2v processor, and don’t intend to replace it anytime soon. Especially not now.

Those of you who follow my adventures in custom installation over at Residential Systems may remember that I recently upgraded the Anthem D2v to add 3D pass-through capabilities. It was an afternoon-long process that involved labeling all the wiring, extracting my D2v, cracking the case, replacing circuit boards, re-routing some wiring—and retail cost for the Anthem 3D upgrade kit is $1,500. But hey, my D2v was all shiny and up-to-date now at the end of the process, right?

Well, no. Not so much. Not when you consider that pretty much every AV device made these days also includes AirPlay. Sure, I could add an Apple TV to my system, but between my Mirage Media ServerOPPO Blu-ray player, and the TuneIn support built into my Control4 system, I already have all the AV streaming access I could want and more. Except, that is, for AirPlay.

So when Control4 announced its new Wireless Music Bridge, I squeed a little. Okay, a lot. It’s exactly what I wanted: an AirPlay-equipped wireless streaming device that didn’t add yet another UI to my home theater system, but seamlessly slipped in and put a complete modern spit shine on my home theater. And for just $300? Seriously, shut up and take my money!

If that’s all the Wireless Music Bridge did—simply let me add truly integrated AirPlay capabilities to my system without replacing my preamp—I would be utterly thrilled with it. But it’s so much more than that. In addition to AirPlay, the box also adds Bluetooth audio streaming capabilities, along with DLNA, and of course all of the customizable, automated capabilities that you expect from Control4.

The setup process? An absolute snap. Hooking up the Wireless Music Bridge requires nothing more than connecting it to an analog or digital audio input, plugging in an Ethernet cable (or adding it to your Wi-Fi network), and poking a few (very few) buttons in Control4’s Composer Pro programming software. Since the WMB includes support for the company’s new-ish Simple Device Discovery Protocol (SDDP for short), it’s automatically detected by Composer and its drivers are automatically loaded into the system. None of which really affects you, the consumer, except for the fact that the installer who connects and configures your Wireless Music Bridge will probably be in and out of your house in less than half an hour. One installer I spoke with recently said that all programming and installation costs for the WMB would add maybe $50 to its $300 price tag.

Control4 Wireless Music Bridge connections

The only programming tidbit that you might be interested in is the ability to set a default room for each Wireless Music Bridge in your system. This is key to getting the most out of the Wireless Music Bridge—even if you only have one connected to a single audio zone—because it allows the Control4 system to analyze the pathways of audio connections and connected devices and automatically fire up the appropriate sound system the instant you hit the little AirPlay (or Bluetooth, or DLNA) icon on your phone or computer. There’s no need to ever touch a remote or touchscreen or even the MyHome app on your part. You don’t have to fire up your TV just to navigate to the selected source or select your tunes. In the words of Control4 CEO Martin Plaehn, it’s “auto-magic.”

The other cool trick that selecting a default room for your WMB enables is automatic shutdown. When I’m done listening to my tunes or podcast now, I don’t have to find my remote or fire up my control app and power down the room; I simply poke the AirPlay button on my phone again to cut the audio stream (or, you know, just leave the house), and a minute later my entire home theater system tucks itself in and goes to sleep.

It’s automated events like that which elevate the Wireless Music Bridge far beyond mere media-streamer status.

If you do want to find your remote and fire up your display, or grab your Control4 touchscreen controller, there is some additional functionality—including the fact that all cover artwork and metadata is streamed to the Control4 Navigator. The Control4 system is also fully capable of controlling your streaming device, as well. Click the skip button on your SR-250 remote or touchscreen, and it instantly advances to the next track, whether you’re streaming from your phone or your computer. Very handy.

Control4 Wireless Music Bridge to 7 Inch Wireless Touchscreen

While streaming audio from your phone or computer to your Control4-connected sound system, the Wireless Music Bridge also captures and displays metadata and artwork on all of your touchscreens, TVs, and even the MyHome control app.

The WMB also makes Bluetooth streaming easier than I’ve ever experienced. There’s no poking of the box itself involved (which is good, because mine is hidden way back in the nether regions of my equipment rack). No passcodes to enter. No switching modes between AirPlay and Bluetooth, either. It just works—quickly, easily, with no fussing or fumbling. So when guests come over and want to share music on their phones—from their libraries, from Spotify, whatever—I don’t have to give them access to my home network, and they don’t have to dick around with any sort of complicated setup.

My only caveat regarding the entire Control4 Wireless Music Bridge experience is that I feel like I’m not using it to anywhere near its full potential. Yes, being able to fire up my home theater and stream music without even having to so much as glance at my remote is awesome. Yes, not having to clog my Mirage Media Server with the crap my wife calls “music” is an absolute blessing. She has direct wireless access to her entire library from both her phone and computer now, and I don’t have to dig through any Enya to get to the actual music I want to listen to.

And despite the fact that I have my entire music collection just a few button presses away already in Control4 via the Mirage Media Server, I find myself using the Wireless Music Bridge way more often—every day, in fact—whether for podcasts, Spotify, or just to avoid having to dig through a few extra screens to get to my music. It’s instant gratification in every sense of the word.

As for why I feel that we’re merely skimming the surface layer of what the WMB is capable of, well, we’re just a family of three. And let’s face it: Bruno isn’t old enough to have his own phone, nor does he have opposable thumbs. Between my wife and I, one Wireless Music Bridge is plenty. In my opinion, though, the real beauty of this device and its integration capabilities comes from its scalability. If you have a family of five, every member of the family can have his or her own Bridge, custom programmed to activate the sound system in a specific room, or in specific ways to accentuate each individual lifestyle. Maybe your eldest daughter would dig it if her WMB fired up the in-ceiling speakers in her bedroom the instant she got home, and also turned on the lights in her room at the same time. That sort of programming would take literally seconds.

If you have multiple WMBs in multiple rooms, and also have a distributed audio system, you could also pull up your MyHome app and easily add zones at will—start a stream in the den, for example, and with the press of a button have the same audio stream pumping out of the patio and poolside speakers in seconds. The possibilities are nigh limitless.

And yet, despite the fact that my wife and I are using the Wireless Music Bridge to a fraction of its full potential, I still think it’s a helluva value.

Now, granted, I’m not saying the Wireless Music Bridge alone is reason enough to buy a complete Control4 home automation system if you don’t already have one, but…

Oh, who am I kidding? I’m kind of saying exactly that. Especially when you consider the fact that a Control4 home controller, Wireless Music Bridge, and all of the custom programming required to make your life so much simpler and easier doesn’t cost much more than you’d pay for a really good AV receiver.

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