As part of my recent review of the Control4 HC-250 control system, the company sent me the Wireless Music Bridge (C4-WMB-B), which allows you to integrate your smartphone, tablet, or computer into the Control4 ecosystem as an audio source. Thanks to built-in support for AirPlay, Bluetooth, and DLNA, Control4 has covered the connectivity bases; no matter the brand of smartphone, tablet, or computer you use, the Wireless Music Bridge ($300) should be able to talk to it.
The WMB is a basic black box that measures 6.3 by 4.72 by 1.57 inches and weighs just 1.05 pounds. The front panel has LED indicators for power and the type of connection being used (AirPlay, DLNA, or Bluetooth), while the back panel features one stereo analog output, one coaxial digital audio output, and an Ethernet port (10/100). The box also has built-in WiFi (802.11b/g) if you'd prefer to add it to your home network wirelessly. In my case, installer Brian Pantle of Encore Sight & Sound used a wired Ethernet connection and stored the WMB away in the same cabinet where my router hides, and he ran RCA audio cables to an Aux input on my nearby Harman Kardon AVR 3700 receiver.
For several months now, I've been streaming music through the WMB primarily via AirPlay, from an iPhone and a MacBook Pro running iTunes, and the system has worked exactly as it should. With AirPlay, playback is as simple as selecting the WMB as the destination player from the list of AirPlay devices on the source device and hitting play. The WMB communicates over the home network with the HC-250 system controller, which in turn automatically wakes up my H/K receiver and switches to the correct input for instant music playback. My system isn't configured to turn on the display device with music sources, which is how I prefer it. However, if your video display is on, you can see metadata and cover art on the Control4 home page, as well as on Control4 touchpanels. I did not get metadata on my SR-250 remote control, but I was able to control volume, mute, play/pause, and track skip using the Control4 remote. Response to commands was just a tiny bit faster when I controlled playback directly through my portable device as opposed to the SR-250, but both methods were plenty quick. Using my iPhone, I streamed content from my iTunes Music folder, as well as a variety of AirPlay-friendly streaming apps like Pandora, Spotify, and I Heart Music. Control4 has not (yet) added these streaming services to its internal list of music apps (which includes Rhapsody and TuneIn), so the WMB is a great way to add more streaming options to your Control4 system.
I didn't stop at AirPlay, though. I also experimented with Bluetooth and DLNA streaming from a variety of devices, adding a Samsung Galaxy tablet and Lenovo Windows 8 laptop to the list of sources. With Bluetooth, all of the devices I used paired seamlessly and worked without issue. Using Bluetooth opens up playback to any audio source on your portable device, not just the AirPlay-supported apps, but it is limited in range to about 10 meters (32 feet) - so you can't take your device too far away from the room where the WMB is located. As with AirPlay, I could control volume and playback of Bluetooth sources using the Control4 SR-250 remote; Bluetooth doesn't allow for the display of cover art but will show song/artist info. The Bridge supports the aptX Bluetooth codec to deliver up to a 16-bit/44.1-kHz resolution, but not the aptX Lossless codec to stream high-resolution files (you can learn more about Bluetooth codecs here).
For DLNA, I used Play To through my laptop's Windows Media Player and the Samsung AllShare app on my Galaxy tablet. DLNA setup can be a little trickier depending on your devices, but I was able to successfully set up both sources. In both cases, I could control volume and play/pause using the SR-250 remote, but not track-skip. If you want to stream high-resolution audio files through the Music Bridge, DLNA is the most straightforward connection option, but I did not have any hi-res files on hand to test this function.
Click on over to Page 2 for the High Points, Low Points, the Comparison and Competition and the Conclusion . . .
The Wireless Music Bridge lets you add just about any smartphone, tablet, or computer to a Control4 system as an audio source. The Bridge has AirPlay, DLNA, and Bluetooth support.
Through the WMB, you can add streaming music services like Pandora and Spotify that are not currently included directly within the Control4 ecosystem.
With AirPlay and Bluetooth sources, you can control volume, play/pause, and track-skip via a Control4 controller like the SR-250 remote.
Since system communication occurs over WiFi and ZigBee, you can hide the WMB away in a cabinet.
Audiophiles can stream hi-res files over DLNA.
Of the three connection options, DLNA was the least reliable in my setup. I encountered more connection and playback issues, through both my laptop and tablet. Also, transport control is limited through DLNA.
Comparison and Competition
Although a number of media bridges exist on the general market, the Wireless Music Bridge has a specific purpose - to integrate your portable devices into a Control4 system. That means it has a specific audience: people who have or plan to get a Control4 control and automation system. Of course, Control4 offers a number of products that allow you to integrate various audio sources into your system, but the Wireless Music Bridge is unique in the company's lineup for wireless integration of portable devices.
For owners of a competing system from Crestron, the company currently does not offer an exact competitor to the Wireess Music Brdige but will purportedly introduce one soon.
The Wireless Music Bridge is a great addition to a Control4 system, providing an easy, flexible way to integrate a variety of portable devices and expand the number of music-streaming options you can enjoy through the system. Does every Control4 user need one? Not necessarily. That really depends on the other components in your system. For instance, if your system already has a networkable device like an AV receiver with built-in AirPlay, Bluetooth, and/or DLNA support and a host of streaming services, then you probably don't need a Wireless Music Bridge in your main zone, but it could still be a nice addition to secondary audio zones. On the other hand, if you're looking for an easy way to incorporate network music streaming without having to upgrade the AV components you already own and love, the Wireless Music Bridge makes a lot of sense and will blend seamlessly into your existing Control4 setup in an organic way.