Creative Sound Blaster Wireless Music
From PC to hi-fi via Wi-Fi
There's much to like about the Wireless Music system, but there are some failings too. For a start, there can often be big gaps between tracks - five or six seconds isn't uncommon. Nothing breaks the musical mood quite like having a long wait while the next tune is cued up.
What's more, the system's unique selling point - its feature-packed remote control - doesn't work as well as it should. Part of the problem is that navigating through an extensive music collection involves lots of button-pressing and scrolling. For example, to list all your Led Zeppelin tracks, you'll have to press Library, click OK, choose Artists, click OK, scroll through every letter of the alphabet down to L, click OK, then scroll through all the artists beginning with L until you finally reach the band you're after. The system is crying out for a Music Search feature, perhaps with the number keys on the remote doubling up as alphabetic keys. (In fact, the number keys are used solely to select playlists, which seems like a real missed opportunity).
Of more concern though, the remote isn't nearly as powerful as we'd like. It has a stated range of 32 feet in open space, but in real-life conditions you won't see this kind of performance. If there's more than one wall in the way, it usually doesn't work.
The receiver's range seems disappointing too, especially compared to some other wireless music devices we've seen. (Incidentally, when the reception fails with wireless audio devices, the sound quality doesn't deteriorate as it would if you were listening to a radio programme with poor radio reception. Instead it stops altogether for a few seconds, because the data stream has been interrupted).
How does the Wireless Music system compare with what's already out there? Well, let's take a quick look at three alternative offerings - the Linksys WMA-11b Wireless Media Adapter, the Netgear MP101 Music Player and Slim Devices' Squeezebox.
The Linksys WMA-11b uses an infrared remote control and a Wi-Fi receiver that is designed to sit next to your television. Your TV is used to display the menu system. While this limits your placement options, there's a benefit too: as well as music, you can access digital photos and videos from your PC, so that you can enjoy them in the lounge.
The Netgear MP101 has an infrared remote control and a Wi-Fi receiver with a small built-in LCD screen. At around £100, it's two-thirds of the price of the Creative device, though in terms of features and usability there isn't much between them.
The Squeezebox consists of an infrared remote control and a Wi-Fi receiver with a large LCD screen. It's a beautifully built device, with superb software which means that, for instance, you can sit in your armchair and add songs to the end of the current playlist, or generate a new playlist on the fly. You can also add to the system's functionality with free software plug-ins. It's also cross-platform (for more on the Squeezebox, see our review).
While the Wireless Music system certainly isn't bad, it lacks the multimedia versatility of the Linksys WMA-11b, and the flair and usability of the Squeezebox. It also costs much more than the functionally similar Netgear MP101. The Wireless Music's remote control does bring a couple of nice new ideas to the table, in the shape of the LCD screen and radio wave communication, but in practice they don't provide the benefits that they promise. Ultimately, the Wireless Music system isn't bad, but it's not as good as it could have been.
Wireless media adapters are getting pretty common these days, but the Creative Sound Blaster Wireless Music system does try to bring something new to the party. The RF remote control would have been a huge bonus, but the range isn't what it should have been. Overall, this is a solid system for streaming music wirelessly, but it had the potential to be so much better. ®
|Creative Sound Blaster Wireless Music|
|More info||The Creative site|
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