I purchased a Creative Labs “SoundBlaster Wireless Music” (the product name is in quotes!) to play with.
$249 from Creative’s website.
Creative’s website on this is here: http://us.creative.com/products/product.asp?category=119&subcategory=121&product=9192
The SoundBlaster Wireless Music (which I will refer to as SBWM below) is an 802.11b (only) “digital audio receiver” or DAR that includes a bi-directional RF (not 802.11b based) remote control for UI. Time from opening the box to when I was playing music wirelessly, using the RF remote and its LCD, was about 15 minutes. The UI on the remote is simple and effective. It’s not snappy fast, but quick enough. A server app must run on a PC somewhere on your network, and you have to use Creative’s MediaSource app to manage the library (but importing from a file share or directory is simple).
The SBWM supports stereo analog and optical SPDIF digital output. I did not test the sound quality of the analog outputs but the digital was great. The SBWM played MP3s, 160kpbs, and 192kpbs WMAs, does not support lossless WMA.
For $249 this is a pretty expensive DAR. However for that price you get a great OOBE, reasonable software, and a very nice RF remote control. While other DARs support wireless, none have a remote like this. I’d recommend this product to friends and family…if they have a PC and a wireless network and they want their music collection in other parts of their house this product will work great.
A yellow sticker over the USB port on the SBWM reads “STOP! Before you connnect Sound Blaster Wireless Music to your computer, make sure you read and follow all of the installation instructions in your Quick Start Leaflet.” The steps outlined there are straightforward: Install software, Add Tracks to PC Music Library, Connect to stereo, Use RF remote.
– Installing the software involved installing a driver (unsigned) and the SBWM “media server” and console. It also recommended installing the included “Creative MediaSource” app, which is Creative’s latest attempt at a media player/library management app (I won’t bother reviewing this app here…suffice to say I’ve always viewed Creative’s software as crap…I use Notmad (www.redchairsoftware.com) for interacting with my Creative Jukebox III and Zen portable players). I had to reboot after setup completed.
– While rebooting I plugged the optical SPDIF out from the SBWM into my receiver.
– When the reboot completed, Creative MediaSource started up and I told it to import my music from the network share where it’s all stored. A few mouse clicks on default selections and it quickly imported all the metadata.
– Following the directions on the quick start guide, I plugged the USB cable between the SBWM and my PC. PnP did its thing and a task bar icon appeared. The directions said to run from the start menu the SBWM Network Setup so I could configure the device for WEP encryption.
– This little network setup app found both my wireless network and my neighbors. Both are WEP enabled, and it indicated such. I clicked on mine and entered my WEP key. After about 10 seconds my stereo speakers emitted a high-pitched tone. Yow! Surprise! About 10 seconds later the app said “success”, and asked if I wanted to use the library I had imported into the Creative MediaSource app. Very painless operation (except for the ear splitting test tone!).
– I then unplugged the USB cable from the SBWM, pressed “Menu” on the remote and selected some music to play…
The UI on the RF remote control is pretty much identical to what you get on a Creative Nomad Jukebox or Zen. After completing the setup above, I was immediately able to browse my music collection and play music by Album, Artist, Genre, Playlist, etc… It could NOT have been any simpler.
You can optionally use the “Wireless Music Console” application to view what the device is doing from your PC. I say “view” because you can’t really control the device other than transport controls. There is a lame function to add tracks from the music library to the now playing list, but it’s not really very useful. What I expected was a PC version of the UI that appears on the RF remote control. In addition the MediaSource app does not let you “target” the SBWM device; you can’t use it to select what to play either…it only plays via the local PC’s soundcard. Too bad.
There is a significant (2 second?) lag when using the transport controls on both the RF Remote and the Console (next track). Pause is instant on the RF remote, and very slow (2 seconds) from the Console app.
I tested the range of the RF remote and found I could get about 30-40’ from the SBWM before it stopped working. When it’s out of range nothing works (it appears that all UI is generated on the PC and remoted somehow to the remote).
The Wireless Music Media Server app is an app. It cannot run as a service, so if you log out the server stops.
I tried playing some lossless WMA content, even though the Creative website indicates only bitrates up to 192kpbs are supported for WMA. I got no error message, but no sound either. The “play” status went from play to stop after about 5 seconds.
They support up to four SBWM devices playing at a time. You can have more than 4 on the network, but only 4 can be playing at a time. I’m not sure, but I believe they can all play the same thing simultaneously or you can use them independently. When playing simultaneously I’d be quite surprised if they synchronize the devices such that you can have them in acoustically overlapping rooms and have it sound right…in eHome we figured out how to solve this problem, but it’s fairly complex and I just doubt Creative has addressed it.
End of Review.