I've re-installed the latest firmware and can now tell you the Linksys WMLS11B is "Recommended" but users should take careful note of the limited quality of the LCD screen and other limitations of this hardware.
You'll need to download version 1.09 of the firmware and upgrade in order to be able to play more than 10 songs on a playlist.
Pros: Good Audio, Low Price, Functions as Standalone Player and Bridge to Stereo System, Wireless Range Good, Excellent Choice for Internet Radio (mp3 streams only)
Cons: LCD Screen Unreadable, Windows Only Software.
Linksys Hits Some Highs -- And Lows -- With A Wireless Music System
The Linksys WMLS11B Wireless Music System comes at consumers with a "One Product for Everyone" approach. While it manages to hit some strong notes, it also loses the rhythm at some important moments during the dance.
As consumers consider what product to buy, this new offering will entice many. But those who thought they were buying a ticket to the symphony may be disappointed an entire section of the orchestra didn't show up. (The LCD screen!)
If you've got, or are thinking of installing, a wireless home network, and you want to take your digital music collection beyond the confines of the computer, this product could be of interest to you.
This unit is well suited to playback of Internet radio stations. As a standalone player, it is perfectly adequate if somewhat underpowered. Connected to a stereo system, its sound quality will surprise you.
The Linksys WMLS11B Wireless Music System is really two products in one package. It offers users a standalone stereo system that will play their digital music files from a Windows computer on their home network...wired or wireless. It will also play internet radio stations. It does this with a pair of powered speakers that will work nicely in kitchens, bedrooms, on porches, patios and around pools.
As a standalone unit, the Linksys WMLS11B Wireless Music System is limited by speakers not unlike inexpensive computer speakers with very limited power to drive them. They don't sound bad, but you'll have the volume up between 75% and 100% most of the time and, trust me, the neighbors won't be calling to complain.
Second, the Linksys Wireless Music System can function as a wired or wireless bridge between your digital music library on the hard drive of a computer on your network to your stereo system. In that case, the small speakers can be disconnected and stored away.
The audio quality is really very good. No annoying hiss, pops, static or distortion. You get full bass response, or perhaps we should say whatever your stereo system is capable of delivering when used in this manner.
The digital optical output on the receiver should offer excellent results connecting to high-end systems. I haven't tested that yet, but I'm working on it. I'll post an update when its ready.
I've connected the analog output to a compact stereo system and compared it to the original CD playing through a computer and the same system.
(In the test case it was Richard Strauss' Eine Alpensinfonie recorded on Deutche Grammophon in pure digital format. The file was an MP3 encoded using LAME at 160kb/s.)
It was a very close match. I admit, I was a bit surprised at just how close it was. No, I was MORE than just a bit surprised. It was difficult to tell the difference.
Used in either method, the LCD screen users must depend on to browse and select those music files is woefully inadequate. It's unreadable in all but optimum viewing circumstances.
Still, I'm not writing this product off. It's versatility is its strong note.
Linksys is taking this to market at a street price of around $140. Along the way, they've made compromises to reach that price point. The small LCD screen is the most glaring. But Linksys may be betting that's the compromise most consumers are willing to make at this price level.
The Linksys WMLS11B Wireless Music System comes in a tightly-packed box containing the following:
The main Wireless Receiver
2 powered speakers
A metal base plate to add stability to the above
Good Remote Control plus 2 AAA batteries
An Ethernet cable for setup
RCA cable to connect to the speakers or a compact stereo
12 Volt DC power supply
Additional cable to power speakers
CD disc containing Setup Wizard and Manual in PDF format
MusicMatch Basic is also on the CD
Printed Quick Installation Guide
Unwrapping this, you can't help but get the impression that Linksys has put a lot of thought into getting all of this into one small package.
Before you start to setup this system, be sure to get two DNS server addresses from your router or your ISP. You need them. Once you get into the setup, you won't be able easily find out what they are. The same goes for your WEP encryption key.
This WMLS11B Wireless Music System must have been rushed to market. The Setup "Wizard" didn't work very well for me at all. My router is a Linksys BEFSR41 and when I followed the instructions and plugged into the router and tried to find the Music System it failed...about 10 times.
Finally, I just plugged it into my computer and it showed up right away.
Kudos to Linksys for providing a wired ethernet jack on this unit that has a switch to make it either a "Straight Through" connection or a "Crossover" connection. You would use "Straight Through" if connecting to your router and slide that tiny switch to "Crossover" when connecting the cable to your computer.
The Quick Installation Guide is pretty clear on most issues. But they kind of muddle up the "Wired" vs. "Wireless" configuration issue. Basically, you want to go through setup in the "Wired" mode. But as you do the setup, you say you will be using it in "Wireless" mode when you're done (if that's how you'll actually be using the product.)
I strongly suggest giving the unit a static address. Then, you'll always be able to point your browser at that address and access the configuration page, the "Favorites page where you enter the URL's of internet radio stations (mp3 streams only!) or the status page of the unit. Once you give it an address, be sure to enter it in your router, complete with the gateway etc.Top
Someone put a lot of thought into this, too. The neutral grey plastic base half is offset by a reflective silver top half including the speaker grills. Curves on the base plate and just below the infrared remote sensor add a touch of flair. It's neutral and goes with just about anything...but not so neutral as a lot of computer peripherals out there.
The easiest control is from the remote, but there are navigation buttons on the unit itself for Play, Stop, Browse Up, Down, Left and Right. The lighted power button is a nice touch.
The main unit has 2 RCA analog audio plugs for output plus a digital optical output for connecting to a stereo system.
The DC power unit happily has its own AC cord. Rated at 1.5 Amps, the unit is a bit bulky and would have taken up both sockets of a wall outlet, otherwise.
Using the WMLS11B as a standalone system, it's a simple setup. The Quick Installation Guide is very clear about the wiring. There's an addition "Guide" in the form of a sticker attached to the back of one of the speakers.
What isn't pictured in Linksys' brochure is the mess of cables hanging out beneath it when you're done. While I understand the need for some "length" for those cables, the setup seems to beg for a short length of that "ribbed" plastic tubing to organize the whole thing.
Having complained, I should note the length of the RCA cables is perfectly suited for connecting to the inputs of a compact stereo system instead of the powered speakers.
You've spent the last month and a half ripping all of your CD collection to MP3 files. There are more than 2,000 albums with even more artists because some of the discs are compilations of various artists.
Trying to get through all of that requires being able to easily browse the library by artist, album or song title.
Moreover, it depends on being able to SEE what's on the LCD screen that measures about 1.5 inches by 3.5 inches.
Sadly, you can't. At least not easily. I'm sitting in front of the computer and the Linksys unit is about 24" away from me. It is at eye level. I can read it fine. But if I stand up or move to 4 feet away, I can't read it anymore.
It's not quite as bad as shown here! At this kind of distance you can read it clearly...but you can see from the pixels in the 1/9 at the bottom that the resolution just isn't good at all. The little image at the top left is signal strength.
I wanted a unit I could take outside by the pool and listen to my favorite music. Reading the LCD in bright sunlight is impossible.
An apparent bug in the firmware (1.07 that shipped with the unit refused to play more than 10 songs on any playlist. See "Support" below for more on this problem.
(I confess, I'm using SlimServer from SlimDevices to "stream"
my music from the Linux server. Instead of an internet radio station, I
entered the address and port number of my SlimServer into the Linky's "Favorites"
For some information on Slimserver as a workaround to the 10-song limit, see the Appendix at the end of this review.
You can see the LCD if it is at eye-level. You also will find you have to be looking straight at it because readability drops off sharply if your viewing angle is to the left and right and, especially, above or below the screen.
It works nicely on a bedside table...okay on a kitchen counter if you're seated nearby. It will work on the floor of your living room if you like to lie down. But even if it's on the table in front of you, you're going to have to bend down to read it!
It's reverse video with light white letters and a dark blue background. You are tempted in some circumstances to pick up the unit to get a better look, which can freeze up the menus as you alter the antenna's lock on the wireless access point.
The remote control that comes with the Linksys Wireless Music System is, indeed, useful. In fact, I think most users will agree that its indispensable when trying to navigate the menus quickly and easily.
Here is a list of buttons...
Playlist ( MusicMatch)
You quickly learn how to access and play internet radio or local streams you've got running on your network by using the "Favorites" key. As you load a station, you'll be prompted whether you want to save it as one of your 20 "Favorites."
Still, if you dreamed of lying back on the sofa and picking out tunes from across the room, forget it. The visibility of the LCD monitor just isn't good enough.
At the outset, I told you Linkys made some compromises. This is another one of them.
Instead of designing and building their own software package to get the most out of the WMLS11B Wireless Music System hardware, Linksys took the quick and easy route.
MusicMatch Basic is bundled with this product. It has a server that runs in the background on your computer. It will play MP3, WAV, WMA files "and more" according to the documentation. It will NOT play REAL audio or Apple iTunes downloaded music.
MusicMatch, Linksys notes, has won a lot of industry awards for its ease-of-use and quality. Having said that, they should have added that MusicMatch is also in the business of making money and will be hounding you every time you open or close the software to upgrade to a paid version of their product.
Essentially, they've built the WMLS11B Wireless Music System on a piece of software you can get free on the internet. That's not necessarily bad, but it has limitations.
Chief among those limitations, for me, is that it requires Windows. As noted, my home network has a little Linux server. (See a Review of the Toshiba Magnia Server here.)
To use the Linksys system I now have to run not only the server, but a Windows Behemoth with all 5 PCI slots filled, 3 hard drives, and, well you get the idea. In addition, some family members have Apple MACs and therefore can't build playlists or access the software with their computers.
There is no provision to search for song titles or albums using the unit. You can search for music in the MusicMatch software, however.
The software will rip MP3 files from your CD's. I haven't used it for that and don't intend to. I like LAME encoded MP3 files.
For $20 you can upgrade to MusicMatch Jukebox Plus and be able to rip at speeds 8X that of basic. You also get faster burning for CD's and an automatic tag system.
First, the support. Telephone support was very fast. Barely a minute passed after I had punched in the numbers required to get to a specialist for this music system.
My question: Why does the WMLS11B Wireless Music System refuse to play more than 10 songs on a playlist?
Suddenly, I found myself talking to a guy in the south of India. I tried a few times to get someone in the U.S. but failed. Taking into account corporate America's constant striving to bring you and me, the customers and investors, lower prices and higher profits, I finally settled on India. It was a practical move as well, since they are now answering all of Linksys' support telephones.
I found Raj to be be courteous, friendly, dedicated, sincere and very much like me. Neither one of us had a clue why it wouldn't play more than 10 songs on the playlists.
After an hour, I said goodbye. We had gone through just about everything. I think we both learned a lot about the product we didn't know before. I'll flash the firmware again when the thunderstorms stop around here. Raj was kind of sad to hear I had to hang up.
Now, the humor. This is taken from the Linksys' FAQ on this product.
When I listen to music, I hear too much bass/midrange/treble. How can I make adjustments?
Linksys advises to adjust the equalizer (EQ) settings from the main menu on the Media Link where there are six pre-sets to choose from.
Now, gearscout would have offered troubled users some different advice: If you hear too much bass on this unit (as a standalone) go to the nearest hospital emergency room and have your ears checked! You're going deaf!
I really struggled with this one. I love the concept. It's well built, and I do want to check out what it sounds like using that digital optical output. (Those cables cost $60-$100)
The sound quality connected to a stereo is much better than I expected. Arguably, it could use a bit more power to drive it. (I have NOT been using Rush Limbaugh's pharmacist...)
As a standalone unit, I never thought it would have great sound with two small speakers. It's alright in my kitchen and bedroom and out on the porch. At the pool, I wish it had a bit more power. I think it's easy to criticize the standalone performance but you have to consider the cost and be a bit realistic, folks.
But can I ignore the shortcomings? Do I want to say this is worth buying when I know you can't read the LCD screen 4 feet away from the unit?
We have to say YES...with some qualifications. The LCD screen's inadequacy might be tolerable so long as you know what you're getting. As a standalone unit, this is comparable to an FM radio with a CD player. As a bridge between your digital library and your stereo system it sounds much better, but you can't read the LCD screen to browse for music unless you're on top of the unit.
It is also an excellent choice for listening to commercial-free internet radio. If that's the case, you don't have to deal with turning on a computer at all...let your network and the WMLS11B Wireless Music System do the work.
Serious audiophiles who want to be able to sit down, relax and select single tracks from across the room are definitely going to be looking somewhere else. The MusicMatch software only accommodates Windows users. So MAC or Linux users will be looking elsewhere, too.
Where will they look? Probably at SlimDevices. The Squeezebox costs more than the Linksys WMLS11B but it is a product that is supported in ALL operating systems and has a flourescent screen that's readable from across the room.
See the Appendix for a link to SlimDevices homepage. It is, arguably, the standard against which all others are measured in this field.
I don't know how good the ripper that comes bundled with MusicMatch is, but I know what I like. Jackie Franke's Audiograbber. Read the files at this link and download a copy. See how you can incorporate LAME as your default encoder.
Download or Get more information about (Free!) Audiograbber here.
Another audio ripping program that's free and some users love (and also uses the superior LAME encoder) is ExactAudioCopy. Download it here:
Download or get more information about Exact Audio Copy here.
If you're just starting out to create your own digital music library -- do some research.
What bitrate do you want to use? Sure, they say 128kb/s is "CD quality" but a lot of people will tell you that doesn't come along until 192kb/s. (The higher the bitrate, the bigger the files and the more diskspace you'll need.)
What programs enable you to insert tags automatically? (Audiograbber does...MusicMatch wants $20 more from you) They look them up at places like freedb.org and insert them so you don't have to type in the artist, album name, songtitle, length, genre etc. for every entry.
Do you want artists as directories and their albums as subdirectories? I urge you not to just "dump" all the music in one big directory.
Plan your library. Get lots of information first and then decide. Then, be sure to back it up.
MP3.com has a section of tutorials that can help you understand the process. MP3.com Tutorials
DailyMP3Software.com keeps links to all the latest programs you can download over the internet to create MP3 tags, catalogues, rippers, burners and the like. Very handy.
Audiogalaxy.com has lots of resources for music, hardware, software and information. You can also download Rhapsody here.
You can get a lot of the advice for free by just doing a search on MP3 + Forum where you'll find millions of pages of forum discussions on every topic imaginable. There's a lot of good advice out there...and some NOT so good. You be the judge.
The ExactAudioCopy link above also has lots of information on different encoders and techniques.
A Powerful Piece of Server Software
MusicMatch needs Windows. A much more elegant solution is a server that produces web pages that can be browsed by any computer runnning any operating system.
Why not check out a free copy of SlimDevices Slimserver software? You can use Slimserver, that I mentioned above, to stream a playlist of any size to the Linksys WMLS11B Wireless Music System. (Sadly, it isn't recognized as a "server" by the Linksys Wireless Music System, so its powerful browse and search features can't be used by the Linksys hardware...)
Just click on "Support" to go to the Slimserver download page. SlimDevices makes a competing adapter only meant for connecting to stereo systems. I hope to post a review of that soon. They have an "open" approach and their server software comes ready to load in Windows, MAC, and Linux versions. No matter which computer is doing the serving, other computers can see the files, create playlists, browse or search.
You must turn on the Linksys Adapter and have it "playing" the stream FIRST, so that Slimserver can assign its player address before you can select songs for a playlist. Just enter the address of the computer running Slimserver along with the port number and stream name in your "Favorites" page on the Linksys Music System.
Under the "Station Name" you can enter something like "SliMP3" and under the "Station URL you would enter:
Substitute those first numbers, not highlighted, for whatever address you have given your computer running the SlimServer software. Because it's a stream, you can't forward to the next cut on the list, but at least it plays, repeats, and shuffles a list of any size.