Most people who have large collections of music stored on a home computer would benefit from some sort of streaming solution to send their favourites tunes around the home, but many of the excellent solutions on offer from Philips and Logitech, among others, can be rather expensive. Creative recently turned up with a "stripped down" version of a typical streaming solution for audio in the Sound Blaster Wireless for iTunes, which consists of a receiver and transmitter that must be connected via USB and composite to a computer and stereo system respectively.
Set-up is very straightforward and though Creative does supply you with a veritable wealth of software to control playback and adjust audio, in truth the product works right from the box by simply plugging it in and installing the drivers. Whichever option you choose, most users should be up and running inside a few minutes and at this point we'll highlight the first main advantage the product offers that wouldn't seem immediately obvious.
Despite being labelled "For iTunes", it's actually possible to stream from any software you use to play back music on a computer, since this is all done through a separate audio controller device that is set-up during installation. If you don't keep a library in iTunes or are interested in streaming other sources such as internet radio, this is perfectly possible, and we'd question the merits of potentially narrowing its target audience with such a label.
The flipside to this degree of flexibility is that you're going to have to mess around with Windows audio settings to change the device that handles playback more often than you'd like, an issue that's inherent in all devices of this type.
Regardless, once correctly configured any audio that is opened will play back on the stereo system the receiver is connected to. The device works at (allegedly) up to 100 feet, and though we weren't able to confirm this maximum range, we were very pleased by its performance during our tests.
Once playback has started the user has some degree of control thanks to the supplied remote, though this only offers volume and track skip functionality as you're effectively working blind unless your computer is within easy reach. The fact that you have full control over music selection and playlists means that this problem isn't as detrimental as it could have been, but it's still far more awkward than rival solutions that allow you to view a collection from another room as once playback has started, you're tied to the chosen tracklist until you return to a computer to change it.
Despite these rather significant issues we were impressed by the streaming performance and using the supplied software, Creative allows you to apply any of a number of EAX or X-Fi affects to audio. Generally speaking this puts the device up there with the best on the market in terms of quality. Other benefits include the ability to pick up multiple receivers to "broadcast" tunes to different rooms in the home at the same time and compatibility with other wireless products such as speakers and headphones would add appeal for some users.
It's difficult to offer a clear recommendation for Creative's wireless solution and even though it's compact, well designed, very easy to use and offers superb streaming performance, the lack of control over playback and occasional tweaks required of the OS to control audio devices will undoubtedly put a lot of people off.
Alternative solutions such as the recently released WDTV Live offer a comparable experience with the benefit for handling video and photos for a similar price, and in this light we don't think there'd be many instances where the Sound Blaster Wireless for iTunes would be considered a better choice.