Control 4: My House Is An MP3 Player


A lot has been made of the MP3 player you put in your pocket in recent years, but the future belongs to the MP3 player you live in. If you’re looking to fire up digital music in your home you have a few tiers of options: Squeezebox or Roku gets you in the game for $150, Sonos is the Rhapsody-enabled, Mossberg-approved whole home music solution, but Control 4 is the most versatile, affordable, standards-based, programmable home automation plus digital audio solution I’ve seen. I put Control 4 in my house in July with help from my homies at Control 4, Ed from Vantage, Jonathan from So Cal Smart Home, and my main man Matt Pszonak. More than a few IMs from Julie with questions like “why does the light in the hallway keep flashing off and on” will tell you it hasn’t been 100% smooth sailing, but it’s a very cool system once you get it all wired. If you’re looking for a whole-house solution, I don’t think there’s much competition on both price and flexibility.

Control 4 HTC

Here’s how it works in my house: a Control 4 Home Theater Controller (HTC) sits in a rack in my closet, attached to my home network, along with a Control 4 16 channel amp (also networked), Control 4 XM/FM/AM Multi-Tuner (ditto), DirecTV TiVo, and Marantz 8500 A/V Receiver. The receiver is tied into the plasma and 5:1 surround in the living room, and the 16 channel amp is hard-wired to in-ceiling speakers in every room in the house (both living room and in-ceiling speakers are by TruAudio). The HTC has little infrared remotes so it can control the TV, receiver, and TiVo box, and it talks directly to the components on the network. Additionally I swapped all our light switches for Control 4 switches or dimmers as well as our thermostat, and these all talk to the HTC via the Zigbee RF protocol. This allows everything (lights, tv, etc) to be controlled from any Control 4 remotes, of which there are a few options: mini touch screens in the walls (like the photo above), hand-held remotes which are in a few of the rooms, or the hand-held remote + the TV. They’ve done a very good job making the interface 100% consistent across this variety of control points.


But the best part is that I can mount a share from a computer in my home office and the HTC will index all my MP3s, then allow me to pump the audio through any configuration of speakers in the house. The HTC has two analog outputs that plug directly into the amp, so you can listen to two different MP3 streams at once (Zoe can listen to Girl Talk in her room, Julie can listen to James Taylor in Lucinda’s room and the rest of the house). And you can browse by cover art, show a screen saver of the currently playing track on the touch screens in the walls, etc.

For blog post on

Oh I almost forgot. Richard and Jonathan helped me rig up the turntable in the living room so it slides out of the wall unit, plays through the living room system, and is route-able to any or all of the speakers in the rest of the house. Kinda nice.

Whole house music has been my dream since Zoe and I first holed up at Club D for a few weeks in the spring of 1995. I was prepared to go old school analog with little knobs in the wall until Dave Goldberg introduced me to the Control 4 guys. They really seem to be the only ones who get it, leveraging standards like IP, Wifi, Zigbee, and MP3, and creating something reasonably-priced, useful, and easily extended.

Being able to sit in the rocker with Lucinda, turn on the music, turn down the lights, and adjust the heat all from a hand-held remote control the size of the one that comes with a TV is pretty crazy.

A setup like this definitely isn’t for everyone, but I’ve had enough people ask me about what it is and how it works that I wanted to put this post up to explain the basics and have a place to point people when they ask. If you’re looking for a quote, call Jonathan at SoCal Smart Home or the kind folks at Vantage and they’ll hook you up. To be honest I wouldn’t have been able to afford it if I hadn’t gotten the bro discount, but if you’re already in the market for home automation gear you’ll probably find it to be pretty reasonably priced.

Dig the Control 4 pitch reels:

And an update on all the after-market nonsense available from the latest Control 4 trade show:

Trackbacks & Pings

  1. Warner Sells MP3s at Amazon at FISTFULAYEN on 30 Dec 2007 at 12:55 pm

    […] 2: And now, an hour later, I have the Zep collection in my wall (see here for more info on the Control 4 setup I have). No burning, ripping, way less hassle than if I’d have bought from […]

  2. MP3 - Les opportunités manquées at Culture Internet on 16 Jun 2008 at 4:25 pm

    […] je les ai synchronisés sur mon nouvel iPod Nano et je les ai ensuite fait jouer sur mon installation audio à la maison (Control 4), en moins de cinq minutes. ALLELUIA! Il n’a fallu que huit […]

  3. Topspin » CD Quality Digital Downloads and Beyond on 15 Dec 2008 at 12:56 am

    […] I’ve been happy with MP3s since 1997. I listen to music constantly on computers, iPods, and throughout my house via Control 4. But with these headphones I was suddenly longing for CD quality audio instead of […]

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  1. Tracy wrote:

    OMFG, that is so sick! I don’t know what else to say.

  2. jonvoss wrote:

    wow. it’s a long way from topanga.

  3. Anna wrote:

    This is all very nice except that the system just does not work. These guys charge tons of money (we paid tens of thousands of dollars), but once they are gone you realize that you paid for the system that is not operational. We contacted the dealer (Larry, the owner of WesternAudioVideo). Once he received the money, he forgot about us and moved forward, never responded. We contacted the company and initially they tried to help (to my surprise), but then admitted that the problems are much bigger than they initially estimated, so they pointed us to the dealer. Well, now we are stuck! It is hard to scan the CDs to the system, takes a lot of time and then effort of identifying them, a lot of times the system reads tracks as separate CDs , so there is a mess. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. So to summarize, Control4 sells the system which is still in the development stage for hell of a lot of money. If you want a headache instead of a pleasure, go buy it!

  4. mama wrote:

    agree with Anna.
    Dealers are so secretive and the mfg company is not consumer friendly at all.

    We bought a home that already has the Control4 system however after thousands of dollars it still not working as it should be.

    We also want to make some changes( change location and addition) on the lighting switches however it will cost TON of money. Since the dearlers charge so much and work so,,,

  5. James Gist wrote:

    Hello Anna,

    I’m sorry you have had a poor experience with our dealers.

    We sell a consumer version of our software that gives you the ability to modify lighting, media and more, Composer Home Edition. Additionally, I’d be happy to help you find a dealer more suitable to your needs. Please contact me to discuss.

    VP Hospitality Control4

  6. Randy wrote:

    My control 4 system has down syndrome. It can function properly sometimes, but has problems with basic funtions (it take 5 minutes to que two cd’s to play in various parts of the house. This an and ongoing list of about 15 other “bug” in the system affecting DVD, video survailiance, even the door bell. Our dealer has been great, Steve at Mountain Systems, but he has over 100 hours of trouble shooting over the past 8 months, with the same problems. We have found the fix, take a long rope attach it to your controll 4 system, it will work great as an anchor.

  7. Mark wrote:

    I have a C4 system here in the UK running 10 rooms of lighting, ipod dock, home theatre room with stored DVD playback via a netgear media player and 9 rooms of audio plus gate entry and IP cameras etc The system is wonderful and I have no problems with it. The Home edition software is easy to use and makes scanning DVD titles and albums very straight forward. Problems with
    any system of this type are usually to do with poor programming or network issues. I`ve only called C4 in the UK once but they were more than helpful.

  8. Control f-you wrote:

    Yes, I have to say we have similar complaints. Our remote seems to work randomly sometimes with a 30 second delay. This doesn’t seem like much but when you fast forwarding a TV show and you press the play button 30 seconds puts you into the next set of commercials. Then I bought an Xbox 360 to hook up, and of course I have to have them come do it because I have no idea how their system works. So, frustrating!!!

  9. Nancy wrote:

    We have a Control 4 system in our house also. We moved in our new, custom built house in Sept. 2007. We have had continuous problems with Control 4. Service has been erratic from the dealer we purchased from. OUr latest problem is that the radio came on full blast sound at 2:30 a.m. The touch pads on the wall would not work so we could not turn down the sound. The remote touch pad also would not work. We finally had to turn off the speakers. Prior to the radio starting up there was a series of loud beeps which I thought was our NOAA radio alert for severe weather. (This NOAA Radio is not connected to Control 4.) Every time we have an electrical storm the light switches do not operate properly – the slave wall switches willnot operate. The Tv's do not operate. We are constantly having to call for service. We are not happy with this system at all. What can be done? Question: Does the dealer who installed our system have the capability to turn on and off our system within our home from a remote location? I donot like someone else being in control of my home and the way it functions. I prefer to be in complete control. Is that possible with Control 4?

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