Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Philips Wireless Music Centre
- Attractive design, outstanding performance, impressive range
- No CD streaming available, navigation could be better, music sorting confusing
This is a great idea and is implemented beautifully. While are other units out there that do the same thing, this unit screams quality, elegance and innovation.
Price$ 1,699.00 (AUD)
The potential for wireless technology to change the way we live is limitless and mainstream consumers are just starting to experience some of the many benefits. Wouldn't it be great, for example, to broadcast your favorite music throughout your house so no matter where you go, the music is there to greet you? Well now, thanks to Philips, you can do exactly that.
The Philips Wireless Music Centre makes the wireless home a reality by using a 'core unit' on which music is stored and several 'satellite units' which can wirelessly access and play music. The Core unit of the Music Centre is a 40GB hard drive which is used to store and share music. It also has a very stylish slot loaded CD drive which can either play CDs or copy tracks to the hard drive in MP3 format, using the GraceNote music database. The Wireless Music Centre also has an FM radio option which works very well once the supplied antenna is attached. There are quite a few slots for preset stations and a highly accurate tuner which increases in increments of 0.05 for finer tuning.
Each Philips Wireless Music Centre system ships with a core unit, and a smaller unit which is identical in design but contains no hard drive or CD drive. Up to five of these smaller units can be installed around the home and are able to access the music stored on the central core units' hard drive. All the satellites can also work in FM and Aux modes and have all the features of the core unit, with the exception of CD playback. Since the CD player on the server unit cannot be streamed over the WiFi connection, this makes the satellites restricted to playing only music stored on the hard drive and the FM radio.
Both the core and satellites share the same sleekly futuristic design and both suffer the same flaws. We think the best part of the design is the rounded edges and the hidden speakers which are behind two panels on either side of the device that are finished with the same material at the face of the unit. This makes them blend into the general aesthetic of the system and don't seem to hamper sound reproduction in any way, resulting in a unit that looks great, sounds great and would make an attractive addition to any home. The core unit and the satellites all come with mounting brackets so you can permanently attach them to strategic locations around the house. This is worth doing just for the 'drool factor' from envious friends.
The central server unit also has an Ethernet port so it can be connected to a PC for further connectivity and file transfers. The unit can also stream media from the PC but this can be done either with the Ethernet connection or wirelessly via WiFi. The system comes with a Philips proprietary software which is used to sync your windows based system to the main device and facilitates file transfers. When a CD is inserted into the device and you press the record button a list of the tracks on the CD appears and each track can be individually chosen to be copied to the hard drive. Another press of the record button and the copying/encoding process begins. The average CD takes about 5 minutes to copy, which isn't too bad at all.
The system uses the ID3 Tags within the MP3s to organise the files into artist, album and genre categories which are used in the on-screen menu to group the files. Unfortunately, this makes the system very susceptible to messy file structures as most people don't have uniform ID3 tags and some only have ID2 tags on their files. We transferred a Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds album to the unit with ID2 tags and all the files came up on the menu system as No "Track Name Found". Every track on the album was labeled the same in the menu system which meant that we had a folder called "No Album Name Found" with 12 tracks in it called "No Track Name Found". Users will have to make sure their files are properly labeled before transferring them, if they want to get the most out of this system. An easier system for this unit would to simply use file structures for the tracks. Replicating the windows file structures shouldn't be too difficult but no mp3 players on the market seem to want to attempt it.
The Philips uses a 802.11 G WiFi connection between the units which we range tested and were very impressed. We tested it through thick walls and it was flawless, we also tested it upstairs and had no problems. In fact in every location within our office, no matter how far it was from the unit, we had full signal strength and flawless playback. This may be a compliment to the unit or an insult to the size of our office, we aren't too sure.
A let down to the design are the buttons used for navigation control. While they perform well, we didn't find them too attractive and they didn't feel as sturdy as the rest of the unit. Both the core and satellite units have a monochrome screen for navigation which is poorly implemented as it is very low resolution and detracts from the overall design. It works much like iPod navigation but with fewer options and we would have much preferred a more intuitive colour LCD touchscreen.
There are also buttons on the face of the device for the "Follow me" and "Broadcast" modes. When Follow Me is clicked the core unit starts to broadcast the music you have selected, but it is not picked up on the satellite units unless the Follow Me button is pressed there are well. In Broadcast mode, all satellites automatically begin playing the track being played on the core unit. Let's assume you have 5 satellites in your home and you are having a party. One click of the broadcast unit would have the same music throughout the house, pushing the party into overdrive.
We didn't expect the sound quality of these units to be high and at the highest volume, we got what we expected. However at most volumes the sound preproduction is quite good, although we did notice that much bass is lost in regular playback modes. This can be corrected by enabling the surround mode (another button on the unit) which tends to add bass and volume to the music. There are also quite a few preset equaliser options and even a button which will automatically choose the EQ that's right for the tune. The volume of the unit was quite remarkable, to the point that we felt ashamed to play it at its pinnacle for fear of the wrath of fellow co-workers.
The Philips Wireless Music Centre also comes with a 2-way remote that has a small LCD screen at the top. At all times the screen displays the same thing as display on the core unit. The remote worked well but we experienced quite a bit of interference from our Plasma TV.
While the Music Centre is a hot product and does some pretty cool things, the technology itself is not new and it's really the price point which makes this so attractive. The Sonos Digital Music System is very similar but has the added advantage of a roaming remote control with a large LCD screen. Of course, the Sonos retails at around $2399 so the Philips is much cheaper, especially when you consider that extra satellite units for the Philips only cost $599 each. The Olive Musica also performs similar functions to the Philips but has an advantage in that it has full iPod connectivity.
With its striking design, useful features and affordable price tag, the Philips Wireless Music Centre has certainly done its bit for the wireless revolution.
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