Philips Fidelio DS8550
Thursday, 03 November 2011
A case in point is a Phillips iPhone/iPod charger clock radio I have. God knows why I bought it – it functions OK and wakes me up, in its favour. But the writing on the tiny buttons is really hard to see and I have to read the damn manual even if I want to change the time for daylight saving. Nothing is straightforward, with arcane combinations of buttons nobody could ever remember to change anything, and buttons so small and unresponsive that we keep pressing the wrong ones to turn the radio on or off or change the volume, even.
And it won’t charge my iPhone while it’s in its case, so I gave up using it that way, anyway. So it was with a little trepidation that I volunteered to review a Philips device.
But the Fidelio DS8550 turned out to be a very pleasant surprise, partly because the interface got handed off to a free Fidelio app that lets you control the player on the iDevice you have connected is really good, and partly because it sounds great. And maybe Philips having to to adhere to Apple’s app guidelines was a good thing, since the app is not only good, it’s genuinely useful.
On an iPod touch/iPhone, there are successive screens to swipe through – on an iPad, they all fit on the one page.
Fidelio docking speakers have ‘Advanced PureDigital’ sound processing, quite different to the analogue audio processing found in many other docking speakers, and it’s an important distinction, as you’ll see when we get to Sound.
With the DS8550, your iDevice music can be played directly with it attached via the dock, or remotely up to about 10 metres via Bluetooth. (Of course, if you dock it physically, it’s also charging.)
The range’s docking connector allows iPods, iPhones, and iPads to be docked without requiring most protective cases to be removed, which is good, too, making it a simple and convenient way for families with multiple Apple products to charge their devices and play their music.
With a device on the dock, though, resist the temptation to rock out ghetto blaster style with the device on your shoulder – the iDevice is not held securely enough. That said, docking it via Bluetooth gets id of that caveat – rock your socks off.
The DS8550 is a curved enclosure with blessedly few controls on the front – power, Bluetooth indicator light, and volume up and down (backlit plus and minus signs), all in a central chrome bezel above the Philips logo.
The rest of the functions either rely on the small curved black remote unit, or the app.
On the back is a power socket for the power supply – which charges up the internal batteries for portability – and a socket for direct connection of non-Bluetooth audio devices.
I imagine the indents in the curved front grille would attract gunk after a time and be hard to clean out.
But if you don’t mind black, it’s not unattractive, and because it’s black, it’s not going to draw much attention to itself anyway.
Sound — Now, I never expect decent sound quality from a plastic enclosure. Wood, sure. Metal … nah. But I cranked this as hard as it would go, with songs that have proved too much for even a few top quality earbuds and ’phones, but this didn’t distort, there was very acceptable definition and, once you start tinkering with the equaliser on your iDevice, you can push bass, treble etc beyond reasonable anyway – but still, it seemed to handle everything I could throw at it.
As the app is an equaliser with presets for flat, pop, rock, jazz and classical – you can slide the sliders yourself, past these, to tailor it more.
With an iPad, this comes into another realm again – for games and movies, and watching band videos (above). You might be able to take the tinny sound of an iPad’s inbuilt speakers, but more likely you’ll plug in ’phones of some description for real audio quality or, like me, run it via an AirPort Express into your stereo, but this can be laggy in GarageBand, for example, with notes emitting a split second after you have played them. That said, I could not play GarageBand on an iDevice via the Philips anyway.
Via Bluetooth with the DS8550, however, there was no perceptible lag and awesome sound quality – and the same for games, of course.
What’s great — sound and build quality – it’s solid and well put together.
What’s not — I’d dread pizza fingers and the fine mesh of the grille.
Needs — Anyone serious about hands-off iDevice sound quality. Perfect for the flat, the kitchen, the batch, the beach or the barbecue. Or just coz you like having cool stuff.
Philips Fidelio DS8550, RRP$399.95 (there are other models in the range all at Noel Leeming stores, plus certain models at Bond and Bond and Dick Smith, with RRPs from $129 to $699). Also in the Apple Store online
System — PureDigital sound clarity into 2x15-watt speakers; optimal acoustic volume to match speakers’ requirements; video stand for hands-free iPad movie watching; built-in rechargeable five-hour (claimed) battery for portability; gaming sound effects via Bluetooth.
Designed for iPod/iPhone/iPad with smart docking connector.
The free Fidelio app lets you get internet radio (if you have a Tune In Radio account), share music and even get your local weather.
Available from — Noel Leeming, maybe Bond & Bond and in the NZ Apple Store online.