As one of the oldest and largest consumer brands in the world that survived the transition to an electronic era, Philips is no stranger to changing with the times, taking steps to make sure they are not being left behind in the latest digital revolution. By introducing its Streamium lineup, the Dutch company is hoping to cut a meaty slice of the Digital Media Receiver (DMR) consumer pie and quickstep their way into an emerging market with tremendous promise.
The WACS700 is the latest of the Streamium series and unlike most DMR’s, consist of a base unit called the Center and a satellite Station that comes with its own inbuilt speakers. Equipped with a 40GB hard drive, the setup is fully independent for its audio data, though music can be transferred through a wireless/Ethernet connection or even ripped on the fly through its slot-in CD-drive. The Center is basically a self-contained hi-fi, which shares its songs with its Stations that can echo or even play to a different beat from its parent simultaneously. Although the WACS700 base comes with one Station out of the box, it can support to five of them - one for each funk filled room.
Surely, the WACS700's premium looks can be compared to the likes of high-end consumer electronics bigwig, Bang & Olufsen. With an intricate glass panel flushed upon the face of the music station and mounted upon a tastefully crafted metal base, there is no doubt that Philips is dead serious about the design of the WACS700 and is going all out to seduce consumers with style. Lined up along the front panel are precision engineered buttons for menu navigation that subtly blends in with its minimalist look, along with a discrete display screen. The WACS700's Station unit is basically a mini-me version of the Center without the CD drive. Overall, both Center and Station are beautiful, but there are some issues that could have been addressed - such as non-backlit buttons and its small display screens.
The Center's infrared remote-control doesn't disappoint with tasteful matching looks as well as a generous 6-line display screen smack right in the middle of the controller. At any one time, the screen displays half a dozen lines of information, segregated according to playlist, album, artist, genre and track. Even the smaller Station has its own matching remote control, albeit much smaller and without the display information. However, the lack of a proper keyword search on the remotes make finding a particular song more difficult that it has to be.
At the top of the Center unit is a slot-in CD drive, which can rip audio CDs on-the-fly. However, if you've a huge CD collection, be warned that the drive rips at an un-inspirational speed, and might take quite a while to go through every title you have kept since Duran Duran was all the rage. Thankfully, the WACS700 has a built-in Gracenote CD database to make up for its snail pace ripping; the Gracenote feature automatically searches its database and tags the appropriate song information to the newly created audio files, saving you the trouble of manually entering the details. In case you are wondering how the Gracenote program is supposed to identify new albums that are recently released, it can be updated through the web via the Center's Ethernet port.
If this is the first time you've setup a streaming media station, you'll be delighted with the ease of use and unique features such as simultaneous broadcasting or the Music Follow Me mode, which as its name implies, has your songs follow you through each room with a Station by a click of the remote. Unfortunately, one thing that we felt odd was its inability to shuffle songs when the center is broadcasting. Music has to be stopped entirely and restarted for the ‘broadcast mode' to switch tracks.
Although the WACS700 is targeted at the mainstream consumer, the inbuilt speakers surprised us with a lively performance. Mid and high notes on both the Center and Station units were sharp and clear, but their compact profiles probably limited what could have been superior sub woofers. While it does boast an ability to fill a room more then adequately with good audio output, audiophiles shouldn't be expecting amazing performance from the WACS700.
The WACS700 truly breaks the mold from other DMRs as it clearly creates an experience that will allow consumers that are not extremely tech-savvy to feel at home with its friendly features such as on-the-fly ripping and Gracenote database. Even those who are more familiar with networking and DMRs, the attractiveness of an all-in-one solution minus all the messy wires is irresistible – with that in mind the Phillips WACS700 Streamium Wireless Music Center and Station surely deserves to exist in every household for light audio entertainment.