Before we start on how well the Philips Fidelio AS851 Docking Station performed with our test tracks, we would like to touch on the DockStudio application. Available as a free download from the Google Play market (formerly known as the Android Marketplace) the application helps establish the Bluetooth link between the dock and your speakers. While this process is not instantaneous, the waiting time was not significantly long or bothersome.
The application also has a built in alarm clock, access to internet radio and also displays the weather. Since the dock is for charging only, you can pull out your Android device from the plug out and walk around with it without the music skipping a beat (well until at least you're still in the vicinity of its functional range). However if you do receive a call on your phone, music streaming will cease until the call ends. Voice playback is not supported by the Philips AS851.
While the 3-inch drivers on the Fidelio AS851 are not as large as the DS9/10’s 3.5-inch drivers, they are still quite impressive for a docking station. The speakers have the necessary hardware to deliver sound and the curved design employed by Philips for the Fidelio range has proven itself in previous iterations. But will the lossy A2DP Bluetooth profile used for streaming music wirelessly adversely impact audio quality and performance?
To see if that is the case, we started off with the Adele’s blend of soul, hip-hop and RnB in the shape of Melt My Heart To Stone. The AS851 displayed strong, robust mids with a very strong center channel. This lead to the vocals hogging the spotlight, while other aspects of the song took a backseat. The underlying melody and string work was lost and we also did not hear the floaty reverb on the guitars that make this track normally enjoyable. The cymbals and bass drum thumps also sounded muffled and lacked their usual color.
Continuing with the trend of strong central projection, Sail On Soothsayer had solid projection as well. While the highs, experienced with the chiming guitar parts, were good, they lacked that certain bit of crispness which would classify them as truly great. Distortion was also way too muddy for our liking. Once again the AS851 delivered on the main part of the song but did not do justice to the entire mix.
On Hotel California, the docking station finally displayed evidence of having left and right channels as the staggered percussive melodies could be clearly discerned with their directionality intact. However, the soundstage was still very constricted and did not build up the live atmosphere of the track. Transient response was passable, but the shakers could definitely have sounded better.
We ended our listening tests with DJ Tiesto’s Elements Of Life. The forward momentum of certain passages was well captured by the Fidelio AS851. But once again the lack of adequate width for the soundstage made the track lose some of its ambient vibe. Another aspect of the docking station that this song brought to the fore was its lack of definition for the lower frequencies. Bass could have done with some much needed tightness as it sounded loose and sprawling during our playback of the track.
|Hotel California - The Eagles||8.0|
|Sail on Soothsayer - Buckethead||7.0|
|Melt My Heart to Stone - Adele||7.5|
|Elements of Life - Tiesto||7.0|
On the whole, the Philips Fidelio AS851 docking station delivers good mids with a strong center channel. A constricted soundstage and subpar low frequency performance puts it a few pegs below its more illustrious compatriot the DS9/10. When tasked with more intricate tracks, it falters, quite possibly due to the lossy A2DP standard which is used for wireless streaming and audio playback. When tried out with some lossless recordings, the details and subtle nuances of the tracks were absent.