The Philips DCM230 is a stylish CD player and iPod docking station. We've seen a few offerings from Philips this year in the digital music category, notably the company's Streamium products. They gained fairly good scores in our tests, but numerous other systems let us down with average sound quality and uninspiring feature sets.
The DCM230 isn't about streaming media, however, it's all about iPods. At around £200 online it's not particularly cheap, but a couple of stand-out features could justify the cost.
There's nothing questionable about the DCM230's design. It has an exceptionally modern image, complimented by a solid build. A self-loading CD drive sits within a highly reflective front panel beneath an LCD display. The display itself is quite pleasant -- it's functional, though oddly akin to a scientific calculator display.
A bunch of buttons sit on top and provide only some of the functionality you'll need -- you'll need the remote for the rest. And while it's fairly understandable to place a USB port on the top, sticking the auxiliary input there is not. We're not fond of scarring the face of an eye-pleasing setup with an unsightly cable. More unusual still is that the headphone socket is right around the back -- these two sockets should've been switched around.
Philips has opted for a solid speaker grille to protect the front-mounted speaker drivers. In many cases a solid speaker grille can interfere with sound, since it physically blocks the movement of air. But the DCM230's grille is perforated with thousands of tiny holes, allowing air to move relatively freely. Choosing this grille suggests elegant design was of paramount importance to Philips, but its implementation is satisfactory.
First, the DCM230 is an iPod dock. But it'll also play CDs -- both audio and MP3/WMA discs -- and MP3/WMA files stored on memory sticks. There's no support for protected WMA content or any lossless audio format, such as WAV, WMA lossless or FLAC. AAC would've been a terrific inclusion but, sadly, that's nowhere to be seen either. Navigating USB contents is tedious: it's just a case of skipping through the alphabetically organised folders, and ID3 tags aren't displayed either. Nonetheless, it's handy for quickly cueing up 2GB of music at a party.
Any iPod with a dock connector works fine with this system, including the new classic, touch, nano and iPhone, and functionality is great as long as you use the lovely supplied remote control. With it you're able to fully browse iPod menus, navigate playlists, and even add items to the 'On-The-Go' playlists. As a token of gratitude, your iPod gets charged while it's docked, even if the system's on standby.
Also crammed into the reflective chassis is an FM/AM radio, a sleep timer and an alarm clock. Setting these up isn't particularly fun. The screen is dominated mainly by massive text, all upper-case and generally scrolling from right to left. It's something you'd get used to, but we didn't particularly want to. Still, it serves its purpose, albeit in a clunky fashion.
We earlier highlighted two points about the DCM230's navigation: firstly, it's very enjoyable to browse with an iPod; but secondly, when browsing USB contents or setting timers, it's anything but. So it's safe to say this is a nice system if you're an iPod owner. Our hope was that we'd hear great performance from the two 15W speakers, each backed up by reflex ports and Philips' Dynamic Bass Boost option.
First on our playlist was Graphite, the brand-new track from Aussie D'n'B rockers Pendulum. At low volume, without the Philips DBB bass enhancement, sound quality was as we'd expect. That is to say, it was clear but lacking any thump. With DBB switched on, the bass instantly packs a hell of a punch and adds that much-needed rumble in the low end. Thrust the volume up to the max, however, and the bass is rather overpowering. With DBB switched off, it's too underpowered. The natural bass produced by the system is below average, so it relies on the DBB enhancement.
Moving on to some pseudo-emo geek rock, a track by Weezer sounded generally decent enough, but mids were slightly muddy, resulting in the the twin guitars losing their individuality. Also, in the high end, the slightly panned tambourine blended into cymbals played throughout the song. There's much to be said for the volume of the DCM230, which goes pretty high and is easily enough to fill a room. But definition is lost as a result and the subtly muffled mids become more noticeable.
A little acoustic rock from Dashboard Confessional sounded good, though. With DBB enabled, there was a certain prominence to the deep toms used by the drummer, but it was acceptable. The steel strings of the acoustic guitars sounded good and the high vocal lines cut through nicely.
With a slick design, great build and intuitive integration with iPods, the DCM230 pretty much justified its £200 price tag. There's nothing particularly outstanding here and audiophiles will immediately criticise the sub-hi-fi audio performance, which is very average. But for the casual listener and music fan, there's not much to complain about.
It's not the single most enjoyable system to operate, but with a little practice and a less critical ear, the DCM230 has the potential to please many.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide