For anyone after a home cinema setup without moving into the realms of HD discs and surround sound, Philips' MCD908 could be an affordable answer. On the one hand, it's a simple 2.0-channel cinema-in-a-box. On the other, it's a stylish upscaling DVD player with a hi-fi valve preamp, aimed at the audiophile.
But as any audiophile will tell you, £239 does not generally buy you even a pair of premium headphones, let alone a full-blown audio system. So what exactly has Philips squeezed into this attractive system to make it throw around terms like 'audiophile'? We had to find out.
Taking the MCD908 out of its box was an interesting experience. Firstly, it rocks a solid build quality we weren't expecting; secondly, the speakers weigh a tonne. They're each housed in monumentally heavy and attractive wooden enclosures. They compliment two aluminium separates, the snazziest of which displays the system's seductive, if now a little gimmicky, valves in all their glory.
To the rear is a stash of inputs and outputs, though connectivity with Philips' own iPod/GoGear dock was notable by its absence. Along with composite and component outputs, you'll find HDMI, digital optical out, stereo phono inputs and outputs, even Scart, should you still be clinging to an older television.
The MCD908 is a pretty nicely-specced piece of equipment. Aside from upscaling DVDs to 720p or 1080i, it'll pump them through either a component or HDMI cable. It'll also play DivX movies, VCDs, MP3 and Picture discs, and 12-bit video processing should deliver a decent image quality. Bear in mind this won't handle your Blu-ray or HD-DVD discs -- it's purely for good ol' standard DVD and CD. Oh, but it will let you listen to FM radio!
Of course, one of the most promoted features on offer is the valve preamp which, combined with the class 'D' amplifier, raises the question of whether this is primarily a home cinema or a music system.
Each speaker is loaded with both neodymium ribbon tweeters and silk dome tweeters, along with a large woofer. True to Philips' own word, this kind of technology is typically reserved for the audiophile system, and usually enhances sonic accuracy and timing.
After the 30-second warm up of the valves, our initial time with the MCD908 was spent enjoying some of our favourite tunes. Immediately, the difference in sound quality made by the valves was noticeable. The system gives a definite warmth to the tone of music and anything with prominent vocals and string instruments has a subtler flavour. Whether this matters to you depends on whether you spent the 80s rocking out with tube amps.
Upon more extensive listening we noticed flaws. Firstly, the rich layers of instrumentation in 'Overture 1928' by Dream Theater sounded too blended together for our liking. This emotional song shouldn't sound like it's being played in a kitchen -- even if you're listening in a kitchen. A slightly overpowering bass interfered with other layers, though this does add a substantial dollop of oomph to explosions in Die Hard.
This performance is perfectly acceptable for the price, though, especially considering its build and general usefulness as a system. But if you're looking to pick out hidden notes in art-rock songs, you may struggle. We were also somewhat annoyed by the subtle clicks heard when increasing volume during music playback.
Switching to some DVD action was okay but not outstanding. Upscaling movies to 720p on a 40-inch LCD HDTV will give the average user a picture quality he won't complain too much about. However, very noticeable interlacing artefacts could be seen around the edges of the flailing arms of a cheering mob in The Simpsons, even when upscaled.
The MCD908 gets top marks for effort, but a 'See me' for performance. Philips has built an attractive and powerful system that's packed with excellent components, but it just fails to deliver what it promises. Its audiophile intent results, simply, in plain audio.
However, this is still a system that costs little more than a couple of hundred quid, and it'll upscale, pipe movies over HDMI, blow your ear drums with volume and it looks good, too. You probably won't be disappointed as long as you don't hand over cash expecting something an audiophile would happily use in his own home.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday