As home networks get ever more ubiquitous, so too have media streamers. We've seen some from Philips before, like the WACS7000, but we're looking at a very affordable standalone streaming hi-fi, the WAC3500D.
For around £230, the 80GB hard disk-toting Philips WAC3500D is aimed at those with a modest budget, but who still want a piece of the wireless streaming audio action. At around half the price of Sony's similarly-specced NAS-50HDE, the potential is significant.
Philips's WAC3500D is about as modern-looking as a micro hi-fi can be, with a front face of half-brushed aluminium, half-reflective plastic. A very small LCD screen sits in the centre of the reflective portion, serving its purpose well enough, but this is clearly an area where corners were cut to keep prices low.
The system's enclosure is uninspiring in build but certainly visually pleasing, with the glossy plastic top resonating a cry of affordability. In an unusual move, Philips has placed the headphone socket on top of the enclosure, right at the back. It would've been far more welcome on the front, built in to the lower part of the aluminium portion. However, each 40W speaker is more conventionally fashioned, and with decent build for the price and removable grilles.
An 80GB hard disk sits inside the WAC3500D, to which it's possible to rip an entire CD collection into MP3 format. There's no lossless format to rip to, however, such as WAV or FLAC. Since it can take an age to rip 1,500 CDs, you can drag and drop MP3s from your computer directly on to the system's hard disk, via the network connection, using a piece of software included in the box.
You can just as easily set up your PC as a central music server, letting the WAC3500D access MP3s over your home network. However, the aforementioned lacklustre codec support is the same for network streaming: only MP3s and unprotected WMAs.
An iPod dock comes as part of the package and it'll charge your 'Pod while letting you browse its contents with the remote control. Should you not have an iPod, you can load up a few hundred tracks on a USB memory stick and connect it to the USB socket port on the front of the system. The WAC3500D reads ID3 tag info so browsing a stick's contents is pretty painless.
After a very long initial start up, we had the shiny Philips streamer hooked up to our wired network within minutes and it could access our computer's MP3 library within subsequent seconds. With the included Philips Media Manager software, it's very easy to use. We can't say the same for copying tracks to the internal disk from a PC, as the system failed to find our computer on the network. However, simple home networks are likely to be far more successful than our uber-complicated corporate network.
We did have great success ripping our favourite CDs to the internal hard disk. Ripping is extremely slow, typically taking several minutes per CD. You have no choice of ripping format but you can choose a range of bit rates between 128kbps and 320kbps, and we got decent results copying music this way. Our only gripe is that the internal hard disk is clearly audible as a low pitch buzzing. Listen to the sound a laptop makes when it's copying a large file -- it sounds like that.
Generally, though, we had a decent result using the WAC3500D; it's a pretty simple process. The menus are nothing special but they work well enough, and streaming functionality was excellent. The built-in Gracenote database automatically adds CD titles and track names to ripped songs, even when not connected to the Internet. This function garnered impressive results, as most CDs we ripped were correctly named. Only one very old CD from a less popular band wasn't recognised.
With our albums ripped we got down to some audio testing and we're pretty impressed. Sound quality is generally very good, with well-driven power and a big slam of bass for good measure. Timbaland's 'Give It To Me' had the floor shaking without being over-powering, but vocals remained clear and mids had decent kick. It was an impressive sound for such an affordable and feature-filled setup, and we doubt there'll be any major naysayers when it comes to audio performance.
We have to admit that this well-priced piece of kit performed. The streaming functions work well, and while we have issue with start up times and a lo-fi display, decent sound quality and ease of use makes up for it.
If you can double your money, consider Sony's excellent NAS-50HDE -- it costs an arm and a leg but it sounds amazing and boasts a terrific design and interface.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday