Apple's market-dominating iPods make it difficult for other companies to compete, but Philips is one of the few that's still plugging away. The GoGear Muse is its latest high-end portable audio and video player and comes equipped with on-board noise-cancelling technology. Our review is based on the 16GB model, which costs about £150, but a 32GB version is available for around just £30 more.
Slimmer and sturdier
The Muse supersedes the GoGear Opus as the premium offering in Philips line-up of portable media players. It features a number of enhancements over the Opus, including a larger, 76mm (3-inch) screen, redesigned user interface and the addition of on-board noise-cancelling technology. Perhaps the most noticeable difference when you initially set eyes on the player is its slicker design.
Philips players have been rather bulbous in the past, but the Muse is a much slimmer affair, measuring only 9mm thick. The player also feels much sturdier than previous models, and the glossy front is complemented beautifully by the brushed steel finish on the rear.
Philips has also tweaked the user interface, so it's now a great deal more responsive and also slightly easier to navigate. As with the Opus, however, there are no touch controls or scroll wheel, so moving through large libraries of tracks involves a great deal of clicking on the control pad.
The Muse supports a wide range of audio formats. It plays MP3, WMA, AAC, APE, FLAC, OGG, Real Audio and WAV tracks, which means most people would be hard-pressed to find a song in their library that the Muse can't handle. Unfortunately, audio quality is on the average side, and certainly not up there with more recent Sony players, which are arguably the best-sounding models on the market. Bass frequencies come across as slightly woolly and, although high-frequency sounds, like cymbals and hi-hats, are crisp, the mid range is rather hollow. It's not the fault of the supplied headphones, either, as, even when you swap to a different pair of cans, the same deficiencies are evident.
If you want to make use of the Muse's noise-cancelling technology, you have to use the supplied headphones, as they have small mics integrated into each earpiece to feed outside ambient sound back to the noise-cancelling circuitry. Unfortunately, the noise-cancelling feature isn't all that great. Although it reduces ambient noise slightly, it's not as effective as similar system's that we've used on Sony's MP3 players.
As well as audio playback, the Muse can display pictures and videos. The screen isn't great, though. Its 400x240-pixel resolution means it has a rather odd aspect ratio -- pictures from a standard digital camera are always displayed with black bars. There's no zooming control in the picture viewer, so you can't zoom in to get rid of them. The screen also doesn't look anywhere near as crisp or vivid as the display on the iPod touch or Sony's S-series Walkman PMPs.
The Muse automatically zooms in on videos to fill the screen. One of its neatest features is the fact it works with downloaded video from the BBC's iPlayer service. The Muse will play a range of video formats, including MP4, AVI, WMV and RMVB. The playback quality is good, and, unlike with many PMPs, you don't have to resize DivX and Xvid files to a lower resolution -- the Muse will play standard TV-resolution files without any problems.
There's no charger supplied with the Muse, which is rather annoying. Instead, you have to use the Muse's rather short USB lead to charge the player from one of your computer's ports. On the plus side, the Muse's battery life is pretty good. You'll get around 5 hours of video and 25 hours of audio playback from a single charge.
The Philips GoGear Muse is a better player than the GoGear Opus, mainly because it boasts a slicker design and on-board noise cancelling. But it still suffers from many of the same problems as the older model, such as a so-so screen and poor interface. Overall, it's a pretty average offering that falls someway short of both Apple's iPod touch and Sony's S-series players.
Edited by Charles Kloet