Digital audio streamers generally come in two flavours: cheap solutions like the AirPort Express that lack the convenience factor, or expensive systems like the Sonos Bundle BU250 that put all of your music at your fingertips. Philips has always tried to find the middle ground. Last year's NP1100 offered much of the performance of the Logitech Squeezebox Classic for considerably less money.
The Streamium NP2500 is Philips' successor to the NP1100 and offers several improvements. One of the most notable of these is more file-format support, including support for the audiophile-friendly FLAC and OGG Vorbis. The biggest change is the NP2500's colour LCD screen. It's available now for around £170.
The NP2500 has a long rectangular shape. Positioned right in the middle is an 89mm (3.5-inch) colour LCD screen. The screen is capable of displaying a couple of lines of text, album art and a full graphical user interface. It's a reasonable size on its own, but it looks comically small in the midst of the faceplate. The design makes more sense viewed in the context of the full Streamium product line -- the NP2500 essentially uses the step-up Streamium NP2900's design, with the speakers removed.
Still, the NP2500 would greatly benefit if the screen filled up more of the faceplate. It's easy to navigate if you're close to the unit, but the NP2500 is designed to be connected to a separate stereo or home-cinema system. If you're sitting on the couch, 8 feet away from the NP2500, the screen is tiny. Competing products like the Logitech Squeezebox Duet and the BU250 get around the problem with a remote that features an LCD screen. Meanwhile, the Apple TV is a more direct competitor that lets you browse your music collection using either a high-definition television screen or via the remote app available for the iPhone and iPod touch. The Squeezebox Classic has a similar design, but it's text-only and is easier to read from afar.
The only buttons on the NP2500 are located on the top of the unit, and there are just four of them: power, volume up and down, and mute. That means you can't navigate your music collection using the controls on the unit. Instead, you have to use the remote. We would have at least liked a clickable wheel on the unit for times when the remote goes missing, or when you're standing right over it.
User interface and set-up
The basic user interface is well laid out, with simple menu options like 'music', 'internet radio' and 'aux' showing up on the home menu. When you start playing a song, the artist and song information show up on the display, with the album art in the background. We're meticulous about updating our album art and it was a treat to see the NP2500 automatically display it when it started playing our tracks.
While the NP2500 zips through the standard menus quickly, it's not quite as quick to sort through a large library of music. The competing Squeezebox Classic is much more responsive in this regard, whereas the NP2500 chugs along at a slower -- sometimes frustrating -- speed, even when its 'superscroll' function kicks in. It's not unbearable, but slightly more speed would really help the NP2500 with large libraries.