If you've fancied the idea of all the music you've ever bought being available at the touch of a button, but don't want to mess around with a PC, this might be for you. The Philips WACS7000 Streamium Wireless Music Centre follows up from the WACS700, and is a wireless hi-fi setup comprising a central jukebox (the music 'Centre'), and a remote station (the music 'Station') that streams content from the jukebox. These two Wi-Fi-enabled network devices are sold together as a complete package, with additional Stations sold individually.
You can also buy the Philips Streamium WAK3300, a Wi-Fi alarm clock that streams content from the music Centre, which will be reviewed separately soon. So how does it work in practice?
Overall build quality of the main unit is satisfactory. In the centre sits a 48mm (1.9-inch) black-and-white LCD screen. Philips, unfortunately, didn't push the boat out to make this as nice to look at as Sony's Giga Juke NAS-50HDE, a similar system that was beautifully presented, however the display gives the info you'll need -- albeit in an unstylish fashion.
The most notable aspect of the design is the self-loading CD tray built vertically into the top of the system. This removes the need for any unsightly CD trays on the top.
The accompanying Station looks similar, but smaller. The layout is almost the same but the LCD display is not as big as the one on the Centre.
As a jukebox the music Centre itself is well featured, though as we'll see later, certain oversights left us with a distinct feeling of frustration.
It's got an 80GB hard disk inside, to which you can rip your CD collection in a variety of MP3 bit rates. You can also make use of your PC if you have a large collection of music on it, either by copying the files directly on to the system's internal disk or by hooking it up to your home network -- wired or wireless. Philips provides a really simple and foolproof application to set your computer up as a media server.
To help label your ripped CDs effectively, the information for 800,000 of the most popular CDs is included on the Centre's hard disk, taken from the Gracenote service. The Centre consults this database in order to correctly assign artist, album and track names to your albums. This worked for all the CDs we ripped.
The music Station works remotely and can stream any media from the Centre's hard disk. Sadly, it can't easily access any media that the Centre itself is accessing remotely, such as content on your PC or from any source plugged into the Centre's auxiliary input. This is a little annoying. You can get round it by hardwiring the Station into your network to stream from the PC itself. Oh, and there's an FM radio. Hurrah!
The 'Music Follows Me' feature is pretty snazzy. If you're moving from the room with the music Centre to one with a Station, hitting the 'Music Follows Me' button allows the music to be paused, and then continued on the Station in the other room. A well-designed, two-way remote control features an LCD screen that mimics the ones on the two systems perfectly. The system it controls can be altered manually on the remote itself.
A 'Music Broadcast' mode fires whatever's playing from the music Centre's hard disk to all Stations in range. The problem is that if a Station is told to stop playing, it can only be reactivated by starting a broadcast again from the Centre.
Setup of both units was a breeze. They automatically install themselves and can be configured in a couple of button pushes. The PC media management software included is nicely designed and takes seconds to configure after an easy installation. The library then allows the music Centre or Station to access media over a wired or wireless network. Technophobes shouldn't have too many headaches getting these systems up and running in 15 minutes.
Ripping CDs to the Centre's internal 80GB hard disk takes too long. It took the best part of 15 minutes to rip each CD into 320kbps MP3 -- the highest bit rate available. Music can also be ripped in real-time from any audio source jacked into the auxiliary socket. There's support for uncompressed audio, too.
Menus are painfully slow at times, and neither of our USB thumb drives would work with either the Station or the Centre. In fact, the Centre crashed and rebooted when we inserted the drive!
Sound quality on the music Centre will please most people. Although separation between instruments isn't as good as many systems, the bass is powerful and high frequencies accurate. Some heavy drum and bass from club-favourites Pendulum was powerfully delivered and shook the floor at higher volumes. Conversely, some softer rock from Dire Straits was fairly accurate and warm. On the whole, performance is very good.
The music Station -- the smaller of the two systems -- performed less well. Bass was in short supply, but general pop sounded fine. It'll suit a teenager's crypt of a bedroom quite happily.
The Wi-Fi signal between both units withstood separation across the length of our offices, although an older building with thicker walls may not be as impressive.
The WACS7000 consists of a functional pair of systems, but there are too many oversights and small features left out for us to say we're completely convinced. Although setup is a breeze, the system can be slow at times, the Centre can't broadcast anything but music stored on its internal hard disk and the CD ripping speed will have you waste enough time to write a short novel.
If you're only after a jukebox and audio streamer, Sony's Giga Juke NAS-50HDE might be a better bet.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Kate Macefield