Philips Streamium NP2900
Stylish and sonically satisfying streaming sound system
Review Logitech's Squeezebox Boom  has been a firm favourite here at Vulture Central and, for the best part of a year, it has had the market to itself. Now Philips is looking to crash the party with the new Streamium NP2900, another device designed to play music stored on your computer over an 802.11b/g wireless network, without the need for a separate hi-fi.
Philips' Streamium NP2900 – a stylish arrival at the networked music party
The first thing that struck us when we unpacked the NP2900 was how much smaller than the Boom it is. At 346x69x99mm and weighing under 1.5kg it takes up quite a bit less space, while the styling is a rather more in keeping with the usual home audio aesthetic. Don't get us wrong, we like the way the Boom looks, but it’s a bit too brutal for some tastes. The NP2900's svelte looks are helped by the absence of controls other than very small power, volume and mute buttons on the top of the device.
Of course that height measurement doesn't include the articulated Wi-Fi antenna or the 10mm stand though Philips do supply a fixing bracket should you wish to bolt your NP2900 to a wall. Around the back of the NP2900 you will find a 3.5mm headphones jack, Ethernet socket, digital coaxial out and L/R stereo analogue phono input sockets which between them should cover most users' connectivity needs.
The NP2900 comes with a comprehensive remote control featuring an excellent navigation pad and is very well labelled. More to the point, it allows direct access to almost all the system's settings minimising time wasted drilling down through menus. Its only downside is that holding down the navigation arrows don’t scroll through long lists.
Despite its small size the NP2900 has four speakers squeezed into the chassis – two 65mm units facing forward and two side facing 40mm units. The former are each rated at 10W RMS, the latter at 6W. Audio file support extends to MP3, FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, WMA and AAC/eAAC+, all without DRM naturally. Try and play a DRM protected file and the screen rather confusingly flashes up a 'Server Not Found' message rather than something a little more accurate.
The comprehensive remote control delivers swift access to most settings
While Logitech's Boom has to make do with a 160x132 pixel green screen the NP2900’s 70x55mm display is a full colour 320x240 affair. Not only does this look more attractive – album artwork is used as the screen background when available – it also shows more information and is easier to read. The screen has a two position dimmer switch, which is handy if you plan on using it in the bedroom, while the standby screen can be set to show either the time and date or switch off completely.
One of the main issues some folk had with the Boom was that it was tethered to the Squeezecentre media server. That's a banana skin Philips have dodged by making the NP2900 fully compliant with both the UPnP and DNLA standards.
Twonky Media server is supplied for Mac and PC with a Linux download also available
The UPnP compliance enables the NP2900 to work with the ubiquitous Windows Media Server but if you don't like the Windows server – or are a Mac or Linux user – Philips bundle a CD with TwonkyMedia's media server. The CD only contains the PC and Mac versions but since Philips supply an activation code – TwonkyMedia server is usually a €19.95/$29.95 (£17.85) purchase – Linux users can download the trial version direct from Twonky and activate it using the supplied key.
This was the first time we had used the Twonky server and were generally impressed by the ease and simplicity of installation and the speed with which it updated itself from our iTunes library during use. It also earned plaudits by finding and importing our iTunes playlists and for its reaction speed – the NP2900 worked a good deal faster when accessing files via Twonky than via Windows Media Centre. That said, even when being used with Twonky, the NP2900 still didn't access files quite as quickly as the Boom, but the difference was marginal.
If Squeezecentre had one good point, it was its ability to generally import albums with the correct running order. For reasons we confess not to fully understand, all the albums picked up by the NP2900 via Windows Media Server had their tracks listed in alphabetical order unless navigated via the 'folder' view in which case they all appeared in the correct order. No matter how we viewed albums in Twonky roughly half had their tracks arranged seemingly at random.
We think Philips missed a trick by not enabling the NP2900 to access iTunes – or Squeezecentre - as a server in the way Roku's Soundbridge can. Doing so would not only have meant gapless playback for opera fans but would also have ensured that iTunes users got their albums in the running order that God intended. Still, at least the NP2900 will shuffle your tracks if you want to deliberately mix things up a bit.
The Twonky Media server album navigation page
Server idiosyncrasies notwithstanding, getting the NP2900 up and running is pretty straightforward. Once powered up for the first time, it will scan for wireless networks and ask for any necessary security codes. It then looks for any available UPnP servers and, having found them, is ready to rock.
The NP2900 didn't prove quite as capable at holding on to a Wi-Fi signal as the Boom, despite its antenna. When set up on the same floor as our wireless router, everything was fine and dandy but when we moved it onto the second floor, drop out became quite an issue. The signal strength indicator would run up from zero to three bars – out of five – and back again with alarming regularity.
Stream of consciousness: reception quirks were cured by repositioning
To make sure we hadn't stumbled across some previously unnoticed Wi-Fi black spot, we fired up the office Acer Aspire One and put it next to the NP2900 – the AA1 registered a full five bars of signal strength. A slight relocation solved the problem but it really shouldn't have been an issue for the NP2900 in the first place.
When it comes to sound quality there really isn't much to choose between the NP2900 and the Boom, yet despite its diminutive size, the Philips is certainly the louder of the two. If we were put up against a wall and threatened with physical violence to come down come down in favour of one or the other, we'd give the nod to the Philips.
To start with it comes with two bits of sound modification firmware called Living Sound and Full Sound. The former is supposed to make the NP2900 sound like a proper stereo with separate speakers, a trick accomplished partly by boosting the volume output of the side facing speakers, while the latter is designed to put the life back into your lossy compressed digital music files.
Marketing guff aside both systems work rather well. Secondly the volume on the Philips can really be cranked up without the sound falling apart, giving it the potential to really fill a room with sound.
Sonically, the Streamium delivers without distortion
As well as the two sound modification applications, the NP2900 also comes with four EQ settings – Rock, Pop, Jazz and Classical – and a bass boost. Fiddle with all these settings long enough and it becomes possible to get a sound that is not only rich and detailed, but possessed of a decent amount of bass and a real feeling of spaciousness. After a couple of days listening to a wide variety of music, we have to confess to being rather impressed by the cut of the NP2900's sonic jib.
Like the Boom the NP2900 can also access Internet radio stations directly, but since it doesn't support Real Audio streams, a fair old chunk of the BBC on-line radio network is out of bounds. Searching for stations is straightforward enough and a touch of the 'Favourite' button on the remote will add a station to the NP2900's favourites folder for future reference. The NP2900 will also function as an alarm clock, waking you up to a buzzer, Internet radio or server based music.
Beats the Boom if the price is right
The NP2900 has a RRP of £249 – £40 more than Logitech's Boom. Is it worth the extra? Frankly, no. But if you can find the NP2900 for the same money as the Boom, it’s a tougher choice. The Logitech has a few more peripheral features and is better at keeping hold of a Wi-Fi signal at a distance from the router but the Philips is fully UPnP compliant, has a much better remote control and produces a marginally better sound.
Incidentally Philips tell us that a firmware update will soon allow the NP2900 to show still images on its screen but, as that's hardly a core competency for a music streamer, we didn't hang about waiting for the update. We also suspect that, at some point in the future, the NP2900 will be able to access other on-line services like MP3tunes, something the Logitech Boom can already do. The giveaway? A currently redundant button on the remote entitled Online Services.
The NP2900 is a nice looking and very fine sounding box of tricks. Although a little less robust in use and not as feature rich as Logitech's Squeezebox Boom, it produces a marginally better sound and comes with a far superior screen and remote control. If you can't get the NP2900 for less than £250, buy the Boom. If you can get it for the same price – and don't plan on using it too far from your wireless router – then give the Philips player some serious consideration. ®
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