Philips Fidelio DS8550 wireless iPad speaker
The new dock star gets the AirPlay treatment
Review Reg Hardware pronounced Philips' Fidelio DS9000 to be pick of the current crop of premium iPod docks, beating even the much-loved and well-reviewed B&W Zeppelin. Clearly, Philips is onto something here, because its Fidelio DS8550 is pretty bloody good too.
Now, I didn't review the DS9000 - m'colleague Alun Taylor had that privilege - but on the basis of the DS8550's output, the higher model number must be truly impressive indeed.
Philips' Fidelio DS8550: snazzy looking from the front
The DS8550 certainly presents a cracking sound, driven by a pair of 3in full-range speakers pumping out 30W between them. The bass output is given a boost with a reflex port to shoot it out the back and let it bounce back to the listener off a handy wall.
That said, the sound's not half bad if you move the DS8550 away from the sides of the room.
It struggles just a bit when you crank the volume right up, but with such a clear, warm and lively sound further down the dial, you probably won't want to push it that far anyway. The DS8550 is a good box for the bedroom or a small living room.
The secret, incidentally, is to treat the iDevice simply as a controller and music store. The Fidelio takes the digital data and runs it through its own digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) rather than rely on the one in the player. It does make a difference.
Reflex ports for boosted bass
A solid performer, then, but the DS8550's stand-out selling point is its ability to dock an iPad, though it's equally at home with an iPhone, an iPod - or, indeed, anything with a 3.5mm audio output, for which Philips provides a suitable cable to connect the player to the rear of the DS8550.
AirPlay wireless audio
And not just the cable-connected. This Fidelio incorporates a Bluetooth pick-up, allowing you to stream your songs over to the speaker.
With iOS 4.2, the DS8550 shows up the AirPlay menu of apps that have it, so clearly AirPlay isn't just about streaming over Wi-Fi, as its predecessor, AirTunes, was. Apple has wrapped in Bluetooth too.
There's a separate stand for iPad video viewing
That said, you still have to pair it first - AirPlay isn't savvy enough to spot the Fidelio as an audio device and add it to the list of available speakers that's displayed when you tap the AirPlay icon. The smart move would have been to do so, only pairing - in the background; the Fidelio has a generic PIN - when the user selects it.
AirPlay knows about Bluetooth, but Bluetooth doesn't require AirPlay, so apps that don't yet know about the new streaming system will still work with the DS8550. I had a very pleasant half an hour blasting Rage HD's mutants and annoying my fellow office workers with loud shotgun blasts and cries coming from the other end of the room.
Wireless is handy. The DS8550 has its own, non-removable battery so you can carry it out into the garden and leave your iPad indoors. There's a hole in the speaker's silver-sprayed back that's a carry handle.
Docked, the iPad is slightly less Fidelio friendly - or rather, the other way round. Philips has put in a trio of rubber rests against which the tablet leans, and the spring-loaded dock connector pivots front to back to ease insertion and removal.
The docked iPad has support, but could do with more
But what it lacks are supports for the extremes of the iPad's bottom edge, so it's easy to knock it out of kilter.
There's no way to put the iPad in landscape orientation, but if the upcoming 'iPad 2' does indeed sport two dock connectors, the DS8550 will happily hold the tablet that way round.
Meanwhile, Philips bundles a separate - and well made - "iPad stand" so you can sit your tablet down lengthways and stream video soundtracks to the speaker.
Incidentally, there's the inevitable Fidelio app, which provides playback access to your iPod playlists and has alarm clock functionality. Apparently, it also lets you apply settings to the DS8550, but under iOS 4.2.1, the menu that does so was blank. An update is in order, eh, Philips.
The remote's quite nifty too
The DS8550 is priced at £250 which puts it alongside the likes of the aging, battery-less and wireless-lacking Bose SoundDock II. I like the Bose - I have one at home - but I'd trade it for the Fidelio.
The Fidelio DS8550 is another great iPod - and now iPad - speaker from Philips. The design is great, the sound quality better, and with Bluetooth A2DP and AVRCP, you can feed in audio remotely. What else can I say? This is a darn fine iPod speaker. ®
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