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Philips Fidelio SoundRing review: Philips Fidelio SoundRing

Despite some small flaws, the Philips Fidelio doughnut-shaped SoundRing is one of the better compact AirPlay speakers we've tested -- and it's got a battery-powered option to boot.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
3 min read

Pity the poor Philips Fidelio SoundRing with AirPlay. It's one of those decent products that's gotten lost in the shuffle and hasn't quite gotten the respect it probably deserves.

Philips Fidelio SoundRing with AirPlay DS3881W - portable speaker

Philips Fidelio SoundRing

The Good

The <b>Philips Fidelio SoundRing DS3881W</b> is a strikingly designed wireless AirPlay speaker that offers superior sound. It also has a built-in rechargeable battery and a USB port for charging smartphones.

The Bad

The speaker was a little tricky to set up for AirPlay use and the manual could be more clearly written. The speaker's also fairly pricey.

The Bottom Line

While it's a bit overpriced, Philips Fidelio SoundRing is one of the better compact AirPlay speakers we've tested -- and it has a battery-powered option to boot.

The SoundRing DS3881W is part of Philips' small but growing line of AirPlay speakers, which includes the more expensive $700 Fidelio SoundSphere DS9800W and more affordable Fidelio SoundAvia AD7000W/37 Wireless Speaker with AirPlay ($200). The SoundRing has perhaps the most striking design of the bunch; it's shaped like a doughnut, is portable (yes, it has a rechargeable battery), and features what the company calls a "360-degree surround-sound effect."

I liked it, though I did have a little bit of trouble setting up AirPlay streaming with my iPhone. That may be due to the fact that we have several competing Wi-Fi networks in the office. I've had some problems setting up other AirPlay speakers in the past, but for some reason this Philips seemed a little more finicky.

In case you don't know what AirPlay is, it's a wireless-streaming feature found on your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, or any Mac or Windows PC running iTunes (see "10 things you need to know about AirPlay" for more information). Right now you can only stream video to your TV using an Apple TV, but lots of AirPlay-enabled speakers are available for streaming audio.

The Philips Fidelio SoundRing in its charging dock Sarah Tew/CNET

What surprised me most was that the 16-watt SoundRing delivered better sound than I expected. Yes, one should expect good sound from a $300 speaker, but AirPlay speakers tend to have inflated price tags, so I was ready to be disappointed.

I wasn't. The speaker offered good clarity and put out more bass than I thought it would. It wasn't huge bass, but it was punchy enough, and you should be able to fill a small to medium-size room with sound.

I ran a wide variety of music through the SoundRing and it didn't do quite as well with hip-hop and bass-heavy electronica. However, it impressed with well-recorded material like the "Caetano Veloso and David Byrne Live at Carnegie Hall" album. The speaker's good enough that it'll accentuate flaws in your source material and it benefits from the fact that AirPlay streaming doesn't compress your music files the way Bluetooth does (unless both device and speaker have the aptX codec installed).

Power and volume controls are on the top of the unit. Sarah Tew/CNET

What's interesting about the SoundRing is that it's also a portable speaker. It has a built-in rechargeable battery that Philips says will power the speaker for up to 3 hours using AirPlay. That's not particularly good (the number doubles when you skip wireless streaming and go with a wired connection to the auxiliary in port), but it's nice that you can pick the speaker up and take it to another room or outside to the patio. The only restriction is that the speaker and your iOS device (or computer) have to be within range of the same Wi-Fi network to stream audio to the SoundRing.

As far as extra features go, on top of the auxiliary input, there's a USB port on the back of the unit that allows you to charge a smartphone or iPad when the dock's AC adapter is connected and plugged into a wall socket.

Around back you'll find a USB charging port and an auxiliary input. Sarah Tew/CNET

It's also worth mentioning that Philips has a free iPhone app, DockStudio, for tweaking bass and treble. It offers some additional features, but it doesn't really add anything to the SoundRing experience. I was hoping for a firmware upgrade (I did have a few dropouts while playing music). Alas, while there are convoluted instructions on Philips' Web site as to how to perform a firmware upgrade, no update seems to be available.

In the intro I said to pity the SoundRing because it hasn't gotten its just due. Some designer put a lot of effort into this product and the company has failed to support it in the proper fashion. Philips would have probably been better off doing just a couple of AirPlay speakers -- this one and the high-end SoundSphere -- and put a little more marketing and support behind them. As it stands, the SoundRing a striking little speaker that delivers good sound but could use a little more TLC from Philips. I don't know if it'll get it, but if you can find a SoundRing for a discounted price (closer to $200), it's certainly worth considering.

Philips Fidelio SoundRing with AirPlay DS3881W - portable speaker

Philips Fidelio SoundRing

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7