X

Philips NP1100/37 review: Philips NP1100/37

Philips NP1100/37

Matthew_Moskovciak.jpg
Matthew Moskovciak
Matthew_Moskovciak.jpg

Matthew Moskovciak

Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater

Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.

See full bio
7 min read

Digital audio streamers may seem like old news in 2008, but the reality is that the product type has only reached maturity in the past couple of years, with relatively affordable, stable products like the Squeezebox Classic and the Apple TV. Still, both of those products are upward of $230 bucks and we've heard of plenty of consumers looking for a more affordable, basic option to stream their MP3s into the living room. That's the niche the Philips NP1100/37 is trying to fill, by offering the core functionality of the more expensive models, but coming in at a more reasonable $180. It eschews advanced functionality like onscreen album art and support for obscure digital audio file types, while still offering streaming from a PC, access to Internet radio, and the ability to tap into the Rhapsody subscription music service. If you're really into digital audio, you'll appreciate the more sophisticated and fully featured Squeezebox Classic, but the average buyer should be perfectly satisfied (and save some money) with the Philips NP1100/37.

7.0

Philips NP1100/37

The Good

Relatively inexpensive digital audio streamer; glitch-free wireless streaming; provides access to Rhapsody and Internet radio without a PC on; stylish design.

The Bad

Limited file format support; doesn't include as many music services as competitors; only supports PCs for streaming your own music files; slight pause between Rhapsody tracks.

The Bottom Line

The Philips NP1100/37 lacks the bells and whistles of some other network digital audio players, but it should satisfy those looking for basic streaming on a budget.

Design
Philips has a knack for attractive designs, and the NP1100/37 is no exception. From the front, the NP1100/37 is completely flat, with transparent plastic around the perimeter, and a glossy black center. Right in the center of the faceplate is a nice-size LCD screen, which is especially important since the screen is the only method of navigation with the NP1100. We also appreciated that the NP1100/37 turned into a pretty nice clock when we turned it off. The rest of the unit is very thin--the main unit is only a little more than an inch thick deep--and the only button to be found is a power button on the top. The look is fairly similar to another excellent digital audio streamer, the Squeezebox Classic, although we feel that the Squeezebox's screen is easier on the eyes.


The power button is the only button on the NP1100/37, so make sure you don't lose the remote.

As there is only a single button on the whole device, you'll have to use the included clicker to do anything with the NP1100/37. The remote is pretty standard, but it's intuitive enough and we were zipping around menus in no time. The centrally located direction pad is appreciated, although we didn't like that the OK button also doubled as a play button, as we often tried to use it to select an artist and see a list of albums, but instead it started playing all the songs by that artist. The bottom of the remote is dominated by a number pad, which can be used to enter text, the same way you do on a cell phone. Our biggest complaint is that the three major function buttons at the top--music, Internet radio, and music services--aren't differentiated at all from the other buttons. And one more note--if you get sick of constant bleeps every time you hit a button (we sure did), jump into the setup menu and disable the clicker sound.

There's a setup CD that accompanies the unit, but it really doesn't do much setting up. The CD includes a manual and links to download Windows Media Player 11, but it doesn't quite hold your hand as networking newbies might like. On the other hand, we got it up and running without consulting the manual, so anyone familiar with audio networking problems shouldn't have any issues.

Features
As the NP1100/37 doesn't have a built-in speaker, you'll need to connect it to an AV receiver or some self-powered speakers--anything with an auxiliary input will suffice. The NP1100/37 is equipped to access your network using either a wired or wireless connection, and we didn't have a problem accessing our WPA-protected router. The NP1100/37's main job is to stream music from the Internet and your PC, and there are three main sections to the NP1100/37's media offerings: music, Internet radio, and music services.

The section labeled "music" gives you access to DRM-free MP3, WMA, and AAC files stored on your PC, which needs to be running a media server. Philips recommends using Windows Media Player 11, which worked for us, but we also had success using other uPNP servers such as TVersity and Twonkyvision. While the file format compatibility will definitely suit most listeners' digital music collections, more diverse collections will appreciate the competing Squeezebox Classic's support for formats like FLAC and Ogg Vorbis,

While the NP1100/37 can't tune into over-the-air AM or FM radio, it can tune into thousands of Internet radio stations that are freely available. In our opinion that's better, since we rarely enjoy standard AM/FM these days, but can find plenty to listen to on Internet radio. Overall, there are tons of stations to tune into from around the world, and even many standard AM/FM stations also broadcast online. While we were able to find plenty of stations to listen to in Philips' database, do note that you can register online and add additional stations in case your favorite station isn't listed already, although you'll be limited to MP3 and WMA streams.

The only music service the NP1100/37 can currently access is Rhapsody, which makes us wonder why Philips didn't just make Rhapsody the option on the main menu. (Are future services in the works?) Rhapsody is an online subscription music service that lets you stream music from the company's huge online library, provided you sign up for a subscription. The service is nicely integrated on the NP1100/37, giving you access to most of the features available on standard software. While it is possible to search using the number pad on the remote, we found it much easier to add our favorite albums using the Rhapsody PC software, then browse our music from the "My Library" section. We also appreciated the fact that access to Rhapsody didn't depend on having our computer on--it just streams right off the Internet. Not everybody will be willing to spring for the $13-a-month subscription fee, but we're fans of the service and it adds a lot of value to the NP1100/37 for subscribers.

Beyond those music options, there's really nothing else to the NP1100/37. We were surprised to see that it lacks an alarm clock, but without a built-in speaker the value of an alarm would be pretty slim. Still, it's worth noting that the competing Squeezebox Classic offers a huge variety of additional options like the ability to scroll RSS headlines, set an unlimited number of alarms, and a bundle of other music sources such as Pandora, Last.fm, and the Live Music Archive.


The connectivity suite should enable you to connect the NP1100/37 to nearly any piece of audio gear.

Connectivity is a solid on the NP1100/37. There's a coaxial digital audio output for connecting to an AV receiver, as well as a stereo RCA-style analog output. For private listening, there's a headphone output on the back panel, although we would have preferred if it was located on the side for easier access. In addition to 802.11g wireless connectivity, there's an Ethernet port around back if you'd like a more reliable wired connection. Sure, they could have thrown in an optical digital output for more flexibility, but overall it's a complete package.

Performance
It's easy to focus on the feature set with digital audio streamers, but the most important feature by far is how seamless its streaming performance is. We set up the NP1100/37 for wireless operation with our Belkin N1 router, and with both units in the same room we (predictably) got excellent performance, with virtually no hiccups during the playback of Internet radio, our own digital music, or Rhapsody tracks. Next up, we moved the router a couple of rooms away, and again we had a nice interruption-free experience. Overall, we were pretty impressed, as we're particularly sensitive to any playback snags.

While we didn't run into any hiccups during tracks, we were a bit annoyed by the slight pauses in between tracks when listening to Rhapsody. While most casual listeners may not even notice, those who tend to listen to albums all the way through (like we do) will find themselves frustrated as the NP1100/37 loads the next song. This isn't a new phenomenon with Rhapsody, as even the native Rhapsody software isn't flawless, but we have become spoiled by the excellent buffering done by the Squeezebox Classic that almost completely eliminates the skip.

In terms of audio quality, we were pleased. Since the unit doesn't have its own speaker and is mostly playing compressed music, there's not much to judge it on, but we did use its analog outs and they were perfectly acceptable in our setup. Predictably, digital output was bit-for-bit perfect and sounded great through a real AV receiver. Again, audiophiles may prefer the Squeezebox line of products that really do pay attention to standard analog output, but unless you've got a library of lossless music, we're betting you won't hear much of an improvement.

7.0

Philips NP1100/37

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 6Performance 7