If you want to see what the bookshelf stereo of the future will look like, Philips's new Streamium MC-i200 is a good place to start. It includes traditional microsystem features, such as an AM/FM tuner and a CD player, but raises the stakes with the triple threat of Internet-radio reception, MP3 CD compatibility, and playback of any MP3s on your networked PCs. The first microsystem to offer full-blown DAR functionality, the Streamium MC-i200 is a harbinger of things to come. If you want to see what the bookshelf stereo of the future will look like, Philips's new Streamium MC-i200 is a good place to start. It includes traditional microsystem features, such as an AM/FM tuner and a CD player, but raises the stakes with the triple threat of Internet-radio reception, MP3 CD compatibility, and playback of any MP3s on your networked PCs. The first microsystem to offer full-blown DAR functionality, the Streamium MC-i200 is a harbinger of things to come.
Easy setup and a surprisingly clean interface give the unit a familiar microsystem feel. We unpacked the 6.9-by-9.6-by-14.4-inch Streamium, connected it to its two speakers (7.1 by 9.6 by 8.9 inches each), plugged the unit into our router, and powered it up. One press of the Connect button installed new firmware on the MC-i200, ensuring that we had the latest features and fixes from Philips. During setup, the Streamium searched our local area network to find songs on our computers' hard drives, then made them available for playback--talk about easy installation.
The Streamium categorizes music by title, artist, album, genre, and playlist, so it's easy to find a desired track. Navigation is no sweat, thanks to the full-featured remote; the jog dial; and the amber-backlit, 3.75-by-1.75-inch, four-line display on the main unit. We were able to read song titles from up to seven feet away. The only thing missing in terms of design is backlighting on the remote.
The Connect, PC Link, CD, and Tuner controls access most playback functions. The PC Link button searches for MP3 files stored on networked PCs, while the Connect button activates the main menu used to tune Internet radio stations on the display. A Favorites button bookmarks Internet radio stations and songs on up to five CDs. If you press Info on the unit or the remote when a track is playing, information about the music will be sent to you via e-mail--a great way to find out more about artists and tunes. The Streamium's menus are intuitively designed, so you should catch on to everything quickly.
Philips says that the Streamium outputs 100 watts of power--50 watts apiece to two channels. Each of the two speakers is a three-way unit, featuring a 4.75-inch, top-firing Woox bass driver; a 4.75-inch midbass driver; and a 1-inch dome tweeter.
Aside from the Ethernet port, the Streamium's connectivity options are fairly basic since self-contained systems don't need many jacks. The rear panel hosts one Ethernet port, one stereo analog input and output, AM and FM antenna ports, spring-clip speaker-wire terminals, and a subwoofer output (subwoofer not included). The front panel sports a stereo minijack headphone output. Since there are no digital-audio inputs or outputs, you'll have to settle for an analog connection if you want to hook up a MiniDisc recorder or a CD changer, for instance.
The Streamium offers 40 AM/FM presets, which it can automatically program by honing in on the strong signals in your area. A two-band equalizer and a three-level bass boost let you fine-tune the unit's sound to a certain extent. Philips includes its Incredible Surround technology, a surround-sound simulation that widens the audio image slightly. Although true surround sound is not possible with two speakers, such functionality is still a nice touch.
The Streamium can play standard MP3 files as well as the newer MP3Pro format. This system supports all bit rates up to 256Kbps as well as variable-bit-rate files. The Streamium is not compatible with WMAs, but the unit can stream uncompressed WAVs from connected PCs. CDs, CD-RWs, and CD-Rs all played fine in our tests.
When a standard audio CD is inserted, the Streamium probes Gracenote's Internet CD database--formerly CDDB--for song and disc titles. We popped in a Snoop Dogg disc, and the unit took only a few seconds to display that information. Every DAR that offers CD playback should have this feature.
Using the remote, we registered at My.Philips, the company's portal where account information and Internet radio station lists are managed. We quickly enabled the radio services provided by Launch, Live365.com, Andante Radio, MP3.com, and Virgin. Nearly 100 stations can be instantly accessed, but more free services could have been provided. MusicMatch Radio and Andante Radio (five classical channels) each cost $5 per month.
Philips's Woox bass drivers aren't all marketing hype; the Streamium outputs more reasonably tight bass than most microsystems. We were also impressed by the unit's ability to reach high volumes without distorting. The speakers' midrange is a bit thin, but overall, this unit sounds pretty good for a microsystem and can easily fill a small apartment or a dorm room.
If you're looking for a small stereo system that can play streamed and downloaded audio, the Streamium MC-i200 is a great choice. Since this is the first device of its kind, we expected a little roughness around the edges but came away impressed by the unit's slick operation. Philips deserves credit for successfully implementing a new concept that will surely be imitated. Considering that it pulls double duty as a complete microsystem and a full-featured DAR, the Streamium's $399 list price is quite reasonable.