Philips Streamium WACS700/37
The Philips Streamium WACS700/37 ($1,000) is the company's latest addition to its Streamium line of digital media receivers. It comprises two components: the main Music Center and the smaller Station, each of which includes an AM/FM tuner, an integrated amplifier, and built-in flat panel speakers. The Music Center incorporates a 40GB internal hard drive for music storage and playback, as well as slot-loading CD player/ripper, which is located on its top panel. The smaller Station is a more basic client device designed to stream audio from the Music Center's hard drive. The two automatically set up their own wireless link with each other--separate from any home network you may be running--but you can, in turn, hook them into your home Ethernet or Wi-Fi network. You transfer music onto the Music Center's hard drive either by ripping tracks from CDs or by copying them from your PC (if you've opted for the aforementioned network connection). With additional units available for purchase at $300, the Music Center is capable of simultaneously streaming music to up to five stations while its local playback is also active. Oddly, you can't stream audio from your PC's hard drive or the Internet to the Music Center, but you can stream from your PC to the Station. Moreover, it doesn't support copy-protected audio files such as those purchased from iTunes and Napster.
The Music Center and the Station have generally similar appearances, although at 24 by 12 by 7 inches, the Music Center is considerably larger than the 14-by-11-by-5-inch Station. Both units come with desktop stands and wall-mounting hardware. Each has a full assortment of front-panel controls and its own remote. The Music Center's remote is a well-designed, two-way unit featuring a backlit LCD. The station's blister-button remote is much more basic but nonetheless adequate. All in all, navigating both devices is intuitive, thanks to four-way keypads located on each unit's front panel and remote. Music can be navigated by all the usual categories, including playlists, artists, albums, genres, and all tracks. The Music Center has a 2-by-2.5-inch screen, while the Station's measures 1 by 1.75 inches; both are backlit.
Connectivity isn't extensive. The Music Center offers an analog stereo input and a matching stereo output as well as a headphone minijack. The Station has only an analog stereo auxiliary input and a headphone minijack. The Music Center's amplifier delivers 13 watts to each of its two flat panels and 22 watts to each of its two bass drivers, while the Station's amp provides 4 watts to each of its two flat panels and 8 watts to its single bass driver.
Initial setup was essentially automatic, but things got hairy after we changed the Music Center's configuration to connect it to our wireless network and transfer some tracks from our PC. In a nutshell, it took a couple of tries to connect both units simultaneously to our wireless network and each other, but we eventually prevailed.
For files located on the Music Center's hard drive, support is limited to MP3s and nonprotected WMAs. By contrast, many less expensive digital audio receivers offer broader file-format support. The Music Center can play audio CDs as well as home-burned CDs containing nonprotected WMAs and MP3s, though it can't stream CDs to the Station. The rated CD-ripping speed of 4X is glacially slow by PC standards. Files are ripped to the MP3 format at only 128Kbps or 160Kbps. You can use the Music Center's remote to create playlists, or you can compile them in the Digital Media Manager software for transfer to the Music Center. Using Digital Media Manager, you can also import PLS and M3U playlists from your PC's hard drive.