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Philips WACS700 Wireless Music Centre review: Philips WACS700 Wireless Music Centre

The WACS700 Wireless Music Centre is an easy to set up music serving system, but it's not without its quirks.

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Alex Kidman
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Alex Kidman

Alex Kidman is a freelance word writing machine masquerading as a person, a disguise he's managed for over fifteen years now, including a three year stint at ZDNet/CNET Australia. He likes cats, retro gaming and terrible puns.

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4 min read

Design
Philips' WACS700 Wireless Music Centre meets one of the core criteria for home audio equipment -- it looks good. The WACS700 Music Centre comprises at least one Centre unit and one Music Station -- although up to four additional units (AU$599) can be added depending on the user's preferences. The design motif of both the Music Centre and Station is practically identical, with piano-black style front facing and relatively simple front button layouts for menu selection and simple track playback.

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Philips WACS700 Wireless Music Centre

The Good

Stylish design. Choice of audio from each station. Easy to rip CDs.

The Bad

Difficult to configure into an existing wireless setup. Low quality display screens. Poorly laid out remote.

The Bottom Line

The WACS700 is an easy to set up wireless music serving system, but it's not without its quirks. If you're more of a Hi-Fi person than a PC person it's definitely worth contemplating, but those with more PC networking nouce could replicate the WAC700's features rather easily.

The Music Centre itself is a physically imposing unit that can be either left free-standing or wall mounted -- brackets are provided for this purpose. The Stations are miniaturised copies of the Music Centre, sans the top-loading CD tray. The only visually unappealing part of both units are the extruding wireless modules, although this is really a minor quibble.

Aside from the units, the WACS700 also ships with two remotes -- one small and simple remote that can be used with either the central station or music stations -- and a considerably more complex remote that has its own LCD screen that mimics the display on the main station. While the Stations themselves are superbly designed from a visual viewpoint, the same sadly doesn't hold true for the main remote. It feels cheap, and it's extremely poorly laid out. The vast majority of the buttons are exactly the same size and shape, and to add to the remote's problems, they're all labelled with the smallest possible text, making it a real chore to sort out functions on the fly, especially if you're new to the remote. A good remote control should be intuitive to use -- and this is about as far from intuitive as you can get.

Features
The WACS700 comes with a 40GB hard drive which Philips rates as being capable of storing up to 750 albums. That's an unusual claimed figure -- if you equate an album to being around ten tracks, for example, that means that the 40GB of storage on the Media Centre is filled with only half the music that Apple claims can fit onto its 30GB fifth generation iPod. Philps states that the actual free space is less due to the MP3 compression buffer partition, firmware, music CD datbase and demo tracks stored. The hard drive isn't user-upgradeable.

The wireless connection on the Media Centre is 802.11g based, with a claimed top speed of 54Mbps. That's more than adequate for audio streaming, even across multiple connections. The advantage of having that much bandwidth for a relatively simple application like audio streaming is that you should avoid any kind of signal breakup, even in areas with poor wireless reception.

The WAC700's central station also has a single ethernet port that can be used to connect up to a PC. From there, you can reconfigure the system's wireless settings so that it either works with your existing wireless network, or doesn't interfere with it. You can also copy files directly from your PC to the Centre using the supplied software.

Performance
Initial setup of the WAC700 should be remarkably simple. From a CD-centric point of view, all you need to do is power up the Music Centre and the Station, at which point they'll find each other wirelessly, and set up a connection. We hit an early problem with one test unit that Philips sent us for review which simply refused this step, although a replacement unit had no such problem. Loading CDs into the Music Centre simply involves dropping them into the top-mounted slot loading drive, selecting the track(s) you want and letting the unit begin ripping. The Centre comes with a copy of the Gracenote CDDB database for CD identification; in our testing with multiple albums we hit the right track as often as the wrong ones. Most notably, for some reason the database recognised CD1 of the Final Fantasy VII soundtrack, but not CD2!

On the subject of setup, it's a touch annoying that you can't modify the wireless setup without creating a physical wired connection to a PC; it would be preferable at least to be able to change the wireless channel to avoid spectrum conflict directly from the Music Centre.

Once we'd loaded up a suitable selection of music, we found the WACS700 to be extremely pleasant to use. The system can stream individual tracks to each music station, synchronise music across all stations or even be used to have music "follow" you around while keeping time -- all of which are technically quite impressive, and good for social entertainment opportunities, as well as to simply have different music playing flawlessly in different rooms.

Unfortunately, while we were happy with the centre's musical performance -- and even somewhat suprised by the quality of the inbuilt speakers, which have an impressive deep tone -- we tended to notice the unit's failings as much as its successes. The LCD screens on the units and remote are flickery and difficult to read in direct light. The internal CDDB database, as noted, doesn't pick up everything, and it's a touch hit and miss as to what it'll decide certain CDs actually are. The main remote, as noted, could have done with some serious retooling before becoming a retail product. None of these are fatal flaws, but they're irksome, and for our money if you're spending north of a thousand dollars for a streaming audio solution, irksome isn't a good mood to create.

Ultimately, the WACS700 is obviously marketed at the HiFi market and not the PC one -- all the time we were using it, we were working out alternate ways it could be done via a Media Centre, or even a very low-end solution such as the Zensonic Z400. That's presumably somewhat beside the point -- if you're au fait with PC networking and file serving, you could build something similar, or even modify an iPod-centric solution with many of the same features. If all that sounds too complex for you, then the WAC700 does represent a decent, but not great middle ground.

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