When it comes to iPod speaker systems, there are at least three criteria for most shoppers: compatibility (it needs to work with your particular iPod model); form factor (it needs to fit into a given space, be it a spacious shelf or tiny nightstand); and value (good sound for the price). The Phillips DC912 unfortunately falls short in two of these categories. Yes, the device supports all the recent iPod models, including the iPod Touch, and should still work reasonably well with any iPod that sports a dock connector. It even works well for those who are iPod-less, thanks to its capability to play music off a USB thumbdrive or SD/MMC card. But it certainly doesn't produce the quality of sound you'd expect for the price. The device also includes a wireless subwoofer, but it's more of a burden than an asset to the overall package. To that end, anyone who's considering the DC912 would be better suited to go with the step down DC910 model, which drops the rather useless subwoofer and shaves about $50 off the price.
It's too bad that the sound quality is so disappointing, because the Philips DC912 is actually something of a looker. The main unit sports a horizontal "speakerbar" design, highlighted by a slick perforated chrome speaker grille housed in a black, beveled frame. The 14-pound body sits on an 8.3-inch by 3.7-inch pedestal, which helps shrink the footprint of the 19.5-inch wide unit. If space is at a premium, the pedestal can be detached and wall mounted using the included bracket. It'll certainly draw attention at a party, if not for its design than for the fingerprints that tend to mar the glossy black finish. Be we think it will mostly be used on tabletops, where its sizeable outboard power transformer (shades of the Xbox 360) can be tucked out of sight.
Aside from the generally spiffy overall design, what sets the DC912 apart from the sea of competing iPod speakers is its swiveling iPod dock: keep it vertical for standard iPods, or swing it 90 degrees into landscape mode if connecting an iPod Touch or iPhone (so as to view a video at full screen). It's a nice enough gimmick, but we wonder how often it'll actually be used. (While iPod Touch users are certainly using its impressive screen to watch movie and TV shows on the road, the appeal of sitting and staring at it when the TV and computer screen are nearby is considerably diminished.) One other issue of note: unlike some newer speaker systems, the DC912 is not iPhone-certified (electromagnetic shielded), so you'll need to put your iPhone into airplane mode to avoid occasional crackling interference on the speakers.
The black subwoofer measures 7.7 inches tall by 7.3 inches wide by 11.8 inches deep and weighs 6 pounds. Except for the power cord, it's wireless--though it is another component taking up space (and electricity) in the room. According to Philips, it should be kept within 5 feet of the DC912's main unit to maintain its connection.
The remote isn't anything to rave about--it's compact, but we found the buttons to be too small for our thumbs. We could control our iPod from a distance, using the menu button to move back to the parent menu on our iPod and the arrow buttons to scroll through our music and videos. That said, you'll need to be close enough to read your iPod's screen for that to be useful--at which time it's probably more convenient to just use the scroll wheel or touch screen anyway.
Aside from the USB input and SD/MMC card slot, the Philips DC912 also includes a minijack input (for playing any auxiliary product through its speakers) and output. However, there's no video output, so you can't watch your iPod videos on a larger TV screen. Other features include an alarm clock, a sleep timer, and a built-in FM radio (AM is not included) with a whopping 40 station presets. You may find yourself squinting to read the tiny LCD readout (under the iPod cradle) where all of the information is displayed.
In addition to any of the audio on your iPod--including songs purchased from the iTunes Store--the DC912 can play DRM-free MP3 and WMA files from SD/MMC or USB-based flash media. The file hierarchy for the thumbdrive and SD/MMC card is based on the same folder and file system as the Windows OS; you can organize your music, as you would on your computer, by album folders and then by tracks and then navigate the same way--similar to the iPod--for your music, using the arrow keys on the remote. Digital packrats take note: the maximum amount of folders and files--99 and 400, respectively--that can be read off a thumbdrive or SD/MMC card might be a snag.
Philips talks up the DC912's bass-enhancing "wOOx technology," but we found the combined low-frequency performance of the subwoofer and main unit to be decidedly underwhelming. Comparing it with the Logitech Pure-Fi Elite--which arguably delivers the best bang for the buck in the current iPod speaker market--the first thing we noticed was how off balance the interaction between the main speaker and wireless subwoofer was. Enya's "Caribbean Blue," for example, begins with a fluctuating bass line, rumbling over an electronic piano and synthesizer. On the Logitech, it sounded mostly--albeit not perfectly--balanced, with a bit of muddle in the midtones. The Phillips, however, had a very noticeable reverb; the main speakers seemed incapable of processing the bass line, buzzing enough to distort the sound quality. We also played Arcade Fire's "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)," a very complex piece with a heavy, rather thick guitar line. Our verdict: While the Logitech was able to handle it pretty well--only larger, more accomplished speakers can be expected to reproduce the sound close to perfection--the Phillips just sort of fell apart. The guitar was muddled, the glockenspiel in the background was barely perceptible, and the subwoofer was overpowering the vocals, hiding all the nuances in the song. The Logitech came across sounding much fuller compared with the Phillips. And the problem was definitely the speakers themselves; we found the sound quality virtually to be indistinguishable, no matter the bit rate of the audio files (128Kbps to 320Kbps) or the source used (iPod, SD, or USB).
The system only has a dynamic bass boost on and off setting and a very basic equalizer, including the usual rock, jazz, pop, and classical selections. There is no default or flat setting though. While selecting classical normally flattens out the music on other systems, with the Phillips it was the best setting to compensate for its overpowering subwoofer. The dynamic bass boost didn't seem to improve the sound quality.
Overall, the middling sound quality of the Philips DC912 overcomes the potential attractiveness of its cool design. While we're still not sold on the usefulness of the pivoting iPod dock, we'd still like to see Philips retool this product: with improved drivers and a more balanced sub, it might actually find an appreciative audience among iPod Touch owners. Until then, there are plenty of better options at the same price or below.