Philips Fidelio SoundSphere DS9860W Docking Speakers with AirPlay
Philips Fidelio SoundSphere DS9860W (€999)
I got my first look at the Fidelio SoundSpheres on my visit to Philips research labs last year. We were there mostly to have a look at their headphone research, but we got a brief tour through other areas of development. Benoit Burette, one of the engineers there, gave us the rundown on the fundamental product concept: The SoundSphere is a strongly omni-directional point source acoustic radiator.
The goal was to design a speaker that filled a room very well, but also had good stereo imaging and a wide sweet spot. Traditional speakers are fairly directional, and as a result deliver their best performance when you are located in a fairly narrow angle in front of the speakers. Omni-directional radiators, on the other hand, perform well in all directions, and are well known for a big, spacious sound due in part to all the reflections from the walls behind the speakers. The SoundsSpheres aren't perfectly omni-directional...but they're close.
The 5.25" low frequency driver is tilted upward 60 degrees from front-facing. At low frequencies this driver is strongly omni-directional. As frequency rises toward the point of the half-wavelength being the same diameter as the driver, the driver begins to beam and directionality begins to narrow in an upward direction, but before ever reaching the point of too much narrowing the crossover kicks in and the tweeter takes over. The tweeter is centered on-axis above the woofer at a distance shorter than the half-wavelength of the crossover frequency (2.2kHz) and the hand-over occurs such that the speaker remains a point source during the cross-over transition between drivers. The tweeter housing is very small, allowing it to be relatively omni-directional in its lower ranges, but it too will begin to beam as frequency rises. So, though not a perfectly omni-directional speaker, it does act that way over much of its response, and does remain strongly a point source. More information on the technical aspects of the SoundSpheres can be read on their patent application.
Nuts and Bolts
Before we get into the sound quality, I thought a quick tour of the features and functions would be in order. The SoundSpheres have two input methods: AirPlay and a Line-In. Set-up for AirPlay is a little complicated but not out of the ordinary, with a couple of methods for getting the speakers to attach to your local wi-fi. In my case, I simply attached my phone to the speaker via a docking cable and the SoundSphere read the network info off the phone and was set-up quite quickly. A couple of other methods are available but somewhat long and complex to describe here. See the manual for further info.
All active electronics are in the left speaker; binding posts on the rear of each speaker allows the power amp's signal to get to the right speaker through the included 20' speaker cable. Each speaker has about a 7 liter volume, and are a laminated wood structure. I have a set with natural finish, but the currently available U.S. model has a beautiful 7-layer gloss black laquer finish. The internal amplifier is a two-channel, 50Watt per channel Class-D amplifier. The included iPod dock is for charging 30-pin connector iDevices and serves no other purposes. The small rear panel also includes controls for: power on/off; wi-fi status light and set-up button; A USB connector for wi-fi set-up only; and the AC input connector.
Also on the rear panel is the 3.5mm line-input connector. Accessing this input can only be done with the included remote control. The remote is infra-red and must be pointed fairly directly at the left speaker to operate. Unfortunately there are no visual indicators on the left speaker to let you know when it's receiving information from the remote, so you're never quite sure if your commands are being received. Buttons on the remote allow: input selection; volume control; mute; power; and play/pause/RW/FF.
A free companion SoundStudio app is available at the iTunes store. It's very important to download this app; the SoundSpheres ship with added bass boost EQ as default. When first turning these on I found the bass significantly over emphasized. Once downloaded and on your iDevice, you identify the SoundSphere as the AirPlay device of interest. At that point you can navigate to the radio section of the app and play internet radio. But in order to change the EQ settings on the SoundSpheres you must connect your iDevice to the rear panel USB connector using a docking cable.
Right, let's turn the page and find out how well these babys fill a room with music.