Philips Streamium MCi500H micro Hi-Fi system

Domestic Hi-Fi has taken something of a battering of late, with the growth of personal media players and the shift towards docking stations, and the subsequent growth in digital music collections on your personal computer. So can the snappily-named MCi500H offer anything to get excited about?

Well, it’s an easy yes, because it comes packed with features, which we’ll come on to later. Firstly, let’s talk about design. Matte black with silver edging, the Micro Hi-Fi has been considerately designed. It is solid in every respect – the speakers feel solid as does the main brains of the outfit. All parts sit squarely and sturdily atop small rubber feet, meaning it won’t slip around when you poke a button or when you turn the volume up.

The speakers are a decent size also, measuring 174 x 301 x 270mm, but also producing 50W RMS each, which is some serious sound. It is, as tends to be the case with Philips’ audio products, slightly on the bassy side, something that we like, but that some won’t. But the sound is rather good overall, with the subtle design helping spread the sound to a wider stage.

But the central unit is where the real excitement lies. The design gives the impression that you have two stacked components here, which gives some feature to the front so it is pleasing on the eye. Sandwiched between the two layers, of course, is a place for the CD player to hide, which saves it from taking up space on the front of the other two, more functional, areas.

The top feature is a colour LCD display, with Menu and Home buttons on the left, whilst volume controls lie on the right. The bottom unit has a central four-way controller, centred on an OK button, and flanked by track skip buttons, with power and record on the right, whilst stop and eject are on the right. The buttons are all rather small and discreet fitting with the minimalist design, but perhaps not the most convenient for actual navigation.

The four-way controller is actually quite fiddly to use, especially in real world use, i.e., you approach it with an extended finger and prod it repeatedly to get to what you want. Hitting the OK button is all too common. It is a good job then that a remote is supplied and you quickly find that you can’t really access all the features without having the remote to hand – especially when it comes to text entry.

Considering that Philips makes some good quality remotes, it is sad then that the remote feels cheap. A curved back is met by a flat front creating an edge just where your palm wants to sit whilst you use it, which is uncomfortable.

The central unit features a massive 160GB hard drive, which is a welcome inclusion, but does make you wonder how you are going to use this. Yes, you can throw in a CD and rip it straight to the HDD at up to 320kbps MP3, but that does sort of negate the need for the other connectivity options here: the Ethernet connection and Wi-Fi.

Perhaps not, as it means that those without a PC can enjoy the benefits of a digitally stored music collection, with Gracenote support and album artwork. It is also searchable, so if you have a large music collection you can avoid scrolling through too many tracks, albums or artists. But using the supplied software you can transfer music onto the Hi-Fi HDD from your PC (DRM tracks excluded). The HDD rips in MP3, but it supports WMA, MP3 and AAC playback, which should cater for most.

As well as being a UPnP device, the networking options mean you have full access to internet radio. Philips have been slightly clever here, as to access internet radio you have to go through a product registration procedure, which verifies your email and spits out a password. Once done, it’s the world at your fingertips.

The UPnP features work well, so long as you have the supporting setup on Windows Media Player, meaning you can pick-up any music you have on your PC. Thanks to the screen it is then pretty easy to navigate and again you get those neat searching functions. In all play modes the screen does a good job of showing you what is playing, with scrolling information on the screen.

You also get regular FM radio, but it is a surprise not to find a DAB radio here. Whilst those who have internet access can find those stations on the Internet, for those who don’t want to give their Hi-Fi access to the outside world, it is a surprising omission. Perhaps it has more to do with DAB adoption internationally than anything else.

Additional connections give you a stereo input on the back for an additional device, should you have one, and on the top you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack and USB socket. The USB socket allows you to put in USB drives which will be scanned and played, or more likely an MP3 player. We tested it with an iPod nano, which benefits from charging too, but also full track info on the Hi-Fi screen for easy playback and navigation.

But there is one more trick hiding up the Hi-Fi’s sleeves: music broadcast. This allows you to expand the system into multiple rooms so that you can send your music to another room to listen to, using the Philips WAS7500 or WAS6050, with up to five substations possible. This means you can have your music stored in the living room, and send it to your dining room for those exclusive dinner parties.

Verdict

On the whole the system works very well, but it is not without faults. Operation from the hard drive is a pleasure, it is fast and easy to navigate. From a UPnP device we found it to be pretty good, but as soon as you introduce networking you add the potential for problems.

There were few occasions when the MCi500H kept scanning for a UPnP device and never seemed to get there, as though there was a connection problem, despite all our other networked devices working properly. We also experienced this with internet radio, which seemed less than reliable.

It is also annoying that you can’t just leap into your music. It seems as though you have to spend plenty of time navigating the system before you actually get to you the music. Certainly everything favours the HDD, it being the fastest way to the tunes.

As an overall package though, the MCi500H does give you wide-ranging options and should cater for most requirements. The sound quality is also good, so you won’t be disappointed in that department.

As your home music system, this has plenty of options and plenty of power to make it a great party system.