Philips Streamium NP2900 network music player review

4 out of 5
£249

For

Excellent sound quality, compact, nice vibrant colour screen

Against

Price, can be slow to navigate, photo viewing a little basic, occasional wireless drop out

Philips have impressed with their range of Streamium products in the past, delivering easy-to-use options for those with digital music collections who want to play their music elsewhere. The NP2900 is a network music player, providing the connectivity to connect to your music source and the speakers to deliver it.

This is a standalone compact audio system, perfect for the kitchen or bedroom. Whilst you could connect up an external music source through the stereo aux in, this isn't really the intention: it is designed to be networked.

In terms of connectivity you get Wi-Fi and an Ethernet hole so you have the option of a wired or wireless setup. We opted to go wireless and after entering the network password we were connected. It has no memory of such things, so if you are in the habit of moving around Wi-Fi zones in your house, you'll have to enter the password each time.

It is then a simple case of searching for media servers, with the NP2900 detecting our Mac running TwonkyMedia and our Cisco Media Hub. It also found our sharing Windows 7 RC notebook, happily drawing content from all these sources.

TwonkyMedia is a simple media server solution and comes supplied with the NP2900 should you wish to use it to make your PC into a media server. TwonkyMedia detected the NP2900 and confirmed all the settings without us having to do anything, which is just about as slick as it gets.

Browsing your music through TwonkyMedia seems faster than directly to a media hub or sharing PC, however it can be a little slow, especially if you have a large music collection.

The design of the NP2900 reflects a trend running through Philips products. With a plastic lip running around the edge of the system. Otherwise it is fairly minimalist, with buttons kept to a minimum. The unit measures 346.5 x 69 x 99mm and weighs 1.48kg. Black and silver is used throughout and it is a neat, compact, good looking, device.

The front features a central full colour 3.5-inch LCD display, which makes it easy to navigate the menus. This is flanked by two forward facing speakers, whilst additional sideways mounted speakers project the sound out around the room, so the performance is remarkable. A bass port in the rear lets the NP2900 vent some deliciously rich bass.

Sound quality is good: with 30 watts RMS, it delivers all-round room-filling sound, thanks to the speaker configuration, with Philips LivingSound technology helping to widen the sound stage. The volume is plenty loud enough to make it a party system, meaning you can connect to your music wherever you place the unit (so long as you have Wi-Fi in that region).

We did find some tracks would cause distortion at higher volumes that shouldn't be there, something that was suppressed by switching off Philips FullSound and Dynamic Bass Boost, so we suspect it came from forcing the bass too much. The bass delivery without the various "enhancement" technologies is remarkably good given the NP2900's size: it really delivers where a lot of competitively-sized units fail.

The NP2900 goes a step further than just giving you access to your music collection. It also gives you access to internet radio. It is a little laborious to search through and find the stations, but once you have found what you are looking for, it is a simple case of making it a "favorite" and it is quick to return to on your next visit. It's something of a shame that there is no standard FM or DAB tuner here just to round out the package.

If we had a complaint about the way the system is arranged, it is that you can't just dive straight into music. As a network device it has to go off and find the catalogue of music each time you power up. Thankfully the "favorite" system goes some way to making this less painless, but sadly can only be applied to individual songs, rather than complete albums or artists.

Navigation of your music is as good as the indexing in the original collection, so if the data is wrong, so is the NP2900. However, if you have a good clean digital collection it will pull through the data and offer you navigation by artist, album, the original folder on your server, composer, genre (by album, artist or song), ratings or playlist.

One thing we were not so keen on was the enforced gap between tracks, regardless of the original format of the music on the CD (if it came from such a thing). Skipping tracks also highlights those servers which are slower, something that blights shuffle play modes too.

We found the Wi-Fi to be generally pretty good, but it does have a habit of dropping the signal for no apparent reason and you'll see the Wi-Fi signal indicator changing to reflect this. Luckily background caching of your playing track means it isn't too much of a problem on the whole.

However, we did find that occasionally it would fail to see one music source or another for no good reason. The wired option eliminated this, so if you have the facility to hardwire the NP2900, it might save you a little frustration and cut out some of the vagaries that wireless devices tend to introduce.

Since the NP2900 is picking up your media, it also offers to show your images that it finds. These can be browsed by various criteria too: year, date, folder, keyword and so on. It's a nice touch offering keyword browsing, because if you have a well organised photos collection, you could setup a slideshow on the unit of your favourite family pictures or whatever.

The system is a little rudimentary and doesn't seem as slick as you might think it should be, but it is an added extra that dropped in at the last firmware update. When browsing photos all the controls seem to move over to photo navigation and you then loose your music control, so you can't skip track or pause, - even the "Now Playing" button returned to the displaying photos - instead you'll have to return to the main menu and go back to browsing music, so it still needs a little tidying up.

Video is also displayed as an option in the menu, with video files being displayed, however they won't actually play. It perhaps seems like a niche offering supporting photo viewing and given the clunkiness of the system, it probably shouldn't be a reason to opt for the NP2900, but equally don't let it detract from the otherwise good music offering.

The supplied remote control is the key to the NP2900, which only has volume, power and mute buttons on the unit itself. The remote is rather heavily buttoned, but given the range of features, it seems you use all the buttons provided. One exception is "Online Services", which does nothing, hinting at wider service support in the future, perhaps access to online music services such as Last.fm, to compete with the likes of Logitech's Squeezebox Boom.

Verdict

The Philips Streamium NP2900 network music player is an impressive looking and sounding device with provides a relatively simple solution for playing back your digital music collection wherever you have a connection to your home network.

We have some minor niggles with the stability of the connection and laggy navigation but we can't complain about the excellent sound quality. It is perhaps priced a little on the high side given the feature set when compared with the competition, which ultimately might be its biggest obstacle.