Philips Streamium MCi900 review

The Philips Streamium MCi900 offers a huge range of features packed into a component style hi-fi system that promises to be “obsessed with sound”. Underlining the whole premise is a system that will ask you to part with £1000 of your hard earned cash.

But the MCi900 flirts with being more than an audio system, as it also offers DVD playback and an HDMI on the rear of one of the units, along with Component output, so it leaves us scratching our heads and wondering exactly what the MCi900 wants to be.

Out of the box, the MCi900 will be easily identified by the bug-eyed speaker units. The tweeters are on “acoustically isolated” stalks rather than being set into the speaker cabinet. Aside from the alien eye tweeters, each speaker offers a 5-inch driver that fires upwards at an angle, with an optional mesh cover. We suspect that many will opt to go without the cover, because seeing the working parts is always more fun, is it not?

The speakers are encased in 18mm extruded aluminium and Philips tells us that all this has a purpose. The positioning of the tweeter and driver is to create a wider soundstage, eliminate the sweetspot and so on. We can’t help thinking that the distinctive design is to stand out from the sort of typically-boxy speakers you’ll find elsewhere, although the claim of room filling sound does ring true and the MCi900 does sound magnificent.

Central to the MCi900 are two component units, which can be stacked, or sat side-by-side, connected via a cable on the rear. Although a “component system” we can’t see any real opportunity to expand beyond the supplied pieces in the system. The two units connect and beyond that the only other dedicated audio input you have is an aux stereo input. But it isn’t quite as simple as that. As part of Philips’ Streamium range, it also offers a range of connected features, so is well suited to the progressive digital home.

Each of the two main units measures 251 x 251 x 70mm, fronted with brushed aluminium to match the speakers, but otherwise mostly finished in plastic. The tops are glossy, so whilst looking smart, will want a regular dusting and will attract fingerprints from curious children. Basically one unit houses the CD/DVD player and the other features the controls, class D amplifier and so on.

Sitting on top of the “control” unit is a 3.5-inch colour screen. It is static, it doesn’t move and when we first saw the MCi900 we hoped you could detach it and use it as a portable touchscreen remote, but alas, it is not to be. We have mixed feelings about the display. It is certainly very useful for navigating your connected music, and combined with the remote we could skip around our music collection on a connected media server with ease. We also like the use of big bold icons as it makes it easy to see what you are doing, but we can’t help feeling that the resolution is a little low, with the text not rendering quite as nicely as we’d like at this price.

When it comes to features, the MCi900 covers a lot of ground. Starting with music, it offers playback from the optical disc player in various formats, as well as offering up a USB connection and supplying a 160GB drive in the box. This means you can load it up with content and take it with you, or just connect an existing drive filled with content. 160GB might be seen as a little miserly seeing as there is no internal storage (unlike last year’s MCi500 with its internal 160GB drive), but it’s certainly a convenient move and there is the potential to easily and cheaply expand storage in the future.

Then you move onto the network functions which let you connect to your home network to stream content from your media server. You get internet radio as well as conventional FM radio (but no sign of DAB). Other connected services are limited to Napster, a recent addition to the MCi900, and you’ll need an account to take advantage of the service. There is no provision for podcasts or the likes of Spotify which recently came to the Sonos system. There is no sign of an iPod dock either - the MCi900 is more interested in collecting your music from its source, rather than playing it from your portable device.

If you don’t already have some sort of home media server (it found our Linksys Cisco Media Hub) there is software included on the USB drive to get you streaming content from your PC or Mac. We found it was very fast to integrate our media server and return results where you can use the remote or the control keys to leaf through and select your tracks. There is a favourite button on the remote which allows you to allocate favourites for easy access in the future. 

The remote is comprehensive enough to make this a hands-off system. There are shortcuts for all the main features and even a button that will return you to “now playing”. When searching for music in your extensive collection you can also use the keys to shortcut to characters, so if you want to search for Take That in Artist, then a press of the 8 key sends you on your way. If we had one criticism, it would be that the volume isn’t as fast or smooth as we’d like. It jumps up and down and is rather slow to react from the remote.

The CD player is a little slow to open its tray, we found ourselves often wondering if something had gone wrong with the eject mechanism. Its status as a DVD player is something of a distraction. It offers upscaling DVD playback output over either HDMI or Component connections, with Composite video also being offered. Audio outputs are also provided, but if you are looking at connecting the MCi900 to another audio system then perhaps something has gone wrong in your home ents centre planning. 

At £1000 some would probably be calling for a Blu-ray player to be included which you can pick-up for around £100 these days. Arguably you could connect your TV to the stereo input as a return channel, but it’s hardly ideal. Plus you could buy a 5.1 Blu-ray home cinema system for less than the price of the MCi900, so it’s something of a non starter - especially as many systems now offer a full range of video format support from USB, something that the MCi900 doesn’t. The MCi900 does tease video streaming from your network, letting you flick through your video file title, but always returning an error saying the server wasn’t available - and there was us hoping for some sort play through function. 

The USB is reserved for music primarily, supporting MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC and Ogg formats (as supported by the streaming functions). You can use the USB to view JPG image files on the 3.5-inch display too. There is no support for video from USB. However, the MCi900 will also share USB content with your network, back on your PC for example.

The MCi900 is undoubtedly unique and we love the connected aspects that Philips Streamium products deliver, but they are now far from unique, with many cheaper rivals offering similar services at a range of price points. As such, the MCi900 is a conveniently connected system that becomes more about design. It looks unique, fantastic even, although some people disagree, and they’ve told us so.

 

Verdict

What the MCi900 does, it does well. The network compatibility works well, the audio quality is excellent, capable of belting out your tunes at high volumes without distorting, which isn’t always the case with lesser systems. What might be the sticking point though is that £999 asking price.

With the DVD player and associated connections feeling like something of a distraction, Philips is asking a lot of money for the MCi900. High quality audio or not, there are cheaper systems out there on the audio side and more comprehensive systems better suited to home cinema, leaving the MCi900 as something as an oddity in our minds. Buy it because you like the looks, want a connected system with great sound and have the budget.