We've seen some great streaming home audio systems over the last year or so. One that had great potential but let us down with performance was the Philips Streamium WACS7000 -- a hard disk-equipped Wi-Fi-enabled jukebox with a smaller companion system that streamed from the central unit. We weren't that impressed with its audio quality and the system suffered technical limitations, such as clunky operation and very limited audio format support.
But that's officially in the past: the brand-new WACS7500 is out now for £699 and promises better audio quality, new features and a slicker design. We've just got one in, and many of the promised improvements are indeed noticeable. For one thing, the crappy LCD display of the WACS7000 has been replaced with a high-resolution colour alternative, making navigation not only more attractive, but much more pleasing to use.
Not improved is the 80GB hard disk, despite a drive with twice the capacity costing peanuts these days. And codec support hasn't been updated -- you can still only rip to MP3 as opposed to a lossless format, and you can only stream MP3, unprotected WMA and WAV. Yet this is probably acceptable to the average user, but at £699 is the average user going to be interested?
Other new features include Internet radio, though we had poor results trying to use it; and copying music from CD or from a PC via Ethernet is still intolerably slow. We do like the built-in database that labels tracks ripped from CD with correct artist and track information. It worked really well when we tried a few of our favourites, and it doesn't require an Internet connection to work.
Once you've got your music on the hard disk, it can be streamed wirelessly to the smaller companion Station -- essentially just a smaller version of the main Centre, only without a hard disk or CD player. Its display mirrors that of the central jukebox and as both have built-in Wi-Fi, it's a piece of cake to have your library streaming from unit to unit. This is great for anyone who wants a big jukebox in their front room and a small streaming hi-fi in their bedroom.
Lastly, sound quality. With significantly improved speaker drive specifications we're confident it's going to sound better than the WACS7500, but results of our extensive blow-speakers-to-within-an-inch-of-their-life testing will have to wait for the full review, which you can expect next week. -Nate Lanxon
Update: Read our full Philips Streamium WACS7500 review here.