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Philips' Streamium system has lead the charge in low cost network music players in the last couple of years. Products like the WACS7500 are incredibly easy to setup, offer a comprehensive list of features, and sound okay as well. However, the WACS7500's all-in-one design inherently limited how loud it could go and how convincing its sound stage could be.
Enter then, the Philips Streamium MCi500H. This is the big brother to the WACS7500, offering essentially the same feature set but using a traditional micro Hi-Fi system arrangement with separate speakers.
As with other products in the Streamium range the MCi500H does well on the aesthetics front with the amplifier cum player's metal body finished in an eggshell black paint that is complemented by a glossy black plastic front and some silver plastic trimming. It's not going to rival nor indeed sit well with the brushed aluminium sleekness of high-end Hi-Fi equipment but in isolation it looks and feels classy and understated.
The black and silver theme is continued with the speakers except the primary material of choice is now black laminated chipboard. Cheap as that may sound, they actually look just as good as the main unit, whether you have the fabric coverings on or not. They're also reassuringly weighty, which is always a good sign in a piece of audio equipment. We also like that the speaker cables are good and long and reasonably thick (the copper inside, not just the casing) and terminated in proper connectors rather than bare wire. That said, we're less keen on them being hard wired into the back of the speakers as this limits your wiring options and makes it more difficult to replace the cables if they get damaged.
On the surface the MCi500H could easily be mistaken for any other micro Hi-Fi system sporting as it does a CD drive and FM tuner. However, it's the hard drive hidden inside and the network connections round the back that really tell the story of what this device can do.
Feed a CD into the drive and you can not only choose to play it normally but also rip it to the hard drive as you play or at higher speed without playing at the same time. Artist, Album, and Track information are looked up from the downloaded Gracenote database and once you're done you can browse your mp3 collection as you might on any other system.