The Philips Fidelio range, which has won multiple TrustedReviews awards, has found a new leader. The Fidelio SoundSphere DS9800 is the first Airplay-compatible model in the range, and will launch in July with a cool £699 price tag. Ahead of its release, we gave the impressive-looking lifestyle system an ears-on preview. Find out what we thought.
If you were to draw a simple sketch of the Philips Fidelio SoundSphere DS9800, you’d end up with something that looks like a bongo with an alien eye stalk popping out of the top. In person, the units look much more suitable for a classy lounge or living room. Finished in glossy black and shiny metal – the real deal too, no plastic substitute here – the speakers have a designer vibe that should eke a few coos out of house guests.
As out-there as the B&W Zeppelin but without that device’s (relative) ubiquity, they impress. Consider too that the £699 price tag is fairly low compared with the sky-high price you had to pay for a kooky-looking designer system just a few years ago.
The main bulk of each speaker is made of highly lacquered wood, covered in seamless glossy black. Where the finish changes three quarters up the housing, the SoundSphere switches to metal – first finished in brushed black, before embracing the standard metallic shine for the top rim.
This rim surrounds a 5in woofer driver, which is angled to supply the stereo effect without demanding too much regard for positioning or toe-in. Although a quick glance may make you assume they’re open to the elements, there’s a subtle grille that sits atop these drivers. Adding a subtle-but-sensible protective layer, this disc is held in place with magnets.
Of course, the most attention-grabbing aspect of the Fidelio SoundSphere’s design is the tweeter stalk. Although a bold aesthetic statement for what’s a mainstream audio product, it does have a sonic reason to exist. The separate tweeter housing allows for greater dispersion of the sound the 25mm driver pumps-out, not constrained by the front wall of traditional floorstanding or bookshelf speakers. Just like the up-facing woofer, it’s designed so that you don’t have to bother too much about positioning. Let’s face it, tech’s making us lazier by the year.
Always thinking of the average careless punter, the speakers can even be hoiked about by these stalks. They’re made of steel and have been constructed to hold the weight of the speaker, and the solid wood and metal bodies ensure they’re not lightweights.
Unlike previous Fidelio docks, the SoundSphere DS9800 doesn’t offer a dock port to plug your iPhone or iPod into. Instead, it relies primarily on Airplay, Apple’s streaming standard. There’s little point dwelling on this feature too much as, like most of Apple’s features, it just works. It losslessly streams music from your computer or iOS device to the speaker over Wi-Fi.
There’s also an auxiliary 3.5mm input on the back of the main left speaker, which houses the SoundSphere’s electronic gubbins – the amplifier et al. This is very much a secondary input though, looking rather pauper-like against the proper ports that connect the two speakers. The right speaker is the dummy of the pair. It’s powered by its brother, as a standard passive hi-fi speaker. Both units feature a bass port at the back, releasing the air created by the low-end thuds of the main driver.