The Philips Izzy BM5 is the latest attempt to make multiroom audio accessible. The BM5 is the first among a whole range of "Izzylink" speakers to appear in 2016, which will use the same system.
Costing only £99.99, the Philips Izzy is an unintimidating purchase with which to begin your journey into setting up a multiroom system. However, a far cry from the Sonos Play:1, that journey might be halted no sooner than it begins because, quite simply, it doesn’t sound very good.
If you're put off by the closed style of Sonos and the complexity of some other rivals then the Philips Izzy's system is worth some investigation. But in pure speaker terms, this is far from a stand-out.
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Let’s forget that last point for a minute, though. The Philips Izzy BM5 is a cute-looking unit. A squat, curvy block of plastic with a fabric-covered grille, it’ll easily slot into a number of places pretty innocuously. Bedside table? Windowsill? No problem.
Given its relatively dinky size and use of Bluetooth, you may be surprised to hear that the Philips Izzy BM5 doesn’t have a battery – it’s mains-powered only. However, the main idea behind this speaker isn't one of portability.
The whole point of the Izzylink family is that it gets you multiroom action quickly and easily, without blocking off any services. Although I did have to crack out the instruction manual to set up a few of the more advanced features, on the whole, the Philips Izzy BM5 was fairly simple to get-going.
Don't expect an easy setup route via an app, though – when it comes to interaction with the Philips Izzy BM5, this is one of the few multiroom systems that relies solely on Bluetooth.
Hook up to it just as you would with any other Bluetooth speaker, then a few button presses will enable you to group together other Izzy speakers. I was sent two speakers by Philips, and without the instructions in-hand, I did manage to get a basic pair-up (there's a dedicated group button) within around 30 seconds. For anything more complicated, such as changing which unit is the master and which is the slave, I had to crack out the manual however.
The speakers actually communicate over Wi-Fi Direct, but you don't have to worry about that side of things.
The Izzylink system lets you set up groups, with a master speaker and up to four "slave" units. This helps to circumvent the app-based faff of most other multiroom systems.
I’m not convinced I’d necessarily want such a system over rivals, though. Currently, it's far from perfect.
First, you can’t yet stereo-pair Philips Izzy BM5s. On a multi-speaker setup, volume levels need to be altered per speaker, since their amp levels aren’t linked. When in group mode, there’s also a significant delay between making a command on your phone and it being taken on-board by the system. It feels sluggish.
You also miss out features such buttons that let you get back to a Spotify playlist with a single press. All instructions are via a phone.
However, Philips is probably hoping that, even if you remain unconvinced by its mulitroom credentials, you'll still be able to appreciate the Izzy BM5 as an affordable Bluetooth speaker.
However, the Philips Izzy BM5 doesn’t make a great case for itself with its sound. Let’s begin with the positives, however.
The Philips Izzy BM5 is able to achieve reasonably loud volumes, and has a decent amount of low-end power for a speaker that has only two 2.5-inch drivers and a bass reflex port. I expected, and hoped, it’d use a bass radiator, but it doesn’t feel as though it really needs one at mid-level volumes. It doesn't sound thin.
However, there are several areas in which this speaker falls down. First, there’s zero sense of sophistication, no touch of that "hi-fi" vibe, with a flat and dead-sounding mid-range. This leaves vocals sitting on the mix, with none of the "3D" separation you're likely to hear with a decent speaker. It's a very undynamic sound, even compared with some smaller, lower-cost Bluetooth speakers such as the Jam Heavy Metal and Pure Voca.
The higher you turn up the volume, the more problems emerge. Upper-mids display a harsh edge, and with more complex arrangements you’ll notice an odd form of studio compression as the volume or certain parts/frequency ranges of the mix go up and down in volume as other elements fade in and out.
This is probably down to the lack of a dedicated bass driver or radiator to take on some of the responsibility of providing much of the lower-end volume.
I could live with all of the above, though, if it weren't for the Philips Izzy BM5's unmistakably "basic" sound. If such sound were from a DAB radio for the kitchen, then I'd be okay. However, despite its wireless credentials, this is "just" a speaker, and therefore relies heavily on its sound quality.
The biggest problem for the Philips Izzy BM5 is that many rival speakers around this price sound better. The Jam Heavy Metal has greater finesse, and it’s absolutely trampled by the £150 Ministry of Sound Audio M.
The Philips Izzy BM5 is the very first Izzylink speaker, so while I’d like to have viewed it in the wider context of the family of speakers it’ll eventually be a part of, I don’t yet know what that family will contain.
Its infrastructure does offer a neat, low-fuss approach to multiroom. Although it doesn't provide the functionality to flick between rooms in a second using your phone, or send different content to each speaker, you can at least set up the whole system without using an app at all, and play the same audio through up to five Izzy speakers within a house. It’s not perfect – and is really a little lo-fi among its multiroom peers –but its almost mechanical approach has a distinct appeal.
While the Izzy BM5 has "beef" to its sound, the similarly priced (and also not amazing) Pure Jongo S3 is significantly more refined. I imagine that the Izzy is housing similar drivers to the Philips SW700M "Spotify" speaker , which has already tumbled down to under £35 online (granted, it is an end-of-life product). Audio fans might want to wait until the Izzy drops further below £100 before investing.
Philips' faff-free multiroom system is let down by pretty uninspiring sound quality.