Although primarily geared towards streaming audio, the MCi900 does come with a 160GB hard drive. Unlike previous models this isn’t built-in, but instead is provided in a small caddy, along with a stand which works about as well as a marshmallow syringe. While we liked previous Streamium systems’ ability to rip CDs to the internal storage, we’re also quite keen on the provision of a portable hard drive as it makes transferring files to the MCi900 a much simpler affair. Drag and drop transfer over USB is much easier than pulling files from a server onto the MCi900 would have been.
Although Philips supplies a copy of (and licence key for) Twonky Media Server, for both Windows and Mac OS, with the MCi900 it’s not necessary to use it. Any uPnP compatible server will do fine, although Twonky does have the advantage of letting you control the system from your computer and integration with iTunes – from which the MCi900 can’t stream.
Despite its DivX-capable certification the MCi900 can’t stream videos, nor can it play such files from an attached hard drive. But really the disc drive is primarily there for playing CDs – that on-disc DivX videos and normal DVDs can be played back is an added bonus, not the system’s raison d’être.
Audio playback, however, is, so it’s unsurprising that the MCi900 has support for MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG and FLAC files. 24-bit FLAC is off the menu, but anyone seriously interested in listening to such high-quality audio wants to be spending more than £900 on a set-up to do justice to it anyway. We’d have liked to see Apple Lossless supported, as rival streaming systems including the Logitech Squeezebox range and, of course, Sonos do, but the omission shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.
Where the MCi900 really loses out to Squeezebox, Sonos, and their ilk of such devices is in its Internet-based streaming. Or, more accurately: its lack thereof. While the MCi900 can play Internet radio stations, there’s no Napster or Spotify streaming, no Last.fm scrobbling and no podcast support to speak off. Although we can see the argument against such functionality, there are always going to be times when you don’t have the music you want to listen to available and it’s far more practical to use Spotify to sate a sudden craving for a bit of Jimi Hendrix than it is to root around in an attic for a CD which you know is there somewhere.
There’s also the fact that if you are only interested in local streaming audio system, and don’t care about disc playback or Internet-based streaming, then a Squeezebox Touch paired to a set of high-quality speakers such as the awesomely stylish and great-sounding Ferguson Hill FH007 won’t cost you any more than the MCi900. Whether a different system set-up would sound better than the MCi900 is verging into the subjective – one man’s delicate and transparent in another man’s flat and lifeless – but the point stands that you’d be getting more, if not outright better, options.
Philips’ MCi900 does have that it’s devilishly stylish design in its favour, though, and the convenience of an all-in-one set-up can’t be dismissed. So while the Philips MCi900 may not comprehensively best its rivals, it makes a damn compelling alternative.
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The Philips MCi900 looks fantastic and sounds it as well. It may not be as expansible as a Sonos set-up or a Squeezebox, or offer as comprehensive a range of music sources, but it does everything it can excellently. If its particular set of abilities lines up with your requirements, and you’re looking for a stylish all-in-one solution, we’ve no reason not to recommend the MCi900.
Score in detail