'Free your music' is the promise from Philips with its latest Streamium product, the Philips WACS7500.

Based on the previous WACS7000 but with revisions to its built-in speakers, the Philips WACS7500 is a hard-disk-based music centre, able to stream music from its internal hard drive to additional, slightly smaller, 'Stations'.

The basic system comprises one Philips WAC7500 Center and one WAS7500 Station, and up to five Stations can added, sold separately for £199.

Focusing on the Philips WACS7500's main unit first, the system can play music from one of several sources: CD, MP3 from its 80GB hard drive, radio (both FM and now, internet radio), and a USB memory device. There's also an external audio input for a TV or DVD player. An iPod can be added using Philips' optional (but free) Docking Cradle DC1050.

The Philips WACS7500's flat speakers are barely visible, being flush-mounted rectangular flat panels either side of the central display. Since the previous model, the WAC7500 has added mid-range panels, making this a three-way system when you include the internal bass speaker. You can control the Center from front panel buttons or with one of two remote control handsets, the larger version also including a small LCD display to give feedback on the track currently playing.

The smaller Philips WAS7500 Station unit has similar functionality but no hard drive - instead, it's role is to play music either streamed wirelessly from the Center, or from its own radio. Using the Music Everywhere button, all connected units will synchronise to play the same music, in time. When you consider the latency inherent when streaming media in wireless networks, this is quite impressive.

With styling cues from B&O and Apple, these units' build quality is good, and sound quality is not bad, although better sound can be found elsewhere if you're willing to forsake the Streamium's looks and relatively compact dimensions.

There are a few gimmicky buttons to augment sound, namely DBB (Dynamic Bass Boost), Smart EQ, and one optimistically labelled Incredible Surround.

Ultimately, these are just massaging the competent, if somewhat uninspiring basic sound, with the bass and EQ features not helping the lumpy bass. The smaller Station has fewer internal speakers and a slightly lighter tone, befitting its smaller dimensions, but would be more than adequate for background music in a bedroom.

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Philips has worked hard to squeeze a lot of features into the Philips WACS7500's main unit, although most users will probably focus on playing music from either its HDD or radio.

When ripping CDs, we found the machine preset to a low-quality 128kbps bitrate, although this can be changed, up to a maximum of 320kbps (WMA max 160kbps). Note that the Streamium will not play DRM-embedded music files, nor WAV or even lossless files.

Overall operation wasn't as slick as we would have liked - inserting a CD interrupted HD playback and controls would not respond when ripping. An attentive read-through of the 99-page manual is recommended to get the best from the system.

The USB connection allows more music from a memory stick or certain MP3 players to be included in the repertoire, but don't expect to be able to stream this music to another unit. Your music is not entirely ‘freed' by this Streamium. If you do have an existing large library of music - on a networked computer, for example - you can use the supplied Wireless Audio Device Manager software to transfer music between Philips WACS7500 and PC.

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Philips WACS7500: Specs

  • Center: 2x20W Class D, plus 40W rms bass
  • 802.11g wireless (WEP or WPA) and 10/100Mbps wired ethernet
  • 80GB HDD
  • CD drive with 1x/4x recording
  • FM tuner with 60 presets
  • USB 1.1 port for memory device
  • 3.5mm headphone output
  • 614x172x272mm
  • 8.83kg. Station: 2x7.5W Class D, plus 15W rms bass
  • 387x272x128mm
  • 3.6kg
  • Center: 2x20W Class D, plus 40W rms bass
  • 802.11g wireless (WEP or WPA) and 10/100Mbps wired ethernet
  • 80GB HDD
  • CD drive with 1x/4x recording
  • FM tuner with 60 presets
  • USB 1.1 port for memory device
  • 3.5mm headphone output
  • 614x172x272mm
  • 8.83kg. Station: 2x7.5W Class D, plus 15W rms bass
  • 387x272x128mm
  • 3.6kg

OUR VERDICT

A well-featured and expandable system for playing music around the house, the Philips WACS7500 may appeal with its relatively minimalist looks and cable-free installation. The styling simplification is not shared with the user interface, however, which could be more intuitive for family use. Sound quality is best described as adequate, having average definition, well tuned for background duties rather than musical escapism. Worth considering if you want a one-stop solution free of trailing wires.

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