Published on January 31st, 2012 | by Greg0
Philips SoundRing, Now With Airplay
We got a sneak preview of the upcoming gear from Philips, and we confess to being excited for what it yet to come in 2012. We try out a lot of iOS gear here- all sorts of gadgets and gizmos and everything from cases to lenses. But our favorite category combines audio with the mobile devices and tablets that have come to rule the category- the iPhone and the iPad. Hence our love for speakers and speaker docks- of every make, model, and variety.
We’ve tried out some of the very best- the Zeppelin Air from Bowers and Wilkins scored high marks- but understand that there are plenty of people on a budget and there are options for every taste. We’ve even seen some with a kitchen scale built-in.
Today, we’ve got the Philips Fidelio SoundRing Wireless Speaker with AirPlay. We should note that this is not technically a dock in the strictest sense, which made a lot of sense to us. After all, with AirPlay, there is little need or use for a dock other than charging. Plus you can certainly plug in your iPod, iPhone, or iPad into the USB port to charge and play simultaneously, and this method felt a bit more convenient and less likely to break than a dock.
The SoundRing is quite an attractive system, and surprisingly loud for it’s fairly small footprint. Unlike some systems, it has a wider sweet spot, so that listeners don’t have to carefully adjust the speaker or themselves for quality sound. We found the build quality impressive as well- it’s a dense, well-engineered piece of equipment. Even better, it’s portable- you can use the built-in rechargeable batteries to power the unit, unlike most other AirPlay devices that we’ve seen. Now, you’re not going to get a long party out of the batteries- maybe three or so hours using wireless playback, but almost six if you use the auxiliary or or USB input. The charging cradle is pretty nifty, too- one of the, if not the, best we’ve seen.
So far, so good. But as with most AirPlay devices that we’ve seen, there are more a few major caveats. We’ll start with one that is Philips-specific, as they offer (uniquely) a free app that allows you a bit more control over sound settings, and ostensibly some other features. In our opinion, it’s not really worth the download- it felt buggy and incomplete, and it crashed more than once. It also seemed to exacerbate the fairly common issues with AirPlay. As with most AirPlay devices that we’ve tried, we experienced regular drop-outs when using an iPhone 4S- or even having one on the network. One router would work well, but we’ve seen others perform very poorly, regardless of signal strength, even when using an iPhone 4. We’ve heard from multiple sources that Apple is aware of these issues, as are the manufacturers, and everyone is waiting for a fix- hopefully coming soon.
Once that AirPlay fix comes, this will be a wonderfully attractive portable wireless speaker system. The sound quality is good, with a definite tilt towards fuller sound and more spacious, roomier mids and slightly thin highs. The bass won’t really shake the room, and we found the SoundRing perfect for most pop and rock, a bit strained on hip-hop and classical/opera tracks, but featuring crisp vocals across the board. At higher volumes, there was some distortion, regardless of input method. But the classy industrial design and nice weight/sound balance meant we could take our party on the road and look good doing so. Available for $300, the price feels just about right, and it’s available online and in stores now.