Once upon a time, the iPod was seen as the Antichrist: it featured lossy music through tinny headphones and encouraged the "death" of the album because it enabled users to shuffle their music collections. But today, attitudes have changed — high storage capacities and lossless codecs have meant that listeners can have an experience that truly is "CD quality".
As a result, hi-fi docks have started to appear, among them is Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin and now there is Philips' Fidelio Primo.
Design and features
The Primo is a 2x 50W speaker that, unlike omnidirectional systems such as the Zeppelin and the Pure Sensia, is designed to be listened to in stereo. To this end it features two forward-firing woofers partnered with ring radiator tweeters.
The back of the unit is wooden, which we find very classy, and the ports at the back form part of a subtle silver ring that travels from front to back. The black cloth grille is fairly ho-hum by comparison, and we would have liked to see the wood extend to the front of the unit.
The bottom of the Primo is rubberised and enables the dock to sit a slight angle reminiscent of this year's Bravia's. While attractive, this also creates its own problems...
The unit lacks a power button and instead uses the power function of your phone or player, and it has a volume up and down button that has a proximity sensor which lights up when you put your hand nearby.
In an attempt to maximise sound quality, using a digital stream from your device Philips adds an on-board Digital-to-Analog Converter of a higher quality than the one inside the iPod.
The player is compatible with most devices with a 30-pin port except for the iPad. While the tablet fits on the dock the device is not supported. Philips makes another dock called the Fidelio Docking speaker that works with an iPad.
Once you plug your iDevice into the dock, the DS9000 automatically installs the Fidelio application on your player. This application offers a (quite limited) playlist editor and a clock with an alarm function.
Inputs are limited to a 3.5mm auxiliary and the dock itself, which has a handy spring-loaded hinge that enables you to easily place and remove the iPod, and with a bit of jiggery-pokery you can also fit an iPad or iPad 2 as well.
The remote is sophisticated and easy to use, and certainly much better than the cute-but-restrictive model that ships with the Zeppelins.
When you go about building a premium iPod dock, sound quality has got to be a priority. In the case of the Philips, you get one of the best-sounding docks available for under AU$1000. It's capable of a high-fidelity performance and, when situated in the optimal position for stereo playback, it puts in a sterling performance. Treble is crisp, mid-range is detailed and never harsh, and bass is full and rich. Based on preliminary listens to the Bang & Olufsen iPad dock, we'd say this unit rivals it for sound quality at half the price.
If you like listening to rock music or anything with a strong beat the Fidelio will play it loudly and faithfully. If you're looking for a dock that could drive a party this is it. Only on some tracks did the bass become a little uneven, but in general the unit showed good extension and drive. At the volume extremes we did find the sound broke up quite extensively, but backing off the knob a little gave a sound that still had a lot of gusto.
However, we identified one major flaw with this design, which could require a home-made fix. The angled front means that the sound is fired upwards towards the ceiling instead of out into the room. To hear music in the best possible way you need to sit no more than 2 feet away — any more than this and the sound closes in on itself losing focus and clarity.
In order to fix this we needed to prop up the back-end of the unit with a $1 eraser. This meant we could sit further away, and didn't have to loom over the dock to enjoy the best sound.
The Philips Fidelio Primo is probably the most "hi-fi" iPod dock you'll find at this price, but unless you're installing this on a desk directly in front of you you're not going to get the best sound. While you could get all MacGyver on the Philips, this may not appeal to people who don't want to have to tweak — and this is the sort of person we imagine who would buy an iPod dock in the first place. Still for 700 bucks this is a classy, gutsy and just-plain-fun little unit.