|Review: Philips Fidelio AS851|
Tuesday, 08 May 2012 12:50
If you were to skip to the end of this review and go straight to the score I have given this Philips Fidelio AS851, you would see that I have awarded it the most points I have probably ever given any product that I have reviewed on this site to date.
That is because I like the AS851 as much for what it represents as for its performance.
So what does it represent that impressed me so much? Drum roll, please: Philips has realised that there is a whole world of great Android devices being manufactured, consumed and used by the same kind of people who use “iDevice” docking stations. It's a realisation too that the Android market is one that competes head on with – and is perhaps even beating – Apple at its own game.
One problem with Android devices, however, is that there are tonnes of companies that each have their own ideas about where buttons and connectors should be. This means that there is no standardization of where the micro USB connector should be located that is needed to dock a device on an AS851. Some manufacturers have been, shall we say, a bit creative with USB positioning.
To counter this issue of almost-anywhere USB connectors, Philips came up with the FlexiDock. Instead of the micro USB connector being fixed in one place – as it would be in an iPod dock – the one on the AS851 slides along the base of the dock and even rotates through 180 degrees. This sliding and rotating mechanism means that most devices with a micro USB port should be dockable on the AS851. Your device may be upside down, or on its side, but it will be docked.
As clever as this is, I would however still recommend that you check that your specific device will dock on an AS851 before you buy one.
To properly use an Android device with the AS851, you need to download the free Philips DockStudio app. This includes a Songbird music function which lets you discover, play and sync media between PC and Android devices, and even a clock mode that lets you set multiple customised music alarms, and even – if you believe in it – provides you with updated weather reports.
I freely admit that I'm no app expert, but DockStudio and its add-ons all seemed to work, and I was satisfied with them.
Before moving on to talk about what the AS851 sounds like, I should add that it has an auxiliary input, enabling iPod owners to connect their devices too. The AS851 boasts Bluetooth connectivity as well. I was able to pair my Blackberry to it, and the range was far better than I expected it would be.
On the sound side the AS851 fares well. Philips has endowed it with some clever digital sound processors that certainly get more out of a compact design than you would expect. You even get a five-band equaliser with six pre-sets. I only used the DSC-Flat. There may be – and obviously are – other music fans out there who like the boomy bass that DBB brings, or the artificiality the other settings bring, but I'm not one of them.
When set to flat, the bass is good, well-controlled, and plays lower than you would expect from such small speakers.
Depending on the recording you are listening to, the best part about the AS851's sonic performance is its mid-range, which has good detail for such a small docking system, making it really easy to listen to. Unlike some other small docks/speaker systems I've listened to, I didn’t reach for the off button after playing only a few tracks.
Those that like to listen to music louder than I do, would also be quite happy with the output of the AS851. It will certainly not be the first choice for providing music at a party, but its 15 watts-per-channel delivers clean power.
While its high frequencies were relatively good, I think that the AS851 would have delivered a touch more texture to the music if it played half an octave or so higher.
Ultimately though, the Philips Fidelio AS851 deserves to do well in our market.
It offers Android users a really decent dock; it is flexible; looks good; sounds good and, with its Auxiliary in and Bluetooth that worked well even with my Blackberry, it has pretty much all I want from a dock.
Good: It's an Android dock, looks good, sounds good and it offers pretty decent value. Can be used with other devices.
Bad: I found the FlexiDock just a little fiddly, and it could have played higher frequencies with a little more authority and clarity.
Price: R 2 199
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