With high class looks and sparkling sound quality can the wireless Philips Fidelio AW9000 finally beat Sonos at its own game?
A welcome alternative to the one-box streaming speaker, the Philips Fidelio AW9000 boasts two speaker units for proper stereo separation and interior designer approved looks, but at £500 can it challenge Sonos for a slice of the multi-room pie?
Philips Fidelio AW9000: Size and build
With the exception of perhaps the B&W A7 (and the smaller B&W A5) we've not seen a better looking speaker (or rather speakers) in a while. The curved diamond design topped off with brushed aluminium and real wood veneer is a treat, blending old-school speaker design with cutting-edge technology.
But they are bigger than your average bookshelf speaker (W300 x D210 x H350mm) and while the angles will tuck nicely into a corner remember this isn't a one-box system. That's right children of the 90s, there are speaker cables to consider and actual stereo sound.
If you don't have room for more than a one-box system but love the look Philips also offers the smaller A3 (AW3000) and A5 (AW3500).
Philips Fidelio AW9000: Connections
For a wireless speaker system the AW9000 packs in the connections. Aside from the screw style speaker terminals on each, the main speaker unit - containing the class-D digital amp - features an Ethernet port, coaxial and optical digital sockets, a stereo phono pair and 3.5mm jack.
As for wireless connectivity, it supports the usual Wireless LAN 802.11 n, 802.11 g, 802.11b and UPnP.
Philips Fidelio AW9000: Features
Each speaker has three top quality drivers - 2 x dome tweeters plus 4 x 3.5in woofers in total - to help produce as immersive a soundscape as possible. Divided left and right using the diamond shape cabinet with the tweeter in the middle the result is impressive room-filling sound wherever you - or the speakers - are positioned.
Philips Fidelio AW9000: Formats
The AW9000 can stream uncompressed audio directly from just about anywhere. It can handle Mac or PC, Android and Apple as well as stream from internet services including Spotify. It also features a built-in internet radio with four handy pre-set buttons in case you can't find your smartphone.
As for file formats, take your pick from MP3, WMA, non DRM AAC (m4A), eAAC+ and FLAC files.
Philips Fidelio AW9000: Setup
Just about everything is controlled via the free AirStudio app (Android and Apple). You can also download MediaManager for your PC or Mac to increase your streaming options.
Once the AW9000 is plugged in, the AirStudio app guides you through the synching. With just one Wi-fi Connect button on the speaker and simple onscreen instructions it should be a simple process. It wasn't.
It took at least a dozen attempts before the speaker would talk to our router. Lots of lights flashed but no connection and no explanation.
Once connected we did finally manage to play some music, but the app felt sluggish (we were using the Android version). Opening menu screens, choosing playlists and connecting music source to speaker just didn't flow. Everything just took slightly too long not to annoy.
It's a shame as the layout of the app is clear and easy to navigate.
Philips Fidelio AW9000: Sound quality
Compared to the plethora of one-box wireless systems the Philips AW9000 sounds superb, but for £500 we'd be mortified if it didn't impress. The multi-directional driver layout - and the fact there are two speakers - produces high-quality room-filling sound just like you'd expect from a traditional stereo.
The mix is good, with detailed mid and high tones especially with guitar and cymbal heavy tracks and enough bass to bother the neighbours. As a comparison, the Sonos PLAY: 5 doesn't come close.
Philips Fidelio AW9000: Value
At £499 the Philips is hardly a bargain, but what you do get is a great balance of cutting-edge connectivity and traditional hi-fi theory. It also sounds like a proper stereo and as the main system in a multi-room set-up you could spend your money on a lot worse.
Philips Fidelio AW9000: Verdict
By resisting the temptation to deliver a one-box system Philips has created a high-class hi-fi alternative that sounds great and looks the business. If it can just make setup as simple as Sonos and give the AirStudio app a good spit and polish Philips will have one of the best wireless multi-room collections on the market.
Philips AW9000 release date: Out now
Philips AW9000 Price: £499