Philips’s Philips Fidelio Docking speaker DS8500/37 is a large-but-sleek docking speaker system that works with iPhones, iPods, and—unlike most speaker docks—even iPads. With a curved, white-plastic body and silver-fabric face, the Fidelio’s design is in keeping with classic iPods and newer iMacs—the device felt at home amongst my home’s numerous Apple objects. The 8500 weighs 5 pounds, and measures 17 inches wide, 5.5 inches deep, and 6 inches tall.
The first noteworthy feature of Fidelio is that, as I mentioned, you can actually dock your iPad in the wide device. In fact, the system’s dock “cradle” may even accommodate your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad in its case, depending on the thickness of the case—for example, I was able to dock my iPad in the Apple iPad Case. (A popular case you can’t use with the Fidelio, however, is Apple’s iPhone 4 Bumper; you’ll need to remove the bumper before docking your iPhone.) Rather than using Apple’s Universal Dock design, the 8500 employs Philips’ own dock-connector cradle, which the company says will work with any 30-pin iPod, iPhone, or iPad without the need for a plastic insert or adapter.
On the back of the Fidelio are but two connections: one for the included AC adapter, and a 1/8-inch (3.5mm) stereo line-in jack. The unit comes packaged with a 12-inch miniplug-to-miniplug auxiliary cable, which you can use to connect devices that don’t include the 30-pin dock connector.
The system’s sparse on-board controls consist solely of Volume Up and Down buttons. However, even those are hidden: The Fidelio sports a proximity sensor for activating what the company calls the unit’s “backlit control panel.” While it’s certainly true that when my hand got close to the volume controls, the buttons lit up, I can’t say that this feature offers any tangible benefit—with just two buttons, it’s not difficult to figure out how to control the volume, even if your eyes are closed. You may be thinking, “But of course there’s a Power button, right?” Actually, no—the Fidelio is on and ready to go whenever it’s plugged in. The unit enters a power-saving standby mode when you remove a docked device or when there’s no auxiliary input for 15 minutes.
The Fidelio’s infrared remote offers most of the system’s controls: Play/Pause, Back, Forward, Volume Up, Volume Down, Mute, a button to toggle between a docked device and the line-in jack, and buttons for navigating your device’s onscreen menus. Several of the buttons on our review unit’s remote felt a bit soft, and since the remote provides no visual feedback when you push a button, there were times I wasn’t sure if I’d successfully pressed a button at all. I also found that the required line of sight to operate the Fidelio using the remote was a bit too narrow.
When you first dock an iOS device with the Fidelio, you’ll be prompted to download the free Philips Fidelio app from the App Store. You don’t need the app to use the system, but it’s worth the download. The app lets you adjust how much bass presence the Fidelio provides, and it gives you several different equalizer presets. As you’d expect, the app offers full access to your music library. Annoyingly, though, while you’re prompted to get the app if it isn’t already installed when you first dock your device, the app doesn’t launch automatically when you re-dock thereafter. (To be fair, this is likely a limitation of iOS, not of the app or the 8500.)
I’ve reviewed many speaker docks for Macworld, and the Fidelio’s sound quality rivals the best of them. The unit generates big sound, with solid performance in the treble, midrange, and bass. All that sound comes from just two 15-watt, 3-inch, full-range drivers powered by a technology Philips calls PureDigital. (Low-range performance is enhanced by a pair of bass ports on the back of the unit.) I didn’t find the sound lacking in any way—quite simply, I loved listening to my music with the Fidelio 8500.
Macworld’s buying advice
Perhaps the greatest praise I can offer the Fidelio 8500 is that I’m surprised it doesn’t cost more. Although the remote could use some improvements, and the on-board controls are limited, the unit’s looks and audio are exceptional. If you’re seriously considering the 8500, it’s probably also worth checking out the $300 Fidelio 8550, which adds Bluetooth audio support, a built-in rechargeable battery, and a carrying handle. But if you don’t want to spend another $100 for those extra features, the 8500 itself is an excellent speaker dock with outstanding sound quality.