With the release of its new Fidelio SoundAvia AD7000W ($229), Philips has entered the growing AirPlay wireless speaker market with two obvious advantages over its rivals: first, SoundAvia AD7000W is now the least expensive AirPlay speaker — a big step down in price from iHome’s $300 iW1 — and second, it looks a lot like Bose’s classic SoundDock systems, which have proved incredibly popular for the past seven years thanks to their neutral design and heavy marketing. Rather than trying to make this entry-level model look cheap, Philips has created a system that seems destined to appeal even more broadly to the masses than the company’s more expensive offerings, though SoundAvia AD7000W is held back from an even higher rating by the same issues that have impacted most other AirPlay systems to date.
If anything, SoundAvia AD7000W’s design actually looks a little nicer than the SoundDocks that inspired it: Philips tops the bulging black fabric and glossy plastic unit with a thick aluminum plate that’s brushed with reflective diamond-cut edges. Moreover, the company has chosen as modest of a control system as possible: it unusually hides SoundAvia AD7000W’s power and volume buttons on the upper back, with a row at the bottom of the back for a one-time Wi-Fi setup button, plus ports for wall power, USB, and auxiliary audio. There’s no remote control in the package; you just get a wall power adapter, a 3.5mm audio cable, and an oversized map-like set of instructions for setting the unit up, plus other printed materials.
As with other AirPlay speakers, SoundAvia AD7000W’s key selling point is its wireless functionality. Unlike most iPod, iPhone, and iPad audio systems, the idea here is to plug SoundAvia AD7000W into the wall, turn the power on, set the unit up to linger on your home Wi-Fi network, then not really fidget much with the speaker itself going forward. If you need to change the volume, you can do so through iTunes or your iOS device; if you want to be sure you can connect to the SoundAvia AD7000W unit at any time, you’re supposed to just leave the power on. Otherwise, you can turn it on and off only as needed. A little blue status light shines through the front grille, and if it’s off, the speaker won’t appear in your iTunes or iOS device’s list of AirPlay devices. Turn the unit back on again and the blue light will flash until it’s back on your Wi-Fi network, then go solid around the same time as the speaker chirps to let you know that it’s connected, generally five or ten seconds later.
Apart from the initial network setup, which requires five or so minutes of time and only modest fidgeting with an iOS device’s settings and Safari browser, everything works pretty much as expected. Once SoundAvia AD7000W is on your Wi-Fi network, playing music or other audio through it is as simple as pressing the AirPlay icon in iTunes or an iOS application, selecting the device, and waiting a few seconds for the audio to start playing. Like other AirPlay speakers we’ve tested, the start of this streaming process is considerably slower than with Bluetooth wireless devices, and in the case of SoundAvia AD7000W doesn’t really lead to superior audio quality—more on that in a moment—but it does get you the other advantages of AirPlay, including a conceivably greater Wi-Fi broadcasting range, plus the opportunity to stream audio from iTunes to multiple speakers at once. Our single biggest problem with AirPlay speakers has been more or less consistent across models to date, and that’s their propensity for dropping wireless signals and thereby interrupting audio, an issue that appears to be at least somewhat network-dependent. Bluetooth speakers we’ve tested do much better than AirPlay ones in this regard, and they’re generally less expensive, too.
Conspicuously missing from SoundAvia AD7000W is any iPod or iPhone dock on the front. If you really need wired audio input, you can use the included audio cable with any device’s headphone port, or supply your own Dock Connector cable and connect an iPod, iPhone, or iPad to the USB port for charging and audio playback. In the absence of any on-board or remote controlled input select button, SoundAvia AD7000W just switches to the dock or auxiliary input when something’s plugged into one of them, only occasionally getting a little confused when handling multiple audio sources at the same time. While we can understand that Philips was aiming to simplify SoundAvia AD7000W’s controls as much as possible, a button to toggle between the device’s wired inputs would have been welcome.
Our strongest praise for SoundAvia AD7000W is in the audio department. Apart from the hiccups in the wireless signal, Philips has done a very impressive job of rivaling the sonic performance of the $300 Bose SoundDock Series II—at a lower price, no less, even while adding Apple’s somewhat pricey AirPlay hardware. Out of the box, SoundAvia AD7000W makes a good first impression, presenting audio with a very reasonable balance of highs, mids, and mid-bass, plus just enough bass that listeners won’t think it’s deficient unless placed directly next to a more capable speaker system. We were frankly surprised that the two full-range drivers came as close to the SoundDock as they did: SoundAvia AD7000W is capable of playing loud enough to more than fill a small room, and only falls a little short of Bose’s sound signature in the bass department, while the SoundDock’s mid-treble doesn’t sound as crisp as SoundAvia AD7000W’s. While distortion is evident in both of these systems’ midranges, it’s less offensive in SoundAvia AD7000W given the system’s lower price level and broader wireless capabilities.
On the other hand, it’s impossible to look at this system without thinking of Logitech’s recently-released Wireless Boombox, which uses an eight-speaker array to provide slightly more dynamic sound at virtually identical volume levels, plus Bluetooth wireless streaming capabilities and battery-powered portability. SoundAvia AD7000W has advantages such as a more neutral design and direct USB charging, but the Wireless Boombox sounds at least as good, can be used on the go, and costs quite a bit less.
Overall, Philips’ Fidelio SoundAvia AD7000W is a good AirPlay speaker, and if you were thinking of buying a Bose SoundDock, this new option offers more modern features and aggressive pricing with only small compromises in the docking and bass departments. If you’re willing to live with some of the wireless challenges presented by early AirPlay accessories, and are okay with the lack of traditional docking and remote control functionality, you’ll find SoundAvia AD7000W to be a nice, relatively easy to use companion to iTunes or an iOS device, at a price that’s hard to beat—for now.
Company and Price
Model: Fidelio SoundAvia AD7000W
Compatible: iPad/iPad 2, iPhone 3GS/4/4S, iPod touch 3G/4G