Philips Fidelio SoundSphere DS9860W Docking Speakers with AirPlay

Philips Fidelio SoundSphere DS9860W (€999)
I got my first look at the Fidelio SoundSpheres on my visit to Philips research labs last year. We were there mostly to have a look at their headphone research, but we got a brief tour through other areas of development. Benoit Burette, one of the engineers there, gave us the rundown on the fundamental product concept: The SoundSphere is a strongly omni-directional point source acoustic radiator.

The goal was to design a speaker that filled a room very well, but also had good stereo imaging and a wide sweet spot. Traditional speakers are fairly directional, and as a result deliver their best performance when you are located in a fairly narrow angle in front of the speakers. Omni-directional radiators, on the other hand, perform well in all directions, and are well known for a big, spacious sound due in part to all the reflections from the walls behind the speakers. The SoundsSpheres aren't perfectly omni-directional...but they're close.

Benoit Burette gives me a close-up look at one of the early Sound Sphere prototypes during my visit to their Innovation Labs.

The 5.25" low frequency driver is tilted upward 60 degrees from front-facing. At low frequencies this driver is strongly omni-directional. As frequency rises toward the point of the half-wavelength being the same diameter as the driver, the driver begins to beam and directionality begins to narrow in an upward direction, but before ever reaching the point of too much narrowing the crossover kicks in and the tweeter takes over. The tweeter is centered on-axis above the woofer at a distance shorter than the half-wavelength of the crossover frequency (2.2kHz) and the hand-over occurs such that the speaker remains a point source during the cross-over transition between drivers. The tweeter housing is very small, allowing it to be relatively omni-directional in its lower ranges, but it too will begin to beam as frequency rises. So, though not a perfectly omni-directional speaker, it does act that way over much of its response, and does remain strongly a point source. More information on the technical aspects of the SoundSpheres can be read on their patent application.

Philips_FidelioSoundSphere_Diag_RadiationPattern

Illustration showing the largely omni-directional radiation patter of the SoundSpheres relative to traditional box speakers.

Nuts and Bolts
Before we get into the sound quality, I thought a quick tour of the features and functions would be in order. The SoundSpheres have two input methods: AirPlay and a Line-In. Set-up for AirPlay is a little complicated but not out of the ordinary, with a couple of methods for getting the speakers to attach to your local wi-fi. In my case, I simply attached my phone to the speaker via a docking cable and the SoundSphere read the network info off the phone and was set-up quite quickly. A couple of other methods are available but somewhat long and complex to describe here. See the manual for further info.

Philips_FidelioSoundSphere_Photo_RearPanelAll active electronics are in the left speaker; binding posts on the rear of each speaker allows the power amp's signal to get to the right speaker through the included 20' speaker cable. Each speaker has about a 7 liter volume, and are a laminated wood structure. I have a set with natural finish, but the currently available U.S. model has a beautiful 7-layer gloss black laquer finish. The internal amplifier is a two-channel, 50Watt per channel Class-D amplifier. The included iPod dock is for charging 30-pin connector iDevices and serves no other purposes. The small rear panel also includes controls for: power on/off; wi-fi status light and set-up button; A USB connector for wi-fi set-up only; and the AC input connector.

Also on the rear panel is the 3.5mm line-input connector. Accessing this input can only be done with the included remote control. The remote is infra-red and must be pointed fairly directly at the left speaker to operate. Unfortunately there are no visual indicators on the left speaker to let you know when it's receiving information from the remote, so you're never quite sure if your commands are being received. Buttons on the remote allow: input selection; volume control; mute; power; and play/pause/RW/FF.

Philips_FidelioSoundSphere_Photo_Remote

A free companion SoundStudio app is available at the iTunes store. It's very important to download this app; the SoundSpheres ship with added bass boost EQ as default. When first turning these on I found the bass significantly over emphasized. Once downloaded and on your iDevice, you identify the SoundSphere as the AirPlay device of interest. At that point you can navigate to the radio section of the app and play internet radio. But in order to change the EQ settings on the SoundSpheres you must connect your iDevice to the rear panel USB connector using a docking cable.

Philips_FidelioSoundSphere_Photo_AppScreenCaps

SoundStudio app screen caps. Top row L to R: Splash screen; screen when going to settings prior to hooking up to speaker with docking cable; settings page. Bottom L to R: "My Sound" EQ adjustment; 5-band graphic EQ; internet radio (TuneIn) opening page.

Right, let's turn the page and find out how well these babys fill a room with music.

COMPANY INFO
Philips
1600 Summer St.
P.O. Box 120015
Stamford, CT 06912
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Hjelmevold's picture

I can't help but notice the similarity between these speakers and the Linkwitz Lab Pluto. From a technical point of view, I prefer the Plutos to the SoundSphere's more traditional implementation (the Plutos have an extremely low crossover to improve the dispersion pattern, and they have an infinite-baffle enclosure). But the SoundSpheres are of course much better looking, in addition to being wireless.

If I were to buy something like this, I'd prefer to buy just a single speaker instead of the pair, for two reasons. First of all, a single speaker avoids the cable between the speakers, further increasing wife acceptance factor since you'll only have a single power cable.

But more importantly, since such a large part of the sound of omnidirectional speakers is generated by the room acoustics, you'll get a more tidy sound scape by using one speaker only, especially when this is close to being a point-source speaker. A single speaker would be very beneficial in a living room setting when you don't necessarily sit in the sweet spot, but rather move around. With two speakers, there would have been a lot of comb filter effects when moving around in the room. With a single point source speaker, the biggest change is in the acoustics, but these change just like any other sound emitting object in the room, and therefore the speaker sounds like a completely natural and well-integrated part of your environment.

gefski's picture

Eye of the beholder I guess. My wife thought they were "IKEAish salt and pepper grinders". I was getting bad kitchen images too, reading the tech paragraphs to decide which I would put flour in and which sugar. 

Her best comment though was "...that picture of you (that I was laughing at) from last weekend's Head-Fi meet with the Stax Sigmas on your head--they almost look cool compared to those speakers...".

Anyway I'm glad they do so well sonically. Keep up the fun and informative work Tyll, and I'll keep reading!

 

praveen's picture

Thought of picking this up but the reviews of long-term reliability (check amazon) for this baby are atrocious with lots of users complaining high failure rates until they gave up. Anyone else used these puppies and found them to last for at least a year?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I did contact Philips and it looks like I've reviewed a subsequent model (DS9860W) that took care of the problems with the first. I've modified my article based on information I received from Philips. I'll reprint my Editor's Note here:

Editor's Note: This article was initially published with a wrong model number "DS9800W". It has been corrected to reflect the product reviewed. The current SoundSphere product (DS9860 in wood, also DS9830 in gloss white) is not yet available in the U.S.

As is mentioned in the comments, there were some issues with the previous product and a number of poor customer reviews on the internet resulted. The revised product has addressed concerns by an updated WiFi Airplay module that includes the Easy 3-step AirPlay set-up, and also an improved antenna and power supply. The sound performance is very similar between the two generations. I've been asked to relay the message that, " Any customers of the DS9800W that do have issues should contact our support team who will do their utmost to help them."

I'm very glad Philips has responded so rapidly to these issues; I look forward to availability in the U.S. The SoundSpheres are a very cool product.

oluv's picture

yes, 1 year is what you can expect, than they will fail. if you have warranty they should fixed it, as was the case with my own set. since then they have worked flawlessly (apart from airplay-stability issues).
sound is really good, much better than what B&W is offering for an even higher price!

ultrabike's picture

My living room uber-mini 5.1 setup consists of a Mirage nano-sat set. They are not exactly the same technology. As mentioned above, these seem closer to the Pluto since the Mirage also use an up-firing tweeter with a small diffuser.

My wife does believe these type of speakers look nice.

The nice thing about these besides the expansive sound, is that placement is not as critical. In the Mirage's case it's even less critical given the lack of a port. This may be important for some if locating the speakers out of curious little hands is a consideration.

The trade off for the lack of port is that the Mirage's do not extend very low, which is something that for a while had me salivating for the Soundspheres. In fact, in the case of the nanosats, there is a sizeable frequency response hole before the sub kicks in which IMO is a severe design flaw in the Mirage's package.

A portless Soundsphere alternative, w/o the reliability scare (if there are indeed reliability issues) would have been the Mirage OMD-5 which, like the nanosats, is also portless but uses a 5 1/2" woofer (instead of a 2.75"). Still, the Soundsphere might be able to give more low end extension.

I think the OMD-5's go for ~$450 a pair @ eBay (these are passive though). The nanosats IMO have a warm tilt, and going from memory, I think the OMD-5's have this too... They used to be available at Best Buy (Magnolia deal)...

Will continue salivating for the Soundspheres.

oluv's picture

i am an owner of the original black DS9800, which has been on the market for more than 2 years now.
there have been definitely reliability-issues with the first generation. mine got broken after one year (the famous blinking red LED) but could be fixed due to warranty.
another problem is the unreliable airplay-connection, the speakers rename themselves repeatedly, or they continue to log into the network on their own. philips was never able to provide any solution for that!
the new DS9860 doesn't seem to be that different, if the sound remained the same, for the better, as the DS9800 is really not bad, it is just heavy bassnotes that produce lots of port noise, despite the port being quite large.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Did you get the app for it and check to see if the EQ is set? If not, I'd recommend getting the app and set the speakers for flat...they sound much better and get rid of a bit of tht wolly bass.
oluv's picture

yes, i have set the EQ flat or even turned down the 300hz band one notch to make them sound less boomy.

i preferred them with "fullsound" option on, which disabled the EQ completely, but the latest soundstudio app doesn't even have this option anymore. fortunately i still have an old version of the previous dockstudio-app on my ipad, so i can set "fullsound" if i want to. dunno why philips took away this feature although they still promote "fullsound" on the product-website...

branon's picture

Do they have any plans of releasing this in the US?

Arly Borges's picture

Hi Tyll, sorry if this comes across as a silly question. Could you lay out what your exact setup was for these speakers and what was the sweet spot for you when trying to find good positioning away from the wall to get decent bass? Also, is there a way I could possibly bypass the amp and use my own external amp. I'm wondering if maybe better results could possibly be attained with an external amp?

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Mostly it was resetting the EQ to flat to get rid of the factory set bass boost. Then I liked them at least 3 feet from a wall, not because of bass boost, but mainly to give them room to breath and develop a big image. The image wasn't specific enough to need critical positioning---it's big, but not pin-point in its imaging.

I don't think you can by-pass the internal amps.

oluv's picture

only the right speaker is active, the left one is a passive speaker that you could indeed attach to any amp, but i wouldn't recommend this, because i also wanted to know how it sounded for real, and it is a very tinny lifeless sound.
i guess there is lots of EQ and other DSP processing in the built in amp.

Sheep's picture

I can get my hands on a new pair of these wooden fidelios . DS9860W But i'm still concerned about these bad reports about the wifi. Did i read correctly in your article that philips fixed this problem? Their beauty keeps pulling me towards bying but.....

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