When the Philips Fidelio DS8500 speaker ($199) landed on our desk, our expectations were low. Reflexively, our eyes rolled a bit at the sight of the box, picturing what appeared to be the same lackluster Philips SBD7500 speaker we reviewed last year.
To our surprise, the speaker that we pulled from the box was like nothing we've seen or heard from Philips in recent memory. The white, rounded design with gray grille cloth conveyed refinement--not mediocrity. The speaker's heft and ported enclosure hinted at its robust sound. Even the included iPod-size remote control showed a level of thoughtfulness that's rare for this product category and price range.
After taking a minute to reset our preconceptions about Philips' iPod speakers, we sank our teeth into this refreshingly powerful and affordable product.
The most surprising design aspect of the Fidelio speaker is its depth, stretching back 5.5 inches. For a product that measures 6 inches tall and 16.5 inches wide, that's a lot of junk in its trunk. Fortunately, Philips does its best to visually minimize the depth by rounding and tapering the white plastic back.
Another interesting design element is the flexible, spring-loaded dock connection that can accommodate any recent iPhone or iPod model, even if the device is kept inside a bulky case. A small rubber pad located dead center on the speaker grille provides a place for your iPhone or iPod to rest without rattling from sound vibrations.
Below the dock connector you'll find a wide, metal volume rocker switch, with a plus and minus symbol at each end, and a tastefully etched Philips logo at its center. The Fidelio performs a minor magic trick by automatically illuminating the volume icons when it detects your hands nearby. We can't say the proximity-sensing backlit buttons offer much as a practical feature, but it's a classy detail we didn't expect to find in a speaker priced under $200.