Styled after a classic Philips radio from 1955, the Philips Original Radio strikes a deliciously retro pose with its heavy duty Bakelite-ish casing, chrome knobs and brushed metal trim – not to mention its lovely recessed lighting.
It’s mostly a joy to look at, like some kind of futuristic jet age bread bin from outer space. Yes, it mostly looks glorious, and it feels heftily retro as well, weighing in at 4.5 kilos; maybe a little on the light side for a 1950s radiogram, but close enough.
The real let-down is the dock; you get the feeling that the design heavyweights took care of the basic unit, getting everything just right, before handing it over to the technical people who took it upon themselves to wedge an ugly plastic dock into the front, all angular and plastic and flimsy and just plain nasty.
Obviously you need to have a dock and it makes sense to put it there, but couldn’t they have at least have made an effort to style it up a bit so that it didn’t stick out like a sore, leprous, weeping thumb?
And then there’s the aerial. We don’t normally get cross about aerials, but here we’d have expected a proper telescopic aerial. Instead, we got one of those long stringy wires that we’re never quite sure what to do with. Do you dangle it off a shelf? Blu-Tack it to the wall? Whatever you do with it, it’s going to look untidy.
Still, at least you don’t have to worry about it having an adverse effect on your DAB reception because, bafflingly, the Original takes its whole retro thing that little step too far by being FM-only (or VHF-only if you’re reading this in 1955). If you want DAB and can’t be bothered to install the iPlayer Radio app on your device, well, you’ll just have to spend an extra £30 on the next model up.
Yes, yes, enough about that – what does it actually sound like? Well, now. We’re told that it packs something called a Bass Reflex Speaker system. Something about "a bass pipe that is acoustically aligned to the woofer to optimise the low frequency roll-off of the system."
Okay. We’d kind of hoped all that weight was due to the Original having a set of dirty great speakers crammed into its sizeable frame, but the noise this thing kicks out tells another story. Yes, there’s a detectable bass throb in the mix, but the overall impression is damp and airy with little in the way of presence. It’s all top end with a bit of bass and a lack of warming mid-tones.
That it got on fine with the stylings of the early low-fi Velvet Underground is about the kindest thing we can say about it. Naturally, we tried to adjust the tone controls to see if we could eke a slightly more agreeable sound out of it, but there aren’t any.
Also, the Original’s quite keen that you install Philips’ HomeStudio app on your device. It’s meant to be a clever all-in-one music-playing radio-tuning weather-forecasting sleep timer package of joy, but bless our souls, it’s bad. We had trouble getting it to even play music; it didn’t want to know about anything that wasn’t a playlist. Thankfully, you can ditch it and play music with the standard app.
Also, we managed to crash it. The Original, not the app. It needed to be power cycled and everything. Awesome!
Look – if we wanted a dock to match one of those fabulous retro Smeg fridges in a ’50s-style designer kitchen, and if we only really wanted to listen to Radio 4 and some podcasts, we can guarantee that we’d be all over the Original Radio in a jiffy. We’re don’t, though. Do you?
By Jim McCauley, TechRadar