Have you ever been invited to a house party only to turn up and find the host has supplied drinks and food, but simply docked their iPhone into the hi-fi? Guests are submitted to a random selection from the host’s music library. At best, you may be at a party where they’ve done a little homework and prepared a playlist, but the result is more often than not an instant mood killer.
Philips thinks it has the solution to this kind of issue with its Party Machine. I got the chance to take a closer look and have a play earlier in the month. Here’s my Philips Party Machine review along with an exclusive talkthrough video.
The Philips Party Machine is an oversized DJ-style speaker unit with a bold design that is clearly not aimed at the minimalist, streamlined household – fans of the B&W Zeppelin dock look away now! The large handles on this imposing design make it an easy proposition to lift into position or into the trunk of a car. Around the front of the unit are two large (5.25″) bass speakers with smaller two-inch tweeter units (the gold cones in the centre allow the bass frequencies another channel to exit), all finished off with a black and gold paint job.
Between them, they deliver a maximum of 300W RMS output, which is sufficiently loud enough to disturb most people’s neighbours. If this wasn’t loud enough for your party, you could extend your set-up with a matching unit that only features the speaker section and can be daisy-chained up to the Party Machine. When I demoed the unit we had it stacked on top of two extension units which in theory would have given us a total of 700W output – in reality, we had to keep the noise down, but the potential was clearly there.
To describe the sound output of speakers is always subjective, but the audio quality struck me as being good, even at the higher volumes, and it successfully filled an incredibly large room.
This isn’t where the speaker functionality ends though. As the music is playing, the white circular section around those bass units can be set to pulsate in varying colours (red, blue or a purple mix). I’m not sure I’ve ever seen lights incorporated into a speaker unit before, it is a strangely hypnotic sight. “Subtle” is not in the Party Machine’s vocabulary; It looks like dubstep heaven! (Have you seen our dubstep Christmas tree video?)
The top of the Party Machine features two iPod docks with 30-pin connectors, situated on 180-degree rotating platters. You could use a 30-pin to a lightning adaptor for the newer iOS devices but it’s not as stable since the device would over-hang the dock slightly and is liable to disconnect. This is clearly going to be an issue for newer device owners.
The rotating platters allow for the iOS devices to either face towards the front or back of the unit. If you’re at a party with the unit pushed up against a wall then you will want the devices to face towards the front; otherwise, if you’re planning on standing behind the Party Machine changing tracks, this can be reversed easily.
To class, these as “decks” would definitely be generous. They are basically two iPod docks that can be rotated. There are no pitch controls or extended deck functionality as you’d expect on any DJ controller. On the plus side, if the docks are rotated you can flip display of the LCD display text using a button on the top surface. Of course, while you’re iOS device is connected it will be charged, and if you’re using the regular music library to access the tracks, the control dial below (for Play, Pause, Forward, Back and Stop) can be used. That’s about it for DJ functionality though.
You needn’t use the iPod docks at all if you don’t want to since the Party Machine can accept tracks directly from a USB drive or from any portable media player that can output into a standard jack socket. There’s also the option to use a built-in FM radio – handy for tuning in to hear the midnight chimes on New Year’s Eve perhaps? It would have been nice to see a digital radio instead though.
The Party Machine also features two microphone inputs, both controlled by the same volume dial – not ideal if one mic user is naturally louder than the other. However, with two mic inputs, the Party Machine could nonetheless neatly be used for impromptu karaoke (if anyone asks for it…).
The unit has some built-in audio processing including a “Dynamic Bass Boost” and a switch which promises to maximise the volume and bass without distortion – both of which can be switched on/off depending on your preference. There are also four preset sound adjustments (presumably like a stored EQ) labelled Jazz, Pop, Techno and Optimal.
It’s not audiophile functionality and you don’t get control over the EQ (a basic three-band EQ would have been nice), but once again… the Party Machine is aimed at simplicity and the instantaneous rather than those who want to fine-tune levels. (There is a single dock model available too, though, where you do get simple control of the bass and treble levels.)
Something which I found frustrating was that there’s only one volume control for two inputs. Ideally, you would have a volume control for each and the central volume control would adjust what comes out over the speakers.
Apart from the 30-pin docks not working with current iOS devices, this is probably the main oversight of the unit, given that its main function is to move between two different audio sources. (This is obviously not an issue for the single input mode.)
The crossfader won’t set any serious DJ’s heart alight; it was chunky and I think it followed a dipped curve transition between the two devices, which meant that the sound appeared to get quieter as you blended in the next track. The idea of mixing between two iOS devices on the Party Machine is more for informal gatherings where friends can get involved with the music of the party by docking their device into the top, selecting the next track and fading out the playing track. This is similar to the parties of my distant memory, with friends swapping out CDs from a hi-fi back in the 90s.
If you wanted to choose a track on the other dock (I do mean dock, not deck!), you can do some basic pre-listening using the headphone socket and selecting which channel you want to listen to. That’s it though; there’s no master output blend here.
As mentioned, Philips also has a single iOS dock model at a reduced price to the dual model. The publicity detail says that you can use Algoriddim’s djay app in conjunction with the Party Machine, possibly highlighting this because you could use it in single-deck mode on two devices on the dual model and use the crossfader to mix between them.
The snag in this set-up is that you won’t be able to use the Sync button as the djay app on one iOS device won’t know the BPM of the track in djay on the other iOS device. Because of the crossfader curve, this set-up doesn’t lend itself to scratching (as you and I know it) in this way either but I don’t think you’d really expect to scratch on such a set up in all honesty.
When demoing it, I found it easier to use a single iOS device and Algoriddim’s djay program. Of course, using this approach I couldn’t cue any tracks (you can’t split cue with a hi-fi dock) so I resorted to using the “Sync” button to roughly get the tracks correct, and I tapped the crossfader in djay to “peekaboo” (quick cut into the next track to see if it’s really on beat) during my mixes. When DJing in this way, setting cue points on tracks you think you’ll play will help a lot.
The Party Machine is Philips’s first foray into anything DJ related, and while it is unlikely to generate the next Grandmaster Flash or Sasha, I think it will be popular in student households that throw frequent parties. It may also be handy for small venues hosting younger parties, where the DJ skills aren’t important but the track selection, loudness and sparkly lights are.
Philips knows that this isn’t a serious DJ product and has branded it accordingly, aiming squarely at the “party” market. It would be good to see Philips develop this into a more DJ-centric unit, maybe even implementing some Midi functionality or harnessing multi-route audio in iOS 6 for stereo cueing with one device.
The colour scheme, flashing lights, rotating iOS docks and chunky crossfader won’t be to everyone’s taste but in terms of being fit for purpose, it would certainly achieve the aim of being a talking point at a party – assuming you were heard over undeniably thumping bass that it produces, that is!
So, is something like this better than a hi-fi plus MP3 player for house parties? Would you step up and have a go if someone asked you to DJ on this? Does this kind of gear have its place in the Dj world? Please feel free to share in the comments.