CES 2013: Philips Fidelio HTL9100. Is it a soundbar? Or is it a 5.1 system? It might just be both…

We’ve reported already on the new soundbars that are joining the Philips range, but I grabbed the chance here at CES 2013 to take a quick look and listen to the most interesting newcomer, the top-of-the-range Fidelio HTL9100.

It’s certainly an excellent idea: by day it is a fundamentally standard, if extremely stylish-looking soundbar; by night (okay, whenever you want) it’s a 5.1 channel surround sound system.

Philips Fidelio HTL9100: From soundbar to 5.1 system

To effect this remarkable transformation, you merely remove the two speakers at either end of the soundbar and place them next to or behind your listening position. They are battery powered and the signal is, naturally, wireless. They are happy pumping out sound like this, I am assured, for around 10 hours, after which you can stick them back in regulation soundbar mode for a recharge.

A wireless subwoofer completes the rather neat set.

It’s a great idea: you don’t need to listen to the news or watch morning TV in full-on surround, but it’s nice to be able to add the effect in a moment for a movie, or the footie, for instance.

And there are plenty of us who simply don’t have the space (I believe there may even be some poor souls without the inclination…) to have loads of speakers around the room as a permanent fixture. But as a temporary measure? You bet.

Philips Fidelio HTL9100: Automatic 5.1 switching

The technology offers 5.1 channel surround on demand when the speakers are detached, so it all happens automatically – and back to soundbar mode they go when they’re stuck back on the centre unit.

There are two HDMI ports, so you can add a games console or a media system, and the system can be wall-mounted or free-standing.

Philips Fidelio HTL9100: The sound

And, in the very brief listen I had, it sounds really rather good. I was on a noisy stand (or booth, as they call them over here) so there was no chance of giving the system a fair crack, but it’s certainly got power in abundance, and the surround sound is effective.

It’s a beautifully simple and effective system: let’s hope it can live up to the promise it shows when we get a system in our test rooms.

It's available in the US from May for $800.

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Jonathan Evans
Editor, What Hi-Fi? magazine

Jonathan Evans is the editor of What Hi-Fi? magazine, and has been with the title for 17 years or so. He has been a journalist for getting on for three decades now, working on a variety of technology and motoring titles, including Stuff, Autocar and Jaguar. With his background in sub-editing and magazine production, he likes nothing more than a discussion on the finer points of grammar. And golf.