The Philips Fidelio B5 is a shape-shifter – a soundbar that, thanks to two detachable speakers, can transform itself into a surround sound system, as well as a Bluetooth-powered multiroom system. All this from one package and no extra wires.
The B5 is the natural successor to the 2013 Award-winning HTL9100, with the multiroom aspect being the biggest update.
The B5 is also more affordable at £550 – the HTL9100 was £600 when we first tested it.
But this shape-shifting soundbar is no gimmick. Whether you’re using it as a straightforward soundbar or as a surround system, the Fidelio B5 delivers a hugely entertaining and viable surround sound performance.
It’s an excellent step up from your TV’s sound. The B5 breathes texture and dynamics into an episode of Doctor Who, with the special effects sounding punchier than they would coming straight out the TV’s speakers. Voices are clear, subtle and packed with character.
The sound is satisfyingly solid, too. There’s an authoritative weight running throughout the balanced frequency range, lending solidity to the smooth top end, as well as delivering a great deal of wallop and grit to the bass performance.
With the thunderous action of Mad Max: Fury Road on screen, the B5 is nuanced enough to distinguish the various textures and layers of the different engines roars. It’s a convincing performance, with the B5 keeping up with the fast-paced action.
If we had one criticism, it would be that the Q Acoustics Media 4 (£330) is just a touch more cohesive and insightful.
However, the B5 delivers an open and spacious sound that’s unmatched by rivals in this price range, such as the Sony HT-RT5 or the Yamaha YSP-1600. It’s an impressive spread of sound, making you feel completely immersed in what you’re watching. Even Pointless sounds just that bit grander.
With the rear speakers deployed, that sense of immersion is enhanced. The rears don’t attract undue attention (unlike those of the Sony HT-RT5). Instead, they subtly add atmosphere to the B5’s overall performance.
Most impressively of all, there are no gaps between the bar and the rears. All components of the B5 – the main bar, the subwoofer and the rears – integrate seamlessly, creating a detailed and balanced circle of sound.
The B5 performs admirably with music, too. Streamed over Bluetooth, Fiona Apple’s Every Single Night is lively and detailed, with her lilting vocals benefiting from the B5’s agile rhythm and controlled dynamics.
Snap the rears back into place, and the song sounds more solid and cohesive with the full soundbar intact.
Build and design
The B5 looks every inch a lifestyle product, with its curved, flat design, elegant cloth finish and sleek aluminium panel. Build and finish quality are impeccable. You will need to make space for it in front of your TV, but the design is flat enough that it won’t obstruct the bottom edge of the screen.
Under the cloth grille, you will find two 7.5cm drivers and two 25mm soft-dome tweeters, while each rear satellite contains one full-range driver. The downward-firing wireless subwoofer packs 90W of claimed power.
It’s tall and fairly slim, making it easy to tuck away in the corner of your room.
Now for the shape-shifting part: the ends of the soundbar detach smoothly to become rear speakers – or multi-room speakers – that communicate with the soundbar wirelessly.
The B5 is clever enough to recognise when the ends detach, with the ‘surround on-demand’ option on each flicking on to transform them into rear speakers.
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Place them behind you as you would with traditional rear speakers, (we would recommend dedicated stands for them, although they can just as easily rest on any surface), and unlike rivals such as the Sony HT-RT5, they don’t need any extra wires to plug them into the mains. It’s an elegant and cleverly-designed system.
The rear speakers are battery-powered, with each lasting up to a claimed 10 hours when in surround mode (five if using Bluetooth). The LED changes colour from white to red to indicate when the battery is low. To recharge, just reattach them to the main soundbar unit.
Philips also includes an auto-calibration set-up to ensure you get the best possible surround sound from the B5. The calibration only works when the rear speakers are deployed, another clever touch from Philips.
Press the calibration button on the remote and it will optimise the 4.1 system to suit your room in seconds.
Features and connectivity
You get two HDMI inputs and an output with ARC (audio return channel), alongside single inputs apiece for coaxial, optical, and a pair of analogue RCA.
You can stream songs from your smart device using aptX Bluetooth. Pairing is swift, while compatible devices can make it a swifter process using one-touch NFC (near-field communication). Simply tap your device against the NFC logo on the right side of the central metal stripe.
Both rear speakers can be switched into Bluetooth mode, and since they’re completely wireless and easily portable, you can take them into different rooms, and voila! – a multiroom system, with no extra set-up, wires or fiddling with apps.
The Philips Fidelio B5 is an excellent soundbar that stands apart from its price rivals. For £550, you certainly get an enjoyable, cinematic performance.
The real competition for the Philips Fidelio B5 is the Award-winning Q Acoustics Media 4. The Media 4 doesn’t have any HDMI connections or detachable rear speakers for surround, but it does delivering a stunningly detailed, musical and dynamic sound for just £330.
However, that doesn’t take away from just how enjoyable the Fidelio B5 is. The ingenious design, its expansive and detailed sound quality, and ease of use make it an absolute delight.
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