The Philips Fidelio L4 is the latest pair of premium wireless over-ear headphones to hit the market with the intention of dethroning the Sony WH-1000XM5 as What Hi-Fi?’s top recommended pair.
They arrive during a busy time for the market with Bose having also unveiled its new flagship QuietComfort Ultra Headphones less than a week ago. This may leave some buyers wondering what the Fidelio L4 can offer to differentiate themselves from the competition.
We've had a brief, initial listen and play with the wireless over-ears at a press event in Barcelona, and while it’s far too early to give our final verdict, our experience with them was positive. Here are our first impressions.
The Philips Fidelio L4 will go on sale in "early October" and will retail for £350 / $350. This puts them squarely in the same price bracket as the Sony WH-1000XM5, which launched with a £380 / $399 / AU$549 price tag.
However, they will be significantly cheaper than the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, which is set to retail for £450 in the UK, $429 in the US and AU$649 in Australia when they debut at the same time in October.
Build and comfort
Visually, the Fidelio L4 look a lot like the older Fidelio L3 we reviewed all the way back in 2021. This means they’re slightly different from the XM5 and Bose, featuring distinctly circular, as opposed to oval, ear cups.
Despite looking similar to the L3 at first glance, Philips has made some design changes. Specifically, they're now 10 per cent lighter and slightly smaller than their predecessors. In a bid to boost comfort for people with larger ears, or earrings, Philips has also made the cups' interior slightly larger, despite reducing their external dimensions.
Philips claims the cans have been designed with the same “no surprises” philosophy as other Fidelio products, which means all the materials are apparently exactly what they look like. This means the L4 have soft, sustainably sourced leather design flourishes around the outside and they use metal for the hinge and headband’s structural elements. However, the internal cushioning is synthetic (fake) leather.
Picking them up, they undeniably feel premium with the hinges feeling suitably rugged to survive use on the go. Philips also claims it’s reduced the L4’s clamping force in a bid to make them more comfortable to wear for prolonged periods. This made them initially feel a little loose on the head, though they did still offer decent passive noise isolation and felt comfy during our brief time with them.
The physical volume, ANC/mic, Play/Pause, and power controls also had a nice tactile click to them and were conveniently located on the bottom of the L4’s earcups alongside their USB-C and 3.5mm inputs. Unlike some modern brands, the L4 also comes with a USB cable bundled into their travel case.
The final upgrade of note here is that Philips has increased the L4’s quoted battery life, promising they will now offer 50 hours of playback with ANC off and 40 hours with it on. We didn’t get a chance to actually check this figure during our demo session, but if accurate that would give the Fidelio L4 an edge on the Sony XM5, which offers 30 hours of listening with ANC on and 40 hours with it off, based on our testing.
Features-wise, the L4 ticks most of the boxes you’d expect from a set of over-ear wireless headphones at this price, plus a few novel extras.
For starters, the L4 has been upgraded to use Bluetooth 5.3 with support for Google Fast Pair. Based on experience with other Bluetooth 5.3-compatible headphones, this should make for smoother multipoint and more seamless wireless switching across devices, though our team of expert testers will need to check this when we get them in for full review.
Support for LC3 and Sony's LDAC codec, alongside SBC and AAC, is another welcome upgrade that means they are able to stream higher-quality audio from supported sources. They also support true hi-res if you plug in via the 3.5mm headphone jack or USB-C to a compatible source.
Philips has also done some work to improve their mic and ANC powers. On the primary, Philips has added a new voice mic designed to help eliminate wind noise.
For ANC, Philips has relocated the venting port for the mic that measures external noise to the rear of the earcup. This, in theory, should help improve its ability to combat wind noise, an area we have found the L3 and many older wireless headphones struggle.
I only got to use the headphones in a demo room, which didn’t feature any wind noise or specific ANC tests. Instead, I only got to see how the ANC performed with the background noise of audio journalists wandering about the demo room, which is by all standards pretty sedate. However, the ANC performed well during this brief window, easily blocking out the background conversations going on in the room.
Philips made a lot of noise about the work it’s done to improve the L4’s audio quality, based on some of the issues our testers had with the older L3. Specifically, the company focussed on the L4’s use of a new proprietary 40mm driver, with a graphene coating to add stiffness. Philips claims this will lead to less distortion and a generally cleaner sound in the midrange and higher frequencies.
I only got chance to listen to a limited number of tracks with the Fidelio L4 connected via Bluetooth to a hi-res FiiO M11S music player as its source.
I also didn’t have a pair of Sony XM5 or any other wireless over-ears to do direct comparisons with, so it’s far too early to make any definitive statements on the L4’s audio quality.
However, early impressions were positive. Kicking off our listen with David Bowie’s Moonage Daydream, the L4 offered decent tonal balance, with no part of the frequency range sticking out of the crowd.
Moving onto guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani’s In My Pocket, the L4 offered a nicely dynamic sound that fits with the guitar’s energetic, joyful tone, retaining a suitably precise feel.
Rocking out to Led Zepplin’s Whole Lotta Love, the L4 offered what seemed like a rhythmically precise rendition that retained the track’s high energy. AC/DC’s Rock Or Bust was equally pleasant with the track never suffering from sibilance at the top end, as it does on many of the cheaper headphones we test.
This left me eager to get a pair of Fidelio L4 into our listening rooms to properly test their performance in comparison with our class leaders.
The Philips Fidelio L4 targets a very competitive segment of the market that’s already full of great choices and is about to get even more full, thanks to the arrival of new rivals such as the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones.
However, Philips seems to have taken heed of many of the criticisms we made of its good, but not perfect, L3 and focussed on getting basics like audio quality, battery life, and comfort right over flashy gimmicks. This makes them a fairly exciting product and I'll be curious to see how they perform with more rigorous testing when we get them in for a full review.
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