A high-quality pair of headphones from Philips? That might come as a surprise, to some, but it really shouldn’t. The Philips Fidelio L1 (opens in new tab)s certainly look the part.
And don't forget the company is already a large producer of headphones and has an audio heritage (it invented the compact cassette and co-developed of the CD, among other things) that is second to none.
Yet, over the years the firm has concentrated affordability when it comes to its head-centric products, so people tend to have a mistakenly downmarket impression of the company.
Philips is no doubt aiming to change that with its Fidelio brand. The L1 is the first of a series of (relatively) high-end headphones to be sold under the banner.
And you’ll be seeing more of it, too; Philips is going to sell the top-end products from all its audio ranges – be they iPod docks or stand-alone active speakers such as the SoundSpheres – under this name.
Philips Fidelio Li: build quality
Our first impression of the L1s is good. They feel well made; there’s generous use of aluminium and leather in their construction, and it all adds up to a pleasingly high-quality feel.
They’re comfortable, too. The leather-bound headband is nicely judged in
shape and padding, and overall weight is reasonable at 272g (going by our scales).
We think the earpads’ inward pressure is spot-on: tight enough for stability but not a hint of the head-clamp that some manufacturers seem to insist on. They do get a little hot over prolonged use, though.
These headphones are a semi-open-backed design. There is some sound leakage, but nowhere near that produced by pure open-backed designs such as Grado’s otherwise terrific 325is (£315), which picked up an Award last year.
Philips Fidelio L1: sound quality
The L1s’ sonic presentation is well-balanced. They have a mildly restrained sound that takes a little while to appreciate, and in a straight comparison with class rivals these phones may underwhelm.
However, give the Fidelios a little bit of time and their talents start to become apparent.
Philips’ engineers have chosen a smooth tonal balance. There’s not a hint
of brashness about the high frequencies, yet there’s enough bite to satisfy with rough recordings such as the Police’s Roxanne.
Philips Fidelio L1: bass performance
These cans have a communicative midrange and deliver a pleasantly weighty and powerful bass performance.
Move onto a classical piece such as Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and the L1s show even tonality and a fine way with subtleties. Perhaps dynamic shifts could be stated in a stronger way and timing precision isn’t quite as pinpoint as it could be, but the overall result is engaging all the same.
Importantly, their sonic character is one that will work well with a wide range of sources and recordings. It’s analytical enough to satisfy with top-
quality inputs but forgiving with poorer alternatives.
These Fidelios aren’t the kind of headphones that demand your attention: top rivals from the likes of Grado, AKG and Beyerdynamic that do that better.
However, if you value subtlety and want a pair of headphones that have an easy-going yet still enjoyable approach to music replay, these cans have much to commend them.