Philips Fidelio X1 Headphones
It wasn’t that long ago that Philips wasn’t the first name that would come to mind for audiophile headphones. Things picked up early last year when the company totally revamped its headphone lineup, and the Fidelio Series turned a lot of heads. Philips was in the big leagues and fully competitive with the majors.
The all-new Fidelio X1 is Philips’ best yet, but I have to admit I was swayed even before I heard it. The luxurious look of the design appeals to a more adult crowd than any of the shiny plastic and bling-encrusted headphones crowding the market. The X1’s high-end aura is more than skin deep. Run your fingers over the real leather-wrapped headband, generously sized ear cushions, and aluminum-trimmed ear cups, and you’ll sense the difference. While most headphones require some up/down adjustment of the ear cups to achieve a reasonable fit, the X1’s headband automatically compensates for different head and ear shapes and sizes. When you put it on your head, it’s right; no fussing required.
The X1 is a full-size, over-the-ear headphone, and its open-back design won’t seal you off from your surroundings. The upside to open-back headphones like this is the sound never feels like it’s stuck inside your head. I like that, but the one downside is that people nearby will hear some sound leaking from the X1. That might rule out wearing them to bed.
The user-replaceable 10-foot-long, cloth-covered cable is terminated with a beautifully finished, all-metal 0.25- inch plug, and a 0.13-inch mini adaptor plug is provided for use with portable devices. That long cable is great at home but might prove a little unwieldy on the bus. I’d recommend purchasing a shorter, aftermarket cable if you take the X1 on your travels.
Comparing the X1 with one of my favorite closed-back headphones, the Sony MDR-1R, the differences were wide ranging. First, the X1’s bass is awesome. The 1R’s bass is pretty authoritative, but the X1’s low frequencies reached deeper and were more nimble (the X1 has 50mm drivers; most competing models use 40mm drivers). The open- versus closed-back contrasts were no less decisive. The MDR-1R’s soundstage wasn’t all that expansive; the X1 gave it room to breathe. That’s especially important for movies, which have bigger and more spacious mixes than CDs. When I watched Argo, Ben Affleck’s film about the rescue of six American diplomats in Iran, the X1 re-created the sound of being in a place, the hushed voices and clatter in cramped offices or the traffic and bustle of Tehran’s city streets. The X1 puts you in the scene, not quite as realistically as a great home theater speaker system would, but better than a lot of headphones. The X1’s sound appears to come from well outside the ear cups. Sound quality was consistent at soft, medium, and loud playback levels.
A well-recorded concert DVD, like Calexico’s Live at the Barbican, demonstrated the X1’s musical talents. The Tucson, Arizona, Tex-Mex-flavored band was augmented with strings and brass. The scale of the presentation was awe inspiring, but when front man Joey Burns takes center stage with just his acoustic guitar, the sound made my heart skip a beat.
Up to this point, I auditioned the X1 with my $99 Schiit Audio Magni headphone amplifier and Oppo BDP-95 Blu-ray player. I also racked up more listening hours on my desktop, where the connection to the music was total. The X1 is easy to listen to for hours at a time, because it’s one of the rare headphones that makes everything sound good.
Type: Open-back, circumaural (over the ear)
Driver size: 50 mm
Impedance: 30 ohms
Weight (ounces): 12.8