The Fidelio L1 headphone was designed to be Phillip’s entry to the premium headphone market. Both in terms of build quality and sound, the L1 is supposed to be far ahead from the typical consumer-grade Philips headphone.
Holding the Fidelio L1 on my hands, it’s clear that the build quality is going to be a benchmark in this price bracket. The materials and build quality is among the best I’ve seen. The build quality is so good that I’m immediately thinking of comparing the L1 to Audio Technica’s ES10 headphone or Ultrasone’s Edition 8, both many many times the price of the Fidelio L1. Though not adorned with fancy materials like the Audio Technica and Ultrasone (i.e. pure leather pads, titanium housing), the L1 is very well built and its sturdy frame inspires more confidence than the Audio Technica or the Ultrasone.
The pads have memory foam on them which makes comfort very good, and though the pads cover are not real leather, it’s one of the best faux leather I’ve seen on headphones. Clamping force is a bit on the hard side. Good for a mobile headphone as the L1 stays still on your head, but not so ideal for a relaxed at sitting-down-at-home headphone.
Though being an semi open-back design, the L1′s sound is more like a closed headphone than an open one. Noise isolation, even on a busy street, is actually very good — again another testament that the L1 behaves mostly like an open back. The semi-open grille does leak sound a little, though not terribly loud.
Two cables are included, both wrapped with nylon sleeving, very soft and finished with metallic finishes on both 3.5mm jacks. One of the cable comes with a microphone for cell phone users. Very nice, except that being a headphone geek/reviewer I am expecting an extra long 3 meters cable terminated in 1/4″ so I can hook it up nicely to the my desktop amps. An 1/8″ to 1/4″ is included though, so no worries there.
Most Philips headphone I’ve listened to have never been treble happy headphones. I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence or if Philips noticed the market’s shift toward dark sounding headphones, but the Fidelio L1 ranks as among the darkest sounding headphones I’ve listened to. Naturally, to complement the dark sound signature, the L1 also comes with a lot of bass presence. The overall tuning seems to be targeted primarily for mainstream recordings including Pop, Rock, RnB, and Electronica. It’s not going to be my main choice for the typical “audiophile” genres like Classical, Jazz, or Vocals, although the L1 can still play those genres pretty well. It’s a good all-rounder tuning though it may be a little lacking in wow factor, a contrast to how a similarly priced Grado SR325is may be. But where the Grado fails in genre bandwith, the Philips L1 is a far better headphone if you listen to a lot of different music.
The dominant bass presence makes the L1 an almost borderline bass-head headphone. On some music and depending on the recording, the bass levels can be a bit overwhelming. Bass punch are always powerful and meaty, and though not as fast paced as the V-Moda M-80′s or the HD25-1′s bass, overall the pace and PRaT is quite good. The L1 doesn’t push out the midrange or the treble, but clarity levels are very good, and in a way this saves the L1 from being labeled as a pure bass-head headphone.
The sound is very smooth from top to bottom. The soundscape is very clean without a slight hint of grain, and it’s nice to hear the clean rendition in the instruments amidst the black soundscape without the slightest harshness from the treble. Soundstage performance is quite good, wide and clean for a headphone in this category, though the presentation sounds more like a closed headphone than an open-back. Due to the attenuated treble levels, there is a lack of air in the soundstage, again why the L1 feels more like a closed headphone than an open one.
Almost none. The L1 has a low impedance of 26 Ω so you don’t need a lot of voltage gain to drive it. The 105 dB/mW sensitivity also means a very low current requirement and something that even the smallest amps should be able to drive.
There is almost no need for additional amplification with the L1. I’ve always said that in general circumaural-sized headphones would benefit from additional amplification, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with the L1. Even straight out of an Ipod’s out, the bass are punchy, the dynamics good.
In this case I find the Fiio E17 to be a perfect budget companion. Just enough amplification power to make things just sweet and right. With the E17′s bass and treble controls, I can also tune in the amount of bass (mostly reduce it) and treble levels (mostly add treble to it) to get a more ideal frequency balance for the music that I happen to be listening to.
Paired with higher up set ups, the L1 scales up beautifully and makes for a beautiful pairing with any of my set ups from the Fiio E17 (entry level), DACport LX + O2 amp (mid level), and Halide DAC HD + RSA Dark Star (high end). The moment you move up from the E17 to something with a better resolution (in this case the DACport LX and O2), more detail pops out of the background, and soundstage gets bigger and wider. Likewise to the RSA Dark Star, though I didn’t use it with the Dark Star too often simply because the supplied 1m cable is too short.
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