Philips Fidelio L1


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.

Build Quality

Holding the Philips 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.

Sound Impressions

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.

Amplification Needs

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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Philips Fidelio L1
5 (100%) 1 vote

  • Also, could you give your take on the L1 vs. TMA-1?

    • dalethorn

      Innerfidelity did their big review of the L1 yesterday or today. They’re trying hard to sell it as mid-fi. I disagree, based on tests they don’t want to do.

      • @dalethorn:disqus , what would you consider it and how would you compare against the TMA-1?

        • dalethorn

          I don’t have the TMA-1 but I read at least 100 reviews on it, and while none of those gave me a real definitive answer as to the sound, I get the overall impression that they’re an excellent value for $200. I would guess (but am not absolutely sure) that if you found a deficiency with the TMA’s sound, you could probably make it better and quite satisfying with a bit of EQ. Several of the reviews mentioned that which is helpful, because most reviewers avoid mentioning it even if they use it. I used to be a purist myself, but I’ve discovered some truly amazing headphones that aren’t recognized as such because the outstanding sound is hiding behind excess bass or treble etc. Which brings me to the Philips L1. The sound played flat is bass heavy, just enough to make the overall sound mid-fi. But when I play my iPhone4 or iPod Touch into my O2 amp using a FiiO LOD (line out dock) cable, with bass reduction enabled, the sound of the L1 transforms into something I would expect for $600, not $300. I’ve owned the Senn HD800 and the EQ’d L1 isn’t that good, but they are every bit as good as the Grado PS500 which I did own, and also as good as the Shure SRH1840 which I own now. Now get this, and I’m not exaggerating here: With bass reduction enabled, the bass is strong, solid, and flat down to the deepest frequencies, better(!) than the Grado or Shure when they are played flat. You would not expect the bass of the L1 to be that good with bass reduction on, so there you are. I can only hope that more people try that out and hear for themselves.

          • I’ve heard about the EQing for both the TMA-1 and the L1; however I’d hesitate more w/ the TMA-1 because you would have to EQ for each type of genre, and I listen to a very wide variety of genres (shuffle mode would be not be the best for this headphone it seems).

            As for the L1, yes that option I’ve heard sounds really good with the iPhone4, but it seems like if you plug it into any other (esp. higher end source), it wouldn’t sound as good again because only iOS/Mac would have such presets. Even on my Mac with iTunes, I use the bitperfect plugin that bypasses all of that for bitperfect output (which really does make a difference).

            I’m curious because in both camps people seem to really love it; L1’s for their versatility and pure audio enjoyment, TMA-1’s just reading reviews it looks like people are immediately blown away by it (plus it’s $100 less), so I’m kind of torn.

          • dalethorn

            For portable use the iPhone preset EQ’s may work well depending on the headphone. For use with an amp such as the O2 by JDS Labs the EQ also works well because the volume control is bypassed out of the iPhone4 so the sound is fairly clean. Any desktop player such as Foobar on the PC or iTunes on the Mac can duplicate the exact settings of the bass reducer EQ – quite simple. The only option I haven’t explored is the iPhone going into a compatible DAC and then to a headamp. I don’t know what the options would be in that case.

            • Just received my L1’s a few hours ago. They’re incredibly dark–have you tried using ‘treble booster’ preset? I find it better sounding to my ears than the ‘bass reducer’ preset. maybe it’s just me /shrugs

              another note: they leak a lot of sound for my listening levels :/ I’m debating replacing w/ ultrasone pro 900’s for about $10 more (on sale now) or ATH-M50’s at half the price. what do you guys think?

              • Yes the L1 is very dark. As I’ve written: “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. ”
                The Pro900 and the M50 are both less dark. The Pro900 is technically the better headphone but the mids are a bit recessed. The M50 is technically less capable than the Pro900 but it’s very popular, more than the Pro900 (probably due the lower price too).
                Yes you can use the treble booster preset, that should help with the darkness. The bass reducer reduces bass but doesn’t add treble.

                • mike, thanks for your input! how would you highlight the 3 in comparison? I think you also mentioned s-logic/plus sounds strange?

              • dalethorn

                M50 is a great alternative. Which EQ to use might vary according to what you play, but your choice could work well for a lot of material.

          • Seeing your score at
            SHR1840 scores a bit better in heights. Is it equally easy to EQ the L1’s heights, as it is for bass?
            Is that score for L1 with bass-reduction on?

            • dalethorn

              I think, based on experience with the Shure 940 and 1440, that the only effective way to dampen the most peaky part of the highs in the L1 without just rolling them off, is to tuck some extra foam into the cups the way I did on the 1440 video. I experimented with other materials and didn’t like the results, but the Shure foams attached to their earpads really did the trick. It costs money, but I recommend it. Trying other brands of foams is something I don’t want to do since it just costs more money and I got great results with the Shure foams. But you could try with other materials and if you do, please post your results. The score on the spreadsheet for the L1 and 9 headphones is with bass reduction ON for the L1. I gave it a 8.5 because it happened to be so good. The higher number was for quality, not quantity.
              I’ve done a lot of attempts with EQ with a lot of headphones, and with a desktop setting on Foobar (esp. with the 30-band equalizer) you can do a nice job. The EQ I’ve talked about so much with the L1 is based on the simple ‘bass reducer’ setting in an ipod or iphone. Everybody already knows what can be done on a desktop EQ-wise with the right equalizer, so I wasn’t trying to reiterate any of that. I was mainly pointing out that a simple EQ that’s available with any ipod does a near-perfect job of fixing the L1’s bass and leaving it still very strong and nicely detailed. And to me, a simple EQ means less opportunity for distortion as well as avoiding sharp peaks and dips in adjacent frequencies. So to validate the simple EQ I selected on the iphone, I duplicated it in Foobar2000 and listened for a long time. I’m convinced that whatever negative the EQ might impart to the sound, overall it makes the L1 much better and more enjoyable for near-neutral hifi listening. There’s a real hifi headphone hiding under all that bass.

    • The TMA-1 is tuned very dark for house, trance, club music. The Philips is more closer to a standard Hi-Fi sound.

  • edit: double post

  • Hmm. A bassy portable with good PRaT and overall sound quality. Sounds like you described the AKG K181s or the V-Moda M80s. Is the L1 a more refined version of those two?

    • More refined than the K181 and just about the same as the M80s. It’s not quite as fast in pace compared to the K181 and the M80s.

      • Thanks for the comparisons. I recently received my L1’s. They’re very smooth sounding, especially in the mid tones. The bass is a bit loose but punches nicely with rock music. The K181 is definitely faster and has more bass quantity, but less refined mids. (The K181 is still a keeper for dance and hard rock.) The L1’s mids are a bit recessed; the K550 and the M80 sound more forward. So it may not be the absolute best for vocal music. The L1’s sound signature reminds of the Denon AH-D5000 (recessed mids, big bass) only smoother, less bright. It took me while to find the perfect music for it. I suppose most types of rock music. Classic rock if you want more umph in the bass section. The Beatles sounds very nice through them, with McCartney vocals sounding extra smooth. Harder rock if you want good punch with less sibilant highs. Nine Inch Nails and Sleater Kinney have nice punch with the peaky highs being chopped off by L1’s smoothness. Built and fit-wise, they’re kinda big for portable use. I have a big head already, so these headphones only accentuate that. 🙂

        • dalethorn

          With the equivalent of iPod bass reduction, the L1 changes from what you described to a near perfectly flat headphone. It’s a wonderful feature, and free.

          • whoops! double post

          • Yeah, I tried the L1 with the bass reducer on. It’s definitely flat. Not the first pair of headphones I would go to for a flat response though. There are a host of midrange headphones (AKG K550, HD598+, AH-D5000+, Beyers DT+, Audio Tech AD+) that are better for that and have better resolution and bigger soundstage. I think where the L1 excels at is …. well, being darn average at everything. Even portability, as they’re kinda big and not exactly low-profile for public use with that exposed spiral cable on the sides.

            BTW, I’m listening to Portishead through them as I type. I think we found a music match for L1!

        • I think you just wrote a very nice and accurate comparison there. Personally I like the L1 better than the Denon.

    • dalethorn

      The bass of the L1 is nothing like the M80. In fact, playing the L1 with i-device bass reducer ON (or the equivalent EQ setting in Foobar2000) makes the L1 bass about the same as the M80 from about 70 hz down, but even with the bass reduction the L1 is significantly warmer than the M80.

  • how is the e10 from these vs straight from computer??

    • The E10 most probably would be better than the onboard sound card.

      • what about vs hrt headstreamer on JUST these cans?

        • Likewise yes. The Headstreamer most probably would be better than the onboard sound card.

          • are you going to do a comparison?

            • Yes I will.

              • Any idea of when you will receive the HRT Headstreamer. I am also interested vs e17 since they are the same price.

                • Mark,
                  I’ve gotten the Headstreamer last week. I will try to write an impression soon.

  • can you do a quick comparison vs the ath m50s

  • how soft is the faux leather on the earpads? I have ATH M-50, which are wonderful all round headphones, but I don’t like how hard the ear pads are. whether its the faux leather that is to hard, the foam is too firm, or a combination of the two, I’m not totally sure, but i lean towards the softness of the leather covering the foam.

    • Aric,
      The faux leather seems to be thinner than the M-50’s, but the foam is softer on the M-50. The M-50 is more comfortable to me, but that may be due to the L1’s stronger clamping force from the headband.

  • Finally I got my Fidelio l1 and I’m very impressed. Which Amps would you recommend for them?

  • antonius wijaya

    Between L1 and Hd25 which is better for rock music?

  • antonius wijaya

    Between L1 and Hd25 which is better for rock music?

    • Depends on which particular track, recording, but both should be good.

  • I find good price for LITTLE DOT MK-III. Is this amp would fit for Fidelio L1? How it would be compared to Objective 2, E17 and Shiit Asgard?

    • Hi Danilas,
      Sorry I have never tried the Little Dot with the L1.

  • Any idea when these will be available from retailers other than apple?? Apple seems to be the only retailer selling them in the US and unfortunately I have a very serious hatred for apple and I refuse to support them in any way shape or form, even if it means holding off on the best looking/sounding cans I can afford…

  • For the “majority of mainstream Pop, Jpop, Kpop, RnB, Electronic – House, Dance, and Trance stuff.” is the Fidelio L1 better than Amperior, HD598 or K550? I’m going to buy a headphone in this price range, being the Fun factor the most important point, and the Fidelio caught my attention. Since I don’t listen to audiophile recordings, is the Fidelio the best option for me?

    • The Fidelio is great for those. The Amperior I suspect is going to be pretty good as well (it’s based on the HD25-1 which I’m very familiar with). The HD598 and the K550, not so much.

  • I bought an uptown headphone recently and was upset to find sound comes out slightly softer on one side (unbalanced headphone). This happens frequently and you have to meddle with the volume control and sometimes pressed it a little harder to gain control of the sound on both side of the headphone.

    Now, I thought this is a spoilt headphone and so requested for a change. A new headphone was given to me and after a while, I found the same thing happening.

    I’m no engineer but My own logical deduction would be the volume control is the design component that is flawed. It is a filmsy little box having a slider that affects the current passing thru the wires inside. So sometimes you might have to press it a little harder as the contact between the slider and wire is not evenly spread.

    Anyway, it is similar to the effect of a loose wire inside the headphone jack due to wear and tear and you get an unbalanced sound from the headphones. So usually to rectify, we replace the whole cable (but not the jack).

    The unbalanced sound is very apparent when you do a simple A/B test with a different headphone.

    Anyone have similar problems with the Philips Uptown?

    • Sorry, William, not me.

    • sygyzy

      William, the issue isn’t a true imbalance but rather a result of the inline volume control. Turn it all the way up and use your source to adjust the volume.

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  • Ryan Yang

    Hey Mike. Do you think they worth almost 300 bucks? Should I get AKG Q701 instead?

    • Well different sound signatures aside, I actually prefer the L1 to the 701.

      L1 is darker, more bass, blacker background, cleaner sound
      Q701 brighter, more analytical, more grainy

  • Hello Mike!
    I know they aren’t the same price range, but how would you compare them to the ATH M50 ?
    Thank you
    Great Review by the way

    • Guest

      Sorry, i just saw you already compared them both in another question. But overall, wich one you think is better for most of the mainstream genres (rock, pop, eletronica…) ?

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  • abmannetje

    I was given the chance to test the new Philips Fidelio L1 For “The Insiders”. The L1 looks great, it really does and has really handy features, like the connector-plug close to the headphone, and a cable with a volume and pause-button. A second cable with a removable big-plug, twistable ear shells for transportation and (also important) a sublime sound. It looks really nice with the black and aluminium parts and the fine Italian leather. The head mount fits really good without a pressing feeling, and is easily to adjust to the correct size without sliding back to the former position.
    After having used the headphones for several full days now, I must say I didn’t feel any discomfort. I did not receive any comment from my colleagues about my taste of music and I wasn’t disturbed by background noises. I must admit hearing things in the music of which I didn’t now they were there, it is like experiencing the music again, and that is something I really like, like the music is being surrounded inside my head.
    I am originated in the primal years of portable music devices, and I am used to headphones being as small as possible, so for me this is an unusual large format for a set of headphones. However, compared with the headphones available on the market at present day, the Philips Fidelio L1 fits quite perfect.
    The L1 is said being perfect for on-the-go as well as good to use at the office or at home. Being on a bike, I think it blocks too much of the traffic noise to navigate safely, but while using transport transportation, I think it is good to use for blocking neighbour noise, where as your neighbour don’t need to get bothered by your music.
    My conclusion: a very nice device, with a lot of good properties. For users who, like myself, don’t have an absolute hearing this is a very good headphone.
    I was not able to cross-test this device against the K550, as asked somewhere below, here. But I hope my comment helps you choose the right headphone for your situation

    • Thank you for sharing that, abmannetje!

    • dalethorn

      When I bought the L1 it was just “Philips Fidelio L1”, and $300 USD. Now I see the current model is L1/28, and the price below $200. Any ideas on the possible difference?

  • For years I’ve
    listened to my music at work with those little in-ear headphones. And I was
    perfectly happy with them. Until I got my hands on the Philips Fidelio L1 a few
    weeks ago. A world of difference! The clear sounds blew me away. Big pro is
    that even with the volume down, you can still enjoy all aspects of your music.


    The quality of the sound is
    excellent and crystal clear, thanks to the High Definition neodymium- drivers.
    Each music variety displays well and with subtle music such as jazz all minute details
    are audible. When listening to Dance music, the bass drums ‘vibrated’ less than
    they did with my old in-ears, but only with a windows application. When
    combined with an Apple product, bass intensity is easier to adapt.

    Design and use

    The design is elegant and
    minimalistic, very sophisticated. The headphones features can be adapted in
    every little detail to perfectly fit your head. The over-ear ear shells are
    very comfortable, even after a long while, with minimal sweating. The materials
    are durable, but the headphone is still light in weight. There are 3 cords,
    which can be couples, so the length of the cord is adaptable. One of the cords
    comes with a remote for an I Phone. It works like a charm, but only combined
    with Apple.

    According to Philips, the Fidelio
    L1 is the ideal headphone for on the road, but for me, it is too big for that.
    The chocks of for example stepping disturb the music. The carrier bag is very
    pretty, but seems a little poor as protection.

    Interaction with your

    Despite the semi-open back
    architecture of the ear shells, a passer-by will not notice any music escaping
    the Fidelio L1. Even with big bass drums, the isolation is perfect. For the
    listener, the isolation to the environment is perfectly balanced. Little to no
    noise enters, except for loud noises such as a phone ringing or your boss

    Pros: Stable and
    comfortable ear shells, great sound quality, no noise outside the ear shells

    Cons: Quite pricy (+-250 euro), quite large, bass drums tend to get a
    bit lost

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  • BeTauM

    Good review Mike!
    Which of these amp do you think that better match with the L1?
    FiiO E12, Magni Schiit, O2 or FiiO E07K? I’m using Xonar DG as DAC.

    • dalethorn

      My L1 was very bassy, so I would not have chosen tubes if I had a choice. I think the O2 would have the best match to the L1’s bass, but I like the E12 so much more for portablility and form factor – much more. The E07k is very different than the E12 – the E12 is darker and will probably control the bass better, have better dynamics, but the E07k has many features and a DAC and is much more flexible. Tough choices. Maybe buy two amps – they’re not expensive.

      • BeTauM

        Thanks for your feedback Dale!
        Actually, I think the L1 have a lot of bass, more than I would wish and is so dark. So I needed an amp that valued the treble and soundstage. I think I bought the wrong headphone for my musical preferences. 🙁

        • dalethorn

          Maybe before you give up, try what I did with the equalizer in the music player. Reduce 100 hz about 4 db and the slider on either side of 100 hz to -2 db. That works for me.

    • I would go with the E07K with the bass & treble controls.

  • João Lourenço

    I don’t really understand much about sound reproduction. However, after spending an entire day reading reviews to help me decide which headphone to buy, I should say – as a PhD student in philosophy, if it’s worth anything – this review is extremely well written and a very pleasant reading. God knows the horrors from poor writing skills I’ve gone through today….

  • tand

    How is the sound leakage. I don’t sharing what i am listening to would be appreciated by the crowd.

    • Small, but if you’re in a library people can hear.

      • tand

        Couldn’t resist and bought it. Open box.
        I can hear the outside sound
        real well when no music is playing, but when there is music playing Isolation is good. Can’t hear
        outside sound. Quite interesting like this. Also the leakage is really minimal. Your comparison of a library is correct. A very quiet one.

        What I find strange
        is that its quite hard to drive. Very low volume. Expected more from a
        26ohm headset. Ue6000 is better this way. I have to turn my gd03 all the way to
        50% for normal volume.But unlike ue6000 there is no distortion.

        Btw talked with Philips
        customer service. We know the cushions is non replaceable. But did you
        know they don’t have any replacement parts! Unless it’s a warranty
        replacement you can’t get any parts like cable or a bag.
        Can’t believe this. Quite shocking implications.

  • rickshaw

    Mike, what is the biggest improvement of L2 over L1? Amazon is currently selling L1 at USD120. Good buy at this price point for my E07K/E09K setup?

    • L.

      Hi, this has been covered several times already on Headfonia. Please check the L2 review

  • Daniel Chirvasuta

    Hi Mike, Thanks for the review. I recently got the UE 6000 and so far I like them, but not particularly impressed with them for non bass heavy music. I was thinking would the Philips Fidelio L1 be better for EDM, Rap, Rock, and Metal (in no specific order)? I love the looks of the L1 and would actually benefit from the semi-open design (I’d like to hear when people try to talk to me). You mentioned the technicalities of the L1 are better but as far as a listening experience which did you find are better? Also as a broke 15 year old my price range is under $100 (I got the UE 6k for $60 and can get the L1 for $85) and I can’t afford an amp. Thanks