Philips Fidelio L1

philips_fidelio_17

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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  • http://twitter.com/Ferdy_Setiawan Ferdy Setiawan

    how does it sound compared to Denon D2000 & HE300?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Good question.

      The last Denon I’ve heard is the D5000 so I’ll reference to that instead (it’s a more refined version of the D2000 but basic sound signature should be the same): The D5000 is more spacious and less dark than the L1, so the part where I was hoping the L1 to be less bassy and has a little more treble and air, that you’d get with the D5000. However I really didn’t see where the music was going with the D5000. The bass is moderately punchy but lacks a proper impact and weight, and seem to get lost in the wide soundstage. The midrange and treble are relatively dry and grainy compared to the Philips. Overall, I think the D5000 is a higher up headphone technically, but the overall sound presentation doesn’t really move me.
      The differences between the L1 and the HE-300 is in a lot of way similar to what I wrote about the D5000. It’s a bigger sounding headphone, more air, less dark tonality. The HE-300 however has a better bass weight and a fuller midrange than the D5000, and overall it’s a more musical headphone. The Philips still win in PRaT factor, as it focuses the energy of the music better, and the bass is also punchier and has more impact on the Philips.

  • SnazzyQ

    The sound probably won’t suit my cup of tea which is a shame because these are beutiful headphones.  Excellent writeup, Mike.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks, Q.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Siow/100003175152943 Joe Siow

    Hey Mike, thanks for the review.

    How does the L1 compare against Sony Z1000, since both are closed cans and semi-portable. I suspect the Z1000 might be more refined sounding.

    Cheers
    Joe

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Joe,
      Yes the Z1000 is more refined, and like my previous comments comparing the L1 to the Denon D5K and Hifiman HE-300, the Z1000 also has a more typical audiophile tonality: less dark, more air, less bass. Although in the case of the Z1000 I think one of its weaknesses is the bass punch which I find to be lacking. So it’s a more refined headphone, but the L1 is a more fun, toe-tapping headphone.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Siow/100003175152943 Joe Siow

        Had highly suspected that the Z1000 could be the more refined headphone, thanks for confirming it. Was actually waiting for the L1, but decided to snag the Z1000 to replace my ageing ESW9 as my new portable can as one came along for the right price.

        Thanks Mike for the comments. Guess L1 is out for me then, as I prefer a more balanced tonality as compared to a darker sounding one.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Alright, Joe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/destroysall Chris Allen

    Great review, Mike!  I love the visual aesthetic of this headphone.  It’s interesting and it seems to be a worthy adversary when compared to other headphones.  One question though.  On a few of the HD650 articles you wrote, I recall you saying how it is an interesting headphone and a delightful/surprising one as it seems to scale differently with a variety of DAC and Amp setups.  Can you say the same for the Fidelio L1?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Good question Chris.

      The L1 scales up very well, but the HD650 is still better in that aspect.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rūdolfs-Putniņš/100001284307683 Rūdolfs Putniņš

    Aaargh! Philips is tempting with its looks and all but my heart still belongs to the HD650. Just a week or so… My precioussss.

    Speaking of amplification it may be useful to clarify what kind of amplification this can needs. Sure, it is a feather to drive but dedicated amplification can also be used to get through more of the original signal. In other words- amplification for quality. What about using an IEM amp for these?

    All in all, good write-up. 

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Rudolfs,
      I haven’t tried it with an IEM amp (haven’t got one around), but when I moved from the Fiio E17 to the Dacport LX + O2 set up, one thing I notice is that the sound becomes a lot more transparent and cleaner. So I think the L1 benefits very well from high quality source and amplification.

  • Minh Le

    Hey Mike, 

    Thank you for the review! Never knew Philips was making head-fi quality headphones.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      You’re welcome, Minh!

  • kingice10

    Hey Mike,

    Nice Impressions here…Good to know that Philips slowly extends their headphones lines to audiophiles…And well your amazing shots helps! They look magnificent than any other Philips Headphone Product!

  • reandru36

    Hi Mike.  Have you had a chance to test this out with the JDS Labs C421?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Yes, I’ll give you my impressions later.

  • reandru36

    Hi Mike.  Have you had a chance to pair this with the JDS Labs C421 amp and if so, how does it compare with O2 and E17?  Thanks!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I really need to sticky the O2-C421-E17 comparison I wrote.. ;)

      Let me find it and I’ll get back to you.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Okay, between the O2-C421-E17 and L1 pairing: 

      I like the O2 + L1 pairing as it gives me the biggest soundstage, blackest background, cleanest sound. If you want to boost up the technicalities aspect of the L1, this is the amp to go for. However musicality was just okay, and I find the midrange aspect not sounding as full as I want to. 

      The E17 and L1 pairing is just fun and lively. The treble is more lively with the E17, the presentation more forward, overall a more fun presentation, but not so much of a gret technical pairing like with the O2. 

      The C421 and L1 pairing gives me an overly warm sound (warm amp + warm headphone). Even though I got the midrange that I didn’t get with the O2, I didn’t like the overall sound. Too warm, not lively enough.

      So for budget pairings I think I’ll either go with the E17 or the O2, depending on your preference.

      • reandru36

        Thanks Mike!  Very helpful.

  • kingice10

    Hey Mike,

    Great Impression! Nice to know that Philips is reaching to audiophile quality sound…also your Pictures makes this Product Magnificent! They looked comfortable with leather-like material around the headband.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Yes, I probably forgot to mention that the headband is real leather. 

  • http://twitter.com/ontheedgeaustin Austin Morrow

    As always, awesome review Mike. It looks like the Philips Fidelio L1 will be a good contender to the likes of headphone offerings in the $200-300 price range. Of which whom are (but not limited to and just like you compared to) the HD 25-1-II and the DT1350. Then again, you did say that the L1 scales up quite well even with higher end solid state amps like the RSA Darkstar, so I’d be interested to hear how it compares with something like the Sennhesier HD650 or the AKG Q701 & DT990. Oh, and I’ll have to say, this is one of the most gorgeous headphones that I have ever lain eyes on (besides the HD800). I don’t know if it’s because of the headband or the ear cups, but I’ll have to say it;s one of the nicer looking, more affordable cans available on the market.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Yes I’m digging the look of the L1. It’s very stylish but not over futuristic like the HD800-HD700. It has that modern-vintage look to it, with the brown headband color and the open grille at the back. 

    • dalethorn

      Other headphones I have from $300 to $700 are the Shure 940 and 1840, Grado PS-500, Beyer DT-1350 and DT-48A, B&W P5. With bass reduction, the L1 equals the best of this bunch. With default bass, not worth keeping around. I’m more impressed with this headphone every day.

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        Thanks Dale.
        The problem is that I can’t seem to enjoy Ipod’s built in EQ.

        • dalethorn

          I don’t either with most headphones. But with the L1 it makes the difference between boomy and muddy bass, and bass that’s quite good. That would apply only to iPod Touch – Classics and other iPods have problems with low-impedance headphones. Still, whether played on the O2 amp, desktop computer, or PMP, the L1 is beating out my Grado 500 and Shures, which I never would have expected for a Philips.

        • David Ulrich

           I remember trying to listen to Garbage on the Senn HD518′s.  In order to get Shirley Manson’s voice up front where it belongs, I had to EQ the music into oblivion.  The songs came off sounding really unnatural, wicked bright, and not in a good way.  I’m sure it was a combination between the overly recessed vocals of the 518 and the mediocre EQ of the ipod/itunes.

          • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

            Not too familiar with that Garbage (band) recording, but the recessed vocal may also be due to the recording.

          • David Ulrich

             HEY!  Where do you get off calling my music garbage…. oh wait, never mind.  The record sounded great out of the HD202.  Garbage was worse do to the amount of bass in their music, but other bands suffered the same fate

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UGJ3SZR3YRF4O4IZBPFIOIVFII Eugen

    I knew this would be good, Tyll’s measurements are exceptional. Could you elaborate a little bit on the soundstage …  and can you remove any foam from inside ala hd650?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      There is a cloth dust cover like on the HD650 and the Hifiman headphones. It’s quite thin, closer to the cloth cover on the Hifiman, and not foam-like as on the HD650. I haven’t figured out how to open the pads, unfortunately. 

      The soundstage are good, but nothing worth bragging about. It’s wider and more spacious than say a Beyer DT1350 or HD25-1. The background is very black for a portable, blacker and a lot cleaner than the HD650. Three dimensionality is just okay, good enough that it doesn’t sound like a flat soundstage. 

  • dalethorn

    Using Bass Reducer on iPod Touch or the equivalent on the desktop, the L1 transforms into one of the best sounding audiophile headphones I’ve ever heard, excellent with all genres. With Bass Reducer on, the bass is still full-up solid all the way down.

  • Rui Pedro

    Hi, Mike. Great review and pictures, as usual! ;)

    You didn’t mention the B&W P5 anywhere in your review, and I think that maybe they’re a close rival to the Philips L1! What’s your opinion on the L1 vs P5?

    Thanks.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Good question, and yes I missed that one.

      Both are relatively dark aka the non-trebly kind. The character is a bit different. The P5 is fuller on the mids, where the L1 is more on the bass. The P5 is slower-paced, and although the bass body is good, it’s not as punchy as the L1. The L1 has a better PRaT and the soundstage is more spacious. For vocals, I’d probably go with the P5, but the L1 wins if you need punchy bass and PRaT.

  • Rui Pedro

    Sorry, double post…

  • albertharris

    Awesome review as usual, you know how to make me drolling..

    Btw Mike, any comparisson with ath es10? i know they aren’t at the same price level, but both i think have a fabulous looks and built quality.. 

    Thanks in advance..

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The ES10 is not as dark as the L1, but the soundstage feels less spacious than the L1′s. Other than that I think the mids are fuller on the ES10.

      • http://www.facebook.com/realq86 Chi-Hwa Michael Ting

        I just spent and hour few days ago auditioning the ES10, M50, and DT1350.  Was close to getting the M50 but the ES10′s bass caught me and ES10′s high and mids are just as good as the M50′s.  Looks like the ES10 is still the way to go for me!

  • albertharris

    Awesome review as usual, you know how to make me drolling..
    Btw Mike, any comparisson with ath es10? i know they aren’t at the same price level, but both i think have a fabulous looks and built quality..

    Thanks in advance..

  • 2 Twinster

    Fantastic review Mike. Many thanks! It mirrors my 10 minutes I got with my L1 just before leaving for a trip. I left them on repeat for the week and will reassess them when I’m back. I too can say that I prefer their presentation to the D5000. I was surprise because I’m someone that favor bright signature (SRH-940, T1, SR-325) but the short session with the L1 got my toe tapping. Looking forward for more time with them.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Update us with your impression after you get back!

  • http://www.facebook.com/syakir.zainol Syakir Zainol

    How much does the sound leaks? Suitable for office use?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      It depends on how loud the music you’re playing. If relatively low, I don’t think it’s going to be an issue.

  • http://www.alkopedia.net Biergourmet

    “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.”

    IMHO rock sounds awful on dark sounding phones.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      yes some Rock recordings, especially classic Rock I think works with Grado type headphones. But for some other recordings, it’s nice to have dark sounding headphones. The LCD-2 is quite popular for rock.

  • Ignas Eringis

    Superb read. Thank you! 

    I was wondering how L1 bass and build quality compares to ATH pro700 MK2. 
    Thank you in advance.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Ignas,
      The build quality, definitely the L1 is better. As for bass, the Pro700 Mk2 is still a far bassier headphone.

  • http://twitter.com/losshack Los

    Hi Mike,

    Very nice review!  I’ve been waiting to hear some reviews about the L1.  How do you think it compares to the M50s?  I have those as my main phones but am very interested in the L1s, mainly listen to acoustic, indie and electronica.  Thanks

    Los

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Los,
      Good question. Some differences:
      - L1 is darker
      - L1′s bass is tighter
      - L1′s mids are fuller
      - L1′s bass are better
      - M50 more spacious
      - L1′s sound is more focused, more forward

      I think the biggest difference is that overall the L1 is a more toe-tapping music headphone, where the M-50 is a more laid-back monitoring sound (except for the loose bass section).

      • http://twitter.com/losshack Los

        Good deal, thanks for the detailed response.  I like using my M50s for reading and it appears that the L1s would be maybe more lively and different musically than the M5os.  Thanks!

  • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

    Nice. Thanks, dale.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/6WHOGUBA7JWSQWD67YIZIE272E the gent

    Sorry to back track here, but what does the term dark sound refer too? is this a low frequency reference? is it directly related to what people would consider a “basshead” headphone??? Perhaps not the appropriate forum for the question, but i just got my m50′s two weeks ago and I’m just now getting into the whole audiophile thing…. or really just the headphone thing, but thanks in advance for any answers.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Dark means there is not a lot of treble presence.
      Basshead means it has a lot of bass, since “bassheads” like their headphones come with lots of bass.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/7V3GACVMV6HWZKI5JTZGNKUTWQ kuldog

    Has anyone tried the L1 with Hisound Studio V? Hope someone has a good impression on it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1026392005 Bambang Hartono

    How does it compares to the z1000?

  • Swbf2cheater

    The link you provided to bambang is a like to this page, no mention of the z1000 anywhere unless I am not seeing it?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I think a comparison to the Z1000 can be found on the earlier comments.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I will try to edit the article to include the comparison, please give me a few days. Thanks. 

  • FutileDevices

    How does it compare to the HD600? I’ve been looking for a good all around headphone.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I will try to edit the article to include that comparison, please give me a few days. Thanks. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Julius/1681425207 Michael Julius

    So the Big question is ” L1 Vs K550? ”  :P 

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Later when I get the K550 :)

      • http://twitter.com/tydelwav Tyler DeLisle

        How bout now? ;)

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          I think the primary difference is on the bass and PRaT. The L1 is more forward, stronger bass, more PRaT. The K550 is more spacious, laid back, not so punchy on bass. Both are very clean sounding, and have a nice black background.

          • http://twitter.com/tydelwav Tyler DeLisle

            Thanks! I had kind of guessed this from reading both reviews, but was curious your overall opinion. Tyll mentioned in his video that he considers the K550 a better headphone for discerning listening, but that the L1 is great multi-use, all-around headphone. Wasn’t entirely sure what to make of that. I believe that I favor PRaT over Soundstage, but may be just because I haven’t experienced open cans before. I think I might go ahead and try the L1, they sound closer to the sound I’m looking for over my D2000′s which I haven’t been too happy with. I’m also really curious about the HE-400 which is a bit over my budget, but sounds tempting.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Danilas-Cercovas/100001067630818 Danilas Cercovas

      Yesterday I listened Akg K550 from iPod Touch 4G and even on bassy songs I haven’t heard bass at all.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/D5U3LBACTBWITTFBK6OI2H6TEA .

    Thanks for the opinions. Its disappointing that there are no measurements. Remember “Audio” magazine?  They didnt use empirical data in their reviews. I wonder what happened to them? I have seen you post excellent graphs, on occasion.