I have to admit I am a closet Philips fan since the launch of the Fidelio range a few years back and just loved the L series, owned the M1 and X1 and each time I wondered why these cans are not on the top of everyone’s list for mid-fi excellence. Perhaps the brand’s older legacy of vanilla audio releases was hard to shake but no doubt they bring a level of R&D into the game that no boutique can match as well as a savvy eye on the market trends. Price wise I found them just right at the street (Amazon) level; excellent build quality, an engaging modern sound and competitive pricing. Of course resell value sucked and still does, time is not kind in that respect to Philips but if you are buying to keep then it’s a good fun choice.
The DJ Market
Philips have also had one foot in the DJ headphone market over the last few years also albeit not as high profile with units such as the SHL3300 coming in well under $100 and targeting bass heads and DJ’s alike. Its budget end and really didn’t impact on the more serious efforts from Aiaiai, V-Moda and Sennheiser. The DJ and to some extent the bass head market is a rich market full of untapped potential for Philips and with the launch of the A series of DJ headphones Philips is seeking to combine the coolness and credibility of the Fidelio range with the street level and functional needs of the DJ Market. It also represents the launch of a serious line up of cans, the A1, A3 and A5-Pro and all considerably more expensive. The flagship DJ headphone, the A5-Pro retails for $399 in the US, Php17, 000 in the RP and SRP £300 in the UK.
Armin Van Buuren
Philips’ big pitch with the A5-Pro is the collaboration with renowned Dutch DJ and producer Armin Van Buuren and as such these are marketed front and center as professional DJ headphones rather than just bass head cans. Philips and Armin are touting the A5-Pro to be the ideal headphone in terms of functionality, features and sound for everyday use as a DJ and I guess the studio at the same time.
I think it’s also probably worthwhile to understand Armin Van Buuren tastes. Known primarily as a trance music producer and not say pure House or Techno the way Armin sees and hears music for me does indeed have a bearing in terms of how the A5-Pro is tuned. Trance music is characterised more by ethereal vocals, large atmospherics, layered mixing and spacious endings to enable DJ’s to mix and bridge into the next track seamlessly. In many ways the whole experience is quite euphoric and emotional rather than head strong high BPM mixes or strong vocal tracks such as you would get on House.
It’s not a fixed genre in terms of style and in some cases the BPM can get quite speedy but overall it’s those big atmospherics , ethereal vocals and quiet moments that make trance really stance out. Technically Armin has been producing more progressive trance than that classic style of yesteryear with a slightly bigger emphasis on basslines but with a slower BPM. It makes for a more radio friendly sound and some of his famous hits have been in that genre. Its only in 2015 that he started going back to a more classic trance style IMHO with A State Of Trance 2015. Its makes for a very interesting back cat and it also might give you an insight as to why the A5-Pro is tuned the way it is.
What you get
As a package the A5-Pro is well put together and consistent with the Philips Fidelio philosophy of mixing the consumer know how of the mass market packaging with a few nice touches in terms of overall presentation.
You cannot miss Armin’s signature and collaboration which is all over the box in case you forget with one on the front and with the outer sleeve taken off a plain black box with his name emblazoned on the front in pure white.
Inside you get an elaborate layer of cardboard, plastics and felt that acts both as a protective layer for the headphones and a display layout when you first open it. It’s a really nice touch actually to be honest you won’t really think about it much again once you dig out the A5-Pro and all the accessories. The headphone itself comes folded in its unique clamshell type formation with the cable adorning one side including the quarter jack converter. Underneath the cardboard display front is a fairly durable looking draw string nylon pouch.
The cable itself is a 1.3m cable with coiled section extending up to a fairly healthy 4.7m. If you have a hairy arm like me though then you know what a coiled cable can do every time it rests on your arm with all the pinching and pulling of your hair it gets a bit annoying. This was a problem with Aiaiai cables but interestingly although the coil on the Philips has the same potential it never pinched me like the Aiaiai cables did. Strike one for Philips and I am sure follically challenged men and women are saying move on for ‘gawd’s sake’ or wax yourself! Point noted.
Nevertheless this is one big ass cable and not something the average consumer may feel they can work easily with. I have already seen countless columns devoted to alternative lighter straight cables just to lighten the load a little. For a DJ though this cable is pure joy. It is tough, stretchy, durable and the strain relief is as excellent as you could want it to be. You can work this cable very hard indeed without every worrying if the jack will snap in two in a booth moving from side to side. The cable also has a very high resistance to memory retention and tangles in general which is exactly what you want working a table in low light conditions in a night club. Even for a general everyday user a lack of entanglement is always a welcome feature.
One of the cleverer feature designs of the A5-Pro and the cable is the detachable connection socket and adaptor. The cable is actually a right angle terminated 3.5mm jack which, when inserted, keeps the cable from dropping straight down and instead moving out and away from the headphone at a right angle. Though it is essentially a single sided headphone cable jack you can plug it either into the right sided cup or left sided cup it makes no difference. Both sport the same 3.5mm jack and locking system. So both lefties and righties can work that cable to whatever side you feel most comfortable with. For me it’s always been hanging to the left, perhaps that’s just a man thing.
The connection between the jack and the cup is further strengthened by the gimbal surrounding the cup which is a fully circular gimbal and not the usual semi-circular type you see on most headphones. Once inserted the gimbal locks onto the cable jack just underneath the jack top chassis with a special and very precise indent made for the cable to slot in perfectly. This basically acts as a pressure type lock on the jack in case of sudden movement it is less likely to fall out as a result.
If there was one thing that I would have preferred to see with the A5-Pro would be a hard carry case and not a soft pouch. Yes the pouch is tough, durable and unlikely to break but it’s what is inside that pouch that I am more worried about. Roughing around rig building and 3-4 hour booth sessions for a DJ might see the odd bang and bump and I am not entirely sure this case can do the job of fully protecting it. Something like V-Moda’s cleverly contoured case for the M100 would have been far more durable and confidence boosting for on the go carrying of the A5-Pro. Still its offers better protection than the soft zip pouch of the TMA-1 and Studio from Aiaiai.
No two ways about it the A5-Pro is a tank but in a good way. It’s a large on ear design with foldable cups, leather wrapped headband, leather pads and a construct from aluminium. This is not light weight, this is reassuringly heavy duty and robust. These cans weight in a 405g, that’s heavier than the PM-3 planar by 85g and the HE400s by 65g. Closer to the competition and by comparison the Aiaiai TMA-1 weighs in at a rather dainty 190g and the TMA-1 Studio at 220g. Thankfully it does weight less than the JVC SZ2000 which is a hefty 48g without the cable. That’s a big difference thought for a headphone vying for the same market as the TMA series. You are going to feel this on your head but the balance is excellent with head pressure points well displaced and the clamp is just right for a closed headphone designed for DJ use.
In many ways both Philips and Aiaiai have come to the same conclusion. You cannot have a seriously credible professional DJ headphone without it being seriously robust. However Aiaiai have gone for flex and ‘bounceability’ in a light weight smaller on-ear or over ear studio monitor design. Philips, by contrast, have gone for aluminum robustness and whilst it won’t stretch as much as the TMA-1 it is equally durable in its own right.
Unlike the TMA-1 and TMA-1 range the A5-Pro has a much superior isolating clamp, larger stock pads (slightly smaller than the TMA-1 Studio edition pads but better quality), is foldable into a very small form factor and has, what I think, a better coiled cable and locking system. The materials on the A5-Pro just feel that slight bit more premium and for the price that is how it should be. The headband is a continuation of the aluminum construct bound in a very nice leather wrap with the Philips logo firmly emblazoned on each side just above the gimbles. As mentioned previously the gimbles are full circular allowing you to angle the cups slightly to suit your head and the joints close in to fold as well rotate 90 degrees in opposing directions.
The rotation on the left is opposite to the right cup. The purpose essentially is to allow the DJ to do standard one ear listening while track mixing. It is something that is missing on the TMA-1 range but available on the ATH M50X which retails for almost half the price.
What? No flat?
What did surprise me though was the inability to swivel the cups on the A5-Pro so they could be laid flat. Given Armin used to use the Technics RP-DH1250-S I found this one a curious omission. The size of these cups house 50mm drivers so they are not small. Extended periods of the A5-pro hanging around your neck is simply not possible comfortably with one cup swinging one way and another the other way. You can of course extend the headband all the way and it’s a lot easier to go flat but it not quite as convincing as the M50x when its flat.
One absolute god send with the A5-Pro and the A series in general are the replaceable pads. If the Fidelio range had one glaring weakness it was their fixed pads. A lot of users of the L12, including myself, often would find after a year or two the pads simply rip and that was that, off they go to Philips to be replaced. Same with the X series and the M series. Not so with the A series. Stock pads are leather and memory foam and reasonably comfortable though a tad shallow for my taste but you can opt for velour pads as well which are slightly bigger. According to Philips you can opt for up to 3 differently sized ear pads all on bayonet mount system to match your preferred pad size.
The cup plates are also detachable much like the V Moda M100 and the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro. That is not something I see Philips pushing a whole and not sure why but it seems you can grab a variety of subtle but different plates to change up the A5-Pro appearance. The stock plates remind me a little of the inside of the latest range of AKG headphones with the super large L and R in white but this time on the outside in a subtle physical mesh design all in black. Ideal for dimly lit clubs where clear vision is at a premium, if you can see left and right you can sure as heck feel out the left and right just by tracing the mesh with your fingers.
Fit & isolation
If you are a DJ the fit is tight and sure and will stay right where it is for vigorous sessions. As an audiophile it will eat your ear and you may be prone to sweating for longer listening periods. Bass heads who just want the DJ look might find them also a bit tight in the long run. It’s a professional DJ headphone so that’s the pitch right there. The TMA-1 series and the Beyer COP are all a bit softer in the clamp. Isolation though for a closed headphone is pretty good actually, especially once you start monitoring or mixing with minimal leakage both ways using the stock pads. You could suffer a bit more leakage if you switch to Velour though.
Page 2: Sound Impressions