Yeah I know it’s late and the Fidelio X1 has been out for ages in the world market but here in our local market it is only hitting the shelves now.
Better late than never but I guess a review is well overdue as the Fidelio X1 price is only getting to bargain levels for what I think is an outstanding musical headphone that Philips can be very proud of except for one thing – the cable.
The Fidelio X1 was originally part of the triumvirate of Philips Fidelio headphones that came out sometime in mid-2012 which included the M1 and the L1.
The Fidelio X1 was the last of the three releases in quarter 3/4 2012 and unlike the M1 and L1, its roots are more firmly planted in desktop listening but with a surprisingly low level of impedance of 30Ω.
This makes the Fidelio X1 fairly easy to drive, if somewhat larger and of course more open headphones than the closed and semi-closed portable offerings of the M1 and L1 respectively.
Since then Philips has moved on with the M1 Bluetooth and the L2 which came out to mixed opinions but as of now, there is nothing in the wind for an X2 meaning the Fidelio X1 is still the flagship for Philips branded headphones.
As flagships go the Fidelio X1 is more mid-fi than hi-fi or summit-fi so to speak given it launched in and around $300 and with a street price now of around $250 or even less, so it sits squarely against the likes of Sennheiser’s HD600/650, AKG’s K550/Q701 and the mid-range Grado 325i to name but a few.
It is a hot spot in the headphone price range and there are plenty of competitors out there. I would hesitate to say it competes with the more portable $200 range cans like the HD25-1 II and the DT1350 but then again they are all competing for your hard-earned cash in one sense or another.
Given the Fidelio X1 is an open can and quite a large one at that the portability issue is less of a factor when considering whether to buy it or not.
Comfort is the operative word also when slapping on the Fidelio X1 to your noggin. It is deceptively light on the head despite its somewhat bulky appearance and the whole fit and finish is a class above what I normally expect at this price range.
True enough the Momentum eschews class also but what distinguishes the Fidelio X1 from the others is the actual comfort levels, particularly around the ears.
With the Momentum, there is this odd type of cup design that never quite sits right on my head after prolonged use whereas the Fidelio X1 pads opt for a more AKG K550-type approach being more circular and definitely over the ear with a slight tilt inwards for less downward pressure.
The velour materials of the pads are also quite soft and combined with the tilting balance make this open headphone an excellent choice for prolonged listening without discomfort or sweating which can be the sticking point of some cans.
Of course, being an open-back headphone there is next to no isolation on offer so commuter options are not on the table for the Fidelio X1.
In terms of durability, I don’t see too many weak points in the construction of the Fidelio X1 apart from the non-replaceable ear pads which is a bit of a shame since prolonged use on velour will invariably mean at some point the need for replacement pads and a change in tonality if they start flattening out.
Avid users of the Fidelio X1 might want to chime in after years of use to let us know how their pads have aged and changed. I do think though these are pads that will last if well looked after, unlike some other ones that flake (plether) or just wear out pretty fast like Hifiman pads used to.
What you can replace though is the cable which is a thick and long and well-designed-looking nylon cloth-covered cable with a pretty nice little metal motif and terminated on both ends with a 3.5mm gold plated plug with an additional matching quarter jack.
Sounds perfect? Well looks perfect but sounds not so perfect and the reason, now pretty well agreed on by most, is the impedance of the wiring used in the cable itself.
This is the Fidelio X1 weak spot since the impedance of the cable is around 1.8ohms to 2ohms in most unofficial measurements meaning there is a degradation in sound quality with a slight increase in cross-talk and muddier bass response in general compared to lower ohm-rated cables.
Yeah, that is a shame for such a nice-looking cable but thankfully Philips has seen fit to make the cable detachable and terminated at both ends with a regular stereo 3.5mm jack meaning other cables will indeed fit that have a lower rating.
I tried it with my V-moda 3.5mm from an M80 I had lying around and true enough the bass tightened up a notch, less muddy and thin, and better separation so that’s a plus. You don’t have to buy a V-moda cable, by the way, any $5 3.5 to 3.5 or 3.5 to 1/4 will work just fine.
Those who have listened to the M1 and L1 might be forgiven for expecting the same dark and warmish laid-back but highly competent tones to be replicated in the Fidelio X1.
The reality is the X1 is nothing like that at all. Instead, the X1 is a very musical, energetic, and fun headphone designed for lengthy but isolated listening periods with a particular emphasis on modern musical genres.
Compared to the M1 and L1 the X1 displays more conviction in what it wants to achieve and certainly more resolving than the two darker models.
It would be an error to say that fun can like the X1 is an inaccurate headphone or overly colored though. Despite its obvious tuning for a great bass response it doesn’t bleed heavily into the mids which remain clear and rich and the articulation in the highs is neither disjointed nor harsh making the X1 a very smooth and lusciously warm headphone to my ear.
Comfort in both physical and tonal is getting a bit rare these days in mid-price headphones as many are shifting to clean or DJ-type signatures with varying results.
The X1 on the other hand seems to be able to deliver in the critical areas needed for listening to bass-orientated modern genres without any real obvious weaknesses. And that is what makes the X1 so enjoyable.
Sure the On-Ear Momentum is the king of the stylish basshead portables and a ton of fun also but it doesn’t have that same airy openness of the X1 and or the top-end articulation either.
The closest basshead open I can think of is the Hifiman HE-400 but you have to go back to the V1 HE-400 production line to get close to the fun element the X1 offers and since then v2/3 seems to lack the edge I felt the V1 had.
Those considering Grado, say the 325i (same ballpark price) might want to take a second look at the Fidelio X1 also. Similar driving levels but the X1 edges out the 325i being the smoother can overall and having a slightly more engaging bass response.
The 325i sounds pretty sharp at times compared to the almost liquid-smooth response from the Fidelio X1.
Those also considering the likes of the K550 might want to try out the X1 since the K550 also does a great job of producing an airy openness, presenting a much sharper sound signature, a certain peakiness in the lower treble, and lighter on the bass response. Both actually might be good stable buddies come to think of it.
Whilst it is not necessary during my testing to get a decent sound out of the Fidelio X1 unamped, it does benefit from careful matching with some desktop amps over others.
The Fidelio X1 for me doesn’t scale quite as much as the more traditional performers such as the Senn HD series so moving around to find good amp matches led me to the Woo Audio WA6 and the cleaner Violectric V100 and the Theorem 720 from the portable stack.
What you are looking for in an amp match is anything that is not going to overkill the already excellent bass response or muddy or recess the mids and lose any sense of space.
So better late than never eh? The Philips Fidelio X1 is a fun and musical headphone that ticks a lot of boxes for me in terms of what I consider to be good open-back non-monitor-like headphones at this price range.
It’s not an audiophile tuning, I am not sure that will be ever the claim here from Philips but it is highly engaging, well built, and apart from the cable issue, probably one of the best in class out right now.