A Big Bottom and a Lively Top: The Philips Fidelio X1
Philips Fidelio X1 ($399)
Man, what a nice, cuddly Teddy Bear of a headphone! Big round velour pads, real leather headband, cushy head pad. Yeah, I like it.
The Philips Fidelio X1 is a full-size, around-the-ear, open headphone designed for home and office use. There's no isolation from outside noise, so walking around town with them wouldn't be a good idea. And their big, black, fuzzy earpads gather dust and lint like nobody's business, so this is a headphone for wonderful occasions where serious listening sessions can be had in a quiet environment...if by 'serious listening sessions' you mean FUN! This is a headphone for Ambient, DnB, EDM, and all that spacious, funky, fun music. But I'm getting ahead of myself, lets look over the cans first.
Philips calls this a "hammock design" headphone, meaning it has a headband arch and separate head pad thats on an elastic suspension. It's somewhat similar to the AKG K701 in that regard. The elastic in this case, however, is inside the headband pad attached to two flat plastic sliders, which are attached to the end of the leather portion of the headband.
The problem with this type of design is that making a self-adjusting system that works for all head sizes and shapes is a bit tricky, and I'm not quite sure Philips nailed it with the X1. For me (and my modestly larger than normal sized male head), these cans are a bit small. The elastic tension is slightly too tight, and the arch of the headband slightly too short. When the cups feel like they're in the right place on my ears, the head-pad touches the head band arch and exerts a bit too much pressure at the top of my head. Fortunately, the (apparently) stainless steel rods of the headband arch are both sturdy and fairly easy to muscle away from the circular shape and into a more 'pinhead' shape like the top of my head, netting me about a half inch more headroom. (See video for said muscling demo.)
Since I'm on to gripes---and I only have a few---I might as well mention them and get it over with. It seems the earpads are not user replaceable. All sorts of dust and sweat gets on earpads over time, and they break down slowly but surely. This is a very nice headphone, and I think Philips needs to think of it as a reparable item that users may have for a decade or more. Too much planned obsolescence these days, and I think we should demand better of our headphone makers.
There's been a lot of chatter in the X1 thread at Head-Fi about cable swaps and making a big difference. I'm rather skeptical of claims like that, so I measured the stock cables resistance: 1.8 Ohms, on both signal and ground wires. This seemed rather high to me, so I measured a 5 other similar cables I had lying around and got between 0.5 and 0.8 Ohms. There are two problems with a headphone cable that has this much resistance. First, if you've been following along with the Meridian Explorer and it's initial output impedance problem you'll know that series resistance is going to decrease your damping factor, and cause the headphones to be a little loose sounding. This is a big bass headphone and throwing away damping factor in the cable doesn't seem like a good idea.
The second problem is that the signal shares a common return through the ground of the cable, and the relatively high resistance of the cable will cause a voltage to develop on the ground channel that will produce some crosstalk between channels. The good news is that the stock cable is terminated in a stereo mini-plug at the headphone end and there are plenty of replacement cables available. The V-Moda cable has 0.5 Ohm resistance and it works fine. Plus you can convert your cans to a phone headset that way. I'm tempted to put a Moon Audio Black Dragon on it.
Last gripe, I promise. It's not really a gripe, more of a caution: I've seen numerous comments about people breaking the jack on the headphones. It sounds to me like there may be a bit of a durability problem here. Again, this is a headphone for home or office use where you can and should be careful with these headphones. Gripes done.
Once you've bent you headband around to have it fit your head really well, replaced the cable, and know to be careful in handling, these are a great headphone. Stylish, comfortable, sumptuous leather and metal materials that feel good to the hands and look good to the eyes. The really important thing, though, is the sound. And these cans have a sound that will put a great big smile on your face.
Let's talk about that.