The Handsome Philips Fidelio L1

What Makes a Good Headphone?
In a recent article Steve Guttenberg said:

The intimacy of headphones puts them in another category compared with other audio components. Measurements can't measure that, and in some ways it's more important for a headphone to feel good than sound good.

I'm afraid this is more true than most audiophiles would like to admit. I don't want to stick out like a gaudy red thumb on the subway with a giant plastic lump on my head; I'd much rather wear a suitably adult headphone with an understated design. When I lay in bed at night, I want the headphones to be comfortable with my head on the pillow. I want to hear and be heard clearly when I talk on the phone. A good general purpose headphone has a lot to do besides just sounding good.

I reckon most people really only need three headphones in their life: One that sounds killer good on the home system, but rests tenderly on a deer skin chamois when you're not in the comfy chair; one to shove in your ear canals to block out the world, for when you're out-and-about or travelling and want headphones that create a relatively impenetrable barrier against the din without; and one for everything in between--iPad movies, smartphone duties, YouTube vids, phone chats with the kids. I want a useful, comfortable, style-suitable, good sounding, general purpose headphone most of the time. The Philips Fidelio L1 is one such terrific general purpose headphone.

Under the Hood
The Philips Fidelio L1 ($299) is a full-size, semi-open headphone, though somewhat compact for a full-size can. The build quality of these headphones is excellent. Headband arm extensions and gimbals are aluminum with a matte finish. Outer headband cover is real leather with 'Philips' embossed on the exterior; inner headband material is synthetic but high-quality. Headband padding is adequate and reasonably comfortable, but more padding might have been a little better as the round shape of the headband causes it to touch primarily top center of my head. My head is moderately large, and found the clamping pressure just right and the fit secure and comfortable.

Ear pads are ample and use memory foam; covers are high quality synthetic leather. I have average size ears, and find the ear pieces cozy but with sufficient space not to feel cramped. I have heard complaints from folks with large ears not having quite enough room, however. The earpads themselves felt fairly comfortable as they hugged the side of my head.

Philips_L1_photo_exploded

The earpiece capsule has an aluminum exterior, and a plastic piece glued within to provide mounting bosses and various acoustic vents. I looked long and hard at the outside of the capsule to determine if it really was aluminum. Tapping on it with a small screwdriver had me convinced it was plastic; and upon disassembly it still wasn't readily apparent what was going on. Finally, I scratched it with a screwdriver revealing that it really was aluminum. The outside center of the earpiece has a heavy gauge metal screen intended to echo the front grille of a Bentley auto. Under the screen are some vents to the interior of the housing, which are covered with acoustically semi-transparent fabric.

Philips_L1_photo_angleddriverDrivers are 40 mm and are mounted in an angled baffle plate to position them in an acoustically more natural position as they radiate into the ears.

Two fabric covered cables come with the headphones; one is plain, and the other has a three-button iDevice compatible remote and mike. Both cables are quite handsome and are just over a meter long, terminated with a 1/8" plug on one end and 1/8" jack on the other. All cable hardware have aluminum bodies with matte finish and contacts are gold plated. Cable conductors are OFC copper. The cable attaches to a short pigtail terminated in a 1/8" miniplug that comes out of the left earpiece.

Also included is a soft fabric carry pouch and 1/8" to 1/4" adapter.

Isolation
Philips calls these "semi-open" headphones, so they don't isolate as well as sealed cans. I do find they isolate fairly well for this type of design, however, and seal slightly better than the similar Denon AH-Dx000 headphones. They will work well for home and office, but won't really rid you of noise in airplanes, trains, and the urban cityscape.

They do radiate sound some, so a bedmate would hear your music, but leakage is mild and shouldn't be troublesome in most cases around the home or office.

Styling
The Philips Fidelio L1 is simply one of the most handsome headphones I've had the pleasure to behold, and includes some novel features. At the inside end of each headband there is a small window that reveals measurement markings that allow you to accurately adjust the headband fit. At the inside end of the right headband arm you'll find serial number markings--mine is No.00659. The cable from the earpieces to the headband is a short coiled segment providing a nice design touch and good cable management during adjustment.

The overall look is somewhat retro, masculine, and very attractive. Its good looks are somewhat understated, and I feel like I can walk around with them on without attracting undue attention. I can't help but draw comparisons to the B&W P5 which is similarly attractive to my "man toy" sensibilities. The P5 is of slightly higher materials and build quality, in my opinion, using real leather and chromed metal parts with no plastic to be seen, but the L1 isn't far behind at all. This is a terrific piece of kit, and is certainly a headphone that will hold it's attraction for years of ownership.

Minor Gripes
I would have liked to see the plain cable quite a bit longer for home and office use, but you can daisy chain the cables together for some extra length. Put the plain cable into the headphones first and then the cable with remote and mike if you want to retain the ability to make calls.

Here's the odd one, and maybe I'm wrong here, but I think the cups swivel flat in the wrong direction. I think that when you take the headphones off your head with one earpiece in each hand, you should be able to swivel the earpieces flat and lay them on the table with the ear cushion side down in one easy motion. The L1 swivels flat in the other direction however, so when you take them off your head and lay them on the table, you have to do a little fidgeting to get them pad-side down (see video for more info). Not really a big deal, you can just take them off and lay them on the table without swiveling the cups, but they'll end up with some wear marks on the sides of the pad eventually. I think the best thing with a nice pair of headphones like these is to buy a headphone stand--the L1 is worthy of display.

On to the sound ...

COMPANY INFO
Philips
1600 Summer St.
P.O. Box 120015
Stamford, CT 06912
888-744-5477
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COMMENTS
Swbf2cheater's picture

I absolutely loved this set of headphones. They are definitely my favorite sub $500 headphone, they just clicked very well with my ears. Solid fun presentation. Was a refreshing warm experience after hearing so many dry and neutral/monitor type sounding headphones I've come across recently.

I was just speaking to Latoya over at Philips Marketing via email, I mentioned the M1 and how much it intrigues me. I am super curious about the L1s little brother.

The Monkey's picture
Nice review, Tyll. I agree with just about everything. Philips really nailed it with this can. It does just about everything right and very few things wrong. More importantly, it's just a lot of fun to listen to. Those manufacturers introducing their "flagship" and "next best" cans at $1k-$2k should take notice.
Tyll Hertsens's picture
See, that's the thing I don't quite get: it really is fun to listen to, even though it's not really great sounding. Why is it that I can so strongly be attracted to it rather than cans of higher fidelity? Is it as simple as its good looks and comfort? How will the headphone enthusiast faithful deal with the thought that good looks and comfort may be as or more important than sound quality for many?
Swbf2cheater's picture

All of the Fidelio L1s qualities mesh well. Sound quality is not all that matters, its the entire package that matters and the L1 nailed it. If you find yourself enjoying it, its because the L1 package meshes with you. Its not an audiophile grade set and its certainly not at all aimed for heathens as one user here mentioned. Usability on this set is ultra high.

Marcello's picture

I am very curious to test these out. I could (very briefly) test the Philips Uptown and was positively surprised about both the sound quality and the noise isolation. Can anyone compare the Uptown and the L1 in terms of sound? Do they use the same drivers?

Viennophile's picture

Example:

When I put on the HD650 after listening to the L1 it feels like a total relief. The sound of the L1 is just awful. The HD650 offers a really nice mid-fi sound (I have the HD650 with the metallic "shields" inside - can't remember even the German word for it right now...) for most kinds of pop/rock recordings and even for jazz and classical music they are fine.

I have to say that my favourite headphones are the HD800 and I am no bass head at all (sometimes I enjoy a shovel more bass though, like the HFI-580 can offer for example).

The L1 is only enjoyable when you drop the 2kHz region at least for about 5dB.

But even then, you can't get rid of the tinny and metallic smack that is there... in some recordings more in some less.

The build quality of the L1 is quite good and in some aspects just average (my model is S/N 13XX).

But it's big shame that Philips has not planned the ear pads to be replaced when they're worn off. (Here in Germany our Dutch neighbours from the company Philips claim to be interested in environmental aspects, but to potentially throw away a pair of headphones when their pads are off is not very good for mother nature, I think...)

Back to the topic:

For me the most outstanding two things of the L1 are their great comfort and their punchy and clear bass.

BUT:

In terms of overall sound quality, they are -without using an EQ- not even mid-fi when I think of what the Presonus HD7 (slightly different Superlux HD681, more detailed than HD668) can do for ~30 EUR.

And f.e. the Creative Aurvana Live! has a better sound quality than the Fidelio L1, too.

I'd really expect more from a "top of the line" headphone even -or- especially because when it's made by Philips.

This L1 seems to be made for yuppies, like the Monster headphone products seem to be made for suburban gangsters...

Just my two cents, don't be offended... ;)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
No offense taken. I said they were mid-fi, that means they won't satisfy critical listeners.
allmotor91's picture

The only thing I'm offended by is your English.

Roy G Biv's picture

Best Buy stores have demo units for the Downtowns; here's hoping the L1 will soon be in stores as well. Beautiful design.

Steve Guttenberg's picture
I'm happy to see so many positive, subjective comments for a mediocre (measuring) headphone. So I guess the better measuring headphone, speaker, amp, etc isn't always required to provide satisfying sound. I don't see a lot of correlation between superior measurements and sound quality preferences in the real world, especially when people don't know which one is measurably better. I usually prefer the sound of vinyl over CD, for instance. We like what we like, and the factors that determine individual preferences are not predictable, for the general public, or sophisticated listeners.
Roy G Biv's picture

Mr. Guttenberg appears to base his joys upon a variety of subjective, irrational criteria. Rather than recognize this and try to self-correct, he clings stubbornly to an idea of self-centered means of experiencing pleasure and happiness. But any pragmatist will agree that happiness will be found and solved by mathematics alone.

People, join Tyll and myself in seeking universal, objective criteria for evaluating pleasure as should all rational men. Thank you.

Steve Guttenberg's picture
Roy, You're not paying attention, Tyll LIKES these L1 headphones, even though they measure like crap. Tyll said, "I've got a whole lot of headphones around the house, but I find myself gravitating to the Philips Fidelio L1 more often than any other." He also said, "I relish my time with the L1 watching movies where the warm sound puts "oomph" into my film experience, and they stay on my head nicely as I roll in and out of bed. Simply put, the Philips Fidelio L1 is an absolutely terrific general purpose headphone." All I'm saying is measurements can't predict user preferences.
purrin's picture

These headphones actually don't measure that badly compared to many others. I've been looking at Tyll's graphs for a while, so I get sense of how things may sound. I haven't heard these headphones (nor have I even read Tyll's review yet!) but from the measurements, this is what I can tell you:

1) They are not bright - probably warm sounding
2) They have a nice emphasis on vocals - which tends to work well with a lot of modern recorded music. Although this can also be double-edged sword and make things sound a bit shouty.

If could do CSDs on them, I could tell tell you even more.

Finally, I wouldn't put too much stock into the square wave measurements. You can gather some data from them, but the need for them to look perfectly square is a little overrated.

Even though I may not necessarily have the same sonic preferences as Tyll, I'd rather take Tyll's FR response (and be able to compare it relative to other headphones in Tyll's database) in conjunction with his subjective comments.

It's very easy to calibrate accordingly to my own tastes this way rather than get sixteen different subjective opinions from random people at HF without any measurements.

ultrabike's picture

"All I'm saying is measurements can't predict user preferences." Perhaps, but measurements can predict user SONIC preferences, and that is a big part of the picture... I have a feeling you and Tyll already know this though... Don't really see the point.

e_resolu's picture

Hello Tyll,

Great site and usefull reviews.

When it comes to the way the Fidelio L1 cups rotate, I think it is the right way when you wear them aroud the neck (drivers on the down side)

Kema's picture

Hi Ty,

I am looking for an all-rounder headphone. Which one do you think is better sounding just based on the sound quality?

Thanks

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I'd say the Amperior is more refined, and has much better isolation. The L1 is more comfortable and works as a phone headset.
Kema's picture

Thanks for responding to me. Have you heard the Sennheiser hd 598 or 558, how do they compare to these?

Kema's picture

Can you recommend a DAC for these headphones?

makiawa's picture

My 2nd pair of Creative Aurvana Live! is broken and I want to invest a little bit more for the next cans (they have to be much sturdier for sure). How are the L1 cans compared to the CAL!, sound quality-wise? Are these less resolved than the CAL!? Are the bass better on these because the CAL! are somehow still a tiny bit bass-shy for my ears. Personally I love the sound signature of the CAL!, though they are just too fragile to last more than 1 year due to my abuse :).   

abmannetje's picture

I was given the opertunity to test the L1 and I must say, they are absolutely better then what I had before.

I don't have Golden Ears like some of you, or an absolute hearing, like others. I'm just an ordinary guy who likes to listen to music. And the L1 can give me largely enough quality for my Euro.

As I can read the comments above, I have got the feeling that some of you are trying to compare an OPEL with a BMW, or a Cadilac with a Toyota.

For myself I am very happy with the headphones. And I would gladly like to explain to you why:

I had been looking for a new headphone set to replace my old In-ears. It needed to comply with a few demands: 1) I do not want to be disturbed by the chatter noise of my colleagues when I'm being all focussed at work and 2) I don't want toe disturb my colleagues with my music when I’m listening to noise they don’t like.

3) I also don’t want to have that fatigue feeling, which one sometimes can have after using those in-ears for a long period. And 4) the headphone set has to fit within my backpack, along with all my other stuff.

 

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 an (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. The cushions are made of memory-foam and fit very well around the ears end they seal off the background noise better then I expected. The connector which is about 10 cm below the left shell is made to release tension on the cable if necessary. Mounted in one of the two included cables is a three-button-usage which supports Apple devices for volume and pause.

 

After having used the headphones for several full days now, I must say I didn’t feel any discomfort, unless I must say my ears are getting pretty warm after a while. But I like to think that goes for all over-ears headphones. 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 surrounded within 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 of headphones. However, compared with the headphones available on the market at present day, the Philips Fidelio L1 fits quite perfect.

 

Advantages:

-         Great sound experience

-         Comfortable and easy to use

-         Nice and solid finish

-         Everything seems to be just correct

-         3 button usage mounted in the cable

-         Very complete set

 

Disadvantage:

-         Maybe leather is not the best material if you are using this device on your bike, in the pouring rain.

-         The soft travelbag might not be the best protection

 

My conclusion: a 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 hope this will add to the quest for universal, objective criteria for evaluating pleasure.

kmw's picture

Tyll, I think your reviews are awesome and have bought many headphones based on your recommendations. However, this review surprised me. In my view, headphones should:

  • 1: Sound great
  • 2: Be comfortable
  • 3: Look stylish.

For the L1, 2 and 3 are easily fulfilled, but the most important factor of a great headphone, should always be number 1: the sound. Even as a general purpose headphone (an expensive one too), they don't just sound disappointing, they sound awful. They're restrained, dark, dull, have poor bass extension and basically, a sonically congested mess (there's instruments that seem to go missing through this can). This isn't fun, as there's too many audio flaws. It's frustrating that philips crafted one of the best looking cans ever made and then stuck sliced cucumber inside for the drivers. It's a shame, because these are seriously nice headphones, but I just can't dismiss their audio concerns, just because they look stylish.

jeffreyreal's picture

I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. I am hoping the same best effort from you in the future as well. In fact your creative writing skills has inspired me.

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ashutoshp's picture

Hi Tyll, Amazon et al. are showing that the Fidelio L1 is being discontinued by the manufacturer. Perhaps it's time for a change?

Maybe the L2 assuming Philips actually make up their mind whether they want to sell it in the US or not!! Excuse my newbieness but have you ever considered the HD558 and HD598 Sennheisers as a relatively inexpensive pair of open backs?   

docterjay's picture

Thanks for another great review. I must say i like these cans for their great build quality and ergonimics with decent enough sound. I am thinking about upgrading to the newer L2 version though. I have read some great things about it. I would love to hear your opinion about them. Can we expect a review anytime in the future?

videoclub88's picture

I am surprised about both the sound quality and the noise isolation. Can anyone compare the Uptown and the L1 in terms of sound?

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DaveinSM's picture

Hi Tyll,

Price aside, how would you compare the sound of the Fidelio L1 vs. the X1? Both are on your wall of fame, but it seems that you factor in price/value as part of your criteria. Straight up, which one do you think sounds better? I really like the looks of both and the X1 looks like a great value for an open air headphone. But the fact that the cable could be upgraded and the earpads are not replaceable are a bit of a deterrent. If the L1 is comparable in sound quality, it would seem to be the better value.

buttjani's picture

I am surprised about both the sound quality and the noise isolation. Can anyone compare the Uptown and the L1 in terms of sound?
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