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.
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.
Drivers 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.
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.
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.
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 ...