The AU$399.95 Fidelio L1 headphones are an impressive full-sized set fabricated from aluminium and leather, and they feel substantial in your hands, with a beautifully rendered sound that flatters music and movies. The Fidelio L1 headset's sound and build quality justify the cost, with its distinctive looks, durable metal components and rich balance of sound that won't disappoint picky audiophiles who are shopping for excellent all-purpose headphones.
Design and features
Styling is always a matter of taste, but the Fidelio L1 headphones' distinctive looks seem to project universal appeal. Where competing headphones like the Monster Beats by Dr Dre frequently incorporate plastic parts, the Fidelio L1 headphones use aluminium parts that add durability without weight.
The ear cups and headband are thick metal components, and yet the Fidelio L1 headphones still feel comfortable over long periods of time, thanks to the padded headband and real leather wrapping. The memory-foam ear pads provide a tight seal for improved bass response, but the "semi-open" design introduces more ambient noise than closed-back headphones.
The swivel-mounted pads conform to your head shape over time, and Philips gets the pressure just right, so that the headphones felt secure on my head without heating up, unlike other headphone models that can grow uncomfortably hot after just a few minutes of use. Comparatively, we found the Fidelio L1 headphones comfortable to wear for hours at a time.
The Fidelio L1 headphones have a 26-ohm design and feature 40-millimeter drivers and neodymium magnets. A 4-inch, fabric-covered cable is permanently attached to the left ear cup, and you can connect one of the two included 43-inch cables; one has a microphone and an Apple-compatible remote with volume control, and the other is just a plain cable. Accessories include a 3.5mm-to-6.3mm plug adapter and a draw-string travel bag. Philips provides a soft, suede-like bag that fends off dirt and debris in your carry bag, but it doesn't offer physical protection for the headphones if you jam them into a suitcase or backpack.
The Fidelio L1 headphones pair well with all types of music, as you should expect from AU$400 headphones. There's sweetness to the sound balance, and a mild richness that we found attractive, specifically when listening to acoustic sounds. The natural stereo imaging doesn't suffer the empty balance that we get with overly closed-back headphones.
To put the sound balance into perspective, we compared the Fidelio L1 headphones with Bowers & Wilkins' P5 over-ear headphones, listening to ZZ Top's Fandango album. Both sets of headphones handle hard rock with ease, which means that they sound great with the music turned up nice and loud, but the Fidelio L1 headphones open with more detail and richer bass response, lending more gravitas to the music than the P5s can muster.
Paired with Abel Korzeniowski's orchestral score for the soundtrack to A Single Man, the Fidelio L1 headphones sounded more spacious, while the P5s presented the same music with a closer perspective. Which is correct? We can't say for sure, but the Fidelio L1 headphones' clarity and natural appeal are indelible.
Up to this point, all of our listening impressions were made with the Fidelio L1 headphones plugged in to a simple iPod Classic, but at home we switched over to a Fiio E17 USB digital-to-analog converter/headphone amplifier (US$140) running off our Mac Mini computer. We found that the Fidelio L1 headphones' sound was deeply enhanced, with even more powerful bass definition. Soft-to-loud dynamics also saw improvement, which is what we usually hear when stepping up from portable sound sources to a good home headphone amplifier.
The Fidelio L1 headphones' big soundstage is suitable for movies to the point that the sound seemed to come from the screen after listening for just a few minutes.
The Philips Fidelio L1 headphones' performance, build quality and comfort place them in the top ranks of AU$400 full-sized headphones. For the price, the Fidelio L1 headphones far outclass most competing sets in terms of build refinement and sound, and we recommend this model to anyone who's looking for a boost in audio hardware.