Philips Fidelio L1 Stereo Headphone Review by Dale

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Mar 7, 2012.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    The Philips L1 reminds me of the best loudspeakers I ever had - not as large of a sonic picture being a headphone, but much of the same character and impact which my other headphones don't quite match. Played flat (no EQ) the L1 doesn't just have bass - you are in the bass, immersed as it were. And unlike other bassy headphones I've heard, this one is clean, clear and doesn't mask a less-than-ideal midrange and treble. In fact, those upper ranges are as smooth and silky as I would expect of something that costs twice as much. Since I normally prefer a so-called "flat" bass signature, I double-checked all of my tests of the L1 with a bit of bass reduction, and - no exaggeration - this is one amazing sounding headphone.

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    I need to describe the physical characteristics before I get back to the sound, but I want to mention that many times while listening to the L1, it seemed like I was listening to an analog system - like there's a body to the music that's not quite there in a digital system. I would go so far as to say that you get two headphones for the price of one with the L1 - a very strong bass for users who demand that feature, and a perfectly-balanced audiophile-type signature available at the touch of a (EQ) button. With many headphones EQ means an imperfect adjustment with uneven results. Not with the L1.

    The Philips L1 has a short (5 inch) cable at the bottom of the left earcup terminated by a stereo mini-plug, to which you attach the regular headphone cable that has a mini-jack on one end and a straight (not angled) mini-plug on the other end. The L1 comes with 2 cables, each about 4 feet long, 3.5mm thick and fabric-covered. One of the two cables has Apple i_device controls. If the cables would ever fail, you could substitute any common headphone extension cord with mini-plug and mini-jack ends. A 1/4 inch (6.35mm) adapter is supplied, and unlike many other 1/4 inch adapters today, this one isn't threaded. This is the type I prefer, since it makes a more secure connection.

    Just behind the actual mini-plug end of the cable is the cylindrical gripper that's 7mm in diameter. I can't be certain whether the miniplug would fit into any of the recessed sockets on music players that have such things, since that socket might have to accomodate part of the gripper piece.

    The earpads are fully circumaural with openings that measure approximately 1-5/8 by 2-1/4 inches. The earpads are thick memory foam that should provide a good seal, and are covered by a type of pleather. There's a significant grip to this headphone, but after 3 hours it's been very comfortable with no complaints. The earcups appear to be mostly high-grade plastic, with a headband of metal alloy that provides good flexibility. Since the earcups rotate flat and pull down quite far, the L1 can be worn around the neck all day when not in use, which makes it very portable. The carry bag issued with the L1 should be good for dust protection when transporting, but offers no impact protection.

    The headband has a stitched leather cover surrounding it which feels very comfortable on my head, but if there is any tendency for discomfort in spite of the light weight of the headphone, I recommend pulling the earcups down just slightly more than the minimum, to let most of the weight be borne by the earcups and not the headband.

    The Philips L1 is a nice-looking headphone if you've seen photos of it, so it has a modest bling factor that you don't have to pay a premium for. I would rate its appearance as 8.5 out of 10 and I would rate its comfort factor at about 8. The reason the appearance doesn't get a 9 or better is because the L1 isn't a fashion headphone, so my subjective rating of 8.5 is probably as good as you can get for a serious hi-fi product like this. The reason I didn't rate the comfort higher is because the L1 is a full-size headphone with moderate clamping pressure to keep it stable on your head. Having said that, I haven't experienced any discomfort in several hours of continuous use.

    The L1 is specified as a "semi-open" design, which I assumed would provide moderate isolation along with the larger apparent soundstage of many open-back headphones. My feeling is that the soundstage is good for a closed headphone, but nothing beyond that. The isolation is very modest, and a specific example is where I had an iPad on a table 3 feet away playing a song at moderate volume through its internal speaker. Putting the headphone on, the vocal lost its presence and "air", but the voice had about the same volume and I could hear the words clearly.

    Sibilants seem less bothersome with the L1 than most other premium headphones I've used, in spite of the fact that the upper end of the L1's response is there in full strength. This indicates a very smooth treble, and my experience so far with about 200 tracks in many different genres tends to confirm that. I expected the L1 to be very efficient with portable music players since the impedance is 26 ohms and the sensitivity rated at 105 db/1mw. However, while my Shure 1840 is rated at 96 db/1mw, the actual difference I hear after matching midrange levels is about 2 db. Connected to an iPod Touch, I haven't had a problem with too low of a volume on any tracks I've played so far, but outdoor use with low-volume music tracks could be a problem for some users.

    For this review I mostly used a Dell desktop with premium soundcard playing FLAC format tracks in Foobar2000. Some of those tracks, notably certain recordings by David Chesky, sound so amazingly good with the L1 that I'm often startled by their realism and clarity. Some tracks that I use I don't have FLAC copies of, and those MP3's (320k CBR) sound nearly as good on the iPod Touch connected via the line out dock to an Objective2 "assembled" headphone amp as they do on the desktop computer. A more ideal configuration would be a good DAC running from the desktop or laptop USB, feeding into a decent headphone amp like the Objective2 or better, but given the spectacular sound I'm getting already I have no doubts about the ultimate quality of the L1 headphone.

    Now that I've covered the basics of the sound, it's time to describe how the Philips L1 sounds with a variety of music that's available on CD's or as high-quality downloads from Internet music stores. I've used the following examples in other reviews, so these will serve as good test tracks for this review and the results can also be compared to the results noted in the other reviews.

    10000 Maniacs - Peace Train (late 80's); pleasant sound, great details and good soundstage depth.

    Andrea True Connection - More More More (late 70's): Classic disco, very smooth, big soundstage.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled very well by the L1.

    Beatles - And I Love Her, Things We Said Today, I'll Be Back, I'll Follow The Sun (~1964, in stereo): Amazing sound quality and decent soundstage, with excellent voice and instrument detail. These four tracks are a perfect example of how good high fidelity recordings could be as far back as the 1960's.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound and particularly striking how the L1 reproduces the triangles, bells and other background instruments that are often obscured with other headphones that have limited high frequency response. Of special note for this headphone are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement.

    Bill Evans Trio - Nardis (early 60's): Fairly close-up recording, and despite soft highs, excellent instrumental detail, particularly the upright bass and piano.

    Billy Eckstine - Imagination (date??): Sounds like a recent high-quality stereo recording. Excellent from top to bottom, wide soundstage and overall a great vocal demo.

    Blood Sweat & Tears - And When I Die, God Bless The Child, Spinning Wheel (late 60's): Excellent sound quality, and fortunately (I think) given the strength of the brass instruments, the highs are slightly soft.

    Blues Project - Caress Me Baby (1966): Rarely mentioned, but one of the greatest white blues recordings ever. The loud piercing guitar sound at 0:41 into the track is a good test for distortion or other problems. Handled very well here.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the L1.

    Buffalo Springfield - Kind Woman (~1968): A Richie Furay song entirely, rarely mentioned, but one of the best sounding rock ballads ever. This will sound good on most headphones, but it's a special treat with the L1.
     
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Philips Fidelio L1 (continued)

    Cat Stevens - Morning Has Broken (early 70's): A near-perfect test for overall sound - this track will separate the best sounding headphones from the lesser quality types. Nothing specific, except that almost any deviation from perfect reproduction will stand out with this track.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the L1 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Cocteau Twins - Carolyn's Fingers (1988): Unusual ambient pop with excellent guitar details.

    Commodores - Night Shift (~1985): Good spacious sound with very detailed bass guitar lines.

    Cranes - Adoration (~1991): Excellent piano sound leading into a goth-flavored song with very unusual vocals.

    Creedence Clearwater Revival - The Midnight Special (1969??): Classic CCR featured in Twilight Zone, this track has great guitar sounds and a really good ambience despite a mediocre soundstage.

    Dave Brubeck Quartet - Take Five (1959): Paul Desmond piece - good test of saxophone sound and cymbals, less so most of the other instruments.

    Dead Can Dance - Ariadne (1993??): Atmospheric goth music - good ambience in spite of mediocre soundstage.

    Def Leppard - Bringin' On The Heartbreak (1981): MTV goth/pop/metal at its best - good ambience and high energy - the better headphones will separate the details and make for a good experience. Lesser quality and the details tend to mush together.

    Del Reeves - Girl On The Billboard (early-mid 70's): Classic truck-drivin' country tune with a Thelma & Louise theme, this song's overall recorded quality (almost typical of Nashville in the 70's) is a superb demo if you can get past the peculiar lyrics.

    Dick Hyman - Dooji Wooji (1990??): Swing-era composition played with perfect technique by all band members, with excellent recorded sound.

    Frank Sinatra - Theme From New York, New York (1980): Ultimate Sinatra with big band production and well-balanced sound.

    J.S. Bach - E. Power Biggs Plays Bach in the Thomaskirche (~1970): Recorded on a tracker organ in East Germany, the tracks on this recording have the authentic baroque sound that Bach composed for, albeit the bellows are operated by motor today. The L1 plays the tones seamlessly through the upper limits of the organ, which are near the upper limits of my hearing.

    Jamming With Edward - It Hurts Me Too (1969): Intended originally as a test to fill studio down time and set recording levels etc., this was released a few years later for hardcore Rolling Stones fans. Although not as good technically in every aspect as the Chess studio recordings of 1964, and in spite of the non-serious vocals by Mick Jagger, this rates very high on my list of white blues recordings, and sounds absolutely delicious with the L1.

    Jim Ruiz Group - Katerine (1998?): Unusually spacious and ambient indie-pop recording with a samba flavor. Every pop song should sound this good, in my opinion.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has some loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical on some headphones. The L1 provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in, for maximum detail effect.

    Kim Carnes - Bette Davis Eyes (Acoustic version, 2006?): Stripped-down ("acoustic") version of the big hit - good voice and excellent guitar sounds.

    Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch (~2009): Featured in The September Issue, this song has heavy overdub and will sound a bit muddy on some headphones.

    Merle Haggard - Okie From Muskogee (1969): Another good-quality country recording with almost-acoustic guitar accompaniment. Lovely guitar sounds.

    Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery - Delilah (Take 3) (1962): The vibraphone is heavily dependent on harmonics to sound right, and the L1 plays it superbly.

    Nylons - The Lion Sleeps Tonight (A Capella version, 1980's): High-energy vocals sans instrumental accompaniment - an excellent test of vocal reproduction.

    Pink Floyd/Dark Side of the Moon - Speak To Me (1973): Strong deep bass impacts will be heard and felt here.

    Rolling Stones - Stray Cat Blues (1968): Dirty, gritty blues that very few white artists could match. On some headphones the vocals and guitar lack the edge and fall more-or-less flat. If you're a really good person, playing this song will probably make you feel nervous and uneasy.

    Tony Bennett - I Left My Heart In San Francisco (1962): Frank Sinatra's favorite singer. Highest recommendation. With some of the best headphones, the sibilants on this recording are very strong, but they're not bad with the L1.
     
  3. Rayleigh Silvers

    Rayleigh Silvers New Member

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    Nice review. It would be helpful if you spent more time talking about the sound signature as I'm still unsure after reading your review. Your video's reviews have the same problem as well. Would you mind giving your opinion on the Bass qualities (i.e quantity, physical impacts), the midrange (how forward or laid back it is, where vocals are and how they sound), and the treble. I didn't even know philips made an audiophile headphone, your video review was the first I had heard of it. Doing a google search brought up some very positive reviews on head-fi. Any idea of the pricing and when it'll be released in England?

    Thanks
     
  4. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Reviews and Philips

    The L1 standard price is $300 USD, which should be approx. £240 when available in the U.K. When that will be I don't know.

    I have read 100 times more reviews than I've written, and find the descriptions of the sound not useful as a rule, mostly because the descriptors are absolute. Without something to compare to, saying "solid bass", or "good impact" are optimistic at best. But I'll do better than that. There are many reviews of the Sennheiser HD-800, it's a very flat or neutral headphone, and has an outstanding reputation for sound quality and consistency. So I will compare to that.

    The Philips L1 (compared to the HD-800, and only with the curve called "Bass Reducer" as defined in iTunes and the i-devices applied to the L1) bass response is similar to the 800, but has very slightly more impact. The overall signature is very similar. Mids are not significantly different, although the presence region (4 to 6 khz approx.) is not as bright as the 800. The L1 would be the preferred balance in this area. The range from 7 khz on up does not seem significantly different from the HD-800 to me. The L1 is very smooth, clear and detailed top to bottom.

    The major differences between the L1 and HD-800 are:
    The HD-800 has the best soundstage of all headphones I've heard, and the L1 is average or slightly better for a closed headphone, not what I would expect for an open headphone.
    The HD-800's reproduction of upper harmonics is better, and in fact better than any headphone I've heard. It's like listening into another dimension. The L1's reproduction of upper harmonics is good for a $300 USD headphone, but not exceptional.
    The HD-800 is far more comfortable, and probably moreso than any other full-size headphone.
    The L1 is very useful as a portable, the HD-800 is not at all useful that way.
    The HD-800 is 5 times the price of the L1, but offers at most double the value of the L1.
     
  5. Rayleigh Silvers

    Rayleigh Silvers New Member

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    How much more detail does the HD800 have over the L1 and exactly what is the extra detail it gives? Does this only apply to live recordings?

    I'm rather unhappy about the price tag. £240 seems a lot for what looks like a portable sized headphone. The HD25-II's can be had for around a £100 so I can't see where the value for money comes in. The L1 seems too big (imo) for portable use but too small for relaxing at home. And from the pictures it looks like the cups don't swivel horizontally, which is a stupid design flaw I can't believe they overlooked. People with smaller heads such as myself might not get the right seal.

    Considering the 940's can be had for £175, would you say the L1 is worth paying more? From your review it looks like it'll easily win in the bass department, but how do the mids and high hold up to the shures? Also the timbre and the feeling of actually being there and the vocals, which are really important for me.
     
  6. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Headphone differences

    The 800's detail does not make itself obvious. It's when you listen to things closely, that you gradually realize that the 800 is producing extra detail. You get used to it, then you put the other headphone on and those things like the shimmer of cymbals sound slightly dull by comparison. The HD-25ii doubtless would sound lousy next to a L1. It's old technology. You will not understand or appreciate what I'm saying until you do the experiment I described in the order I suggested. As to the 940 -vs- the L1, it's darker -vs- lighter. I could live with either one, but I have to do 2 things: 1) Get accustomed to the different signature, and 2) Orient my listening to the tracks that sound best with that signature. I find the L1 to be plenty big enough to be a good desktop hifi headphone.
     
  7. RobinHiFi

    RobinHiFi Super Moderator

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    Great review and thanks for the helpful editions. I have not heard the Philips Fidelio L1 yet but a couple of my colleagues have and they were quite excited. Hifi Headphones will have the Fidelio headphones in stock in the next few months!:D
     
  8. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Philips L1

    I realize this is going to seem like an exaggeration, but .... the L1 with bass reduction, based on extensive tests over the past few days, is proving to be a better headphone in every respect than anything else I have. Whether it's near-perfect highs (not bright or dull, but detailed), great mids, and near-ideal bass, I can't find any faults with it. But that clause ("with bass reduction") is going to be the key in how people sell it.

    Here are some examples, coming from a former sales manager:

    Sell it as a bass-head headphone.
    Sell it as an ideal audiophile headphone to someone who is willing to apply bass EQ.
    Sell it as both a bass machine and audiophile headphone. Pretty wild, huh?

    -or-, as many forum posts I've been reading indicate, sell it as a "Just OK" headphone in its class without mentioning EQ, since the boomy bass tends to obscure the other qualities.
     
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