Philips X2 Around-Ear Open-Back Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Feb 10, 2016.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone6s+ with Oppo HA-2/FiiO K1 DAC/amps, various computers using the Audioquest Dragonfly-2/HRT Microstreamer/FiiO E17k/FiiO E07k DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the Philips X2 are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - the Beyerdynamic T1 and T90, the AKG K812 and K712, the FAD Pandora VI and IV, various Sennheisers, and notes that I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I'll describe how I relate to the X2 (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    My first impression of the X2 out of the box was: A luxury-built headphone, very well padded, very comfortable, with a long (10 ft.) but serviceable and detachable cable. I replaced that cable with a 4.5 ft. Thinksound On1 cable. That On1 cable is the best cable ever as standard cables go, and fortunately the X2 uses generic cables with standard 3.5 mm miniplugs on both ends (one end goes into the left earcup and the other into the headphone jack of the computer or portable device). Normally I don't report my impressions and/or informal measurements of the sound until after burn-in (which I'll do below), but I did play the X2 with iPhone and portable DAC/amp in the car, before I took it home from the UPS pickup point. The sound was near-perfect right there and then. I've done these pre-burn-in checks for nearly every one of my new headphones, and I've heard dull, bright, boomy, energetic, bassy, and other such sounds from those headphones, but the X2 was "smooth and hi-fi" - as simple as that.

    You can see my graphic chart estimate of the X2's sound above or on my dalethorn website under Photos/Audioforge pages 1-7. My analysis has a slight boominess in the upper bass (but very slight; ~2-3 db), a slight forwardness in the vocal region (also ~2-3 db), a moderate recess (~3-5 db) in the presence** area, and a small emphasis (~3-4 db) around 9 khz that might add a slight crispiness to the treble on some music tracks. In spite of all that the sound is smooth and hi-fi, and the sonic imperfections are far less than the average headphone in the X2's price range. It's impossible to predict how each user is going to react to the X2's particular sound, but I think the sound quality is so good that very few users will dislike it, outside of persons who are looking for a particular sound effect, such as an extra strong bass for movies or gaming, to name one example.

    **Presence as I see it is what gives the sound its basic "life". Below the presence area are the frequencies that make the sound forward or distant, and above the presence area are the frequencies that give the sound its "edge", i.e. without that edge the sound is dull, lacking sparkle. Above those frequencies are the "air" frequencies, above 10 khz or so, and they contain some of the upper harmonics that make the difference between (for example) wire brushes and cymbals that have a natural shimmer and decay, or don't - i.e. the shimmer may cut off too soon. The X2 has it all, in good proportion.

    The graphic chart I noted above, to informally measure the X2's frequency response, is technically an EQ curve, which is quite naturally the inverse of the frequency response. I don't think that EQ is necessary to have a full hi-fi listening experience with the X2, and my listening test results shown in the music samples below were sans any tone controls or EQ, or any other sonic enhancements. The X2 is a semi-open headphone, so it has very little isolation, and the leakage is high enough that it won't be usable in quiet offices or libraries at average volume levels. The good news is that the soundstage and overall presentation is superior to any of the closed-back headphones I've had. Some of the open-back headphones I've had, such as the Sennheiser HD800 or the AKG K812, have a "big" soundstage and presentation, but I find the X2 to be a more natural sounding headphone for my music listening - YMMV.

    The X2's weight feels light for its size, which is fairly bulky. It has a one-size-fits-all headband, which is comfortable on my head, but may feel like it pinches other users or presses too much from the top. The large round velour earpads go around my average-size ears OK, but users with large ears may have problems. The X2 would not be useful as a portable headphone for me, in that it can't be pulled off of my head when not in use and worn around my neck, because the earcups can't be pulled out away from my chin, due to the headband design. There is no carrycase included with this Massdrop edition of the X2, but if you found one to fit (and the earcups don't fold flat), it would be too large for backpacks and even airline carry-on bags. The total range of adjustment for the headband is about 27-28 mm on each side, and my average-size head fits toward the smaller end of that adjustment. Very small heads will need to add some padding underneath the headband for an optimal fit.

    In previous reviews I've included the following music examples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to those other reviews and see how the X2 compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The X2 plays this extremely well.

    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 perfectly by the X2.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can really feel the weight they carry with the X2.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The X2 plays this music very smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Great sound quality - this is a good test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the X2.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The X2 plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The X2 reproduces the space and detail very well.

    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 X2 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The X2 plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine sound is clearly identifiable.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The X2 reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The X2 plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that indicates a solid deep-bass response. Overall, the X2 plays this music extremely well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has excellent detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The X2 plays this track perfectly.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce very well with the X2. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The X2 provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for best-case detail. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the X2 does those superbly.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The X2 plays this with enough weight and detail that you can hear/feel some of the 16 cycle per second "beats" of the fundamental tone.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor** who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2015, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the X2 is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    **Mantovani developed the "Cascading Strings" sonic effect circa 1950, a famous "Wall of Sound" effect for mono hi-fi systems that predated Phil Spector's own famous Wall of Sound effect by 10 years or so.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is appreciable with the X2.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the X2 renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any headphone.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The X2 reproduces the 'clop' portion of that sound about as accurately as I've heard.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The X2 conveys as much of that experience as is possible on a more-or-less neutral stereo headphone. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the X2 renders the tones and transients perfectly.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The X2's reproduction is near-perfect, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are strong and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The X2 delivers the impacts with great weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

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