Pros: Balance, clarity, detail, form factor, build quality, aesthetics (looks), fit & comfort (for the most part)
Cons: Non removable pads, flimsy carry bag, pressure point with headband
For larger views of any of the photos (1200 x 800) - please click on the individual images
I guess everyone who has been around a while knows the Philips brand, but (for me anyway) it’s been a while since I’ve associated the brand with high end audio. My last foray with Philips was buying 2 pairs of Philips SHP2000 at NZD $20 each for my two (at the time) sub-teen children. The SHP2000s actually sounded passably decent, they were cheap, and the kids pretty much loved them to death. The kids are now tween and teen – and have a pair of Momentum on –ears, and UE6000s respectively – and to date I hadn’t heard another Philips headphone.
When Head-Fi user d marc0 contacted me about having a listen to the L2, I was intrigued – especially after hearing some pretty good press regarding some of their other recent releases. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Mark for giving me the chance to spend time with the L2s. It’s great that we have such a wonderful community here at Head-Fi - able to share our gear so as enthusiasts we can experience a lot more audio gear than many of us could otherwise afford.
I received the courier pack with the L2 almost 3 weeks ago – and it has been a real pleasure spending as much time as I could with the Fidelio L2. This has included using them at work, walking outside, gaming, and just general listening at home.
I’ve listed price at USD $225.00 (approx. current Amazon price at time of writing). I’d estimate I’ve spent somewhere around 60-80 hours with the Fidelio L2 so far.
The pair I have is part of a mini tour, and will be returned to d marc0 after I’ve completed the review. I’m not affiliated in any way with Philips, and this is my honest opinion of the Fidelio L2.
PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'. (or a base-line for interpreting my thoughts and bias)
I'm a 48 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up. I vary my listening from portable (Fiio X5, X3ii and iPhone 5S) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > coax > NFB-12 > LD MKIV > HP). I also use a portable set-up at work – either X5/X3ii > HP, or PC > Beyer A200p > HP. My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Beyer T1 and Sennheiser HD600. Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs - and up till now it has mainly been with the Fidue A83, Dunu Titan and Altone200. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile).
I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences. I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880.
I have extensively tested myself (abx) and I find aac256 or higher completely transparent. I do use exclusively redbook 16/44.1 if space is not an issue. All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line).
I tend to be sceptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables, and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences. I am not a ‘golden eared listener’. I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 48, my hearing is less than perfect.
For the purposes of this review - I mainly used the Fidelio L2 straight from the headphone-out socket of my Fiio X3ii, and NFB-12, but also used (at different times) my X5, iPhone 5S, and Beyer A200p when at work. I have noticed no significant changes in the overall sonic presentation, other than becoming more used to the signature of the L2 as I used them more often (brain burn-in).
This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.
PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES
The Fidelio L2 arrived in a largish retail box and lid. The lid has a nice phot of the L2 on the front, and on one side has specifications. On the rear is a little “marketing speak” on the design and drivers – in English and eight other languages. The box is mainly black with orange accenting (similar to the headphones), and the white text on the box, thought small is pretty legible.
|Front of retail box||Rear of retail box||Retail box in profile|
Opening the box reveals foam cushioning in the lid, and normally would have the headphones in a moulded plastic inner (Mark didn’t send this – but I have seen an unboxing with it included). Under the plastic mould, you get a soft cloth bag, booklet, 3.5 to 6.3 mm adaptor, and two cables – one normal, and one with smart-phone controls. I won’t be reviewing the smartphone cable – as Mark didn’t include it when he sent the L2 to me.
|Interior of box (normal mould was missing from this sample)||Accessories - one cable was missing from sample I received||Fidelio L2 inside cloth carry case|
The carry bag is a soft almost velour like material on the outside, and a faux satin material on the inside. It closes with an orange draw string. While it is perfectly functional, a more practical and protective case would have been a nice touch.
Semi-open circumaural portable headphone
Dynamic full sized – 40mm
12 Hz – 25 Khz
105 dB (assuming at 1 kHz & 1 Vrms)
< 0.1% (not stated how it was measured)
3.5mm gold plated straight jack
1.2m single sided, removable (3.5mm connector - proprietory)
266g (including cable)
I’ve included the graph from Innerfidelity (thanks Tyll). What I’m noticing first is a very clear mid-range, and the quality of the vocals are definitely a strong point. Bass seems quite natural, and seems to extend relatively well. Treble is clear and clean without being overly fatiguing – it does have a bit of a peak though, and quite a bright, clear overall signature.
BUILD QUALITY / DESIGN
At first glance, the Fidelio L2 looks both very stylish, and also really well made. Closer inspection confirms the amount of thought and quality that has gone into the overall design decisions. Starting with the headband, it appears to be quite flexible, and I would guess internally it is a spring steel with foam padding for comfort. The headband is designed to mould around your head, to avoid pressure points, and is covered with a soft pleather. The stitching is in orange thread which complements the overall design.
|Very robust design with excellent quality parts||Headband has very good padding||Headband is nicely shaped, but still tended to have top pressure point|
The extenders are metal, and slide with a nice firm click. There is a measurement system on the inside of the band, so once you have your ideal size dialled in you can very quickly adjust before you put the headphones on. The connecting arm looks very robust, and I can see these lasting quite well with extended use. The extenders go down a good 40-50mm each side, so should accommodate most people.
The extenders are affixed to a ring mount which allows the earcups to rotate around both axis, and this allows a very good fit. This is also metal and looks very sturdy. Both cups can be folded inwards (flat) for wearing around the neck, or packing flat for travel.
|Very nice adjustment on the headphone yokes||3.5mm connector - note the indents for the cable||Cable connected|
The ear cups themselves have a metal main shell, mesh at the rear of the drivers, and are covered with a very soft pleather over memory foam. The drivers are protected by a cloth covering. Unfortunately the earpads are designed to be non-removable (although I’m pretty sure you could remove them – just replacing them might be an issue).
According to Philips, the drivers themselves are “pre-tilted, matching the ear cup's natural angle directs the sound straight into the ear canal. This means much less of the coloration that can occur when sound reflects off the outer ear, together with a more realistic soundstage and enhanced comfort”.
|Cups are high quality with full movement for adjustment||Pads are very soft and accommodate my ears brilliantly||Cups swivel inward one way (able to lie flat)|
The cable is detachable, one-sided entry, 3.5mm at both ends, but has a proprietary connecting mechanism at the ear cup. However, I’d imagine any 3.5mm connector should work – it’s just that the connector Philips uses on the L2 helps it stay in a little better. The connector is also designed in such a way that if there is a major trauma on the cable (gets violently tugged), it will disconnect itself. The cable that Mark included is covered with a fine woven cloth exterior , can be slightly microphonic (not so if tucked inside clothing), and is reasonable flexible.
Unfortunately I can’t make any comment regarding the 2nd cable with smartphone controls as it wasn’t included with this tour unit – but you do definitely get one with a purchased L2.
|Connector to the headphones||Cable and jack (single sided)||Overall - the L2 "style" is simply stunning IMO|
The jack is standard straight 3.5mm , gold plated, has good strain relief, and easily fits my iPhone5S, even when the case is on.
Overall, the build quality is absolutely excellent – very robust, and I can see why they only felt the need to include a cloth carry bag rather than a harder case (however I still think a better carry case would have been preferable).
FIT / COMFORT / STYLE / ISOLATION
Style is always going to be a personal thing – and from the first time I saw the Fidelio L2, my immediate thought was that it looked gorgeous (its chic black look with orange highlights), and extremely stylish. This is a headphone I’d have no issues wearing out and about. On me, the headband does extend slightly away from my head (doesn’t mould completely around), but still looks pretty good for street wear.
For comfort, I have almost no issues with the L2 at all – save for the headband. After about an hour or two, I get a slight pressure spot on the very top of my head – but often a quick readjustment and I’m good to go again. YMMV with this though.
The earpads are extremely soft, and my ears fit inside the cups nicely with no pressure points. In fact these cups are exactly what the recently reviewed Ubranite XL should have been modelled on IMO. The internal measurement of the cups is approx. 60mm long, 40mm at its widest point, and pretty close to 25mm deep. The memory foam is also very high quality, and springs back nicely after being compressed.
For a semi open headphone, they actually isolate pretty good. In an open plan office environment, while I could still hear those around me with music off, it didn’t take much volume to isolate myself. More importantly, as long as the music is not too loud, there is not a lot of leakage. Someone sitting next to you will hear it, but someone 12 feet away, not so much. Enough isolation to use while walking for example, but not going to be useful in a really noisy environment (or a really quiet one – eg library – leakage).
The following is what I hear from the Philips Fidelio L2. YMMV – and probably will – as my tastes are likely different to yours (read the preamble I gave earlier for a baseline). Most of the testing at this point (unless otherwise stated) was done with my Fiio X3 gen 2 and NFB-12.
Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks.
Thoughts on General Signature
If I was to describe the signature in a few words – I’d choose the words “clear”, “vivid”, and “clean (dark background)”.
From my first listen, I fell in love with the sound signature of the Fidelio L2. Three weeks later, and I still enjoy every moment with them. They can seem slightly bright at first listen, but once my ears adjust, they settle to be incredibly coherent, quite mid forward (vocals, guitar etc are startlingly clear and “alive”), but they also possess a pretty quick and agile bass than can actually reach pretty low.
Overall Detail / Clarity
In a word – stellar, or stunning, or stupendous! The L2 has an absolutely crystal clear presentation, and shows the sort of resolution of overall detail that my T1 normally brings to the table. With both Steely Dan’s “Gaucho”, and Dire Strait’s “Sultans of Swing”, all the minute details were there and presented stunningly. Gauchos opening sax contrasted beautifully with the bass guitar, and it was the cymbal hits and slow trail off that was absolutely intoxicating. Vocals were beautifully blended in – a truly wonderful presentation of a track I know pretty well. “Sultans” was similar – and also a good taste of how well male vocals could be presented. The only critique I’d have is that at times the upper end bordered on almost becoming peaky – but that’s all it was (getting close but not crossing the line).
Sound-stage & Imaging
I started with my usual go-to track - Amber Rubarth’s binaural recording “Tundra” – to test soundstage and imaging.
The first thing I noticed was the clarity and overall imaging. The L2 was very easy to pinpoint not only direction but also comparative depth. It doesn’t have an overly large stage – extending just outside head with this track, as though the instruments were playing around me – but intimate (6-10 feet away) rather than expansive. The separation is impressive – and I’m still amazed by the overall clarity of this headphone.
Switching to Loreena McKennitt’s “Dante’s Prayer”, and once again I’m struck by the imaging and separation of instruments. McKennet is close, the piano slightly further back, and cello off to the side slightly. This is honestly like listening to a cross between the HD600 and T1 – and it really does floor you when you realise how good this driver is. Queue the applause at the end, and I’m transported into the crowd – but not only that I’m hearing sounds that are usually masked on other headphones (the cello being rested against a chair). It’s enough to give me chills, and anything that engages me this much is really something special.
The last test was switching to Amanda Marshall’s “Let It Rain” (quite a holographic and 3D presentation in this recording). The sense of space is still quite intimate – but the imaging continues to impress.
Bass Quality and Quantity
So we know the L2 nails imaging and clarity – what about the bass?
First test track for me is always Mark Lanegan’s “Bleeding Muddy Water”. This blues rock track is dark, brooding, and has bass that is normally visceral – and the Fidelio L2 handled it wonderfully. The bass was taught, impactful, and showed controlled power. Mark’s vocals were clear, with excellent timbre, and the L2 displayed the gravelly roughness that Mark employs with aplomb.
Time to see how low the bass would go – so switched to Lorde’s “Royals” (my sub-bass test) – and this presentation is stunning. There is just enough bass to give impact without overpowering, and when the bass guitar kicks in, the sub-bass rumble is definitely there. Again I’m impressed by the overall quality of the bass though – no hollowness or mush – just clean, and quick (and low). Also, Ella’s vocals are crystal clear, and euphonic – just magic.
My early litmus test is usually queuing Agnes Obel – as some of her recordings can become quite strident or shouty if the mids aren’t quite right. The L2 is not just good – it is perfect with this track. It is so vivid and uplifting, and then the cello kicks in with a marvellous low tonality. Honestly – this is as good as I’ve heard this track.
Now it’s time to run through my usual medley of other tracks from artists including London Grammar, Angus & Julia Stone, Christina Perri, Gabriella Cilmi, Feist, Florence and the Machine, Lianne La Havas and Norah Jones. No matter what I played, track after track the L2 just kept reaching new heights in presentation, and I had to continually pull myself back to the review. It would be just too easy to get lost in what I was hearing. Vocals were euphonic, crystal clear, and mesmerising. Time and again I was awestruck by how much emotion was conveyed on each track I played. Vivid and involving would be an understatement! And then when the bass slam hit with FATM and Feist I was instantly reminded of how much fun this presentation could be as well. Cilmi gave me chills once again with “Safer” (this girl has wonderful “pipes”), and Norah was simply sublime.
Dragging myself away from my female vocalists was difficult, but I needed to go to the other end of the spectrum. Kicking off with 3 Doors Down “Away from the Sun”, and the first thing that hits is how nice the combo of guitar and drum sounds, and then Brad’s voice kicks in and once again that clarity of the vocal presentation is apparent. The acoustic presentation and cohesion is really good – and this is repeated as I skim through tracks by Alter Bridge, Breaking Benjamin, the Eagles (Hotel California’s intro is amazing), Green Day, Nils Lofgren and Seether. The L2 has everything really good rock needs – wonderful speed, clarity and timbre, good bass impact, and ability to contrast really well. Acoustic rock especially is a real standout (Nils Lofgrens’ “Keith Don’t Go” was phenomenal).
Time again for my usual litmus test – Pearl Jam. Vedder’s voice is brilliant with the Fidelio L2 – the timbre and ability to convey emotion is captivating. What really stuns though is the level of detail and separation in the track – cymbal splash, guitar, snare hits ….. it’s just a truly wonderful rendition of one of my favourite tracks.
Genre Specific Notes
I’m not going to run through this in detail this time as I’d rather look at the L2 in contrast to my other full sized headphones. But I did run through my usual test tracks (http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks), and the L2 handled everything I threw at them with ease.
It would be hard to list standout tracks as well – because everything I played just sounded brilliant on the Fidelio L2. But if I had to choose 4 tracks to give you a short taste, they would be:
- Porcupine Tree’s “Trains” – the cohesion between Wilson’s vocals and the other instruments was seamless, and the bass was dynamic, clean and the whole track has tremendous clarity.
- Alison Krauss & Union Station’s “Dust Bowl Children” - the L2 is just incredible with stringed instruments, and the banjo in the track was simply magical. It just got better when the double bass and other instruments kicked in.
- Netrebko & Garanca with Lakme’s “Flower Duet” – the ability to convey the depth of emotion and clarity of vocals as an instrument is one of the strong points of the L2. This track was breath taking, and it did manage to convey some of the sense of space that I know is present in this performance.
- Zoe Keating’s “Escape Artist” – for the L2’s portrayal of the timbre and tonality of a magical Cello performance. If you want to see a true artist at work – I’d suggest trying his link to see Zoe at work (it is inspiring) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYrcXX4nWOA
The Fidelio L2 is easily powered straight out of the portable devices I have, and although I tested it with both the X3ii – both unamped and amped with the E11K, I haven’t noticed any difference in actual dynamics. On my iPhone 5S most tracks were perfect at around 50% volume. The one thing I did like about using the L2 with the E11K though was just the addition of the hardware bass boost. It is subtle, but just added a tiny bit of bottom end warmth that I personally found enjoyable. Bottom line though, the L2 is designed to run perfectly out of a portable device – so amping isn’t a requirement, but a choice.
RESPONSE TO EQ?
This was an interesting one because there isn’t too much I’d change with the L2’s signature. But I do know the L2 may be a little peaky with brighter tracks for some people, so I endeavoured (with my trusty X3ii equaliser) to take some of the brightness in the mid-range out (a shallow “smiley” cut between 1K and 4K), while at the same time boosting the sub bass. The L3 responded well and became a little less mid focussed and a little warmer. So from my brief trial I’d suggest that the L2 can be moulded quite well to personal individual tastes via EQ. Whether you want to play with this will be very much individual preference.
QUICK COMPARISON – OTHER HEADPHONES
This is simply going to be a very rough comparison (on sonics) with the other full sized open headphones I have on hand – the HD600, and Beyer T1.
- L2 vs HD600
- The first thing I noticed was that the Fidelio L2 is actually clearer and cleaner than the HD600 – quite a feat.
- Soundstage is very similar with the HD600 slightly better on width and depth
- Both have a very similar bass impact relative to the mid-range, with the L2 maybe hitting just a fraction harder.
- Overall I’d still say the HD600 portrays timbre better, and sounds more natural. The Fidelio has more detail, but sounds a little more etched.
- Both are outstanding headphones. The HD600 is definitely more comfortable for long term listening.
- L2 vs T1
- This time the boot is on the other foot – the T1 is cleaner and more refined. The clarity on both is very good though.
- Compared to the L2, the T1 sounds slightly thin – the L2 has more lower end, and a little more thickness to the mid-range
- Soundstage and imaging definitely goes to the T1 – a lot more spacious, and really good portrayal within the space available. L2 is a lot more intimate.
- L2 definitely has more bass impact – and it is even more noticeable because of the more intimate stage.
- Timbre is very good on both, and both are tilted more toward the brighter end of the frequency range.
- Overall I’d call the T1 more balanced, but slightly bright – where the L2 in direct comparison has more of a V shape – but is fuller and richer.
FIDELIO L2- SUMMARY
The Philips Fidelio L2 is simply a wonderful headphone, and in the first week of having it with me, it simply blew me away with its tonality, clarity, and ability to sound excellent across most genres. In fact, at the end of the first week, I was even seriously contemplating selling my HD600s as I was enjoying this headphone so much.
Over the next two weeks, my opinion of the L2 hasn’t changed – I still regard it extremely highly, but I won’t be selling the HD600s.
What the L2 brings to the table is a portable semi-open headphone that is pretty comfortable, very stylish, and has excellent build. It sounds phenomenal – very clean and detailed, and an extremely black background allowing for excellent separation of instruments, and wonderful imaging ability.
The fact that the L2 is made by Philips (really!) and possesses a driver that is nothing short of stunning, has really made me sit up and take notice – and I will look forward to seeing what else the release in the coming years.
I would thoroughly and unreservedly recommend this headphone to friends and family, and at a price of around USD 225.00 (Amazon) it represents very good value for money.
I will really regret having to post these back to Australia next week – but just wanted to acknowledge Mark once again for the loaner. Thankyou for giving me the opportunity with these, my friend. I can see that I will probably have to go out and buy a pair at some stage.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO PHILIPS
My recommendations are pretty simple – and hopefully they may be addressed in future models:
- Don’t change the SQ.
- If you can – work on the headband. A little softer padding around the crown is all that is needed.
- A harder carry case would be a great addition.
- Replaceable earpads these days are a must. It wouldn’t take much to implement.
And finally – thanks for creating such a wonderful headphone.