Philips Fidelio X1
Sells for $250-$300
Review (Click to show)
Build Quality: The X1 is a physical masterpiece in almost every way. Elegant and sleek design paired with a well machined construction puts headphones costing thrice as much to shame. The Fidelio X1 is easily the best looking full sized headphone I have ever laid eyes upon, with no tradeoffs in actual quality. Even the plastic used on the headphone doesn't feel like plastic, but something more akin to ceramic.
The cups are made of said plastic, with a wonderful feel of solidity, which connects to one another via two wires (like the AKG K70x line) encased in metal and strong leather. The open-backed design of the cups are protected via a beautiful mesh pattern/grill, possibly the prettiest of all headphones I've seen. It is tightly knit, which doesn't seem as open as something like the HD650's outer grill, yet it is still undoubtedly and utterly open. The left cup has a 3.5mm input for the audio cable, which makes it convenient, and easy to remove/replace/swap cables. As with all 3.5mm inputs, you'll want to be very careful when attaching/removing the cables.
The headband is a suspension type (again, like the AKG K70x line), which is very soft, and generously padded. It is quite large, covering a lot of head space wherever it rests. Ultimately, it is incredibly comfortable, though it is a bit problematic for larger heads, which I'll explain later.
Next, we have the ear pads. The pads are made of memory foam, covered in velour. This makes them incredibly soft and a bit more breatheable in comparison to leather/pleather pads. It isn't as dense as the K702 65th Anniversary pads, so it doesn't retain quite the same amount of memory foam properties. This makes them seal a little less through the pads, but doesn't trap as much heat as the AKG memory foam pads. They are quite thick, so those sensitive to ears being pressed against the driver enclosures shouldn't have an issue with the X1's pads.
On to the cable. The cable is quite possibly... scratch that, it IS the most beautiful stock cable I have ever seen on any headphone. It's long, cloth covered, thick, and soft/bendable without retaining cable memory. It terminates into a very nice 6.3mm (1/4") jack. As amazing as it looks... you will want to swap it for another cable, which I'll explain later.
Comfort: To put things as simple as possible, the Fidelio X1 is one of the most comfortable full-sized headphones you will ever wear. While it isn't the lightest headphone, it certainly isn't the heaviest, and whatever weight the X1 has is expertly spread around by the suspended headband, so it feels lighter than it really is.
The huge cups and pads allow the ears to fit inside comfortably, and the soft and airy velour padding keeps heat from building up compared to leather/pleather pads. No stickyness, and less heat is always a good thing in my book. The X1 could still stand to have more extension to allow bigger heads to fit with zero issues, as even with the post bending mod, the lack of extension will make the X1 press the headband down to your head. It's mostly harmless as the headband is so big and well padded, but it is worth noting.
Design Issues: One of the biggest issues on the X1 (and there are only two real issues), is that the ear pads aren't removable. This makes it quite problematic to clean or replace. It is held in by four screw-like protrusions, and a strong adhesive. This makes it a quite a commitment to remove and place back on. Considering the masterful design of the X1, the ear pad assembly comes off as archaic and incredibly cumbersome. You may have to contact Philips for a replacement (possibly for a price) once the pads start wearing out. Problem there being that Philips quite possiby won't be in the headphone business soon, so there may not be a legitimate method of replacing the pads. You will definitely want to baby the pads, and try to keep them as clean as possible at all times. Some tape to remove particles/dust/etc, and not using the X1 when you're dirty.
The second (though less problematic) issue, is that the stock cable (as amazing as it looks and feels) has a very high resistance (around 1.8ohm). That is unnaturally high for an audio cable, and it does cause a negative effect to the sound quality. Compared to audio cables with a typical resistance of around 0.5ohm, the stock cable makes the sound slightly congested, and slightly undetailed, which makes instruments sound a little hazy and blended into the background. Replacing the cable will immediately tighten up the bass, and better define instruments, and other sound effects clearly in comparison. The difference isn't vast, but it is there, and can be noticeable with the right material. Replacing the cable isn't costly, and you can replace it with something equally sturdy such as the Mediabridge audio cables sold on Amazon for $10 or less for an immediate improvement. The only positive aspect of the stock cable's sound is that it's warmer, and less fatiguing, due to the softer, less defined sound.
The third issue with the X1 is that the headband simply isn't made for larger heads. The space between the suspended headband padding and the leather covered top that connects the cups is quite small, and once you put the headphone on, the suspended headbasnd will crash into the top piece, not allowing clearance for larger heads. There is a simple solution to this, and that is to bend the top piece into more of a cone shape, to allow more clearance. There is a lot of wasted horizontal space by default so bending the headband allows this unused space to be occupied by the suspended headband if needed. The top band is all metal and leather, and won't break, so there shouldn't be any worry about damaging the headphone with this mod.
Accessories: The X1 comes with a 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapter (1/4" to 1/8"). As with all 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapters, I would advise on NOT using it, and instead getting a Grado adapter cable or something like it, as these typical adapters can put some strain on 3.5mm inputs. The X1 also come with the audio cable and a clip attached near the 6.3mm plug which can help control the length if need be.
Isolation/Leakage: As an open backed headphone, you can't expect much isolation/noise control. However, I don't find them to leak as badly as other open backed headphones, so with moderate volumes, you can get by without bothering too many others. Even so, don't plan on using these to great effect if you need to control leak or keep external noises from seeping in.
Sound: The Fidelio comes out swinging. My first thought when I heard the X1 was something like "This is exactly what I have always wanted out of an open backed, bassy headphone." The X1 has an open, spacious, lively, energetic, yet controlled sound. It is tonally on the warm side due to the bass, but verges on neutral. The treble gives the X1 a nice amount of energy despite most of the treble actuallyu being on the smooth side. The X1 to me is at odds with itself. Not in a bad way, mind you. By odds, I mean that it doesn't know if it wants to be a basshead headphone, or an audiophile headphone. Both? That sounds about right. A basshead/audiophile headphone. Let's get into the specifics...
Bass: The X1 is a rare breed of headphone, particularly in it's bass. There are very, very few headphones that can be this open, yet retain so much energy in it's bass which more closely resembles something coming out of a sealed design. It has a lot of growl and punch, but not overly so like most bass heavy, closed headphones. Open-backed headphones tend to roll off in the bass quite quickly, losing energy, impact, and are too quick to decay. The X1 is among the elite few dynamic headphones which does away with that stereotype. Other dynamics with potent bass would be the Sennheiser HD650 and Beyerdynamic DT990, and neither reach as low as the X1, nor fill up the virtual space in the same way. The X1 has a broader range in bass than the 650 or DT990, and fits somewhere between in decay and speed. The 650 is more neutral in it's bass, while the 990 is a bit stronger in the mid bass, but rolls off faster, not allowing it to reach the lower depths as well as the X1. Ultimately, the X1's bass is more fleshed out than the other two.
That being said, the bass can at times come off a bit undetailed and lacking in texture and layering. Perhaps even one-note-ish. To me, the X1's bass sounds like it was pre-boosted from a neutral headphone, and it sounds as if Philips pushed the X1's driver to it's limit in the bass, and adding any more would probably strain the drivers causing them to distort badly. This is just an assumption though, and overall, the presentation of bass on the X1 is among my favorites on any headphone. Just note that I feel that it can stand to be more textured, refined, and overall improved upon.
Mids: The mids on the X1 are pleasantly intact, despite the X1's bass heavy nature. The mids are actually quite linear and neutral in tone, with no crazy drops or rises all the way up to the treble. It's neither forward nor truly recessed, staying in place at all times, only slightly trailing behind the abundant level of bass. The mids are neither weak nor special. They are happy to be present in the mix at all times, only slightly getting masked by the bass at times. Such is the nature of virtually all bass heavy headphones, and the X1 is among the best ones at keeping the mids intact. Due to the open and spacious sound of the X1, the mids are never intimate, nor are they thick or organic like the HD650, LCD-2, and K702/65. In the end, you can say the mids are good in that they are detailed, but not special. They are definitely more upfront than the DT990, which was something I personally wanted out of a DT990 successor (which is how I see the X1).
Treble: The treble on the X1 is generally smooth, with slight peak at 10khz, which adds a nice amount of sparkle and energy, keeping the X1 from sounding completely warm or smoothike the HD650, LCD-2, and K702/65. The treble is well in line with the mids other than the slight peak at 10khz, and massive drop off after 10khz. Said drop off keeps the X1 from being sibilant or fatiguing overall, but it does gloss over quite a bit of treble detail.
Overall, the drop off in treble after 10khz isn't problematic, as the X1 still exudes plenty of air and energy, but it is worth noting. Also, the rise at 10khz can rear it's head with certain material and can be a little tizzy at times, keeping the X1 from being completely fatigue free. Overall, it's a minor gripe, and I feel it to be a very small, necessary evil to allow the X1 to sound as open and lively as it is. Surely, nowhere near as problematic as the treble happy DT990 and HE-400.
Soundstage: The X1 has a large soundstage somewhat similar to the DT990. Plenty of space between instruments and positional cues, with great imaging. A soundstage this good just isn't normal with bassy headphones, making the X1 even more special. The instruments and positional cues don't take up as much space as something like the K702/65, giving a larger sense of virtual space, even if it doesn't reach as far out.
Positioning: Great positional cues tend to accompany open headphones with large soundstages, and the X1 surely does not disappoint. Among the best in positional cue clarity, with a pretty good sense of height (something I don't normally notice in headphones), front and side cues, and very good rear positional cues. For a bass oriented headphone, the X1 will be among the best all rounders, especially if positional accuracy is a must.
Clarity: Due to the very (VERY) linear frequency response after the bass, the Fidelio X1 is among the clearest sounding headphones, especially for gaming. The mids are so dead even with the treble overall, that nothing is truly lost. The only problem in clarity is that due to the potent bass, some details can be hidden behind each bass impact, though for an all rounder with bass heaviness, there just won't be much better than the X1 in clarity. It really is that good.
Amping: With popular headphones come the inevitable influx of people recommending they be amped by powerful amps to get the best out of them. I have heard this with basically EVERY SINGLE headphone that is worth their grain in salt. I'll be a little more realistic in saying that the X1 is quite easy to drive and doesn't scale up enough to warrant a potent/pricey amplifier for them. I believe a very good portable amp would be enough for them, and anything else is more for tweaking the flavor and sound signature, and not because the X1 needs a certain amount of power. So again, I say, the X1 can do very well with a good portable amp or decent desktop amp, and still sounds fantastic with very little to no amping. The X1 is quite sensitive, and I feel that for console gaming, the Mixamp alone is enough.
Value: The X1 is now consistently hovering between $250 and $275, and at that price, it is an ABSOLUTE must have. You get a lot of performance, and very few drawbacks. Those who want a linear headphone with bump in bass need look no further. You get one hell of a headphone for so little money.
Comparisons: X1 vs. K702/65. The most popular comparison asked for me to do is between the X1 and the K702/65 (Annies). The comparison is not exactly valid, as it is comparing apples to oranges. The Annie is more balanced, more organic, warmer, thicker, and more fluid. It is less fatiguing and more polite. The X1 is more lively, energetic, and more bassy, with thinner sounding instruments, but a bigger sense of space. I love them both almost equally, with an edge going to the X1 simply due to it having the sound signature I have always wanted out of a potential successor to the DT990 (which has been a long time fave of mine). If I were to honestly gauge the sound quality and refinement, I'd say the Annie is a superior headphone overall, with it's more realistic/natural tone, and more perceived audio fidelity, in my opinion. There is a place for both of them, as they cover basically all aspects of sound/genres very well between the two.
X1 Vs. DT990. If there was ever anything I wanted out of the DT990 to make them ideal for my personal taste, is that I wished they would have considerably less treble, more mids, and retain the same amount of bass and soundstage. The X1 is almost exactly what I have wanted for years when I asked for an improved DT990. They don't sound the same (obviously), but it's the closest thing to my vision of an improved and evolved DT990. Because of this, you can say the X1 has made the DT990 obsolete. The only people who should look into the DT990 over the X1 is those who can't afford the $250 or so dollars for the X1, and even then, the DT990 Pro is the only version that is noticeably cheaper. All of the 990s require quite a bit more amping than the X1, so in the end, you'd end up spending more for the 990 just to make them sound up to par with the X1, even when the X1 is unamped. That still doesn't get you past the edgy and polarizing treble.
Final Impressions: With the X1, you get a very beautiful, comfortable, affordable (by audiophile standards), open, velour padded, easy to drive, bassy, energetic, linear headphone. That is a hell of a lot of boxes ticked for a headphone in this price range, and trust me, it's all true.
There are a few caveats: essentially non-replaceable pads, mediocre stock cable, metal bending mod necessary for larger heads. Also, bass could stand to be more refined, mids aren't exactly highlighted, treble detail gets glossed over past a certain point, and slight (very slight) fatigue at times.
Despite those few caveats, the X1 is well worth their price and then some. For those who have been on the hunt for an open, bassy can, with comfy velour (like I have), your journey is over. Get the X1 as soon as possible. It isn't perfect, and depending on what you want out of a headphone, the X1 may not be suited for you (those looking for stellar mids need not apply), but considering their price and domestically appealing sound signature, the X1 is a clear winner in my book.
Fun: 9 (Amazing)
Competitive: 8.25 (Great. If the bass were a little tighter and more refined, the X1 could've been a 9 in competitive, though it may have reduced the fun factor)
Comfort: 9 (Amazing)
Edited by Mad Lust Envy - 7/18/13 at 5:36pm