The $299.99 Fidelio L1 headphones are an impressive full-size set fabricated from aluminum and leather and 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 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 L1s use aluminum parts that add durability without weight.
The earcups and headband are thick metal components, and yet the Fidelio L1s still feel comfortable over long periods of time thanks to the padded headband and real leather wrapping. The memory foam earpads 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 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, I found the Fidelio L1s comfortable to wear for hours at a time.
The Fidelio L1 headphones are a 26-ohm design and feature 40-millimeter drivers and neodymium magnets. A 4-inch-long, fabric-covered cable is permanently attached to the left earcup, and you can connect one of the two included 43-inch-long 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, suedelike 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 L1s pair well with all types of music, as you should expect from $300 headphones. There's sweetness to the sound balance, a mild richness that I found attractive, specifically when listening to acoustic sounds. The natural stereo imaging doesn't suffer the empty balance that I get with overly closed-back headphones.
To put the sound balance in perspective, I 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 they sound great with the music turned up nice and loud, but the Fidelio L1s 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 L1s sounded more spacious while the P5s presented the same music with a closer perspective. Which is correct? I can't say for sure, but the Fidelio L1s' clarity and natural appeal are indelible.
Up to this point, all my listening impressions were made with the Fidelio L1 headphones plugged into a simple iPod Classic, but at home I switched over to a Fiio E17 USB digital-to-analog converter/headphone amplifier ($140) running off my Mac Mini computer and found the Fidelio L1s' sound was deeply enhanced, with even more powerful bass definition. Soft-to-loud dynamics also saw improvement, which is what I usually hear when stepping up from portable sound sources to a good home headphone amplifier.
The Fidelio L1s' 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 $300 full-size headphones. For the price, the Fidelio L1s far outclass most competing sets in terms of build refinement and sound, and I recommend this model to anyone looking for a boost in audio hardware.