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Philips Fidelio L2 (Black) review: A hidden gem of a headphone

The Fidelio L2 doesn't usually get mentioned in the same breath as other top over-ear headphones in the $250-$350 range, but it probably should.

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David Carnoy

Executive Editor / Reviews

Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.

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Steve Guttenberg

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.

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3 min read

The Philips Fidelio L2, which costs around $250 online (£162 UK, AU$360), doesn't get talked about much compared to competing models from the likes of Sony, Sennheiser, V-Moda, Audio-Technica, Bose, and Beats, but it's a really good headphone. It's been on the market for several months, but it's beginning to become available at additional retailers.

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Philips Fidelio L2 (Black)

The Good

The Philips Fidelio L2 is a well-constructed, comfortable over-ear headphone that sounds impressive, with excellent clarity and tight bass. Designed for both home and mobile use, it includes a cable with a one-button inline remote and microphone for cell-phone calls. Sound is more open and airy due to its semi-closed design.

The Bad

Somewhat pricey; inline remote lacks volume controls; downside to semi-closed design is that it leaks some sound.

The Bottom Line

With a winning combination of comfort and superior sound quality, the Philips Fidelio L2 earns itself a spot among the luxury headphone elite.

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The sturdily constructed Philips Fidelio L2 is designed for home and mobile use. Sarah Tew/CNET

The L2 is a semi-open design, which means it will leak some sound but not as much as an open-back headphone (such as its sibling, the Fidelio X2). It comes with two cloth-covered cables, one of which has an inline remote and microphone for cell-phone use, so it does double duty as a home and mobile headphone.

It's got a one-button remote that's designed to work with both Android and Apple phones, which is good. It lacks volume controls, but you can pause/play tracks and skip them forward and back, as well as answer and end calls.

Overall, the 260-gram headphone seems sturdily built -- its headband is made out of aluminum -- and is comfortable to wear, with nicely padded, leather-covered ear cushions that are equipped with memory foam. They fit snugly but not too snugly on your ears, and sound isolation is good.

While we were able to wear the L2 for long stretches, it's not as comfortable as the Sony MDR-1A , which is lighter at 225 grams. It's also worth mentioning that this wouldn't be the best headphone to wear around during summer because your ears will get steamy.

The L2 folds flat but it doesn't fold up like the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 does. A basic cloth carrying pouch is included to stow the headphones. Some other headphones in this price class come with better carrying cases.

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The plush earcups do a good job sealing out ambient noise. Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance

This is a very likable-sounding headphone. It offers a lot clarity but plays harsh, overcompressed recordings with a rare ease. Bass is plentiful, but never crosses over the line to muddy. The Fidelio L2 sounds more open and spacious than most closed-back headphones in its price range.

That might not seem like such a big deal, but once you get used to hearing that expansive quality, closed-back headphones can sound a little claustrophobic by comparison.

Back to the bass: The Fidelio L2's is more precise and "tuneful" than some of our favorite 'phones, like the NAD Viso HP50 . By tuneful we mean you can hear bass notes more clearly on the Fidelio L2, and it has a much fuller and warmer sound balance than the Viso HP50.

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Close up of the one-button inline remote and shoelace-style cable. Sarah Tew/CNET

The NAD is clearer overall than the Fidelio L2, but the Fidelio L2 is much easier to listen to and enjoy with recordings that are less than stellar-sounding. For example, Arcade Fire's aggressively bright "Reflektor" album on the Viso HP50 was tamed by the Fidelio L2, so sibilants didn't tear our ears off. The Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 also took the edge off, and plumped up the bass a little more than the Fidelio L2 did.

Listening to jazz pianist John Lewis' solo album "Evolution," his subtle dynamic shifts were fully revealed on the Fidelio L2, so while the sound balance is on the lush and romantic side of neutral, we never felt the sound was lacking in clarity.

Bass power is another strong suit -- the Fidelio L2 goes nice and low without overdoing it. V-Moda's Crossfade M100's deep bass may win for sheer skull-thumping power, but the Fidelio L2's more nuanced low bass isn't far behind. The M100 has less midrange and treble clarity; the Fidelio L2 is a far more balanced design.

Conclusion

There are several great headphones in the $250-$300 price class, including the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0, V-Moda Crossfade M100, NAD Viso HP50, Audio Technica ATH-MSR7, and Sony MDR-1A to name a few of our favorites. The Fidelio L2 doesn't usually get mentioned in the same breath as those headphones, but it should.

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Philips Fidelio L2 (Black)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 8Value 8
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