Philips Fidelio NC1 review: A well-designed on-ear noise-canceling headphone

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MSRP: $299.99

The Good The Philips Fidelio NC1 is a compact, well-designed, and very comfortable on-ear headphone that features active noise-canceling powered by a rechargeable battery that offers an impressive 30 hours of battery life. The headphones have a folding design and include a cloth-covered cable with an inline/microphone and a nice carrying case.

The Bad Fairly pricey; while the headphones offer a lot of detail, the sound is on the bright side, which may lead to some listening fatigue.

The Bottom Line While the Philips Fidelio NC1's sound may be a little too forward for some listeners, it does have an excellent design and decent noise-canceling.

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7.4 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 7
  • Sound 7
  • Value 7

Over the last few years, Philips has been making some very solid headphones, so we were intrigued to try out the Fidelio NC1 ($300, UK £250, AU$350), which is something of a rarity in today's headphone market -- a high-quality on-ear noise-canceling model.

Active noise-canceling (NC), you'll recall, requires the headphones to counter external ambient noise -- most typically, the drone of jet engines while you're flying -- with an inverse sound wave, thus "canceling" the undesired environmental sound so you get more of what you want to hear: the music you're listening to.

Bose discontinued its QuietComfort 3 on-ear NC headphone, putting its marketing muscle behind the QuietComfort 25 , an over-ear headphone that features arguably the best noise-canceling on the market. And while I can't say this Philips' noise-canceling is quite on par with the Bose QC 25, it does a good job gently muffling ambient noise without adding the audible hiss that some NC headphones produce. (Note that Philips is also slated to have an iPhone-only Lightning-powered version of the NC1, dubbed the NC1L, later this year.)

The Philips Fidelio NC1 is equipped with active noise-cancellation. Sarah Tew/CNET

For an on-ear headphone, it's very comfortable and seems well-built, with some metal parts and earcups that are equipped with memory foam and an outer cushion that's a combination of fabric and soft "protein leather." It's a good-looking headphone.

The 6.7-ounce (190-gram) headphones fold up and also fold flat and fit in a crescent-shaped carrying case that's well-designed and has a small pocket for the detachable 47-inch (1.2m) cable and USB charging cord. That headphone cable is covered in cloth (think shoelace) to help reduce microphonics and has an integrated one-button remote and microphone for making cell phone calls (call quality was good).

As I said, I like the fit of the headphone. It doesn't clamp down on your head and ears too tightly, but the only downside is that if you move your head vigorously, it does have a tendency to slip off your ears a bit (this may not be the case for people with larger heads, but mine is on the small-to-medium side). This is only a factor when you're on the go, but I thought it worth mentioning.

The headphones fold up to fit in a nice carrying case. Sarah Tew/CNET

The other thing to note is this headphone has a built-in rechargeable battery (it doesn't seem to to be user-replaceable) that delivers up to 30 hours of playback, which is impressive. In contrast, the Bose QC25 uses a single AAA battery that delivers similar battery life. I prefer rechargeable, but others like the standard battery option (the Bose's carrying case conveniently has a slot inside for storing an extra battery).

Both this Philips and the Bose can play music even after the battery dies, which isn't always the case for noise-canceling headphone (previous Bose QC models only worked when powered).

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