(Pocket-lint) – The art of listening to music at its very best seemed in danger not so long ago. Low bitrate streaming services and the subsequent switch to a consumption model of quantity over quality nearly put paid to the age-old tradition of sitting back and listening to a finely-crafted tune in pure, unadulterated stereo.
But things took a dramatic change for the better and, in just a few years, we have gained lossless music streaming and the resurgence of vinyl (decks and recordings). Reissues of classic albums have become the order of the day, and modern technologies are respectfully wringing every note from ancient masters.
We have also seen one of the major players in the premium headphones game come back to the fray, thanks to TP Vision and its decision to reinvent and relaunch the Philips Fidelio brand.
The Philips Fidelio X3 open-backed headphones represent a return for both the brand and one of its most-loved products. These over-ears share some of the design notes of 2015’s X2 but come with a swathe of additions to allow their musicality to prosper.
- Dimensions: 110 x 230 x 190mm / Weight: 0.38kg
- Muirhead leather bands, Kvadrat fabric
- Memory foam earcup cushions
These headphones certainly look and feel premium. Utilising a smorgasbord of top-notch materials, including Muirhead leather, Kvadrat fabric, and a dark satin metal finish to the arms, the Fidelio X3 has a classic aesthetic, yet tweaked for a more modern lifestyle.
The earcups are memory foam, covered by velvet for comfort. If you’re going to listen to the whole of Tubular Bells in one sitting, that’s an essential. Our only minor concern is that the outer material isn’t as cool to the touch as, say, lamb’s leather, so the earcups are pretty insulating temperature-wise. That’s great for the winter months, but you might feel a little warm after long periods in summer. Still, the headset as a whole is light and non-restrictive.
That’s mainly thanks to the dual headband design, with an inner band resting on the top of your head and the outer floating a little above. This keeps the overall build sturdy, while giving a detached, looser fit.
Apart from that, there are two mini jack outputs – one on each ear – for pure stereo connection via the included cable.
- 50mm neodymium drivers
- 3.5mm oxygen-free cable feeds each ear
- Sensitivity: 100dB @ 1mW
- Max power output: 500mW
- Impedence: 30 Ohm
- Frequency response: 5 – 40,000Hz
There’s a 3-metre oxygen-free fabric-covered 3.5mm cable in the box, plus an adapter to plug it into a source with a 6.3mm connection. You get an additional cable too, with a 2.5mm TRRS jack on one end for balanced audio connectivity (to a high-res media player, for example).
Each ear is served by a 50mm neodymium acoustic driver, utilising a diaphragm composed of multiple polymer layers and filled with damping gel. That and the open-backed earcup design ensures clean, unobstructed audio delivered with precision – whether that be Hi-Res or lossy MP3s. Whatever is present in the recording will be delivered accurately.
The drivers are also tilted at 15 degrees inwards, which presents a slightly wider front sound stage. However, we’ve tested with 360 Reality Audio streamed through Tidal too – from Liam Gallagher’s MTV Unplugged live album – and you get a more than decent virtual surround experience. Same too with gaming, if that’s your bag.
- Hi-Res Audio capable
- Includes 2.5mm TRRS jack for balanced audio
Which brings us onto the overall performance. We tested the Philips Fidelio X3 headphones with multiple sources and music types and there is no doubting the clarity and detail on offer. You get a truly neutral sound signature, which we would expect from audiophile ‘phones, so tracks are largely presented as they were recorded.
Every note and breath of Billie Eilish’s excellent theme song for the next Bond movie, No Time to Die, can be picked out – especially through the Tidal Master Quality stream. And, on the other end of the scale, the opening guitar hook of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck comes clear through, even when the drums kick in.
Bass is throaty enough when needed, such as on Eminem’s My Name Is, but not overstated and certainly without masking mid to high-end frequencies. Our only criticism at all is that the X3 require a decent amount of volume before you get the best. But then, that’s what premium headphones are for really – to listen to your music at levels that might not usually be appropriate.
Of course, you still have to be mindful that these are open-backed, and therefore sound leakage is a natural side-effect, but bar sitting next to someone on the Tube, no one will be too perturbed by the ambience.
TP Vision has long been making TVs under the Philips brand in Europe, while audio is a relatively new exploit. However, by reintroducing the Fidelio brand and reinvigorating one of its most iconic products, it has shown both the respect and technical knowhow to pull it off.
Those with existing Fidelio headphones – most notably the X2 – might not fancy upgrading. Indeed, they don’t really have to considering this type of product is built and designed to last, but if you’re in the market for premium open-backed headphones then now’s the time to make that right.
After all, in this headphone category – wired-only and to audiophile-standard – you can often expect to pay much more. Especially with the Fidelio’s build quality, materials used and overall musicality.
The X3 therefore not only suit the heritage of the Fidelio brand, these over-ears set a marker in the sand for other products going forward.
Writing by Rik Henderson.