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dalethorn
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Philips Fidelio L1

Here's a short video review I did of the new Philips Fidelio L1.

http://youtu.be/G8j11-MVsH4

And here's a quick review of eight headphones comparing the Fidelio L1 to the others.

http://youtu.be/-iU4lLMtAJk

And here is a data table I created for comparing the nine headphones:

http://dalethorn.com/Headphone_Nine_Compare.txt

dalethorn
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Philips L1 Text Review

The Philips L1 reminds me of the best loudspeakers I ever had - not as large of a sonic picture being a headphone, but much of the same character and impact which my other headphones don't quite match. Played flat (no EQ) the L1 doesn't just have bass - you are in the bass, immersed as it were. And unlike other bassy headphones I've heard, this one is clean, clear and doesn't mask a less-than-ideal midrange and treble. In fact, those upper ranges are as smooth and silky as I would expect of something that costs twice as much. Since I normally prefer a so-called "flat" bass signature, I double-checked all of my tests of the L1 with a bit of bass reduction, and - no exaggeration - this is one amazing sounding headphone.

I need to describe the physical characteristics before I get back to the sound, but I want to mention that many times while listening to the L1, it seemed like I was listening to an analog system - like there's a body to the music that's not quite there in a digital system. I would go so far as to say that you get two headphones for the price of one with the L1 - a very strong bass for users who demand that feature, and a perfectly-balanced audiophile-type signature available at the touch of a (EQ) button. With many headphones EQ means an imperfect adjustment with uneven results. Not with the L1.

The Philips L1 has a short (5 inch) cable at the bottom of the left earcup terminated by a stereo mini-plug, to which you attach the regular headphone cable that has a mini-jack on one end and a straight (not angled) mini-plug on the other end. The L1 comes with 2 cables, each about 4 feet long, 3.5mm thick and fabric-covered. One of the two cables has Apple i_device controls. If the cables would ever fail, you could substitute any common headphone extension cord with mini-plug and mini-jack ends. A 1/4 inch (6.35mm) adapter is supplied, and unlike many other 1/4 inch adapters today, this one isn't threaded. This is the type I prefer, since it makes a more secure connection.

Just behind the actual mini-plug end of the cable is the cylindrical gripper that's 7mm in diameter. I can't be certain whether the miniplug would fit into any of the recessed sockets on music players that have such things, since that socket might have to accomodate part of the gripper piece.

The earpads are fully circumaural with openings that measure approximately 1-5/8 by 2-1/4 inches. The earpads are thick memory foam that should provide a good seal, and are covered by a type of pleather. There's a significant grip to this headphone, but after 3 hours it's been very comfortable with no complaints. The earcups appear to be mostly high-grade plastic, with a headband of metal alloy that provides good flexibility. Since the earcups rotate flat and pull down quite far, the L1 can be worn around the neck all day when not in use, which makes it very portable. The carry bag issued with the L1 should be good for dust protection when transporting, but offers no impact protection.

The headband has a stitched leather cover surrounding it which feels very comfortable on my head, but if there is any tendency for discomfort in spite of the light weight of the headphone, I recommend pulling the earcups down just slightly more than the minimum, to let most of the weight be borne by the earcups and not the headband.

The Philips L1 is a nice-looking headphone if you've seen photos of it, so it has a modest bling factor that you don't have to pay a premium for. I would rate its appearance as 8.5 out of 10 and I would rate its comfort factor at about 8. The reason the appearance doesn't get a 9 or better is because the L1 isn't a fashion headphone, so my subjective rating of 8.5 is probably as good as you can get for a serious hi-fi product like this. The reason I didn't rate the comfort higher is because the L1 is a full-size headphone with moderate clamping pressure to keep it stable on your head. Having said that, I haven't experienced any discomfort in several hours of continuous use.

The L1 is specified as a "semi-open" design, which I assumed would provide moderate isolation along with the larger apparent soundstage of many open-back headphones. My feeling is that the soundstage is good for a closed headphone, but nothing beyond that. The isolation is very modest, and a specific example is where I had an iPad on a table 3 feet away playing a song at moderate volume through its internal speaker. Putting the headphone on, the vocal lost its presence and "air", but the voice had about the same volume and I could hear the words clearly.

Sibilants seem less bothersome with the L1 than most other premium headphones I've used, in spite of the fact that the upper end of the L1's response is there in full strength. This indicates a very smooth treble, and my experience so far with about 200 tracks in many different genres tends to confirm that. I expected the L1 to be very efficient with portable music players since the impedance is 26 ohms and the sensitivity rated at 105 db/1mw. However, while my Shure 1840 is rated at 96 db/1mw, the actual difference I hear after matching midrange levels is about 2 db. Connected to an iPod Touch, I haven't had a problem with too low of a volume on any tracks I've played so far, but outdoor use with low-volume music tracks could be a problem for some users.

For this review I mostly used a Dell desktop with premium soundcard playing FLAC format tracks in Foobar2000. Some of those tracks, notably certain recordings by David Chesky, sound so amazingly good with the L1 that I'm often startled by their realism and clarity. Some tracks that I use I don't have FLAC copies of, and those MP3's (320k CBR) sound nearly as good on the iPod Touch connected via the line out dock to an Objective2 "assembled" headphone amp as they do on the desktop computer. A more ideal configuration would be a good DAC running from the desktop or laptop USB, feeding into a decent headphone amp like the Objective2 or better, but given the spectacular sound I'm getting already I have no doubts about the ultimate quality of the L1 headphone.

Now that I've covered the basics of the sound, it's time to describe how the Philips L1 sounds with a variety of music that's available on CD's or as high-quality downloads from Internet music stores. I've used the following examples in other reviews, so these will serve as good test tracks for this review and the results can also be compared to the results noted in the other reviews.

Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled very well by the L1.

Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound and particularly striking how the L1 reproduces the triangles, bells and other background instruments that are often obscured with other headphones that have limited high frequency response. Of special note for this headphone are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement.

Blues Project - Caress Me Baby (1966): Rarely mentioned, but one of the greatest white blues recordings ever. The loud piercing guitar sound at 0:41 into the track is a good test for distortion or other problems. Handled very well here.

Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the L1.

Buffalo Springfield - Kind Woman (~1968): A Richie Furay song entirely, rarely mentioned, but one of the best sounding rock ballads ever. This will sound good on most headphones, but it's a special treat with the L1.

Cat Stevens - Morning Has Broken (early 70's): A near-perfect test for overall sound - this track will separate the best sounding headphones from the lesser quality types. Nothing specific, except that almost any deviation from perfect reproduction will stand out with this track.

Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the L1 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

Def Leppard - Bringin' On The Heartbreak (1981): MTV goth/pop/metal at its best - good ambience and high energy - the better headphones will separate the details and make for a good experience. Lesser quality and the details tend to mush together.

J.S. Bach - E. Power Biggs Plays Bach in the Thomaskirche (~1970): Recorded on a tracker organ in East Germany, the tracks on this recording have the authentic baroque sound that Bach composed for, albeit the bellows are operated by motor today. The L1 plays the tones seamlessly through the upper limits of the organ, which are near the upper limits of my hearing.

Jamming With Edward - It Hurts Me Too (1969): Intended originally as a test to fill studio down time and set recording levels etc., this was released a few years later for hardcore Rolling Stones fans. Although not as good technically in every aspect as the Chess studio recordings of 1964, and in spite of the non-serious vocals by Mick Jagger, this rates very high on my list of white blues recordings, and sounds absolutely delicious with the L1.

Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has some loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical on some headphones. The L1 provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in, for maximum detail effect.

Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch (~2009): Featured in The September Issue, this song has heavy overdub and will sound a bit muddy on some headphones.

Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery - Delilah (Take 3) (1962): The vibraphone is heavily dependent on harmonics to sound right, and the L1 plays it superbly.

Pink Floyd/Dark Side of the Moon - Speak To Me (1973): Strong deep bass impacts will be heard and felt here.

Rolling Stones - Stray Cat Blues (1968): Dirty, gritty blues that very few white artists could match. On some headphones the vocals and guitar lack the edge and fall more-or-less flat. If you're a really good person, playing this song will probably make you feel nervous and uneasy.

Tony Bennett - I Left My Heart In San Francisco (1962): Frank Sinatra's favorite singer. Highest recommendation. With some of the best headphones, the sibilants on this recording are very strong, but they're not bad with the L1.
 

BillB
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(crickets...)

dalethorn
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Recent L1 reviews

Another recent review of the Philips L1 had it rated as good in bass response but not as good in the highs. That's what happens when the excess bass is ignored by bass mavens and allowed to color the upper ranges. Using bass reduction with the L1 as I suggested, the bass becomes spectacular as do the mids and highs. FYI.

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