There was a moment of silence around the Philips audio department. With the launch of the X3 headphones, it wants to do something about that – while putting the Fidelio premium brand back on the map. However, the Philips Fidelio X3 is not just any headphones, but also a modern update to a hi-fi product that was very popular with connoisseurs and the general public.
Philips Fidelio X3
The Fidelio X3 has been under construction for some time. First design drawings were already shown to the world in 2019; the finished product that now reaches the shops still strongly resembles those first designs. The hip, Scandinavian design textile from Kvadrat and the Muirhead leather that gave the X3 in those first sketches a very modern and calm appearance are still present. In the meantime, a lot of hard work has been done to tune it completely the way the engineers at Philips wanted it.
In terms of sound had to be completely correct, because the X3 should really be a showcase for the reborn brand name ‘Fidelio’. Classical music fans may think of the only opera by the German composer in Beethoven’s year, but that is a happy coincidence. Fidelio used to be Philips’ better audio brand, and it has to be again.
It is remarkable that the audio department of Philips – now part of TP Vision, which also releases the award-winning Philips televisions – chooses the X3 as one of the first major launches in 2020. Yes, there are already new Philips sound products such as the affordable PH805 NC headphones have appeared, but with the Fidelio X3, Philips’ sound division is really back in the spotlight. So what’s special about the X3? To start with, they are real hi-fi headphones intended for the home. With an open housing, which guarantees an open sound and a larger soundstage that appears three-dimensional. In terms of experience, that is quite different from what the closed headphones that are intended for mobile music fans offer. Open headphones make classical music sound more natural and lifelike – here is Beethoven again – but also all other genres.
The successor to three classics
The X3 is a strong signal to convinced headphone enthusiasts. After all, the name refers to a series of acclaimed headphones that were highly appreciated within the head-fi world for offering high quality at a reasonable price. In a world where headphones of sometimes thousands of euros are adored, the praise for the much cheaper Philips’ was always a nice boost for the Dutch brand. We are talking about the X1, X2 and X2 HR, headphones that have all been tested by FWD. They were characterized by great wearing comfort and a sound that made long listening possible. A touch of warmth, a beautiful but not bright presentation of high details and a detailed but not exaggerated bass response.
When we ask Benoit Burette, the audio strategist at Philips / TP Vision, how the new X3 compares to those older classics, he is clear: “We tried to reproduce the sound of the X2 HR precisely, because there were we very satisfied with it. That was actually a real challenge, because the design is a bit different. ” Burette should know, because he was also involved in the development of the older X models at Philips. “For example, we had to completely redesign the housing.”
Appearances are deceptive
The old X models and the new X3 look completely different on the outside, but the specifications don’t seem that different at first. Large 50-mm drivers are still used, for example. But critical issues have also been addressed, says the audio designer. The drivers are really new, so they get a gradual and controlled roll-off in the high end. That should make for a softer, more enjoyable listening experience.
Indeed, many of the changes have to do with the fresh design course that the X3 is following. Philips really wanted to use materials from European artisanal sources for the new headphones, but that presented some challenges. For example, the predecessors had a metal grille on the back of the driver, the X3 boasts an acoustically neutral fabric. “Such adjustments fundamentally change the acoustics of the case and can have an immense impact on sound quality, requiring a new solution in audio engineering and the design of the internal components,” he said.
Also for advanced users
With the Fidelio X3, Philips is aiming at the general public, people who want to listen in high quality at home with headphones via their smartphone or hi-fi amplifier. Anyone who wants to deepen their enthusiasm for music will discover that Philips has not lost sight of the advanced audiophile listener. The X3 also comes with a balanced cable with 2.5 mm TRRS jack, where each driver of the headphones is controlled separately. This option requires a decent headphone amplifier or a portable music player with a balanced output, so it’s really something for the headfi enthusiast. It is an unusual option with headphones in this price range. But don’t worry: those who want to listen via their smartphone or other device simply use the supplied cable with 3.5-mm jack.
High comfort level
However you listen, the goal with the X3 remains the same as before: to let you enjoy your music in comfort. “So we had to keep the weight low and we chose velvet again for the ear cushions,” Burrette explains. Memory foam ensures the right shape under the textile, even years from now. The foam also reduces the feeling of heat in the ears.
Perhaps equally important is the headband. The X3 has opted for a dual approach: a large fixed bracket that shapes the headphones and a smaller, movable band with Muirhead leather that automatically adapts to your head shape. It’s a smart solution to the long-standing problem of click-on headphones that change size themselves after a little wear.