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Philips Fidelio E5 review

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  • Recommended by TR
Philips Fidelio E5

Summary

Our Score:

9

Pros

  • Offers true surround sound without clutter
  • Stylish design and solid build quality
  • Big soundstage and superb detail clarity
  • Generous features and connections

Cons

  • Thin-sounding surround speakers
  • No HD audio decoding, USB port or 4K passthrough
  • Relatively expensive

Key Features

  • Detachable wireless surround speakers
  • 210W quoted power output
  • Bluetooth with apt-X and NFC
  • Dolby Digital decoding and Pro Logic II
  • HDMI ARC
  • Manufacturer: Philips
  • Review Price: £600.00

What is the Philips Fidelio E5?

Back in 2013 we were blown away by Philips’ HTL9100, an innovative soundbar with a pair of detachable wireless speakers that you can whip out whenever you’re in the mood for surround sound. Philips calls it ‘Surround on Demand’.

Now, Philips (or more accurately Woox Innovations, the company that develops and sells Philips-branded AV gear) has incorporated this clever idea into the 2.1 channel Fidelio E5, but this time the front speakers feature detachable tops that can be used as rears at the back of the room. It’s the dream audio solution for anyone who’s allergic to clutter.

Philips Fidelio E5

Philips Fidelio E5 – Design and Connections

The E5 is a beautifully designed system. The main body of each speaker is dressed in woolly black cloth that wraps around its curved edges, and build quality is superb. The cabinets are taller and chunkier than most 2.1 system speakers but that just means there’s more of them to love.

The left speaker’s rubber control panel houses volume, input and Bluetooth buttons and an NFC connection tag. The same speaker is also fitted with a small LED that glows red, white or blue to indicate its status.

Philips Fidelio E5

The top speakers’ stylish silver grille complements the black cloth nicely when docked, while the classy cedar wood finish and leather handle on top make them easy to pick up.

Philips Fidelio E5

The detachable speakers sit fairly loosely on top – we were expecting them to click more securely into place – but the concave shape holds them steady enough. The system detects when they’re docked and reconfigures them for use as a single speaker. An LED in each speaker fires up when your detach them, which glows in different colours to indicate how much battery life is left (they charge up when docked). The system uses proprietary wireless audio technology that operates without network interference.

All of the AV connections are located on the back of the left speaker, and selection is generous. It includes two HDMI v1.4 inputs and an ARC-compatible output (which passes through 3D but not 4K), optical and coaxial digital inputs and a 3.5mm minijack input – the only thing missing is a USB port. The right speaker connects to the mains and communicates with the left speaker over a single cable.

Philips Fidelio E5

The wireless subwoofer is tall, narrow and styled in the same winning combination of black cloth and cedar wood. Again, a single LED tells you that the sub is active, but there are no other buttons or sockets to worry about.

Philips Fidelio E5 – Features

Those detachable speakers are the main attraction but the E5 doesn’t skimp on features elsewhere. There’s Bluetooth with apt-X and AAC support, one-touch NFC pairing and Audio Return Channel support.

Philips has kept audio processing to a minimum but there’s a surround sound mode that kicks in when the top speakers are docked, while the sub’s Double Bass technology gives low frequencies a leg up.

SEE ALSO: Best Wireless Speakers Round-up

Philips Fidelio E5There’s also built-in Dolby Digital 5.1 decoding and Dolby Pro Logic II. You can feed a Dolby Digital bitstream into the E5 from a Blu-ray deck through the optical or HDMI inputs and enjoy discrete surround sound, with a virtual centre channel completing the 5.1 experience. The lack of HD audio decoding is a shame but not a deal-breaker.

In terms of spec the E5 musters 120W of power, with the subwoofer chipping in 90W. Each main speaker uses a 3in full-range woofer and a 1in soft dome tweeter, while the surround speakers use a single 2.5in full range driver. The sub packs a 6.5in woofer.

Philips Fidelio E5 – Operation

Philips Fidelio E5Setup is quick and easy. Once you’ve connected the two main speakers and hooked up your external kit, you’re pretty much good to go – the wireless surrounds and subwoofer are all paired out the box. We used ARC to pass sound from a Samsung TV and it worked like a charm. The only hassle was remembering to activate HDMI-CEC in the TV’s setup menu.

The E5 is controlled using a stylish oval-shaped remote with large, clearly-labelled buttons. Dedicated controls let you adjust bass, treble and audio delay, plus you can easily switch inputs using the pad at the top. The ‘Surr. Sound’ keys turn the surround sound mode on or off when docked.

The lack of an LED display makes operation a little cryptic, but it doesn't take long to work out what all the flashing lights mean.

Philips Fidelio E5 – Performance

Pushing the E5 right in at the deep end with Pacific Rim on Blu-ray, it makes light work of the movie’s massive battle scenes. When the first Jaeger/Kaiju clash occurs off the Alaskan coast, the E5 fills the room with a big and exciting soundstage, populated by crisp effects and huge waves of bass. The sense of scale is impressive, helped no doubt by those roomy speaker cabinets.

There’s a deep thump when the Jaeger slams its fists into the monster’s head, and the impact of metal on bone has real bite and aggression. The tone is vigorous but not brash, which means you can listen to those brutal effects at high volumes without getting a migraine.

The E5’s sound is also remarkably crisp, a sonic characteristic carried over from the HTL9100. During the battle scenes it effortlessly picks out the hiss of crashing waves and the electric crackle of the Jaeger’s plasma cannon, in turn making everything sound open and detailed.

You can also hear this excellent high-frequency reproduction during the movie’s few tranquil moments. At the Kaiju wall building site, the gentle background chatter and gentle flutter of sparks from the workers’ machinery comes through clearly. Dialogue is also lucid and authoritative.

SEE ALSO: Best Surround Sound Systems

Philips Fidelio E5

If the E5 has a weakness it’s the surround speakers. Their smaller full-range drivers lack the bass extension and finesse of the main speakers, resulting in a slightly thinner sound across the rear soundfield. But because they’re only handling less demanding surround information it’s not a huge problem. And to their credit, they tease out plenty of detail and generate an immersive soundstage with clear, accurately-placed effects.

When they’re docked and surround sound mode is engaged, the surround speakers focus on high-frequency information in a bid to improve width and openness. It’s not particularly effective.

Philips Fidelio E5

Bear in mind that if you connect your TV to the E5 using ARC or optical, you might have to sacrifice discrete surround sound. While it’s technically possible for TVs to pass a Dolby Digital bitstream through their optical or ARC ports, most sets convert the signal into stereo PCM, like our Samsung TV.

This isn’t a fault of the E5, but it does have unfortunate consequences. With a PCM signal, the E5’s surround speakers simply replicate what’s coming through the front speakers, which not only sounds odd (particularly when you have dialogue coming from all four speakers) but having to reproduce a wider frequency range also exposes the limitations of the surround speakers. Therefore your best bet is to connect your Blu-ray deck directly to the E5’s optical or HDMI inputs.

Playing a range of music via Bluetooth and CD reveals the E5 as a terrific hi-fi system, provided you turn the surround sound mode off when the top speakers are docked. The speakers’ dynamic tone bring excitement to uptempo tunes, while more elegant genres like jazz and classical benefit from the E5’s clear detail reproduction and refinement. There’s a lovely balance across the frequency range, while punchy, agile bass from the subwoofer makes everything sound full-bodied.

Philips Fidelio E5

Should I buy the Philips Fidelio E5?

Soundbars are all well and good, but the E5 is proof that you can have a space-saving, clutter-free audio system without sacrificing true surround sound.

The use of detachable wireless surround speakers is pure genius because you can whip them out when it’s movie time then stow them away neatly when you’re done. Frankly we’re surprised more companies aren’t doing it.

But a good idea won’t justify £600 on its own – what seals the deal is the E5’s gorgeous design, generous features and wonderful sound quality, which is right up there with systems like the Tannoy BaseStation One and Samsung HW-H750.

Negatives are few and far between, but the thin-sounding surround speakers and the lack of USB ports, HD audio support and 4K passthrough are minor blots on the copybook.

Verdict

Polished performance, classy looks and wireless surround speakers make Philips’ ingenious 2.1 system money well spent, despite some minor shortcomings.

Next, check out our pick of the Best Surround Sound Systems

Overall Score

9

Scores In Detail

  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Sound Quality 9
  • Value 8

David van der Zande

August 25, 2014, 9:25 am

The Q acoustics 2000i is a lot better, right?

GL

August 25, 2014, 3:22 pm

Yes

GL

August 25, 2014, 3:37 pm

Danny, can you please review these new docks?

Peachtree Audio deepblue2, 440 watt apt-X Bluetooth with two 1" soft dome tweeters, two 3" mid range drivers, and one 6.5" woofer. Has optical and 3.5mm analog inputs, and can connect to normal HD TVs, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and vinyl turntable. Accepts 24/96 digital audio. Price will be $500.

https://www.indiegogo.com/proj...

http://www.peachtreeaudio.co.u...

http://www.peachtreeaudio.com/

.
Airplay Transparant Speaker, two 3" full range drivers and one 6.5" woofer. Price $500 or more.

https://www.kickstarter.com/pr...

BlackCountryBob

August 25, 2014, 4:24 pm

Its a great idea, as was the sound bar they released last year that had detachable ends, but it feels a little overpriced to me, maybe £450 and I'd bite. Fingers crossed for the crimbo sales!

Danny C

August 25, 2014, 9:09 pm

I just bought the e5 from the Phillips website, should be arriving this week. I used the code 30philips to get a 30% discount, taking the price to £420, at that price seems like a deal. No need to wait till crimbo!

Greg Sheaf

August 26, 2014, 11:12 am

And how long do the wireless speakers last on a charge? Seems a bit of an oversight to not mention it as these are the unique selling point of the system.

Eduardo Marquez

August 26, 2014, 12:07 pm

You know... before raving on about another Fidelio product from Philips, take a moment to remember those of us who are still very much burned from the Fidelio SoundSphere DS9800W (http://www.trustedreviews.com/.... Those set of speakers died completely with the "red light of death" in a short time, and Philips refuses to fix them. I bought those based on Trusted Reviews stellar review, but have now joined other suckers who's speakers have died and now have £700 door-stops. Trusted Reviews seems to ignore its own user base, if they can post a review of a new products without THOROUGHLY testing it before hand, knowing full well that Fidelio products are not reliable enough to recommend on a long term basis.

GL

August 26, 2014, 2:26 pm

How long have you had your SoundSphere, who did you buy it from, what was the warranty that came with it, and how long did it last? Have you posted about your experience at the Which Magazine Conversation forum and asked about your consumer rights? Have you made a complaint to Trading Standards about your retailer's refusal to give you a full refund? Have you thought about making a claim in the Small Claims Court?

Did you know that if you buy something, you can make a claim for refund or repair based on roughly how much it cost vs other things like its build quality and average market price for other things on the market like it?

BlackCountryBob

August 26, 2014, 5:25 pm

I read a review on tech radar that says 10 hours use and 4 hours to fully recharge from scratch.

Eduardo Marquez

August 27, 2014, 1:03 pm

I had the SoundSphere for around a year and a half until it completely failed. Bought from Mediamarkt in Spain. The warranty is two years from Mediamarkt and that is where I went to claim to it. They accepted it, but was informed later that Philips was delaying/ignoring the repair for unknown reasons. I know my rights, and I will most likely win because in Spain the law is that all devices like these have 2 years guaranteed by law. However that doesn't take away the fact that I have no audio in the living room now for over a month while these speakers (which were never moved from their place) totally failed. Thanks for the advice though. More then anything, its the fact that they failed from nowhere.

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