The Beats by Dr. Dre range has caused a massive increase in the number of people interested in premium headphones, but it has arguably had some very negative effects too. To cater for the cash-rich, basshead masses, urban headphones have spread faster than a cold among commuters. And to our minds, that's not a good thing. The Philips Fidelio L1 is the first in a range designed to counter this effect. These headphones strive for accuracy and a neutral sound, rather than artificially pounding bass.
Want on-ear headphones? Read our Philips Fidelio M1 preview
For all their mature aspirations, they don't look at all dull. Made largely out of thick anodised aluminium and high quality protein faux-leather, the Philips Fidelio L1 look and feel like true high-end headphones. These are over-ear cans, encasing your ear lobes with 2in thick padding, and are designed to be versatile, capable of both entertaining at home and around town.
Such claims often amount to little in design terms, but the Philips Fidelio L1 are quite unusual in a core respect. They are semi-open headphones, with lightly covered metal grilles on the back of each aluminium earcup - there's not a full seal between your ear 'oles and the outside world. In most headphones of this type, such a design would make them entirely unsuitable for use anywhere other than at home, or in a quiet, secluded environment. However, Philips has gone to some lengths to make them more versatile than this.
The grilles look chunky and open, but are covered by another layer underneath to minimise how much sound escapes, and how much outside noise is let in. It works fairly well too, teaming up with the foam pads to let hardly any sound escape. That said, they're still less-than-amazing at blocking out external sound.
They'll handle overground trains and less busy streets, but taken down to the noisy purgatory of the London Tube network and you'll need to crank up the volume significantly to deal with the noise.
The rear grilles also help to give the Fidelio L1 a distinctive look. They are chunky, with a bit of an industrial flavour, but none of it is posturing for the sake of it. Comfort is good too, with generous padding on the ear cups and seemingly minimal weight added in the generous use of aluminium throughout the headband. They will heat your ears up more than fully-open headphones, but not to the extent of being uncomfortable to wear - apart from in the height of summer, we imagine.
Quality workmanship continues in the cable. It's covered with braided fabric and both the remote housing and straight 3.5mm jack plug are protected with aluminium, finished in the same textured style as the frame. The remote is a three-button affair, controlling volume and playback with an iOS device, and a pin-hole microphone on the back lets it double as a hands-free kit too.
Not bothered about this functionality? The Philips Fidelio L1 headphones also come with a secondary cable that leaves out this little housing. Rather unusually, the cable isn't detachable at the point it enters the cup, but around 10cm down the cable - it's something we don't approve of. While there's an argument to say that a socket mounted on an earcup could also break, it's considerably less likely than a cable failing through wear and tear. And once that 10cm cable does fail, you've no way of easily replacing it.
Nonetheless, the Philips Fidelio L1 headphones are a breath of fresh air. Unlike just about every other headphone we can think of, they're not too big to wear outside without feeling self-conscious yet still give you that big-headphone comfort, and they're built to last too. But that won't mean much if they sound as good as two empty cans of chopped tomatoes strapped to your head.