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Hands on: Philips Fidelio X3 Review

Philips' Fidelio range rises like a phoenix from the flames with the X3 open-back cans

First Impressions

First impressions of the Fidelio X3 are that they're shaping up to be a fine pair of open-backed headphones. They're the kind of headphones to wallow in, listen to the details and enjoy the sweeping dynamics. We're looking forward to spending more time with them when they go on sale late spring/early summer

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £349
  • Open-backed
  • High-Res Audio
  • Optional balanced connection
  • European Design

Philips’ Fidelio audio range was well respected in the early 2010s, but a change in ownership meant it lost ground and receded from view.

After a soft re-launch at IFA 2019, the audio range is back in business (now under Philips’ owner, TP Vision), with the first Fidelio product from Philips the X3 open-backed headphones.

Related: Best headphones

Fidelio X3 design – Premium look and comfort

The X3s we listened to for this review were pre-production units with a few details still to be worked on. However, from an audio and materials perspective, these were all but the final version of the X3.

Much like Philips’ OLED and OLED+ line of TVs, the Fidelio X3 sit under Philips’ “European Design” banner to emphasise their use of high-quality materials.

Overall, the X3 share similarities with the X2 in terms of design. However, both aesthetically and under the hood there have been a number of changes and adjustments that demonstrate that the newest addition to the range have moved on from the X2.

The huge double-layered ear shells return. However, the grille on the side of each ear pad has been replaced with an acoustically transparent Kvadrat fabric that’s said to reduce air pressure build-up from behind the drivers. Philips claims the ear pads have been constructed to reduce vibrations, with the speaker plates tilted at an angle to fire audio directly into the ear.

The two headbands are made out of thick, responsibly sourced leather from Scottish company Muirhead, and the ear cushions use velour memory foam pads. Wearing the headphones for 1o minutes or so, they units prove super-light, with barely any pressure or chafing from either the headband or the pads. That’s a good sign for comfort levels during long listening sessions.

Fidelio X3 features – Not much to speak of

The X3s don’t come with an exhaustive feature list; the focus here is on the listening experience. Nevertheless, there are some features to speak of.

The X3 continue the tradition of open-backed sound, and as such they’re intended for the home use instead of outdoors. They’re also wired, with a detachable cable going in to both left and right ear cups. When they go on sale, the X3 will come with both a balanced and unbalanced cable.

The balanced version comes with a three-pin mini-jack (MMCX connection), while the unbalanced features a four-pin jack. If you have the gear to take advantage of the balanced cable, you’ll get a better sense of stereo separation, as well as a reduction in crosstalk across the left and right channels.

The headphones are also High-Res Audio compatible (5Hz to 40Hz).

Fidelio X3 sound – Wide, open and spacious

During our demo, Philips said the aim for the audio was a natural sound produced by its multi-layered (and massive) 50mm drivers.

To dig deeper into that, it seems these headphones are trying to cover the entire frequency spectrum, with low-end extension that isn’t at the expense of tight, impactful bass. Mid-range was characterised as more warm than neutral, (personally, I’d prefer slightly warm), along with the goal of keeping instrument separation and stereo information as clean as possible.

And in the short time we had with the Philips Fidelio X3 headphones, it appears that Philips has achieved its objectives. From the off the performance was startlingly clean, the piano notes in a version of Cry Me a River in hi-res relayed in a very delicate, detailed fashion.

The area the demo took place in wasn’t the best place to enjoy these headphones – what with 20 other journalists playing music on leaky headphones – but it was sufficient to get a sense of the Fidelio X3’s character; one that’s wide in terms of the soundstage, smooth for mid-range delivery and unhurried in how it goes about its business.

Nat King’s Cole Thou Swell showcased engaging timing and a flowing but balanced sound tonally. Moving away from Philips’ playlist to my own and the Tidal Master version of Bowie’s Modern Love sounded natural, measured and uncoloured. Turn it up and the character of the audio remained the same, resisting the temptation to go bright.

First impressions

The Philips Fidelio X3 aren’t the most exciting or attacking pair of headphones I’ve heard in recent months, but that’s beside the point. They’re the kind of headphones to wallow in, listen to the details and enjoy the sweeping dynamics and unfussy nature. Even with our short time with the units, they sounded very impressive indeed. The Fidelio X3 will certainly be of interest when they go on sale later in May/June of this year.

A ’hands on review’ is our first impression of a product only - it is not a full test and verdict. Our writer must have spent some time with the product to describe an early sense of what it’s like to use. We call these ‘hands on reviews’ to make them visible in search. However these are always unscored and don’t give recommendations. Read more about our reviews policy.

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