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Philips Fidelio L2 compared to quite a few other headphones!
on 28 July 2014
I received my new Fidelio L2 headphones a few days ago and just thought I would share my thoughts. I read all the reviews and forum comments I could before ordering and was a little worried they might have been over-hyped, but I have to say that so far I am very, very impressed.
A little background: I've spent hundreds of pounds over the last year or two in search of headphones I am fully (or at least sufficiently) satisfied with. In retrospect, I would probably have been better just spending my money on a pair of top-flight headphones at the outset, instead of all the money I have on mostly mid-fi cans, but there you go!
Headphones I have bought and mostly subsequently sold are (in alphabetical order):
AKG K450 - bass heavy, clarity not great, limited soundstage. On ear, uncomfortable. Sold.
Audio Technica ATH-M50 - very disappointed with these, everything was 'ok' about them, but really no better than that, nothing at all outstanding, bit 'closed in' and unexciting. Now sold.
Audio Technica ATH-WS99 - still own these. Tremendously powerful bass, but paired with good mids and highs as well. Comfort not great, press on ears. Soundstage not very wide.
Beyerdynamic DT800 250 ohm - really liked these, great mid-high clarity but bass a bit lacking. Ultimately sold them as I didn't find them comfortable as my ears touched the cloth covering the speaker grills. Very good soundstage.
Creative Aurvana Live! - still own these. Great bass with superb extension, but slightly lacking in mid-high openness/clarity. Fairly closed-in sounding. Ear pads a bit small for my ears.
Grado SR80i - superb openness/transparency, although a bit over-bright sounding at times and no bass at all below around 50Hz as far as I could tell. Incredibly uncomfortable, earpads felt like sandpaper pressing on my ears, couldn't wear for more than a few minutes without becoming increasingly desperate to take them off - sold.
Klipsch Image One - ok, these were a mistake! Lots of mid bass output but not much else, no deep bass extension. Closed in sounding. On-ear, not comfortable. Sold.
Philips Fidelio L2 - my new babies, see below.
Philips SHP 6000/10 - cheapish headphones bought for my daughter. Bass heavy but its all mid-bass, not much deep bass/extension. Limited clarity/soundstage. Comfort ok, but highish clamping force. My daughter likes them. Pleased with them for what they cost me.
Sennheiser HD558 - similar to HD595, but slightly better bass. Fairly laid back and like the HD595 rather tame sounding, but wonderfully comfortable. Now sold as ultimately a bit boring.
Sennheiser HD595 - owned for a few years and still do. Used to think they were good, but utterly outclassed in every respect by Fidelio L2. Quite good clarity and soundstage, but weak bass. The most comfortable headphones I have ever owned, can wear for hours and hours. Will probably sell them.
Sony MDR-RF865 - cordless, got these cheap so I thought I'd give them a go. Simply ghastly, woolly bass and nothing much else, unbelievably muted dynamics. Uncomfortable. Hate them, just haven't got round to sticking them on eBay yet!
Sony MDR-ZX600 - bought for my other daughter. Obviously outclassed here. Hump shaped sound signature: mostly midrange, bass & treble both tail off. On ear design, I didn't like the fit, but my daughter did....until she lost them!
Sony MDR-1R - still own these and they are another headphone which has suffered in comparison to the L2s. Punchy bass but not as rich or extended, prominent midrange, smooth but slightly recessed highs. Bit congested and closed in sounding compared to L2s. Soft ear pads, very comfortable. Will be selling these as just not as good as L2s.
Ok, that's the lot. I'll add that I mostly listen at home on my laptop via a Fiio Andes E07K DAC, which definitely improves the sound. Musical tastes vary, including rock, pop and classical. I have a number of FLAC files, but I mostly listen to mp3 to be honest.
Now to the L2s. I've only had them for a few days, so not 'burned in' (if that really makes any difference at all, which I've never been fully convinced about) and using stock cable. I'm seriously impressed. I was a little worried from reading some of the other comments that they may be slightly bass-light, punchy but not rich or extended (similar to the Beyerdynamic DT880) but this isn't the case at all, the bass is really, really good, prominent deep and powerful, but not OTT like the Audio Technica ATH-WS99. I was considering buying the Fidelio X1s before I bought the L2s, but I'm glad now that I didn't, as I have heard the X1s are more bassy than the L2s and the L2s already have plenty - more would be too much, at least for me. As an example, Naughty Boy's La La La has a deep rumbling resonance to the bass notes with the L2s, which I've never really noticed with my other headphones, even the ATH-WS99, which are bass beasts tend to lose it it, as the bass note delicacies are swamped by the powerful mid-bass beating on my eardrums. I'm tempted to say 'less is more' with the L2s, but that would give a false impression, as the bass is very full and plentiful, but its also very detailed.
The midrange and highs are open, clear, transparent and revealing, but not in a harsh or fatiguing way. They are every bit as good as the Grado SR80i, but with the addition of an excellent bass, which the Grados completely lacked and I can also wear them for more than 10 minutes at a time, which is a definite plus! The best headphones I have ever heard was around 20 years ago: a pair of £2000 or £3000 Stax electrostatics (can't remember the model number) played through a £4000 to £5000 hi-fi, which sounded jaw-droppingly amazing - smooth, effortless, natural dynamics placed outside my head. I have never heard anything comparable before or since, but I didn't have £8000 to spend on hi-fi then....or now. The L2s are obviously not in the same league, but I can say that they are the first headphones I have ever owned which don't immediately make me wish for something better. They are very, very enjoyable to listen to and comfort-wise they are fine. They're not as good as my Sennheiser HD595 (clamping force is a bit higher, earcups not quite as large) but they're good enough for me to wear for 2-3 hours without feeling the need to take them off and the sound is vastly superior and more satisfying.
Maybe its me (or my source equipment) but apart from the Stax Electrostatics, every headphone I have ever heard has always placed the sound inside my head, even reputedly 'open sounding' headphones like the Beyerdynamic DT880 and the Sennheiser HD595/558 have produced a sound confined to inside my head, just a bit more spread out, but still inside. For the first time since my 'Stax experience', listening to the L2s, I heard a few sounds which appeared to be coming from outside my head. Mostly the sound was still between my ears (although well spread out) but this was unexpected from a pair of £150 headphones from a relatively modest source (laptop + Fiio E07K). The L2s are also the first headphones I've owned with which I can truly discern a significant difference between FLAC files and mp3s. Up to now I though maybe I had slightly cloth-ears, but I realise now it was just the equipment I was listening to. The Fidelio L2s are more detailed/transparent/ruthlessly revealing than any other headphones I've ever owned, but not in a harsh or unpleasant way, its just that they give you more. The Sony MDR-1Rs have a 'softer' treble, but are nowhere near as detailed and revealing. With heavily compressed and/or badly mixed mp3s even I can now hear that they are heavily compressed/badly mixed and I love finally being able to hear that difference. FLACs on the other hand always sound beautifully clean clear and transparent. I listened to a solo piano FLAC file and if I closed my eyes, I could genuinely imagine a 'real' piano being played in front of me (well towards the front of my skull anyway) as opposed to hearing 'a piano reproduced by headphones'. All the natural resonance, harmonics and timbre was there in a believable way I simply don't hear with my other headphones.
I really don't mean or want to give an over-hyped impression as if you are anything like me after reading the Headphonia review, you will probably think, 'well I'm sure they're good, but that guy is just unrealistically over the top'. The fact is though that personally, for me, they are that good, astonishingly so for £150 headphones. Whether you would feel the same way I have no idea, but they absolutely 'do it' for me. I don't doubt that if you spend a lot more you can get better and I'm also aware that all my comparison headphones are mid-range at best, exactly how they compare to Sennheiser HD650s for example I can't tell you, but they are certainly much easier to drive and therefore sound very, very good without spending huge additional sums on a top class headphone amp, etc.
I believe audio is very subjective. I am currently more delighted with my Fidelio L2s than with any other headphone I have ever bought (and there have been plenty!). Someone else might feel completely differently. I also think that with headphones an awful lot is down to how well they fit your head. I believe I am lucky that the L2s appear to be a good fit for my head and I therefore believe I am hearing them at their best. My Sennheiser HD595s, for example don't form a perfect seal at the bottom of the cups, which adversely impacts the bass - if I press on the bottom of the cups the bass improves, but the sound is still nowhere near the quality of the Fidelio L2s.
So that's it, I'm a happy bunny and (at least for the time being) finally feel no compelling need to find better 'phones!