Two tests this week, featuring two Philips soundbars, the Philips Fidelio B8 and the Philips Fidelio B1. Both are equipped with a Bluetooth receiver, HDMI ARC inputs and an HDMI ARC output, in addition to being paired with a wireless subwoofer. One hedges its bets on Dolby Atmos, while the other offers the advantage of being extremely compact, and both boast hundreds of Watts of power. In short, these models have everything it takes to look exceptional on paper. Which leads us to wonder: do they deliver on their high-performance promises?
Philips Fidelio B8: presentation
The Philips Fidelio B8 soundbar is a 5.1.2 model paired with a wireless subwoofer. In terms of numbers, 5.1.2 signifies 5 channels (left, right, center, surround), 1 low-frequency channel (LFE) and 2 vertical Dolby Atmos channels. In other words, the Fidelio B8 is capable of adding a vertical dimension to the soundstage by projecting sound toward the ceiling. To achieve this, a Dolby Atmos audio track (Blu-ray, for example) is recommended… but not indispensable (we’ll come back to this point later).
The Philips Fidelio B8 is about 1 m long, 5 cm high and 12 cm deep. As such, it has a slim and rather elegant silhouette, and its protective grill covers most of its body. The subwoofer, at 24 cm wide, 51 cm high and 32 cm deep, is quite a bit bulkier. In theory, such dimensions point to a capacity to properly handle low frequencies.
Philips Fidelio B8: Dolby Atmos explained
Dolby Atmos is the latest multichannel format to come out of Dolby Laboratories. In practice, it consists of a 5.1 or 7.1 Dolby TrueHD track to which metadata has been added in order to allow a Dolby Atmos decoder (that of the Philips Fidelio B8 soundbar or of a Dolby Atmos home cinema amplifier) to offer ultra-precise sound placement for side and rear surround effects, as well as for vertical effects. The latter can be produced by speakers installed on or in the ceiling, or else by specially designed speakers which project sound upward where it is reflected off the ceiling. This last solution is the one Philips has chosen for its Fidelio B8 soundbar.
Philips Fidelio B8: 18 drivers…
Offering multichannel audio restitution with only a single speaker is accomplished by an assortment of drivers installed all throughout the soundbar, where each is judiciously oriented and driven by a digital processor. In fact, giving the listener the impression that sound is coming from behind when he or she is facing the screen is a tall order. By carefully adjusting the phase rotation of the signal and the timing of the different channels, the Philips Fidelio B8 soundbar aims to create an immersive soundstage in spite of its relatively limited emissive surface.
Six elliptical drivers (9×3 cm) have thus been integrated into the front of the Philips Fidelio B8 soundbar: two center drivers dedicated to restituting dialogue (C), followed by two drivers for the left and right channels (L, R) and two drivers for the left and right surround channels (SL, SR). These last two drivers are paired with two soft dome tweeters installed along the sides of the Fidelio B8 and directed toward the listener. These small tweeters are in charge of making the sound seem like it is coming from behind the listener.
At the top of the soundbar, four additional elliptical drivers are paired with six soft dome tweeters. These drivers have the difficult task of adding a vertical dimension to the sound. The soundbar’s frequency response ranges from approximately 200 Hz to 20 kHz. Lows are thus entirely entrusted to the subwoofer. In all, the Philips Fidelio B8 features 9 amplifiers capable of delivering 20 Watts a piece for a total of 180 W, with a distortion of… 10% at 1 kHz. We are thus a far cry from the 0.08 % distortion rate deemed acceptable for a hi-fi device.
Philips Fidelio B8: a wireless subwoofer
Relatively large, the Fidelio B8’s subwoofer houses a down-firing 8” driver fitted with a half-roll surround. Its wide, flared round port is a typical sign of bass-reflex technology at work. The Fidelio B8’s integrated amplifier delivers up to 220 Watts at peak power and it covers a frequency range of approximately 40 Hz to 200 Hz.
The subwoofer receives the audio signal from the soundbar via radio waves. The wireless transmission is digital, lossless and free of delay.
Philips Fidelio B8: connectivity
The Philips Fidelio B8 may be used to play music stored on a Bluetooth-enabled computer, smartphone or tablet. The integrated wireless Bluetooth receiver is compatible with the three main audio compression codecs, namely SBC, AAC and apt-X. It is thus very easy to listen to audio files as well as stream music from services such as Deezer, Spotify, Apple Music and Google Music.
The soundbar is equipped with two HDMI inputs and one HDMI ARC 1.4 output. The inputs are compatible with 4K UltraHD video stream (30 Hz max) and the signal is conveyed to the output without modification. The ARC protocol enables the reception of an audio signal from an HD television. Meanwhile, compatibility with the CEC protocol (which must be activated on the television) allows the user to turn the soundbar on and off automatically using only one remote control.
PCM, Dolby and DTS signals up to 24 bits/96 kHz are natively handled. As such, the soundbar is able to decode the Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Atmos formats. The DTS HD Master Audio format is not natively decoded; rather, it is the 5.1 DTS core which is read.
Two inputs are available: one Toslink optical input and one RCA coaxial input. Once again, PCM, Dolby and DTS audio streams are handled.
The analog stereo input is in mini-jack format, making it possible to connect a smartphone or a portable digital audio player (DAP).
A USB Type A connector is available for connecting a flashdrive or external hard drive (with modest energy demands) to listen to MP3 audio files. Only the FAT16 and FAT32 partitions are handled. Playback is controlled by remote control (next track, previous track).
Philips Fidelio B8: functions
Apart from its power button, all of the Philips Fidelio B8’s controls are accessible uniquely via remote control. The remote control is very practical and switching between the soundbar’s different inputs is very easy. To either side of the volume controls, tone settings allow the user to adjust the level of lows restituted by the subwoofer. Three listening modes are available: Music, Movie and Voice. The Music mode offers stereo restitution, while the Movie mode creates an immersive ambiance and the Voice mode enhances the intelligibility of dialogues.
A Smart mode lets the soundbar’s processor decide which of these three modes will best suit the type of music being played.
To sum up the functions of the three modes:
Music: restitution via two channels and the subwoofer for mono, stereo or multichannel tracks
Movie: 5.1 surround sound restitution (or 5.1.2 with the Height/Atmos mode activated) for mono, stereo and multichannel tracks. Note that dialogues are extracted from mono and stereo tracks and restituted uniquely through the central drivers.
Voice: restitution is identical to that of the Movie mode, with extra loudness for the center channel (+ 6 dB).
The height of the soundstage can be adjusted with three levels to choose from. In addition, two dynamic range compression modes are available: Night and Auto Volume. The Night mode is specifically designed for Dolby tracks, which all contain metadata for listening at low volumes. The Auto Volume mode processes audio stream in all other formats (PCM, DTS, etc.) in the same manner. Lastly, the light emitted by the OLED display, while partially attenuated by the soundbar’s grill, can be reduced or set to turn off automatically.
Philips Fidelio B8: package contents
The Philips Fidelio B8 soundbar is shipped along with a remote control, an HDMI cable, a right angle USB adapter (A-A) and two L-shaped wall brackets.
Philips Fidelio B8: test conditions and listening impressions
We combined the Philips Fidelio B8 soundbar with the 4K Ultra HD OLED LG OLED65B6V TV, and we used the 4K Ultra HD Panasonic DMP-900 Blu-ray player and the Plex app integrated into the WebOS as sources. We watched films with multichannel Dolby Digital, Dolby Atmos and DTS audio tracks. Once we activated our TV’s ARC and CEC protocols, all we had to do was turn on the Fidelio B8 soundbar, which automatically paired with the subwoofer. We placed the soundbar on a NorStone Edition Trocadero TV cabinet, where it sat 60 cm from the ground and 30 cm from the wall. We placed the subwoofer to the right of the TV cabinet and at a distance of 40 cm from the corner of our listening room. Lastly, the distance between our listening position and the soundbar was about 2.5 meters, and 1.5 meters separated our couch from the back wall.
First of all, we have to admit that we expected the Fidelio B8 soundbar’s miniscule drivers to place an excessive amount of emphasis on the upper mids and highs. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the soundbar, in fact, offered a satisfactory restitution of lower mids and a skillful restitution of human voices. The overall balance has clearly been optimized in favor of creating a cinematic experience. For its part, the subwoofer offers a balanced restitution across its frequency range and, above all, is relatively discreet thanks to its default volume setting. On the whole, the listening experience is a demonstrative one and it is not necessary to turn up the volume to obtain a convincingly immersive experience. In Movie mode, we were immediately surprised by the wideness of the soundstage as well as by the sounds which seemed to come from behind us.
Once the top speakers were activated (Height/Dolby Atmos mode), the sound unfolded and took on a vertical dimension. The vertical effects were not exceptionally precise, but the immersive sound was enjoyable. A winning point: the dialogues remained clear enough to keep our full attention. The Dolby Atmos mode was particularly effective with Dolby Atmos tracks, but simply listening to traditional stereo or multichannel tracks would also allow the listener to appreciate the benefits of the “vertical” drivers.
Philips Fidelio B8: conclusions
What we liked: the uncompromising clarity of the dialogues, the very convincing sound placement settings, the high-quality subwoofer, the Auto Volume function which limits the difference in levels between different sources, the handling of Dolby/DTS tracks.
What we would have liked: a WiFi connection to listen to music stored on a NAS? But would this be a reasonable demand, considering that soundbars are inherently optimized for a cinematic experience?
Are you drawn to the of possibility of experiencing immersive sound with surround and vertical effects, yet put off by the idea of installing six or eight speakers in your living room? The Philips Fidelio B8 soundbar is designed to offer you a perfectly convincing solution, along with a very high-quality subwoofer.
Philips Fidelio B1: the mini soundbar (with mini subwoofer)
The second product we tested this week is the Philips Fidelio B1 soundbar. The concept is the same as for the Fidelio B8: a slim soundbar paired with a wireless subwoofer. However, the differences are numerous. First of all, the Fidelio B1 is very small, with a width of only 40 cm. Also, its drivers are positioned differently. Only two elliptical drivers have been installed in the soundbar’s front panel, while two others are housed along the sides to widen the stereophonic effect. Two dome tweeters have been installed along the top of the soundbar, where each has the particularity of being paired with a waveguide directed toward the ceiling. Atmos sound is out of the question for the small B1 (its integrated decoder doesn’t handle this format), and while it cannot offer vertical sound effects, it does manage to offer a wide diffusion for highs.
Philips Fidelio B1: an unusual subwoofer
The Philips Fidelio B1 soundbar’s wireless subwoofer is very compact–slim even–and it can be installed horizontally or vertically thanks to the included support accessory. Its main particularity is that the driver is enclosed inside the subwoofer, where it is loaded by a bass-reflex port which in turn opens out onto the listening room via another bass reflex port. The advantages offered by this system, dubbed bandpass, include the mechanical amplification of the driver’s sound across a highly precise frequency range and the guarantee of protecting the driver from excessive excursions thanks to a naturally high attenuation of high and low cutoff frequencies (approximately 36 dB/octave).
Philips Fidelio B1: connectivity and functions
The Philips Fidelio B1 soundbar is equipped with a wireless Bluetooth receiver (SBC, AAC, and apt-X) identical to that of the Fidelio B8. An HDMI input and an ARC/CEC output are present, allowing the user to connect a Blu-ray player, for example, and receive sound from the television. PCM stereo, Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 formats are natively handled. Optical S/PDIF and analog line-in (mini-jack) inputs are also available, in addition to a USB Type A port to listen to MP3 files stored on a USB stick (playback controlled via remote control).
The remote control is similar to that of the Fidelio B8, with Music, Voice and Movie modes, as well as a dynamic compression mode.
Philips Fidelio B1: listening impressions
We listened to the Philips Fidelio B1 soundbar in the same conditions as the B8. The soundbar is less serene in its restitution and more colored. More emphasis is put on the low-mids, which affects the restitution of human voices, although these remain perfectly intelligible. The subwoofer adopts a rather monotone approach–binary at times–and its restitution of the upper bass register is rather meager, with an excessive dose of pressure in the infra-grave. While it doesn’t boast the same amount of detail as the subwoofer of the Fidelio B8 soundbar, it does prove itself capable of offering a commendable amount of energy and we had the impression that it dove deep and stayed tight.
Philips Fidelio B1: conclusions
What we liked: the ultra-compact format of the soundbar and the subwoofer, the simplified user experience.
What we would have liked: a more nuanced restitution for the soundbar and less binary restitution for the subwoofer.
The Philips Fidelio B1 soundbar offers some serious advantages with its ultra-compact format and demonstrative restitution. We would choose it principally for these two qualities as well as for the fact that it is very easy to use.This post is also available in: French