This week we reviewed the much anticipated Philips Fidelio X3 headphones. The flagship of the Fidelio X range is an open-back model with an over-ear design. They have a unique design and are very comfortable to wear. Their wide frequency response and large 50mm LMC drivers carefully crafted by acoustic engineers are promising. Will the Philips Fidelio X3 headphones, which cost €349, live up to the reputation of its predecessor, the Philips Fidelio X2?
Philips Fidelio X3: the brand
In 1891, Anton and Gerard Philips became partners and founded Philips & Co. in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. The brand began by making carbon filament lamps and became one of the major European manufacturers in the early 1900s. In 1918, Philips diversified its catalog, filing patents in various domains, from X-rays to radio reception and electric shavers.
Year after year, new design ideas abounded at Philips. As it entered the 21st century, the brand continued to evolve and grow. Realizing that for many people Philips was still just a manufacturer of consumer electronic equipment, the company decided to create itself a new image, one that better represented its contribution to the health, lifestyle and technology sectors. In 2004, Philips unveiled the new brand pledge: Sense and Simplicity. Backed by a major advertising campaign, Philips affirmed its commitment to offer user-friendly, high-tech devices that are specifically designed to meet the needs and expectations of consumers.
In the early 2010s, Philips teamed up with Taiwanese company TP Vision to develop its new range of TVs. At the same time, Philips’ audio division focused on the launch of the high-end audio Philips Fidelio collection. In other words, Philips Fidelio is to Philips what Lexus is to Toyota in the automobile world.
Concerning headphones, the Fidelio range features three series:
- The on-ear M series including the M1, M1MKII, M1BT, M2BT and M2L closed-back headphones;
- The portable L series including the semi-open L1 and L2 headphones, as well as the new closed-back noise cancelling L3 Bluetooth headphones;
- The X series, designed to be used at home, including the X1 and X2 open-back headphones, as well as the new X3 that we tested here.
Philips Fidelio X3: packaging and accessories
The Philips Fidelio X3 headphones come in a blue cardboard box, covered by a sleeve featuring a picture of the headphones, the brand and its logo, as well as the Reddot Winner and iF Design Award 2020 labels and the Hi-Res logo. Once the cardboard sleeve was removed, one can admire the simplicity of the box that simply bears the name “Philips”. Inside, the Fidelio X3 headphones are presented in a plastic insert designed to hold them in place. Once the headphones and their base are removed, you’ll find a stylish black fabric pouch with a Muirhead brochure and two removable Y-cables with cable ties, each 3 meters long. One has a 3.5mm mini-jack connector, the other has a 2.5mm TRRS mini-jack connector. There is also a 3.5mm mini-jack to 6.35mm jack adapter.
Philips Fidelio X3: new design and comfort
The Fidelio X3 are open-back over-ear headphones. They are the successor of the very popular Philips Fidelio X2, and are mainly distinguished by their completely revised design.
First of all, the headband has changed somewhat. Although it still has a self-adjusting band, the 3D mesh has been replaced with an eco-friendly leather finish, designed by the Scottish company Muirhead.
This brand new arch is extended on either side by a circular frame on which each earpiece is connected by a horizontal “rod”.
Lastly, the Fidelio X3s abandon the traditional acoustic grilles on the outside of earpieces and instead use an elegant, acoustically transparent grey fabric, designed by the Danish brand Kvadrat.
These brand new earpieces feature thick, comfortable velvet earpads with memory foam padding. Although velvet is particularly appealing, it has a tendency to attract dust and hair, which isn’t good news for pet owners or people with long hair… However, these pads are removable and can therefore be easily cleaned.
The Fidelio X3’s all-new design is particularly comfortable. We wore the headphones for an entire week without ever feeling any discomfort. Be careful though: although the headband is self-adjusting, the headphones may not be very comfortable for everyone, especially since the pads, which are not adjustable in height, are quite large (although very comfortable) and may put pressure on the top of the cheeks.
Philips Fidelio X3: 50mm LMC drivers
Just like its predecessor the X2, the Philips Fidelio X3 open-back headphones are equipped with large, 50mm LMC cone drivers with neodymium magnets. Their diaphragm is made of a multi-layer polymer material encapsulating a layer of damping gel that limits distortion very effectively. This design supposedly also provides more accurate highs, more well-defined lows and a better stereo effect.
Lastly, the Philips Fidelio X3’s drivers are tilted backwards by 15 degrees in order to adapt to the shape of the ear and to increase the precision in the high frequencies.
Philips Fidelio X3: 30 ohms, 100dB, power supply
The Philips Fidelio X3 headphones have an impedance of 30 ohms and a sensitivity rating of 100dB. Easy to power? Yes, if you only take into account its low impedance and high sensitivity. However, its 50mm drivers make the headphones more demanding that one would expect. It is therefore necessary to carefully choose the sources you wish to associate them with. It is recommended to pair the Philips Fidelio X3 with a sufficiently powerful DAC, otherwise they may sound somewhat “weak”. Likewise, it is strongly advised to use a DAC or headphone amplifier when using these headphones with a smartphone. If not, the sound will feel constricted and the stereo effect will suffer (a verified phenomenon, which is also likely to happen with a computer that isn’t equipped with a high-performance sound card).
Philips Fidelio X3: Hi-Res Audio, removable Y cables, adapter
Hi-Res Audio for analog music? Yes, it’s possible because the Philips Fidelio X3 has a frequency response ranging from 5Hz to 40,000Hz, allowing it to achieve this coveted certification. To take full advantage of its potential, it is best to associate it not only with a high-quality source, but also with high-quality audio files, preferably recorded at a higher sample rate than CD quality (although CD quality is still satisfactory).
Finally, each of the Philips Fidelio X3 headphones’ earpieces features a 3.5mm mini-jack connector to connect a cable.
For this new addition in the Fidelio X range, Philips includes two removable cables: one unbalanced (3.5mm mini-jack) and one balanced (2.5mm TRRS mini-jack). The advantage of the balanced cable is that it provides slightly more pronounced stereo imaging than with a classic unbalanced cable. However, the difference is very slight, even for highly trained ears. It is also important to make sure that you connect the cable of your choice the right way: the “L” and “R” markings on the cables aren’t very visible. At a first glance it may not be obvious that there is a right way to connect them, but if the connectors are reversed no sound will come out of the headphones.
Because the Philips Fidelio X3 open-back headphones are only meant to be used at home, the 3.5mm to 6.5mm mini-jack adapter will allow you to connect them very easily to a headphone or hi-fi amplifier. In this case, the 3 meter-long cable will prove very useful.
Drivers: 2 x 50mm
Magnet type: neodymium
Self-adjusting headband: metal, plastic, Muirhead leather covering
Earpieces: Kvadrat acoustically transparent fabric
Earpads: memory foam, velvet, removable
Frequency range: 5 – 40,000Hz
Impedance: 30 ohms
Sensitivity: 100dB at 1mW
Maximum power input: 500mW
Distortion: < 0.1% THD
2 x 3.5mm mini-jack
1 x removable unbalanced OFC 3.5mm mini-jack cable (3m)
1 x removable balanced OFC 2.5mm TRRS mini-jack cable (3m)
1 x 3.5mm to 6.5mm mini-jack adapter
Philips Fidelio X3: listening conditions
For our review, we paired the Philips Fidelio X3 open-back headphones with the FiiO M11 Pro DAP, first as an audio player, and then in USB DAC mode with a laptop computer. We had to set the FiiO M11 Pro’s gain to “high” to get the best performance from the headphones. We listened to Qobuz (sublime+ subscription, 24-bit/192kHz) and FLAC files stored on a computer using the Foobar 2000 app.
Philips Fidelio X3: listening impressions
Phil Collins – “In the Air Tonight” (Face Value) – Hi-Res 24/96
Each detail was perfectly reproduced: every single synth note and hit on the drums became almost tangible, as did Phil Collins’ voice and its reverberations, right down to his breath. The usually imperceptible choirs could be heard in the left earpiece. The soundstage was quite spacious.
Dire Straits – “You and Your Friend” (On Every Street) – FLAC 24/192
Right from the start, the different instruments were clearly distinct. The acoustic guitars on the left and electric guitars on the right echoed each other throughout the song, supported by the drums at the center, then the incredibly clear vocals. The Fidelio X3s managed to hold even the highest notes, as long as the volume wasn’t too high.
Philips Fidelio X3: compared to…
HiFiMAN Deva: Sold for €369, the HiFiMAN Deva open-back earphones are more versatile, giving you the choice between a Bluetooth, USB or wired connection. It also features a 24-bit/192kHz USB DAC module. On the other hand, the Fidelio X3 headphones have a much wider frequency response that allows them, among other things, to offer more substantial lows and more detail in the highs.
Philips Fidelio X3: conclusion
With its unique and very comfortable design, the Fidelio X3s are the perfect headphones for long listening sessions… as long as you avoid tracks that are overly generous in the upper end of the spectrum. Although they are impressive in many ways, the Fidelio X3 headphones accentuate the highs somewhat, especially with brass instruments. However, the other frequency ranges are accurately reproduced, and the headphones are able to control the highs for many different styles of music, as long as you don’t turn the volume up too loud or tamper with the equalization of the source. At the same time, the Fidelio X3s provide deep lows for an open-back model, and they pack a punch when needed. The stereo effect is always perfectly reproduced, even with the 3.5mm mini-jack cable. Despite its low impedance of 30 ohms and high sensitivity of 100dB, the Fidelio X3 headphones require the use of a USB audio DAC, a headphone amplifier or a DAP powerful enough to drive its large drivers.
What we liked:
- How comfortable they were
- The understated yet original design
- The warm mids
- The well-controlled lows
What we would have liked:
- A little more softness in the highs, especially with brass instruments
- For the soundstage to have been a bit wider