Philips Fidelio X1 was a smashing success and what’s better than improving upon an already great design by launching the Philips Fidelio X2 headphones which addresses the concerns some people had with the first model? In this review you’ll learn it all.
Concerns about X1 was mainly a high resistance cable, dull and a tad floppy bass, poor choice of cable termination and adapter, but maybe most of all the lack of changeable ear pads. Read on to see how Philips addressed these complaints with their latest development, the X2.
In this comparative review we’ll be looking at the pros and cons of Fidelio X1 vs X2 headphones in terms of packaging (who cares?), accessories (or the lack thereof), specifications (which is a bit misleading), looks (which only differs in color), durability and most important; sound quality.
I personally purchased the X2’s while the X1’s belong to my brother. However, I’ve had more time with his X1 headphones than he has had so these impressions are based on pretty substantial head time with both cans.
Fidelio X1 vs X2 packaging
It’s clear that Philips cheaped out a bit with the packaging of the X2’s compared to the X1’s. While the X1’s came in a hard shell box akin to that of Beats by Dre the X2’s comes in a soft outer box that sleeves onto a cardboard box. In addition the inner plastic cradle that the headphones sit in is made with cheap plastic for the X2 while the X1’s cradle has a coat of velvet that gives it a better presentation.
They probably saved a few odd dollars by doing this and small amounts adds up when you sell headphones on a global scale. It’s not a biggie and I appreciate that manufacturers’ spend money where it counts in terms of sonic performance and longevity. When your top of the line headphones come in a wooden box with flawless finish you know you paid a great deal for that feat.
Looks, comfort and build quality
Both headphones look identical and seems to be built out of sturdy aluminum and fake leather. The gorgeous Fidelio X2 have a luxuriously looking matte black finish which is to die for while X1 has some handsome bluish type color with silver exposed aluminum and dark brown pleather headband. Which one is your favorite look?
They feel like they are of high quality and are equally comfortable with deep, and soft pads that cover your whole ear. I also never notice any excessive clamping force and the weight is distributed equally across the top of my nugget due to the soft spring loaded headband of both headphones.
Headphone ear pad investigation
One issue with the ear pads of both headphones is the choice of micro fiber like material that love to grip onto small debris like hair, dandruff and what not, lol. As for comfort they’re very good and well ventilated.
The biggest difference between the two headphones’ build quality is that Fidelio X2 has replaceable ear pads while X1 does not. This is obviously important if you’re going to use them a lot as the ear pads will eventually wear out.
It’s also super easy to remove the pads, you basically just pull them off in one sweep motion and they have an alignment pin so you’ll put it back in place correctly.
Unfortunately, the pricing of the replacement ear pads proved difficult to find but will be here once updated. Hopefully Philips won’t go the same route as Sennheiser has by making replacement pads so expensive that you feel exploited buying them.
Another thing that makes replacement pads interesting is the ability to build or buy after market pads that give you changes in the headphones sound quality and tonal balance (more bass, less bass and so on), because the way the pads are built has a great deal to do with the final result of the headphones.
So in summary it’s great that Philips give us the ability to swap the ear pads with the X2, but with that said crafty DIY’ers and current X1 owners can probably purchase X2 pads and do some DIY work with double sided tape to make them sit on worn out X1’s.
Fidelio X2 vs X1 Accessories
Both headphones come with a 3m (about 9ft) cable and an adapter. The end that goes into the headphones is a small TRS jack of 3.5mm or 1/4″. This is not a proprietary plug and so it’s cheap and easy to replace the cable if it’s broken or doesn’t fit your needs. However, this is where the similarities end.
The X1’s cable has a higher resistance and this gives you a signal loss in addition to raising the impedance of the total system (headphones and cable) which in turn affects the bass response in a negative way.
Furthermore X1 is terminated with a big (6.35mm = 1/4″) jack and come with a big to small jack (3.5mm or 1/8″) adapter without a pigtail. This was not well thought through as those adapters put a lot of strain on output and could easily mean broken input on your expensive portable device. Look at it, how is that for portable? Yikes!
They should at least have done what Sennheiser does, which is to offer up a pigtail adapter like this one.
With the X2 you get a cable which is still 3m (about 9ft), but with lower resistance and it’s also terminated with a small jack (3.5mm or 1/8″) and has an adapter that plugs on and give you a big jack (6.35mm or 1/4″) that can be plugged into any holes with great satisfaction and no worries about straining.
Unfortunately, both headphones’ come with a clothed cable. It looks cool and all, but as it rubs against your clothes you will hear noises resonances in the ear cups. Also, these cables are notorious dust collectors and well… I just don’t like them clothed cables!! :(
It would also be nice to get some extra pair of cables. With Audio-Technica ATH-50x you get three cables; one coiled, one long and one short. With Fidelio X2 and X1 you only get one super long cable with some cable clamp to roll up the excess length. Poor choice if I should be so blunt. Here they seem to have opted for long and fabric clothed luxurious looking cable instead of several of less cost with more practicality and function.
No hardcase or softcase for prodtecting the headphones
Also, it would be nice to get a hard case or even a soft pouch for protective measures as you’ve just forked out a substantial amount for these headphones.
Even cheap headphones come with a simple pouch. Shame on Philips. Maybe their strategy is to include a pouch with X3 and a hard case with Fidelio X4? Got to leave something for the later models, huh? :)
Fidelio X1 vs X2 Specifications
One thing which is obvious is that X1 is a tad less sensitive than X2 making the latter even more suitable than the X1’s for portable use. Also, the stock cable that came with X1 has a higher resistance than that of the cable that came with X2. This further lessens the X1’s sensitivity. Philips states that they have equal sensitivity, but I found this not to be the case. In addition, X2 is slightly lighter weight than X1.
So X2 has a higher sensitivity, a better cable and lighter weight. Goodie, goodie! Due to these headphones high sensitivity they will be driven sufficiently by portable devices such as the iPad.
Fidelio X2 vs X1 – Sound Quality Shootout
All listening impressions were done by driving the headphones with the Objective2 headphone amplifier and ODAC. This is a neutral amplifier and DAC with ample power for both of these low impedance, high sensitivity headphones. To make the comparison fair critical listening was done by level matching the volume so both were playing equally loud.
Let’s begin with the all important bass, then move on to the essential midrange and lastly talk about the treble before we tackle soundstage and an overall picture of the sonic attributes of these two headphones.
Comparing the bass of Fidelio X2 and X1
Some people were never satisfied with X1’s bass performance, stating it was a little flabby and all over the place, and while there is some truth to that a bit of the fault lies with the high impedance cable that came with X1. Using X2’s cable with X1 yields a somewhat tighter bass, but not teeth shattering differences to be honest. Heck, not even sure I’d be able to differentiate between the cables in a blind test.
That aside, let’s talk about the bass of X1 and X2 comparatively using the X2 cable for both headphones.
The X1’s comes across as duller with less punch than the X2. With X1 it’s almost as if there is a suck out in the all so important midbass region where the kick drums and thumping electronic bass lives compared to the X2. The detail and crispiness of the X2 is also superior to that of the X1’s.
It almost makes me a bit embarrassed about earlier my statements about the X1’s great bass when I listen to them side by side with the X2’s. It’s as if the bass in X1 is slower and more bloated in the midbass region compared to the X2.
I’d say that the X2 is crisper, less dark but hits harder than the X1’s. Some people might prefer the X1’s for their darker tonality and duller, more swollen sounding bass, while others might be happier with the crispier, more punchy and detailed bass of the X2’s.
X2 has some seriously deep, fairly detailed, controlled and impactfull bass which is extremely impressive considering they are an open backed and relatively inexpensive pair of headphones. It certainly hits harder than Sennheiser HD 650 and has better low end detail than the crispier Sennheiser HD 600 too.
It might seem like the Fidelio X2’s are a bass heads dream, but make no mistake; more expensive, planar magnetic heavy hitters like the $1,000 Audeze LCD-2 will eat X2 for breakfast in the bass department. Even so X2 are the best open backed dynamic headphones I’ve heard. Considering they’re much cheaper than $1k and don’t really need external amplification like the LCD-2’s does it’s a very impressive achievement by Philips.
Sonic attributes that a lot of us crave for is deep, crisp, detailed and punchy bass. It’s much easier to make closed back headphones sound punchy and dig deep as they are sealed around the ear allowing the pressure inside the cup to build up. On the other hand open backed headphones accomplish dryer, crisper and more detailed bass as there are close to no resonances and less distortion as the driver moves more freely. The open backed headphones also allow for a wider sound stage, better imaging and superior holographic layering.
WTF does all that jibbrish mean? Well, lol. It just means that with closed cans you often feel like you’re getting music injected directly into your head. There is no width or depth to the sound. With open cans it’s easier to create a wider sound field, but even the best performers don’t come close to a pair of speakers unless you listen to binaural recordings made specifically for headphones.
So in short, there is basically a tradeoff between deep and punchy bass and dry and detailed bass with closed and open backed headphones and it’s a balancing act to get best of both worlds. I think Philips Fidelio X2 has achieved this as the bass is deep, detailed and very punchy considering they’re open backed dynamic headphones.
So in short, X2 is more punchy and has crisper and more detailed bass than X1. If crisp bass is your thing, I’d get X2 before X1 any day. At the end of this review you can see some measurements of the frequency response where we mainly look into the differences between X1 and X2 in the bass department.
Midrange and treble comparison between X1 and X2
The X2 sounds more aggressive and artificially sparkly compared to X1’s, especially when played loud. Most likely due to more upper treble energy in the X2’s.
For example listening to Marié Digby or Lorde, their voices sound more natural with X1 than X2 as the X2 has some treble shimmer which doesn’t sound natural.
Note that we humans lose our high frequency hearing as we grow old and as I’m not yet a grey fox my high frequency hearing is still ship shape which makes me sensitive to artificially elevated highs commonly done by aging mastering engineers.
The artificial tizzyness in the treble isn’t ear piercingly harsh such as Beyerdynamic T1, Fostex TH600 or Fostex TH900, but it creates a hard edge on some recordings’ female vocals.
The pro of a high frequency boost like this is better detail retrieval. However, boosting the highs to compensate for a driver’s lack of high end detail is not a good choice as it makes the headphones sound less natural.
With electronica, dubstep, rock and instrumental tunes this «flaw» can be quite pleasing, but for compressed pop tracks with female vocals it’s not a good choice of tuning for young people with good high frequency hearing. However, I would not say that the Fidelio X2’s are fatiguing at all. They’re wonderful for long listening session despite all of the above.
Battle artificial treble with parametric EQ?
A tip for those inclined to use DSP to raise the bar of their listening experience: The solution for the X2 was to use a parametric equalizer and lower 9.5kHz by -4dB and use a Q of 1.8. After that they sounded as good and natural as X1 in the treble, but with the superior bass of the X2.
Sound stage and holography of the Fidelio headphones
In terms of sound stage they are both equally good, and I think they best the good old Sennheiser HD 600 which isn’t known to be great but all right, so that makes both of of the headphones from Philips more than all right.
The angled drivers shown in the right side image probably has a lot to do with that, as it aims to produce a similar effect to that of speakers toed in towards your head from opposite sides of the room.
In terms of holography X2 pulls the longer straw as each instrument’s sound is better layered and there is more space around them. We’re not talking extreme holography such as what you get with Beyerdynamic’s top of the line T1, but very good in comparison to Sennheiser HD 600 yet again.
When and where to use these headphones
As both headphones are open backed design they will not isolate against ambient noise so even though these headphones can be used with iPad, iPhone or other portable devices in terms of impedance and efficiency, they are not meant to be used in noisy environments. For very noisy applications closed headphones such as Audio-Technica ATH-M50x and closed headphones with active noise cancelling (ANC) like Bose Quiet Comfort and Sennheiser Momentum (the model with ANC) is more suitable.
For critical music listening and enjoyment in silent environments these headphones are stellar and should definitely be on your short list of candidates.
Also, if you’re a gamer sitting up late at night while there is silence you will also benefit immensely by going from cheaper options to Fidelio X2. They might even give you a slight edge because due to the good sound stage you will pick up on footsteps coming from behind you. Unfortunately these headphones does not come with a microphone, but you could obviously use one that clasps on to the cable if you so desire. For LAN parties etc they are not recommended, again due to the open backed design and expected ambient noise at meetups like that.
Conclusion, X2 or X1 which is better?
So X1 or X2, which is the better headphone?
Overall X2 is the superior choice for a multitude of reasons: Detachable and replaceable pads, higher sensitivity which makes them more suited for portable devices, better, low resistance cable with small jack and big jack adapter – and – most importantly punchier, more detailed and crisper bass.
The only short straw X2 pulls in comparison to X1 is the artificial high frequency sparkle that they went a little bit overboard with. Luckily they don’t induce listening fatigue for me and I’m sensitive to that, so it doesn’t sound sibilant it has some treble energy that makes them less natural sounding.
For the best pricing, see Amazon US and Amazon UK for Philips Fidelio X2 and X1 below. These are affiliate links and I will receive a small commission that won’t cost you a dime if you opt to use them if you buy anything. The monies will fund an oscilloscope which I will use to do in depth headphone amplifier reviews, so thanks for helping me if you choose to.
Interesting measurements comparing Fidelio X1 and X2.
For the technically inclined, I’ve added some measurements along with a short analysis of how the subjective listening impressions might correlate with the objective measurements.
Innerfidelity has far superior and more expensive measurement equipment than me, but looking at their measurements of X2 (pdf) compared to my humble measurement setup the similarities are quite minute, so here are my measurements of both headphones’ frequency response.
These are the averages of several measurements of each headphone in different positions and both are level matched with pink noise.
As we can see the X2 headphones have far more bass, with several dB more output below 100 Hz. As this encompasses both the low bass and the midbass it’s obvious why the X2 is more punchy.
But punchyness is not just a function of more bass output, you also need to have ‘the sound of tightness’ which lies higher up than the bass. The trick here seems to be that they have pushed the peak we see in X1’s graph at 200 Hz to 275 Hz for the X2. A 75 Hz difference might not seem that much, but it is and I believe that the 200 Hz peak makes X1 sound duller, while the combination of more bass output and a peak which lies higher makes the X2 both feel and sound more punchy.
Making Fidelio X2 sound like X1 with EQ
Using these filters
Preamp: -2 dB Filter 3: ON PK Fc 162 Hz Gain -0.5 dB Q 4 Filter 4: ON LS Fc 65 Hz Gain -5 dB Filter 5: ON PK Fc 200 Hz Gain 2.5 dB Q 3 Filter 6: ON PK Fc 275 Hz Gain -2 dB Q 4 Filter 7: ON PK Fc 253 Hz Gain 1 dB Q 4 Filter 8: ON PK Fc 1350 Hz Gain 2 dB Q 3 Filter 9: ON PK Fc 520 Hz Gain 1 dB Q 1.41 Filter 11: ON PK Fc 9500 Hz Gain -6 dB Q 2 Filter 12: ON PK Fc 14000 Hz Gain -20 dB Q 4 Filter 13: ON PK Fc 17500 Hz Gain -15 dB Q 1
The result: They sound very similar. The tight crispy punch is gone and the far duller sound of X1 says hello. Maybe one should try to make X1 sound like X2? :)
Stay tuned for more super duper mega interesting reviews, articles and tutorials, and remember to ask if you have any questions.
PS: Sorry about the varying quality of the pictures. I’m an audio enthusiast, not a photographer and learn as I go, lol.