Philips Fidelio X2: Exuding Excellence

Philips Fidelio X2

Philips Fidelio X2. Philip’s second attempt at a flagship, open, dynamic headphone. Their X1 was a resounding success, thanks in part to their stellar build quality, premium looks, ample comfort. It’s vibrant sound, with rich, lively bass is not found on many open headphones. Plus the X2 has clear, non-fatiguing middle and upper ranges, with fantastic soundstage.

The Fidelio X2 has a lot to live up to, considering the X1 is still currently in the market, and still among the best value-to-performance headphones in the market. What could Philips do to improve on the X1’s successful sound? The answer is, quite a bit.

Build Quality:

Rating: Amazing

The X2 hasn’t changed much from the X1. That is indeed a good thing as the X1 is one of the best headphones I’ve owned in terms of design and build. I’ll more or less repeat what I said of the X1 in the past:

The X2 is a physical masterpiece in almost every way. Elegant and sleek design paired with a well machined construction which puts headphones costing thrice as much to shame. The Fidelio X2 is one of the best looking full-sized headphones I have ever laid eyes upon. With no trade-offs in actual quality. Even the plastic used on the headphone doesn’t feel like plastic, but something more akin to ceramic.

The cups are made of said plastic, with a wonderful feel of solidity, which connects to one another via two wires (like the AKG K70x line) encased in metal and strong leather. The open-backed design of the cups are protected via a beautiful mesh pattern/grill. It is tightly knit, which doesn’t seem as open as something like the HD650’s outer grill, yet remaining quite functionally open. The left cup has a 3.5mm input for the audio cable, which makes it convenient and easy to remove/replace/swap cables. As with all 3.5mm inputs, you’ll want to be very careful when attaching/removing the cables.

The headband is a suspension type which is very soft and well padded. It is quite large, covering a lot of head space wherever it rests. New to the X2 is the more angled headband allowing for a better fit for bigger heads. One of the few complaints people had with the X1 was it’s limited head space, keeping larger heads from fitting comfortably without some risky bending of the headband.

The ear pads are made of memory foam covered in velour. This makes them incredibly soft and a bit more breathable in comparison to leather/pleather pads. It isn’t as dense as the AKG K712 memory foam pads, so it doesn’t retain quite the same amount of memory foam properties. This makes them seal a little less through the pads but doesn’t trap as much heat as the AKG memory foam pads. They are quite thick so those sensitive to ears being pressed against the driver enclosures shouldn’t have an issue with the X2’s pads.

As for changes to the pads, they can now be removed quite easily by simply pulling them off the X2 from the pad’s edge. Removing the pads reveals 4 holes and an alignment pin on the bottom of the ear pads, and 4 ‘posts’ on the X2 itself which connects to the pad’s holes. The X1’s pads were glued to the X1 making it a problem for cleaning/replacement. I can’t confirm this, but, I believe the X2’s pads have a bigger diameter inside allowing for ears to fit even more comfortably than the X1. Perhaps someone owning both can clarify.

On to the cable. The cable is quite beautiful. It’s very long, cloth covered, thick, and soft/bendable without retaining cable memory. It terminates into a 3.5mm plug with a snap on 6.3mm (1/4″) adapter plug. New to the X2 is the lower resistance in the cable. Compared to the X1 cable, which was a bit high (however subtle), detracted from the X1’s sound quality. There is also a cable management device connected to the cable which can be easily removed. I personally didn’t care for it and took it off immediately.

Accessories:

  • Cable management clip
  • 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter plug

Comfort:

Rating: Great

The Fidelio X2 is overall largely comfortable. With a few caveats. While it isn’t the lightest headphone, it certainly isn’t the heaviest. Whatever weight the X1 has is expertly spread around by the suspended headband, so it feels lighter than it really is.

The huge cups and pads allow the ears to fit inside comfortably; and the soft and airy velour padding keeps heat from building up compared to leather/pleather pads. No stickyness, and less heat is always a good thing in my book. If anything negative can be said of the pads, is that they can be a tad itchy at first. After some time with them, the itchy feeling subsides.

While the X2 now allows for bigger heads to fit, it seems to clamp quite a bit more than the X1. Talking ‘Sennheiser’ levels of clamp, which can be an issue. Fortunately, the X2 takes stretching like a champ, so it shouldn’t be difficult to stretch them to your preferred level of clamp.

Isolation/Leakage:

Rating: Mediocre

If you’re looking for noise control, the X2 makes a poor choice. The X2 leaks out nearly like a very open planar magnetic (i.e. HE-400). If noise control is an absolute must, I suggest you keep the X2 to moderately low volume levels. In my tiled home the X2 can be heard in every room with a moderate-to-high volume limiting my X2 use for when everyone is awake/not home.

Sound:

The X1 was more or less near my ideal headphone sound-wise. It had a full resounding bass section, clean midrange, energetic (but never overstated) treble with a fantastic soundstage and imaging properties. The X1 wasn’t perfect as the bass was just a bit too loose for my taste (I loved it’s emphasis, not it’s looseness) which tended to sound a bit one note-ish. It’s lack of texture could mask the mid section at times.

That being said, the X1 was quite a potent all-in-one sound package. Something the X2 also needed to match or exceed. All I ever wanted out of an all-arounder headphone was essentially the X1 with more control in the bass without removing the special fullness of the X1’s bass. Did the X2 succeed?

Bass:

Quantity: Full, slightly mid bass heavy
Quality: Great

One of my biggest fears going from the X1 to the X2 would be a noticeable reduction in bass impact and presence. Gaining more control would more or less imply that the bass was reigned in and reduced. I didn’t want yet another flat, open headphone with bass that merely had it’s place but didn’t stand out. There are plenty of open headphones that do that incredibly well.

I wanted a lively bass response out of an open headphone which has been quite a niche only filled by few headphones like the Fidelio X1, Beyerdynamic DT990, and, to a lesser extent, the Hifiman HE-400, and Sennheiser HD650.

I’m glad to say that the X2 retains much of the energy and impact of the X1 with more control and overall quality. The X2’s bass has a commanding presence particularly with bass-reliant music. Athough it is less intrusive than the X1. The bass is full and broad in general before rolling off (a trait all open dynamic headphones share). It can still be heard quite low in test tones down to the 20hz ranges. Though, for all intents and purposes, stays with the rest of the sound down to about 35-40hz. This means the X2’s bass can get quite deep and rumbly when called for with most music.

The X2’s bass isn’t as loose as the X1, but isn’t exactly what I’d consider tight either. It has a subjectively appreciable decay/looseness that I’d consider ‘harmonic’ that’s not detrimental to the overall sound quality of the X2.

Is the X2 a basshead headphone? No. Not even on the X1’s level of bass presence. The X2’s bass flirts with both being well balanced and a bit basshead-like. More bass than the DT880, less than the DT990 Pro. It goes quite a bit deeper than the DT990, however.

That being said, the X2’s bass is quite enjoyable. Upfront and bassy enough to be considered appreciable for those with a taste for bass. It, more or less, achieves what I wanted out of a successor to the X1: Better control without cannibalizing it’s presence. This better control allows for something else to shine: the midrange.

Midrange:

Quantity: Well balanced
Quality: Great

One noticeable improvement over the X1 is the presence in the middle. The X1 already had a generally linear midrange. It’s shortcomings being that it was hampered by it’s bass at times.

The X2’s do even better with less intrusion from it’s bass. Though the X2’s bass is objectively more upfront than the middle registers, they still come off as if they’re on the same level as the bass. At times can even sound upfront (source and amp matching may further affect this). The midrange never sound laid back or recessed (unless intentional), which is quite a feat for a headphone with a very good bass and treble response.

The X2’s middle frequencies are even more neutrally toned than the X1’s. As for problem areas? My particular pair of X2s had only one questionable peak at 5khz (the loudest section) where it then begins to dip until about 8khz; which then starts to rise up to the upper treble.

In short, if you like bass and treble without a sacrifice to the midrange, the X2 really steps up to the plate in this regard.

Treble:

Quantity: Well balanced
Quality: Quite Good, grainy upper range

Treble is an area that polarizes the general population. You either want a smooth response with as little fatigue as possible while retaining the most clarity, or you want very resolving treble that may exacerbate sibilance and overall ear fatigue. The X2 falls somewhere between the two extremes with a well balanced treble range that is neither too rolled off nor too emphasized.

After the upper mid/lower treble dip, the X2 exhibits a generally energetic and well extended treble range which remains quite present quite far into the teen khz ranges. Most headphones I’ve grown accustomed to tend to fall off considerably after about 10khz. X1 coming to mind. Not so with the X2. It seems to go on indefinitely, without it ever approaching over emphasis. The loudest sections in the X2’s upper range sound is the 5khz peak and another peak at 10khz. Everything else falls in line or below the neutral line in emphasis.

Like the X1, the X2’s treble isn’t as clean as I’d personally like it to be. It’s just a bit tizzy and grainy compared to super clean treble responses like the DT990 and electrostatics like the Stax SR407. This gives some of the treble an artificial shimmer although not overly emphasized or ear bleeding by any means. Just, not as refined as other headphones I’ve heard.

Soundstage:

Rating: Great

Like the X1, the X2 boasts a very impressive soundstage despite it’s full sound. The stereo imaging is brilliant, with plenty of space between instruments and vocals. The soundstage isn’t as wide as something as the Q701, nor as deep as some of the better planar magnetics. That being said, the X2 exhibits a well rounded, natural soundstage with good width and depth which also greatly benefits gamers.

Clarity:

Rating: Excellent

A considerable improvement over the X1, the X2 has clarity in spades, without it approaching the dryness and analytical nature of thinner sounding headphones. Again, it’s generally neutral tonality aid the clarity, with excellent mid presentation and ever present energy in the treble. The bass isn’t the tightest, keeping it’s texture from being absolute top quality, however it remains a marked improvement over the often one note sounding bass of the X1. For such a lively sounding headphone, clarity is still worth noting as a strength in the X2. If there is one thing I can say of the X2, it has a sort of ‘analog’ sound to it. Whereas clearer headphones can sound a bit thin, digital, and lacking in emotion, the X2 keeps a realistic level of clarity I think many would appreciate.

Sound Signature:

Slight warmth in the bass
Mostly neutral

Whereas the X1 was warm and bloated in the bass that crept up on midrange detail, the sum of all the X2’s aspects of sound leads to a well balanced, neutrally toned headphone with warmth that does not pass it’s bass or creep up to the midrange. It’s also equipped with an airiness typically associated with detail-oriented, open headphones. Is the X2 flat, linear and objectively neutral? Not quite. Yet, despite it’s bumps and dips in the frequency response, the X2 manages to retain a tone that merely flirts with emphasis and dips in certain ranges, yet never outright sounds imbalanced in any real way. The X2 almost sounds as if all aspects of it’s sound are emphasized and immediately present.

The bass is full, yet it never manages to envelope the midrange and cause it to sound recessed. The neutrally toned midrange is a strength on the X2, as it doesn’t sound distant/pushed back. The midrange plays harmoniously with the bass, and leads to a generally clear upper range. Despite the lack of complete refinement up top, the treble is still crisp, and well extended, neither sounding dull nor overly hot.

I foresee arguments occurring as to whether the X2 is neutral or warm in tone as it lands somewhere in between.

Amping:

Optional. A portable amp is at least recommended.

The X2 isn’t a very demanding headphone whatsoever, though it is sensitive to tonal changes caused by sources and amps. This means that the X2 can work as either a detail oriented headphone, or a warm, pleasant one. I personally recommend some warmth for extra musicality.

Personal Recommendation?

Movies? Yes
Music? All types
Gaming? All types

It’s not often that I can say one headphone can do absolutely all manner of media and all genres of music some real justice. The X2 simply does everything. Even at it’s worst, it’s still good. More often than not however, the X2 is EXCELLENT.

Comparisons

I don’t have anything in particular to compare with the X2, but I will say a few things: the X2 isn’t the best or worst at any one thing. There are headphones specialized in certain ranges that will be better than the X2 if you’re looking at a particular set of strengths.

What the X2 does well is…well it does everything relatively well. Another headphone may have specific strengths, like the HD650 having a special, fluid midrange. Or the HE-400 having some hellishly deep levels of sub bass. That being said, these headphones usually have something else being sacrificed, like the HD650’s treble being too smooth/glossed over or the HE-400’s collapse downwards in the upper midrange which then ramps up to an incredibly prominent and sharp treble range.

The X2 does not polarize the sound in any one way, meaning all aspects are well represented without being too overly ambitious or too safe. This makes the X2 an absolute workhorse of a headphone, quite capable in all aspects of sound. A chameleon of a headphone. Really.

Final Impressions:

Is the X2 a worthy successor to the X1? Absolutely. Better control of the bass, middle frequencies are more upfront and treble is better extended. Comfort is improved for bigger heads. It isn’t ‘exactly’ an improved X1 (due to less V-shaped sound, and less smoothness after 10khz, giving it a slightly different tonal characteristic), but it is close enough to consider the X2 an improvement over the X1.

Those who want a very spacious sound, robust bass section; clean, integral mids, and energetic treble without the ear piercing fatigue, need not look far. The X2 beckons.

Likes, Dislikes, and Unfiltered Thoughts:

Pros:

Bass is full and fun without being too far leaning towards basshead level
Mids are clean
Soundstage
Efficiency

Cons:

Cable is a bit too long (though better to be long than short)
Treble isn’t as refined as I’d personally like

Unfiltered Thoughts:

It has been almost an entirely positive affair with the X2, with a few issues being some balance issues on my particular pair, which I consider an isolated incident.

Have I heard better, even in it’s price range? Yes. I’ve heard better in bass, better in midrange, better in treble, better in comfort, better in clarity, better in soundstage. Yet, those that have done better, have done better in a few areas, and worse in others. The X2 doesn’t falter majorly in any one area, which is something I can’t say about the other headphones. The X2 makes a more appealing, truer all-rounder.

If I had to make a choice again, it would still be the X2. Sometimes, the total picture is far more important than just a few aspects of it. The X2, to me, is the physical representation of all-rounder.

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Christian Gabiel [Mad Lust Envy]

Under the name Mad Lust Envy, known for the surprisingly popular headphone gaming guide on Head-fi's Video Game Discussion sub-forum. Avid anime and gamer geek with a penchant for headphone audiophilia, though admittedly more for general media use, less so for music. Plenty of music listening when reviewing, however. While the headphone hobby started in 2010, it was full steam ahead from the start, never looking back.

3
REPLY
  • maul
  • 2015-11-15 00:01:00
  • Would you prefer the X2 over the 400i? I'm having a bit of trouble with the highs on the X2s, a little sibilant piercing at times. I have to EQ 10kHz down by a few dB. What do you think?
  • Reply


  • Joey
  • 2015-04-08 23:22:06
  • How would you rate the soundstage to the dt990? I'm trying to decide between the two. I have a mad dog pro now and want a compliment headphone that's open with a different sig. From what you've posted I think I'm sold on the 990. Great review btw.
  • Reply


  • Voleark Heng
  • 2015-04-08 04:16:00
  • Great review, patiently waiting for the time I acquire the X2's. I wonder if Philips have a newer version perhaps an X3 in the works?!
  • Reply


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