Philips Fidelio X3 Open-Back Headphones review

If you have never heard a high-end set of headphones before, the Philips Fidelio X3 will blow you away — there is no doubt about it. We can say that about very few headphones nowadays and just a few those products price under $500 / #500.

It is a great buy, not just for first-time critical listeners but also for audiophiles constantly chasing the ideal sound. It gives a robust, full mid-range and low-end noise with vibrant treble that could truly feel a bit over-excited occasionally, but nonetheless sounds warm and rich.

If you are able to overlook some small price inflation, and the fact that those open-back wired headphones are more or less only good for critical listening inside your home, the Fidelio X3 can treat you to a few of the greatest audio quality you have ever noticed.

Price evaluation and launch date

The Philips Fidelio X3 was released in September 2020 and is the sequel to the four-year-old Fidelio X2. The Fidelio X3 is somewhat on the expensive side at around $300 / #300 (around AU$400), which sounds like a lot but is really the going rate to get a prized set of open-back, over-ear headphones.

To put the Fidelio X3’s cost in view, the Sennheiser HD 660S, brand new for this year, comes in at $499 / 429 while the corresponding Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Guru comes at $599 / #370.

Design

You might believe that using a lower cost point than the other versions, Philips might have cut some corners with the design of these cans — and yet, if it did, we’ve yet to view it.

For us, the Fidelio X3 feels totally luxurious, with plush velour earpads, a sturdy metallic bridge, and an adjustable head strap. The hinges around the arms are plastic, but otherwise, you’re taking a look at a mostly metal construction with cloth covering.

We enjoyed how modern the fabric and metal design looked, and how comfortable it felt once we put it on. The braided cable means you’ll have less fraying than plastic protecting and Philips has figured out the right amount of clamping force that helps keep the headphones stable around your ears, but not so tight it puts pressure in your skull. It’s a perfectly-balanced layout.

In the bottom of the headphones are both left-right jacks that can either be connected to an unbalanced 3.5mm auxiliary cable or a 2.5mm balanced link, and Philips includes a conventional 1/4 inch-to-3.5mm adapter if you plan on connecting these directly to a vinyl player or AV receiver.

To this end, it is worth pointing out that all these are strictly wired headphones and while that is not a shocker for most audiophiles, it might be worth considering another Hi-Res compatible pair of cans if you’re searching for a set of cans which could go anywhere and anyplace.

Commuters are warned, however, they’re a little large on the head and can look a little odd should you opt to take them out with you. However, given their intended purpose as critical listening headphones, these critiques are largely moot points.

Performance

Assessing the Philips Fidelio X3’s performance is a bunny hole — every time you can think about a way to describe it by listening to a favorite song, you find something new, something unique, about its tonal quality.

By and large, what you’ll discover is exceptional clarity in the midrange with a whole robust sound that is precise and spacious. The lower range is nicely detailed and while it’s overlooking the sub-bass rumble that you might hear about closed-back cans, you don’t receive any of the migraines, either.

The treble, however, is a point of contention we found it to be somewhat sharp verging on sibilant in certain songs like Walk on Water from Eminem, while at other times with different genres it sounded absolutely fine. It’s an interesting quirk of these headphones and, considering it was something we had seen when reviewing the Philips Fidelio X2, it’s definitely something Philips has chucked to its audio touch at this phase.

Testing the X3 with quite a few different genres has been an exciting experience, producing varied results which, largely, were quite favorable. Adhering to The Chain from Fleetwood Mac gave us the opportunity to test out classic rock where we can pick out individual strings being plucked while reggae principles like One Love by Bob Marley’d exceptional, driving percussion and fantastic bass response.

Due to its immaculately precise upper limit, you’ll probably want to set the X3 with a luxury DAC/amp or DAP, but thankfully it does not take much power to push it, with an impedance of just 30 ohms. This means you can use it along with your laptop, tablet, or smartphone and perhaps not get the best functionality, but something rather decent. That flexibility is excellent for people just starting out in the music community.

Another point worth making, and many sound fans will roll their eyes at this, is that these cans have a lot of sound leakages. By the nature of being open-back headphones the X3 leak lots of sound at an audible level, possibly making them distracting for coworkers or spouses sharing the exact same space as you. This makes them particularly bad for carrying outside and while most of you would never dream about this, we still feel obligated to mention it just in case you’re new to open-back layouts.

 

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