It’s always nice to see a new pair of audiophile-friendly headphones in our current era of true wireless earbuds that focus more on convenience than audio fidelity. Consider the $349 Philips Fidelio X3 as something of an antidote to all the bass-boosted, sports-focused wireless models we typically review. These are over-ear headphones designed for listening at home, with an open-back design that provides a lovely spatial feel and drivers that dole out rich, accurate bass depth and excellent clarity. So many headphones and earphones these days are as much about staying connected to our mobile devices as they are about audio. The exceedingly comfortable Fidelio X3 headphones are about escaping, whether you choose to listen to music or other media through their capable drivers.
When you open the (massive) box for the black-and-gray Fidelio X3 headphones, you’re first confronted with a collection of accessories in the form of two nylon-lined cables (one with a 3.5mm termination and the other with a THRS 2.5mm termination), a quarter-inch adapter for stereo and pro gear, a tote, a cable management clip, and a surprisingly long brochure/guide about Muirhead, the Scottish leather that graces much of the Fidelio X3’s surface. So the headphones aren’t vegan, and yes, the dual-tiered, self-adjusting headband smells a bit like a leather shop. The look is classy, and the outer ear panels are covered in a gray, tweed-like cloth.
The circumaural (over-the-ear) earcups are huge, with velvet-lined memory foam earpads that feel light and generously cushioned. The materials used never get hot over longer listening periods.
Internally, each enclosure houses a neodymium 50mm driver (angled slightly toward the ear for more accurate highs) delivering a frequency range of 5Hz to 40kHz. The headphones have an impedance of 30 ohms, and the earcups utilize an open-back design that leaks a little audio but provides a wider soundstage as a result. Thus, these aren’t the best headphones for the office or your daily commute, but they aren’t marketed as such, so we have no complaints there.
What’s missing? Some users will need a headphone jack adapter for Apple’s Lightning port, while others might have liked a cabling option that includes a mic and inline remote. Of course, the latter omission, at least, is intentional—these headphones aren’t intended for phone calls. And yes, if you buy your own adapter, audio performance sounds just fine through a Lightning jack—we tested the headphones with an iPhone 8 to be sure.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” we hear the deep thumping lows with the type of clarity that’s rare in headphones these days. The lows are full and rich, but not really pushed forward much in the mix. The Fidelio X3’s drivers can reach down to the deepest lows called for, but they don’t boost everything in the process. What you’re left with is a clean, accurate reproduction of the mix.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the Fidelio X3’s general sound signature. The drums on this track are a sort of test in and of themselves—bass-forward headphones will often turn them into a thunderous, quaking force, while headphones that strive for accuracy often fall in the opposite direction, with the drums sounding thin. The Fidelio X3’s drivers nail it—the insistent thump is soft, full, and natural. There’s not much in the mix that conjures thunder, but that just leaves room for the drums to actually sound like drums, and for Callahan’s baritone vocals to get the natural low-mid richness and high-mid clarity they deserve. The acoustic strums don’t sound overly bright, but they still cut through the mix pleasingly for a solid balance. These are headphones for audiophiles looking for accuracy without things sounding thin or clinical.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives an ideal amount of high-mid presence, allowing its attack to retain its punchiness. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with their full range of depth intact, but where bass-forward headphones boost the deepest lows dramatically, here, the sub-bass presence is a little more subtle. The track sounds balanced and clear, with vocals that are never overly sibilant. Bass lovers will be disappointed at the lack of throttle in the lows, but anyone seeking accuracy will be pleased.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound magical and alive, with an excellent sense of space, and lows that are fully represented but not exaggerated. The higher-register brass, strings, and vocals are delivered with superb detail and clarity without sounding too crisp or sculpted in the highs.
On Miles Davis’ “Pharaoh’s Dance,” the headphone give us a real feel for the size of the room the music was recorded in. The drum kit and percussion, the bass lines, and Davis’ trumpet are delivered with lovely detail and very little in the way of exaggerated lows or sculpting in the highs. What’s left is room for the musicianship and excellent production to breathe and for the mix’s dynamics to flourish.
There’s much like about the Philips Fidelio X3 headphones. If they have a downfall, it’s simply that they exist in a field that may be niche, but that isn’t short on noteworthy competition. Consider the new $220 HiFiMan Deva, excellent planar magnetic headphones that, for $80 more, ship with a Bluetooth dongle for hi-res audio streaming. Meanwhile, plenty of our other favorite models in this price range are actually studio options, like the $180 Beyerdynamic DT 770 Studio and the $400 Bowers & Wilkins PX7, among others. For the price, however, the $350 Fidelio X3 headphones offer a wonderful, accurate audio experience, and are well worth considering if you don’t need Bluetooth functionality.
Philips Fidelio X3 Specs
|Connection Type||Stereo 3.5mm|
|Active Noise Cancellation||No|