Philips Fidelio L3 Headphones
The outstanding Philips Fidelio L3 delivers a superior audio experience and a solid build that combines an aluminum structure with natural leather ear cups. The matt black finish adds to the overall feeling of quality. A better case and more robust audio cable would take them up a notch higher. The sound, however, and the powerful ANC make Philips L3s a powerful contender against market leaders.
Philips Fidelio L3 Headphones Review
With the $349.99 Fidelio L3 Philips shipped a pair of headphones that establishes the company as a contender to Bose and others in the high-end wireless, active noise cancelation (ANC) headphone market. The 40mm custom-tuned drivers slam sound into your tympanic membrane with firmness and dexterity.
What we like
Look at the inside mesh of the Philips Fidelio L3 and find a big “R” and “L” for orientation. When evaluating as many headphones as I do, figuring out right from left isn’t as easy as it sounds for something with only two choices. I start with this because it demonstrates a level of detail in putting the user first.
The ear cups also hit a second plus, which is their large size, which envelops ears without crushing either the helix and scapha or the auricular lobule. As a result, your whole ear fits comfortably.
And a final note on the physical ear cups, but a very important one: Philips eschews vegan leather or any other artificial material in favor of Muirhead leather—and rather than plastic, Philips built the structure of the L3 from aluminum.
Two microphones bring in clear sound for calls. Some ANC earbuds employ more than two microphones. Some headphones separate ANC and call duties among microphones. The L3s combine those features. Keep in mind that larger headphones can also incorporate better sensors. Although the L3s don’t have a large microphone array, they handle both calls and ANC well.
The L3s support multi-point connections, connecting two devices, which can hand-off streams, with one aimed at phone calls. The L3s will connect up to 8 devices simultaneously, with two active. Pair more than eight devices, and the L3s replace the earliest with the latest one.
Android users will enjoy Google Fast Pair to get up and running quickly. The L3s pair through Apple’s Bluetooth settings on iPhones and iPads. Phillips implemented Bluetooth 5.1 for enhanced codecs and connectivity distance.
The Philips Fidelio L3 run and run, with up to 38 hours of non-ANC playback. ANC only lops off 6 hours. Little need to charge for most trips or flights. When needed, fast charging USB-C keeps the L3s available with short charging times.
Philips continues to invest in the L3s with app updates and firmware to solve minor glitches with the headset. In addition, the app can be used to manage the L3’s ambient sound profile with fine-tuned transparency to let just the right amount of the outside world in—or none at all.
Philips also includes an adaptive mode that ties to fitness data to bring in sound to support sports and exercise experiences. Customer “sound effects” are probably better titled as “profiles” up the bass, the overall impact or the treble. A “voice” setting pushes voices forward for applications like audiobooks. Don’t like those, hit custom and adjust the EQ to your liking.
The L3s charge via USB-C. The headphones turn off after not being worn for 5 minutes to conserve battery.
Hearing Josh Brolin’s rant against G-d in Amazon’s Outer Range offers insight into the depths of the Philips Fidelio L3s, perhaps more so than the grinding rift at the start of Avril Lavigne’s Sk8tr Boi. Television and movies pumped over the AAC wireless channel come out clear and crisp.
The 40mm drivers create an expansive canvas, with sound emerging from across the virtual space, tingly highs, raw bass and rich mids. Single string picks on guitar strings come across as intimate, the coordination of strings in orchestral arrangements as lush. Voices reproduce as producers intend, distant and muffled, or out front, face forward, or clear and cozy.
When the ANC kicks in, the external auditory world abruptly stops. Then sound starts to reverberate through the ear cups, painting voices and notes across the acoustic landscape.
Audio is even better when streamed through a wired connection, which delivers HD audio. Under HD audio, the function keys are disabled.
What could be improved
The black Philips Fidelio L3s make figuring out the buttons a little tricky as they fade into the overall depth of light consumed by the matt finish.
Although most buyers of the Fidelio L3s will likely focus on their wireless credentials, they also ship with an analog cable for creating hi-resolution connected sound. Unfortunately, the cable is very thin. Having firsthand experience stripping a headphone cord mid-flight, the slight and relatively short 3.5mm to 2.5mm cable feels like an accident waiting to happen.
Although heavier and perhaps more awkward, I would love to see Philips offer a braided cable to ensure that all features hit the same levels of quality. Even better would be a braided cable that delivered audio and power.
The one thing that drove me a little nuts was a weird sound drift that would occasionally occur. The incredibly immersive sound would just fade subtlety away, and then return to full volume. I sense that L3’s attention sensor may be overly sensitive, including abrupt head movements, such as switching attention from a monitor to a nearby iPad as a removal of the headset. Sometimes the headphones also randomly pause playback without touching the control or moving the headset.
Finally, unlike some Bluetooth headphones, the Philips L3s don’t work without power, even in non-ANC mode. Unfortunately, that means they must be charged to work.
Philips sells the L3s, as do other headphone makers, with Google built-in. However, it isn’t really built-in as much as a feature that evokes Google Assistant or Alexa on a paired device. The button also works with Siri on iOS/iPadOS, though the marketing literature doesn’t state that. The website mentions Google and Alexa, while the manual documents Google and Siri. Philips should clean up their marketing and support docs for consistency.
As with most modern headphones, the L3s employ a variety of touch controls that vary from those of other headphones. Those with the L3s as their primary pair will master the various arcane touch and taps. Owners will need to figure out the difference, for instance, between a single tap and a one-second touch. In the heat of a phone call, figuring out how to switch or reject calls may prove better handled on the phone than on the headset.
Not that it needs to change, but the L3s don’t offer any water or dust resistance if that is a requirement.
The headphones also come with a basic case, in which they fit flat, along with the audio cable and airline adapter. A better case would improve L3 protection and hold up the overall product quality.
Philips Fidelio L3: The Bottom Line
Philips created an outstanding pair of premium headphones. The ACC, AptX, and Aptx HD support bring great sound to the Bluetooth experience, while HD sound flows over wired connections. The premium build, including authentic leather earcups, takes the quality of these cans to the next level. The touch controls might prove challenging to master without practice, but the sound will when over most discriminating listeners.
Philips provided the Philips Fidelio L3 headphones for review. Images courtesy of Philips.
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