Current testing methodology is v1.2
3.3 x 6.8 x 7.7 in
There’s this idea floating around in psychology called the “middle child syndrome”.
Part of a larger theory on birth order, it believes that the middle child of a family with three siblings tends to find themselves overlooked or overshadowed by the other two.
Now, personality isn’t something we can apply to inanimate objects for obvious reasons but the Philips Fidelio L2 was a highly underrated pair of headphones that was also the second-tier model in a lineup of 3 headphones.
And as I was able to find it at a seriously low price, there’s no better time than now to give it the attention it deserves – even if it’s as a sendoff more than anything.
Philips Fidelio L2
Competent commuter cans only limited by a lack of ANC.
The Philips Fidelio L2 is a semi-open back over-headphones released in 2015.
With excellent build quality and a sound that’s generally pleasing, the L2 does just about everything right for a portable headphone.
Even though it has been discontinued, there are new units still floating around retailing for way less than their original price, which makes it worth considering.
- Headphone Type: Semi-open back over-ear headphones
- Driver Type: 40mm dynamic
- Frequency Response: 6 – 40,000 Hz
- Max. Input Power: 40 mW
- Sensitivity: 93 dB
- Impedance: 16 Ohms
- Weight: ~260 grams (without cable)
What’s in the Box?
- Philips Fidelio L2 headphones
- Carrying pouch
- 1 x cable (~1.2m)
- 1 x cable with remote and mic (~1.2m)
Stuff I like
- Warm, inoffensive sound
- Smooth swivel and adjustment
- Great outdoor looks
- Excellent soundstage for portable headphones
Stuff I like less
- Earpads are small
- Lacking sound isolation (by design)
- The treble is a bit uneven
Comparable products to consider
The current generation of the Fidelio L series takes the “commuter headphone” idea into the modern age, taking on the Sony XM4 and others in the premium wireless ANC category—with a price tag to match.
A Bit of History
Fidelio is the branding used for Philips’ premium consumer audio products, which cover headphones, earphones, and home speakers.
While still under the Philips name, though, they’re actually made by Woox Innovations – a Philips subsidiary that would later be acquired by Gibson Brands where it remains to this day. For consistency, we’ll still call the headphones being made by Philips.
The Fidelio headphones are split into three models: X, L, and M and there are also earphones under the S and T classifications.
The L headphones are aimed as premium portable headphones, being the middle ground between the small and light M models and the hi-fi open-back X models.
I remember that there was a lot of hype around the Fidelio X1 back in 2013. With a vibrant, bass-heavy sound, it was one of the few open-back headphones to arrive on the scene that actually shook the old guard of the Sennheiser HD600 and its contemporaries.
The L1, by comparison, received nowhere near as much attention. But if you took a time machine (i.e. read through old forum discussions), the reasoning was justifiable at the time – at $300, they were priced exactly the same as the X1 with a small but noticeable gap in performance.
The L1 would carry this sentiment as it evolved into the L2, which would find it stuck firmly in the shadow of the X2HR.
The Philips Fidelio L2 comes in a very Philips-looking box – decently designed but without any premium flair.
At best, you get some low-key photos of the headphones on the front. The rest of the box is stuffed to the gills with text and images that are as informative as it is cluttered.
They do try to spice up the experience a bit with a pull-out inner box and front-opening panel, but the unboxing is ultimately unglamorous even at the 80-ish dollars I bought these for.
As is expected of a portable headphone, the L2 comes with a soft carrying pouch and a couple of cables, one with a remote and one without.
It doesn’t seem like much if you just read this out as a list, but the quality of these accessories does feel a lot more premium than most.
At the end of the day, the unboxing doesn’t really matter, and Philips understands this. It looks to me that the almost generic packaging was done to maximize focus on what truly matters – the headphones.
And boy, did Philips deliver.
Headphones that tend to be rugged and durable tend to look the part. Pro audio headphones, with their bland matte plastics and simple construction, are unassuming but will handle the rigors of live AV without any fuss.
By comparison, flashier-looking headphones tend to seem more fragile regardless of how well they’re built. As tanky as the Audeze LCD-2 is, for example, it’s hard to bring yourself to thrash those headphones around because they look so pretty.
The Philips Fidelio L2 is one of the few pretty headphones I’ve seen that hit the sweet spot of being durable without looking dainty.
Every detail of it looks and feels like it’s built to last, from the satisfying clicks of the headband adjustment mechanism to the buttery smoothness of the earcup swivel.
Even the cables are made to a much higher standard than usual. Compared to most other fabric-wrapped cables, the L2’s are incredibly supple thanks to a combination of slim internal wires and a stretchy, almost paracord-like fabric on the outside.
Fit and Comfort
Compared to their over-ear X counterparts, the Philips Fidelio L2 was designed with a compact over-ear design.
In other words, it’s technically an over-ear headphone, but with an earcup and earpad size that doesn’t quite fit all ears.
As someone with relatively average-sized ears, the L2 still fits as an over-ear, but there’s a tightness to the earpads that digs into my head after a few hours. The L2’s earpads are also a bit shallow so my ears end up touching the drivers.
Those with smaller ears will have a much better experience, I think, but I can’t say the same for those with ears larger than mine.
I’ve read some reports of the Fidelio L2 having a pressure point at the top of the headband. I never experienced this myself, but this is something you’d want to be aware of.
Now would probably be the time to point out that the Philips Fidelio L2 is a semi-open design. As the name suggests, these headphones don’t completely close the earcups to alter the sound at the expense of less isolation.
This isn’t really a problem per se but for a headphone that’s designed and marketed as something you use when you’re out and about, having headphones that leak sound in and out isn’t something most people want.
That’s not to say these headphones don’t isolate anymore – they definitely still do. Just don’t expect these to drown out the din of a commute or a busy coffee shop.
When you do find the space to hear the Philips Fidelio L2 in its full glory, it sings like few else in its category.
Tuned to a Harman-ish balance with a warm tilt, the L2 presents a sound that’s easy to like regardless of your music preferences.
The Fidelio L2’s low end is elevated but controlled very well.
Unlike the typical approach of tuning the midbass to give it more punch, the L2 has a noticeable bump in the low bass region (30-70 Hz). Jeremy Zucker’s “firefly” and HONNE’s “I’m The Lucky One” offer a good example of this low bass rumble in action.
My guess is that this was done to compensate for the semi-open design rolling off the bass, but it could just as likely be a way to expand appeal.
It’s a tasteful approach that works and isn’t overdone.
I didn’t notice any bass bleed into the mids, but it’s possible I could be confusing this with its already warm tonality.
The warm tilt of the Philip Fidelio L2’s midrange is shown in songs like Madeon’s “All My Friends”, which features vocals sung in both low and high registers. There’s a clear weightiness in the lower register against the upper register, which sounds pushed back by comparison.
While some people may like a leaner tone on the mids (myself included), I won’t dispute how well the Fidelio L2 executes its midrange.
Clear and clean as it transitions from the bass to the treble, I find it quite difficult to beat.
Compared to Harman tuning, the Philips Fidelio L2 takes the edge off of its treble a bit.
This does a couple of things that improve the L2’s appeal – less treble energy is easier on the ears and it also boosts the perception of bass strength without actually changing the bass tuning.
However, this isn’t executed quite as smoothly as the rest of the L2’s sound. For whatever reason, there are still some peaks in the treble that you’ll notice sticking out if you listen for them (or have a reference to compare against).
In HONNE’s “What Would You Do?”, the L2 softens the sibilance (the “ss” sounds) of Pink Sweat$’ vocals, which is good, but this gives the hi-hats a weirdly uneven quality to it.
Most listeners will likely not notice in a lot of cases and in fact, I only found this out a day before I wrote this review. It’s still worth noting as a quirk of the sound.
Being a semi-open headphone, it’s reasonable to expect the Philips Fidelio L2 to have a larger-than-average soundstage – and they do deliver on that front.
Unlike a lot of closed headphones, the L2’s soundstage gives off the impression of sound coming from the headphones instead of from inside the head.
That said, it doesn’t feel all that large.
For whatever reason, my AKG offers a bit more depth to its sound in contrast to the L2’s greater width. I’ve noticed this with songs like Junk Fujiyama’s “Lovely Universe”, in which both headphones render the song’s space quite differently.
Is it a placebo? Am I just spouting audiophile nonsense?
It’s hard to say from the perspective of you reading this. If you want to test this claim for yourself, you may want to consider buying the L2 for yourself.
And in 2023, six years after their initial launch, the Philips Fidelio L2 has become an excellent bargain that’s difficult to pass up.
While the L2 is now out of active production, there are still quite a lot of places where you can get these headphones as New Old Stock or NOS. And it’s here that the L2 gets a new lease on life.
I’ve managed to get these headphones for an incredible bargain of about $90 including shipping fees. It’s a far cry from its original asking price, but here the L2 finds itself at the top of the heap as one of the best-sounding headphones under $100 – at least, while stocks last.
The Philips Fidelio L2 has always had a strange premise.
Put up against the V-Moda Crossfade 2 and the Sony WH-1000XM2, it was a semi-open headphone competing with wireless headphones with ANC.
Even in its own lineup, the L2 was stuck trying to carve a “best of both worlds” compromise between the ultra-light M2 and the hi-fi X2HR.
The Fidelio L2 was very much the middle child, and it felt a greater need than ever to compete.
Now long after their original release, these headphones find themselves with a unique value proposition as their final stocks dry up.
While I don’t think you should rush out to buy them (not that you can once they’re all sold through), the Philips Fidelio L2 is an excellent pair of headphones, and are definitely worth considering.
This post was last updated on 2023-12-02 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.