Philips Fidelio M1 £160
25th Sep 2012 | 11:00
Philips's new premium headphones look and feel superb
We've spent weeks listening to hundreds of hours of music through Philips' new M1 headphones, but it feels like a bit of a waste of time.
Not because they sound bad – they don't – or are uncomfortable – they're not – but rather because you can probably predict entirely what we're about to say if you glance at the picture above, knowing that they cost about £160.
That's because the M1s are exactly what they look like: good premium headphones which will appeal to people who know that the ridiculous bombast and childish, mediocre audio from the likes of the distressingly popular Beats range come at a price that's not worth paying.
No, what we have here is something altogether more grown up. More refined. More stylish. Better balanced. Better value.
They're not perfect, but we like them.
The experience starts as soon as you see them. Elegant, but not foppish, they quietly but firmly state that you take music seriously. It's not a game for you, you don't care about big, silly bass or celebrity endorsement; you want to hear music properly.
Then you touch them. Thick, fabric-covered cable, aluminium, buttery-soft leather on the outside of the headband, and genuinely nice I-can't-believe-it's-not-leather synthetics elsewhere.
They feel good in your hands.
Try them on – adjusting the headband with a satisfyingly clicky ratchet – and they feel good on your ears too. They grip well but not uncomfortably; sure, after a couple of hours, you might start to get a bit of an ache, but by the same token they won't fly off if you have to run to catch the Tube.
And it's when on the go that Philips imagines you using these. Unlike with their over-ear big brothers, the Fidelio L1 model, the on-ear M1s have been specifically designed for mobile use.
But while the closed-back design means the amount of Tube-neighbour-bothering sound leakage is reduced, it's not completely eliminated.
This is partly because there is a small aperture in the cup to allow for a bass reflex system; it's a compromise we're happy with – not least because the small amount of sound that does leak isn't that horrible, tinny 'tsst, tsst, tsst' you get with cheaper 'phones.
So to the sound, and let's start with the good stuff.
Vocals especially shine here, displaying that disconcerting effect that makes it sound like you have a tiny Beth Orton or whoever positioned in the precise centre of your skull, singing away.
There's lots of clarity and brightness in the mid range and top end, and on restrained, carefully-produced tracks, the overall effect is quite magical; the call-and-response interplay and melancholic vocals of Black Box Recorder's England Made Me sounds stunning here, for example.
The bass, however, is a problem. It's fine and it's there, but it's not superb, and for two reasons.
The first is that while it's present, it's not reaching down far enough to become punchy; for our money, good bass isn't merely about low-pitched noises, it's about giving tracks an almost visceral thumping kick at the bottom end.
Worse, though, is that it should be better behaved; not only ought it to be more precise and defined - too often, the low end just got smooshed together into a low rumble – but it also regularly threatened to overwhelm the rest of the spectrum.
This was most obvious on big, lavish numbers where the producer has got a bit excited by all his twiddly knobs, but even relatively simple tracks such as Eels' The Sound of Fear suffered from it.
Now, don't get us wrong; compared to pretty much anything under a hundred quid – or, if you deign to even draw the comparison, some white Apple earbuds – these sound great.
Rich, exciting and pleasingly warm and analogue.
We had hoped for bass that was less flabby and overpowering in a set of premium headphones that cost £160, however.
We had also hoped for just a few extras in the package. Though there's a mic and clicker for controlling playback, there's no in-line volume control, and despite being pitched as headphones for on the go, they don't fold down, and you just get a simple pouch rather than a protective case.
At least, we suppose, the cable is split, letting you plug into a long cable you've carefully threaded to your computer at work, say, when you arrive from your commute.
So there you go. Seven hundred words to confirm what we imagine you assumed from the start; these are good headphones that look and feel great.
Their audio isn't perfect, but sadly, while it sounds like a lot of money to most of us, £160 just doesn't buy you perfection.