Wireless Surround Sound - On Demand
What is the Philips Fidelio E5?For those unaware, the Philips audio brand is now the property of Woox innovations but most of the designers and engineers behind the scenes remain the same. That means we’ll be sure to see the logo adorn more innovative products, going forwards, hopefully without compromise in the audio quality department.
The E5 builds on the idea of the impressive HTL9100 soundbar with its detachable speakers and is also part of their flagship Fidelio range. At the time of publishing (October 2014), the Fidelio E5 2.1/ 4.1 Home Cinema system is available for around £600, which puts it toward the top end of all-in-one TV sound solutions price-wise, but if past experience are any guide, that shouldn’t make it overly expensive.
Who is it for?This solution is for the movie fan who doesn’t want the commitment, nor clutter, of a permanent surround sound solution. Traditional 5.1 systems are difficult to make discreet and are notoriously partner unfriendly, so the idea that you can simply scoop up the wireless modules to plonk behind the listening position in order to achieve a real surround sound solution will be embraced by many.
Philips E5: DesignThe explanation of the intended user and target market will have told you much of what you need to know but on a more fundamental level, the Fidelio E5 package comprises of five speakers. They’re an attractive bunch, too, with the front left and rights decked out in black cloth all around, while the subwoofer is wrapped in matching material and has a wood finish to the top.
The stars of the show, however, are the wireless surround speaker modules, which sit on top of the fronts, when not in use, to charge. They have a matching wood (although faux, in this case) finish to the sub and tan leather carrying straps to make transportation safe and easy. The tight mesh grey finish complements the darker front speakers nicely so they look perfectly at home when off duty.
Philips Fidelio E5: ConnectionsPhilips has addressed the tricky issue of secreting all the necessary connections in the confines of a speaker cabinet by spreading them between the two fronts. The left speaker has 2 HDMI inputs as well as an HDMI out. This is the one to use to hook up to the ARC (Audio Return Channel) enabled HDMI port of your TV, allowing you to pipe audio from any connected source to the speakers. Some TVs don’t allow for multichannel audio to be carried via their ARC connections, however, so to be safe, the likes of Blu-ray players and set-top-boxes are best slotted into the HDMI inputs. You also have the option of toslink and coax digital audio inputs for older multi-channel equipment not sporting HDMI connections. Almost all the latest ‘lifestyle’ audio products allow for Bluetooth audio streaming and the E5 is no exception.
There’s even an NFC (Near Field Communication) tag on the left speaker, allowing capable smarthphones and tablets to initiate a connection instantly by simply touching it to the speaker. The right speaker, meanwhile, just has a connection port to the right speaker and a power input. The provided connecting cable is around 3.5m in length, so you shouldn’t have many difficulties in running it around the back of your TV.
Video & Audio connections live in the left speaker
Philips ES Speakers: Set up and UseWe’ve explained how best to wire up the E5 above, and it’s just as easy to use as it is to connect. There’s a generously sized remote control included with the system, which has dedicated buttons for all the inputs, all your volume controls – including Bass and Treble – plus keys for turning on and off the surround processing and activating a delay for lip-syncing issues. The lack of a display panel or video user interface is addressed by the fact there’s a system reset button on the bottom, which you can use if you think you’ve gone too far with any of the settings. Additionally, there are some basic operational buttons on the left speaker, if you happen to be on your feet.
Fidelio E5: FeaturesClearly, the surround on demand wireless speakers are the major USP here so they are worthy of further explanation. While some multichannel packages claim wireless surrounds, whist not actually being totally cable-free, these are totally without wires. Once fully charged from the plate atop the fronts, Philips claim around a 10 hour lifespan but even if that is a touch generous, you’ve more than enough power to get you through a movie or three. The speakers are also capable of sensing where they are in a room, relative to the fronts so auto-calibrate levels accordingly and this is something that works very well in practice.
The E5 can decode multichannel Dolby Digital and DTS as well as being able to process stereo signals into Pro Logic II (simulated surround), which we’ll discuss the merits of later on. The Bluetooth capability is of the aptX and AAC varieties, which gives the best possible quality for direct streaming from phone, PC or tablet. Like the detachable rears, the subwoofer also goes about its business sans wires, in terms of audio, although it does need a power supply nearby.
Philips E5: Sound QualityWe guess the first question most people are going to ask is how does a 5.1 soundtrack fare on a 4.1 system? Very well would be our answer. We routinely spin up Gravity for testing purposes and the opening sequences, with their heavily localised voices, were extremely well placed by the Philips’ processing, although the panning effects are slightly compromised by the lack of the centre speaker you would find in a 5.1 package. Still, it’s not missed for most of the time, as dialogue is generally very clean and clear and effects are easy to locate.
The subwoofer is authoritative without becoming overbearing and is pretty agile, too, so provides plenty of low end detail, in addition to the muscle. That’s something we really like about the whole system actually – it has some finesse, which makes it a comfortable listen, as well as an engaging one. You can also push it pretty loud, so your room can be rocking without your ears feeling the strain, which all adds up to a highly enjoyable movie event. The wireless speakers never once lost connection to the rest of the system, either, making the experience smooth and seamless.
The sub is powerful without being over imposing
We didn’t find the Pro Logic II processing anywhere near as successful as the proper surround experience but then it never is. For the most part, the rear channels are just replicating the fronts, making it more like 4.1 channel ‘stereo’ but if you want to fill the room with sound, it accomplishes that, albeit that the rear channels can sound too loud if you’re sat reasonably close (<3ft). That’s something that might be more useful when hosting a party and the general music handling of the Fidelio E5 was impressive; warm and coherent with the subwoofer again providing subtle low-end accompaniment.
Philips Fidelio E5: Video Review
- Excellent multichannel audio replication
- Winning design
- Easy to set up and use
- Minimal wires
- Centre speaker sometimes missed
Philips Fidelio E5 All-in-One System ReviewIs Philips E5 Speaker System good value?
It’s fair to say that £600 is no drop in the ocean. For many people that’s a sum more than they are prepared to pay for a television but then there are not any other solutions quite like this one. You could argue that you can pick up a reasonable 5.1 all-in-one system for less, and that’s true, but then you lose the discreet advantages the Fidelio brings. There are several excellent active 2.0 systems, costing considerably less too, to which you could add a respectable little subwoofer for around the same cost but the convenience and plentiful connectivity options probably make the E5 a more viable proposition.
Philips E5 vs HTL9100
Of course, the one system out there to rival this one also comes from Philips but we’d definitely give the E5 the edge over the HTL9120 for its superior sense of front separation. It seems to have just a notch more power at its disposal, too, but the form factor of the soundbar means it’s going to win some living room battles. Clearly you need somewhere to put the E5’s speakers so either a very wide unit or speaker stands are the order of the day.
What else is there?
Well, there’s nothing else quite like this system, if you ignore the obvious similarities to Philips’ own Fidelio Soundbar system. Surround sound on-demand is not yet an idea others have mimicked so you’re looking at either a soundbar, a 2.0 or 2.1 package or going the whole hog with a 5.1 speaker system. There are almost countless soundbars on the market, but in this price-bracket we’d be looking at something like the Samsung HW750. Samsung also produces a very competent all-in-one ‘proper’ 5.1 solution, in the HT-H7500 which costs (October 2014) around the same as the E5 but adds in a disc player and oodles of Smart TV features too. But, at the end of the day, if surround on demand is what you’re after, Philips is the only game in town – fortunately its one that’s fun to play!
Ease of Use8
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.