Philips Fidelio S2 Earphone Review

The great innovator enters the earphone market.

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

Recommended
Philips Fidelio S2 Earphone Review
SRP: £130.00

Introduction

Recent earphones that have passed through the AVForums review process have been from brands that are either new (Kitsound and RHA) or older but rather less well known (Final). As it is such a growth category, headphones and earphone represent a natural place to capture the public imagination and start out. Whilst at the other end of the scale, with sales figures from the headphone sector as strong as they are, it is tempting for big brands to turn their considerable muscle towards headphones and earphones. We have seen Onkyo produce the ES-300 headphone as an example of this and now Philips has turned their attention to the sector.

As a company, Philips needs little introduction. One of the most consistent innovators across a huge swathe of consumer and professional electronics, the industry would be a very different place without them. They have also shown themselves to be willing to experiment with technology that at first seems profoundly odd - Ambilight to name but one - that in reality works extremely well. With this in mind, the company’s decision to move into this category should be welcomed as the product should hopefully be something more than a ‘me too’ offering.

This impression is strengthened when the rest of the Fidelio range is considered. Philips has been bold with designs and the reception to the line-up has been generally positive. As well as small audio systems, wireless audio and soundbars, Philips has produced a range of over ear headphones and now turns their attention to in-ears in the form of the S2 seen here. On the face of it, the specifications seem conventional enough but has some of the Philips design innovation rubbed off on them?

Design

Philips Fidelio S2

The Philips is an in ear monitor type earphone that is built around a pair of 13.5mm dynamic neodymium drivers. The £130 asking price puts the S2 right at the top of the pricing structure for dynamics and it is only a round of drinks away from balanced armature designs like the Musical Fidelity EB-50. The pros and cons of both designs have been under attack from both directions over the last two or three years. Dynamic drivers have been able to offer smoother and cleaner treble while careful mounting of armatures has improved their previously limited bass response. The long and the short of it is that either driver has the potential to work at this price point.

If the driver of the S2 is normal enough, the enclosure is rather more unusual. The cheaper S1 uses an all aluminium housing but the S2 goes all out and uses copper for the same role. The argument is logical enough; copper reduces resonance and should keep interference away from the driver. Beyond any rational reason to do it, it does mean that the S2 feels different to almost any other earphone I’ve ever used. There is a solidity to the housings that is matched by the RHA 750i but in addition to this there is a density and sense of inertness to the S2 that is hard to explain unless you actually handle them.

Philips Fidelio S2

The housing itself uses a design that is intended to sit inside the pinna of the ear in a manner similar to the Audio Technica CKS-90. Philips is not clear on whether the S2 uses this additional internal volume in the same manner as the Audio Technica but the presence of three small holes in the ‘drum’ of the housing suggests that it is up to something. The tube that actually sits in the ear canal is fairly long and even with the smallest earbuds that Philips supplies will see a reasonable distance between the drum and driver assembly.

More unusual is that the housing has a large vent on the outer edge which presumably makes the S2 partially or even completely open backed. This will undoubtedly help with the tuning of the driver but does mean that the S2 is not the quietest of performers for people around you. Quite how much this matters to you will largely depend on how you choose to use the S2 and where but it might not be a first choice for commuting on a busy train or similar.
The build is excellent as well and in keeping with what people should justifiably expect at the price
Other aspects of the Philip’s design are in keeping with an earphone at the price point. The S2 uses a flat ribbon cable that helps to avoid tangling (although like all ribbons when it does get tangled it does so with a vengeance) and it is fitted with an inline microphone and single button remote for your iDevice. The remote is actually a very nice example of the breed. The button is big and easy to use for the double/triple tap forward and back commands. Call quality is good too. Philips also supplies a good carry case for the S2 in the form of a semi solid circular hardback design which is easy enough to get the phones in and out of. The build is excellent as well and in keeping with what people should justifiably expect at the price.

As with other designs that are inserted partially in the pinna of the ear, the fit is absolutely vital to the performance - more so than conventional in-ear monitors. The good news is that Philips has provided a good choice of rubber and foam bungs with the S2 to try and help you achieve this, After being treated to the metal sprue of bungs that RHA elects to provide with the 750i, the Philips is good rather than exceptional but the happy news is that unless your ears are a very radical shape indeed you should be able to get a good fit with the S2. The best of the selection for me were the deformable foam bungs that Philips supply which gave an excellent fit in the canal and help keep the outside world at bay. The housing doesn’t seem to place any weight on the pinna and the S2 is a comfortable earphone to wear.

Setup

Philips Fidelio S2

The S2’s went through the same test procedure as other headphones and earphones. The Lenovo T530 ThinkPad with and without a Furutech ADL Cruise headphone amplifier were used as was an iPhone 4. The only slight difference is that my wife’s iPad 4 stood in for my iPad 3 as she was busy making use of the 3G capability of my one.
Philips Fidelio S2

The standard test material of lossless and high res FLAC, Spotify and other internet radio and general web material were used. I used the Philips domestically and out on the move including the inevitable supermarket visit.

Sound Quality

For all the divergence that I’ve seen in recently reviewed earphones, the basics that they are all trying to achieve are the same. The copper enclosure of the S2 is a different take on the business of making an earphone enclosure but ultimately it has the same job to do as an enclosure made of aluminium, GRP or indeed wood. The good news is that the Philips delivers on the on these basics and indeed comes across as a very well thought out headphone indeed.

Not however until you have done two things. The first is sufficiently important that I was given instructions about it before the Philips even showed up. All earphones are dependent on the quality of the seal between your ear canal and the outside world but the Philips is as demanding as some armature designs in terms of the quality of this seal. If you don’t find bungs that fit, the S2 is not going to deliver anything like the performance it is capable of. I think this is down to the three vents in the housing. If these aren’t positioned correctly, the Philips is all at sea. The other issue is more normal - make sure you run the Philips for a few hours before you judge them.
...the larger the scale of the music you ask it to play, the happier the Philips seems to be
Philips Fidelio S2

Take care to attend to these issues and the Philips rewards with a very smooth and controlled performance. The main focus of attention is the excellent integration across the full frequency range that makes the S2 a fine companion across a wide variety of music. With the Hidden Orchestra’s Archipelago, the Philips manages to keep the dense and complex pieces well-arranged and very easy to follow. There is a useful sense of soundstage and space to pieces as well. Indeed, the larger the scale of the music you ask it to play, the happier the Philips seems to be. This is helped by the potent bass response that is as happy giving weight to an orchestra as it is some weighty electronica. With very low bass and big wobbly club bass it can dominate a little but the overall effect is clean and controlled.

This potent performance is helped by the low noise floor and decent isolation (bungs permitting). The S2 is not the most sensitive earphone going - even judged against other dynamic models it needed more power and in comparison to the armature models it is nowhere but thanks to the ability to keep the outside world at bay it never feels like you have to thrash the headphone amplifier to get a good volume out of them. The average sensitivity actually helps the Philips avoid transmitting noise from noisy sources as you can avoid the worst of their output and ramp the volume a little.

Philips Fidelio S2

The evenness of the performance does mean that some detail can be harder to discern in comparison to designs with a more brightly lit top end. Whether this will appeal or annoy you will generally come down your own personal preferences. The Philips won’t sound as exciting as the Kitsound for example but it is very forgiving of poorer recordings and very easy to listen to for long periods. This smoothness and control does tend to mean that the S2 doesn’t leap up in quality with lossless material although again how much this will matter to you will come down to your listening habits.

The more time I spent with the S2, the more agreeable I found the basic design. Philips has clearly put thought into making the S2 something you can use for long periods of time and this is a genuinely easy earphone to live with. The call quality is excellent and the mic placement is equally as good in terms of staying intelligible. The only ‘but’ with this is that Philips is right on the cusp of where armature designs start to become available and my personal preference tends towards the sensitivity and delicacy that these drivers can offer. I can easily see people taking the view that the easy going grunt of the Philips with its very forgiving presentation might be more to their liking though.

Verdict

Pros

  • Smooth and involving sound
  • Excellent build
  • Comfortable to wear

Cons

  • Very sensitive to fitment
  • Pricey for a dynamic driver design
  • Does leak some noise

Philips Fidelio S2 Earphone Review

The Philips Fidelio S2 isn’t perhaps an example of Philips at their most radical. It doesn’t rewrite the book on earphone design but by the same token it seems almost completely free of Philips weirdness so it is also unlikely to put people off either. Where the Philips traditions do shine through is in the care and attention that they have put into the overall design. Get the seal right and this is a pair of earphones you can wear all day, listening to a huge variety of material and be completely happy with all of it. The copper housings add a little touch of the unusual to the overall feel (I find myself wondering if they might go green if you own a pair for forty years or so) and all the little details like the microphone, carry case and bung choices add up to a very clever and very useable package. They are right at the top of the pricing structure for dynamic driver earphones but the Philips can lay legitimate claim to being one of the very best of its kind out there at the moment.
Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
9

Ease of Use

.
.
.
7

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Design

.
.
8

Sensitivity

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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