Promoted How to create an Audio Icon? – the audio engineering behind the new Fidelio X3

Philips Audio Tech

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Philips and TPV have had a long-term partnership, reaching back over 20 years, that has included the successful rejuvenation of the Philips TV brand.
Two years ago Philips and TP Vision decided on a similar agreement to assign the guardianship of the Philip’s audio business to the company in a project that would include the relaunch of the much admired Philips Fidelio brand.

The Fidelio brand always had a clear position in the market. One for offering premium products in term of performance, style and comfort while also remaining mainstream and accessible rather than too specialist or niche.

In the past, Philips Fidelio had offered products in different audio categories including headphones and sound-bars but the brand had not been present in the market for a couple of years.

So, the question to the marketing and engineering team at the new business - Philips TV & Sound – was what product should be the first of the new-era Fidelio range?

And our decision was to begin with the X3 headphone - Fidelio Headphones, Soundbars, Multi-room | Philips
- the latest version of an Iconic series following on from the Fidelio X1 & X2 models that each attracted a large, audio enthusiast fan base.

The X-series nicely fits the profile of the Fidelio brand by being individualistic. They are different to most headphones in being open-backed and therefore are a home-based product rather than truly mobile one and as such they can offer a very special and unique listening experience unlike any other headphone design - and one that’s once heard is never forgotten.

An open back design delivers a huge sound stage, that lacks the coloration and restraints of the enclosures of a more ‘normal’ headphone design. Stereo separation is much improved, with individual instruments given better clarity but are also more precisely positioned in the overall mix, and with music presentation given a more three-dimensional spatial sound that seems to project way beyond the confines of the head-set.

The original X2 was a good place to start but the engineering team believed that we could refine and improve the specification to deliver distinctly better audio product.

The Philips Design team also wanted to update the look and feel of the product, adding new materials and a touch of extra luxury to the X3 but this change would also demand a new design for the internal components to maintain and even improve performance.

Headphones are unusual as audio products because in addition to acoustic performance we also have to take into account comfort, as it is the only audio product that we wear and that is also part of our ‘look’ – ultimately the design of the product is also a key part of the overall owner experience.

Our first considerations were driven by the redesign of the enclosure. Philips TV & Audio has a history of creative partnerships with other European specialist craft companies and our designers wanted to change the design and finish, from synthetic fabric on the X2 to genuine Muirhead leather on the headband, and from the metal grill to a fabric cover in high-quality Kvadrat acoustically transparent cloth for the X3.

Such a change to the enclosure can have a huge impact on sound quality, effectively requiring a new audio engineering solution and design of the internal components.

A number of changes were made.

All manufacturers will seek to make a rigid enclosure to control resonances. With the X3 the double-layered enclosure was redesigned with new strengthening ridges designed to stiffen the enclosure and minimise resonance.

The next area of work was on the large 50mm, high-quality drivers.

A common question for high performance headphones is why select a single driver versus the multiple driver arrangements found in loudspeakers.

Both approaches have their merits and their compromises. Multiple drive units require crossover components that can both introduce distortion and phase issues and are often operating in critical parts of the audio spectrum that headphone users in particular can detect.

It is also more difficult to get good and consistent physical alignment of multi-driver arrays within the confines of a headphone ear-cup.

Single drivers do not have these issues but by using them over the full audio spectrum, driver resonances can be created.

Philips has approached the issue of driver resonance by using the company’s Linear Motion Control technology - as with previous X-series models - to create a new multi-layer driver bespoke to the Fidelio X3.

Linear Motion Control consists of a special damping gel sandwiched between two polymer layers. The damping layer can absorb bending waves that would normally be distributed into the driver - causing peaks in high frequency response – to allow for an extended but smooth and natural treble.

The thickness of each of the three layers was also individually adjusted, allowing Philips to make fine adjustments of the stiffness/damping properties of the diaphragm across the full audio bandwidth, while maintaining generous but detailed bass reproduction.

The previous X2 and X2HR driver had 40 ‘ridges’ to stiffen the driver and designed to better distribute break-up modes. For the X3, performance was further tuned and refined to match its new acoustic enclosure by reducing the number to 20 ridges which in combination with the revised layer thickness allowed for a more progressive, controlled roll-off for the driver over the mid and high frequency range.

Each 50mm driver also includes a powerful, high quality neodymium magnet-based motor assembly to offer exceptional control and a fast, linear response.

The driver assembly is also pre-tilted to a 15-degree angle to fit more accurately to the natural shape of the ear, and to ensure the music is directed straight into the ear canal for a truly immersive listening experience. For the ultimate performance, the Fidelio X3 follows recording studio technology by offering balanced-mode performance throughout the system, from the source to the specific ear-cup.

Balanced mode requires a supplied dedicatedcable to decouple the left and right channels, which no longer have a common ground, resulting in reduced crosstalk and a further improvement to stereo separation.

The balanced cable features a 2.5mm TRRS connector for superior connection to hi-res audio devices. As a commitment to true stereo sound reproduction both the ear cup and connector are dedicated to either left or right and cannot be swapped.

A second cable is also included featuring a conventional 3.5mm mini-jack connector for other music for using with regular, unbalanced sources. A full size 3.5mm to 6.5mm adaptor is also included for using with home hi-fi units.

The overall result is that the Fidelio X3 follows the Philips Fidelio hallmark sound, combining accuracy with generous bass and a warm mid-range - where the focus is on a tight, impactful sound with exceptional separation of instruments and voices, while the hi-end is clean, detailed and has excellent extension.

The Fidelio X3s also reach hi-res performance levels via an HRA accredited exceptionally wide bandwidth of 5hz to 40Khz.

However, all that performance would mean nothing if the X3 is not comfortable to use.

The headband has been reprofiled and features a lightweight but strong, dark satin steel frame covered in responsibly sourced black Muirhead leather. As the X3 will be used at home rather than outdoors, Philips has been able to include a thick felt headband and velour covered specially selected memory foam ear-pads to guarantee exceptional comfort even over the longest listening session.

The Fidelio X2 was widely acknowledged as a great headphone and an excellent starting point for a new model.

By applying meticulous attention to each and every detail I believe the Fidelio X3 offers a distinct improvement in all key areas, from audio performance and design to fit and comfort and as such is a most worthy product to re-introduce the Fidelio brand.

Much more is to follow.

The Philips Fidelio X3 is available from Richer Sounds: Philips Fidelio X3 (Black)
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Distinguished Member
Big thanks for taking the time to answer so quickly :) Really looking forward to the review.

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