Brief: Flagship earphone in Philips’ sound-focused Fidelio line
MSRP: $149.99 (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $100 from amazon.com; $125 from ebay.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 22Ω | Sens: 107 dB | Freq: 15-24k Hz | Cable: 3.9′ L-plug w/mic & 1-button remote
Nozzle Size: 5mm | Preferred tips: Comply T/Ts200, Stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down
Accessories (4/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (5 sizes), Comply S200 (1 pair) and Ts200 (1 pair) memory foam tips, and zippered clamshell carrying case
Build Quality (4/5) – The construction of the Fidelio S2 is similar to the S1 model, but – in contrast to the partly-plastic S2 – is all-metal and boasts a fancy-looking glossy finish reminiscent of ceramic earphones such as Sennheiser’s IE 800. The earphone utilizes textured flat cables with an in-line microphone and single-button remote
Isolation (3/5) – Average, not as bad as could be expected from a shallow-fit design
Microphonics (4.5/5) – Good
Comfort (3.5/5) – The Fidelio S1 and S2 are built around 13.5mm dynamic drivers – large for IEMs, but definitely not unheard of. Philips chose a half in-ear form factor for the earphones, placing the driver enclosure in the outer ear with an angled nozzle fitting into the ear canal. This sacrifices some noise isolation for the comfort of a shallow seal, but the wide housings fitting 13.5mm drivers put a lower limit on the size of ears that will tolerate these earphones – smaller ears just won’t fit the housings comfortably
Sound (9/10) – Philips did a spectacularly good job with the tuning of their new high-end Fidelio line, both the two in-ears and the on/over-ear models I tried at the 2015 CES. The Philips Fidelio S1 and S2 in-ears sound clear and accurate with just the right amount of bass kick. The low end extends nicely, with mild overall boost and impact reminiscent of the VSonic GR07, an IEM highly renowned in audiophile circles.
The mids are crystal clear, with resolution to rival accuracy-oriented in-ears from VSonic and HiFiMan. The lack of bloat helps, allowing the deep bass of the Fidelio S2 to shine and keeping the midrange completely clear of bass bleed. Treble presence is good too – the earphones aren’t lacking at the top end for my tastes, and I’ve been known to enjoy a more energetic sound. At the same time, the treble is free of grain and harshness, but there’s a bit of a lift in the upper midrange and lower treble area. In comparison, the VSonic GR07 sounds a little peaky and sibilant at the top end, while the HiFiMan RE-400 is smoother and more laid-back.
The presentation boasts good width with average depth, reminding me of a slightly more mid-focused and less broad-sounding VSonic GR07. Curiously, the Fidelio earphones are not super efficient for a portable audio product and take more power to reach listening volume than much of the competition. This isn’t a problem except for those who gauge sound quality by maximum attainable volume – there’s still plenty of headroom with portable players. The earphones aren’t picky with sources, either, and sound decent enough from a sub-par Android phone.
There is one small caveat with the both the S1 and S2: they require a very good acoustic seal to perform their best. This is true for almost all IEMs but because of the shallow fit and near-neutral tuning of the Fidelios, there’s not much room for error. The large size of the housings and limited insertion depth play a factor as well. Without a good seal the bass quantity drops, the treble sounds a touch hot and spitty, and the presentation loses its depth. Here, the pricier S2 model has an advantage of the S1 with its extra eartip sizes and Comply Ts-series foam tips.
The Philips Fidelio S1 and S2 really don’t differ much, especially when it comes to sound. In addition to its better build quality and fit kit, the pricier S2 model has a slightly more full-bodied sound with a touch more bass. Both can sound a little hot in the treble, especially without an optimal seal, but the S2 is a touch smoother with stock tips. At the same time, it maintains a marginally more airy sound than the lower-end model.
One of the pioneers of accurate-sounding dynamic-driver earphones, HiFiMan have been selling earphones in this segment since 2008 or so. Compared to the Fidelio S2, their latest $100 offering, the HiFiMan RE-400, is more efficient, warmer in tone, and boasts more intimate mids and a more in-the-head presentation overall.
The Fidelio S2 has more subbass & bass in general but is also less warm and a touch clearer as a result. The mids on the S2 are less forward but it has a boost in the upper midrange/lower treble and sounds brighter on the whole. The RE-400 is smoother and more laid-back up top, sounding more refined and forgiving. The Fidelio S2 is more spacious and has a wider soundstage but gives up the intimate feel and more well-rounded presentation (in terms of depth and width being more even) of the RE-400.
VSonic’s similarly-priced, accurate-sounding dynamic-driver IEM is a direct competitor for the Fidelio S2. The GR07 is more sensitive than the Fidelio S2 but otherwise they don’t sound very different, either. The two have similar bass quantity, but the S2 has a flatter/more linear low end while the GR07 has a bit more of a mid-bass hump. As a result, the VSonic unit boasts a hair more bass impact, slightly warmer tone, and a more full-bodied sound while the Fidelio S2 sounds a touch thinner and has a cooler tonal character.
Despite being less warm than the GR07 and having some upper midrange lift, the S2 tends to sound smoother than the GR07 and is less prone to sibilance. The VSonic unit does have a slightly more spacious and three-dimensional presentation, but, thanks in large part to the sibilance, I don’t feel that it is superior to the Philips overall.
Compared to RHA’s warm and bassy MA750, the Fidelio S2 is much more neutral, clearer, and more transparent, but also a little harsher in the treble region. The MA750 sounds thicker overall and suffers from more bass bloat. It is definitely smoother than the Philips, but the top end can still be a little tizzy, especially at high volumes, and the deeper v-shape of its sound signature is audible.
The EP1 is notable for having a very similar form factor to the Fidelio S2, as well as similar build and accessories. The sound of the EP1 is bassier, with the enhancement most audible in the mid-bass region. Its mids are more forward and can appear a little clearer as a result, though on the whole the Fidelio S2 has similar clarity. The RBH unit is also a little harsher, can appear less natural in tone, and its presentation is a little more congested. The more balanced and neutral S2 – despite its slightly more recessed mids – sounds more realistic.
The Fidelio S2 is a dynamic-driver earphone with accuracy-oriented tuning. The DN-1000, which boasts a v-shaped sound signature, has much more of a “wow” factor to its acoustics. Its powerful bass easily outpaces the Philips set, which itself is no slouch when it comes to depth and impact. More surprisingly, the Dunu seems a bit clearer than the more balanced-sounding Philips, due in part to its brighter tonal character. The Fidelio S2 is not the most exciting earphone in the first place, and next to the DN-1000 it sounds especially dull. On the downside, the treble of the DN-1000 has a more “metallic” timbre than that of the Fidelio S2, especially at higher volumes, which is not uncommon for earphones based on the Knowles TWFK driver. The Fidelio S2 is also significantly less efficient than the DN-1000.
Compared to the Fidelio S2, the Noble 4S clearer and more balanced, but also a little thinner. The S2 has more bass emphasis and sounds a more full-bodied as a result. It lacks some of the clarity of the 4S, though, and gets harsh a lot more easily. The 4S, despite having a similarly healthy amount of treble energy, is smoother, especially at higher volumes. Lastly, the 4S sounds more airy and open and has better soundstage depth and layering while the S2 is more closed-in.
Value (9/10) – Philips is not the first brand that comes to mind when I think “headphone Hi-Fi,” but the Dutch electronics giant has been designing and manufacturing headphones since the 1960s – longer than many of its current competitors have been in business. The 2012 introduction of the Fidelio line of performance-oriented audio products, with its aggressive pricing and solid audio quality, makes it clear that the company is still serious the about high-end personal audio market.
The Philips Fidelio S2 is a well-designed, user-friendly earphone boasting a neutral sound signature with a bump across the bass range, tangle-resistant cabling, and a built-in microphone and remote. The semi-open design makes them great in situations where the higher noise isolation of most other high-end earphones is undesirable—and a great choice for those who don’t like the more intrusive fit of most other IEMs. For a flagship product, they are also quite reasonably priced, costing less than the flagship IEM from any of the other major manufacturers.
Pros: Shallow-fit design; balanced and very capable sound
Cons: Mediocre isolation; housings on the large side