The biggest sellers in headphones now are earphones, and those Beats-style on-ear jobbies. It makes sense, because most listening happens when you're on the road, and you need something compact and that gives you a bit of isolation from the noise of the world.
But, if you enjoy listening at home, and want something that's comfortable for extended wearing, then you'll be keen on something like the X1s from Philips. These are "over-ear" type headphones designed to be as comfortable as humanly possible, while providing the best available sound.
This is what the X1s are designed for, so let's find out it they measure up.
If you've never used open-back headphones before, then you might need to be pre-warned that these aren't for use in public. They put, very nearly, the same amount of sound out of the "back" as the "front". Meaning, anyone near you will hear not just that you're listening to music, but pretty much every word of the song too.
To illustrate this nicely, as we were writing this review, Mrs Pocket-lint arrived downstairs to yell: "I can hear those UPSTAIRS". This is quite normal, but because the sound is all high-end, simply shutting a door makes it impossible to hear the music, as you would expect. But, remember if you're going to use these out and about, people will start shooting you withering glances.
What the open backs add, is a fantastic depth to the sound, the likes of which you won't be able to get with closed headphones, or earphones. It's a wonderful way to listen to music, and it feels a lot less claustrophobic too. Plus, if something happens in your house - like a baby crying - you won't miss it, because there's enough ambient sound able to get through.
Really, what these headphones do well is replace speakers, with a more private speaker-like experience. It's very pleasant.
Memory-foam pads mean that the X1s feel amazing on your head. They're soft around your ears, and the pressure is gentle, which means they aren't exhausting to wear for long periods. We listened to a lot of stuff, from music to movies over several days, and never felt tired or sick of wearing them. If you told us that you had to wear them for the rest of our lives, we wouldn't be too upset.
The headband seems to strike a decent balance between comfort and grip. We noticed at times that when reclining on a sofa, they would slip a little. Honestly, this wasn't much of an issue, and we'd rather have more comfortable headphones than ones that stay on no matter what.
Built for "flat" inputs
One of the striking things we noticed about the X1s was just how brilliant they sound when fed a flat sound from our MP3 player. EQ off, and bass boost down to nothing and the sound came alive, with great range across all the audible frequencies.
If you fancy boosting the bass a little, you'll see that the X1s are capable of producing a lot of low-end sound. We liked this, and for short-term listening it's fun, with lots of punch, but over time you come to realise that the more balanced sound they produce when given untweaked audio is much nicer.
Of all the Fidelio headphones we've tested these are, as you'd hope, the best performing. The sound quality is nothing short of brilliant.
Bass is impressive. The size of the drivers mean they can produce a nice, deep and rich sound. What we like though, is that the bass produced here feels more deep than you'd ever get off in-ear 'phones.
Vocals are natural. Give them the luscious pop stylings of Carly Rae Jepsen, and it's like someone has come and Sellotaped the first lady of Canadian pop to your head and she's singing live. And in movies, dialogue is crisp and clear. If you're ever frustrated by film soundtracks, then this will be a boon for you.
There's good high-end quality too. There was never really a time when we felt sound was too bright, or over trebbly. This is a good thing too, because too much high end can make things very hard to listen too.
When headphones creep over £100, we start to ask about how much of the various bits can be replaced. Happily, here, the headphone cable is fully detachable, so can easily be replaced if it breaks. If something goes wrong with your headphones, it's most likely to be the lead, the last thing anyone wants to do is replace their headphones just because the cable has split.
The second concern with such headphones is about the earpads. In some headphones, these just twist off. That means, if you damage them, you could just get some new ones. But not on the X1s. Sadly, on the X1s they aren't removable, so if they split, you'll either have to send them back, or replace the headphones in their entirety. Philips doesn't mention if it will offer a replacement service of some kind though.
Buy. Buy, buy, buy. BUY!
If there's a lack of clarity in that, then allow us to expand. We love the X1s. Everything we listened to sounded great. From pop to electronic, from action films to serious TV drama, it all hit the exact spot we wanted.
Of course, headphones are personal, so we suggest you try to get ears-on with these before splashing out, but if the price is right for you, then we think these are a truly great performers. They're the best of the Philips range so far, and we've been smitten with all of them up to now. They're certainly the most comfortable, although the slight looseness of the headband might be a problem for a small number of people.
But build-quality, design, sound quality are all fabulous. The only possible downside is that they are home headphones only, wearing them out and about is just not practical because of the size, and noise leakage.