The Philips Fidelio E5 is like the Transformer of home cinema. A solution that works as a compact 2.1 stereo system and can easily convert into a 5.1 surround system for when you want it.
Aimed at those short on space, it negates the need for multiple audio solutions for different applications: play music, boost TV audio with a soundbar-like solution or go the whole hog with a full surround system with wireless Bluetooth rear speakers.
We've been gorging ourselves on its audio, from watching movies and TV shows, to playing games and listening to music with the Fidelio E5 linked up. But is it good enough to replace other dedicated 5.1 surround systems that are similarly priced?
This isn't the first time Philips has made a convertible system. Back in 2013 its HTL9100 sound bar design incorproated two detachable speakers that could be removed and placed for effective surround sound. The E5 takes those roots and adds subwoofer grunt to a more bookshelf-speaker solution.
It looks attractive as a 2.1 system too, with those two short speakers sat either side of the freestanding subwoofer. Lift the brown leather handles on top of each speaker and their top sections remove so you can then place them at the back of the room for 5.1 surround. Just like the HTL9100 these are wireless and receive audio signals via Bluetooth, so no need to trail cables around the house. There's a 15-20 metre range so even extra large lounges are covered.
Philips calls this Surround on Demand, which makes total sense because the process is simple. Lift, move, place and they're up and running. No need to turn anything off either, the Fidelio E5 knows when detachment takes place and automatically switches into Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. Really impressive stuff.
The Fidelio E5 also supports Dolby Digital so there's no need for an external decoder to handle all audio channels. It's an out of the box solution. There's also Pro Logic II support to provide five channels of surround processing from any stereo source. A pseudo-surround immersion if you will.
The rear speakers are light, can be placed pretty much anywhere and last for days before needing a recharge. By placing them back on the tower speakers they automatically connect and begin to refill their built-in batteries.
We have tables on either side of the couch which meant we could point the rear speakers toward us for perfect surround. Without those you could potentially leave them on the arms of the couch or even the back. Failing that the floor works too but it's not as immersive an experience. An oddity that no accessory stands are included nor, from what we can see on the Philips website, are available.
The Fidelio E5 system is black with a wooden finish on the top so it looks premium, whereas the detachable speaker segments have brown leather handles that are comfortable for carrying purposes and look great. In our case the wood clashes a little with the wood of the floor but it's not a huge issue. Always something to think about though.
Size is also a consideration, as the two speaker units have a 160mm square footprint and rise 400mm from the floor with the detachable speakers included. The sub is larger, measuring 220mm both wide and deep, and 440mm tall.
The back of the sub and main speaker towers use a wool-like material finish which looks homely and has a smooth feel. Just make sure you keep your lounge clean as with the units sat on the ground they quickly collect dust, as you'd imagine.
Each speaker and the sub also has built in LED lights. The rear-placed two use red LEDs which illuminate when a connection is being made with the front system; they turn white when connected after a few seconds. We're pretty sensitive to lights being on while watching movies in the dark but even we didn't find the LEDs a problem being on the whole time. They're not too bright and are partially hidden behind the speaker grilles anyway.
Also in the box is a remote control that's a lot better made than the one included in the Fidelio E2 model that we reviewed some months ago. Phew.
We once moved the entire system to our bedroom when the lounge was in use and it was surprisingly easy. The E5 utilises just two mains power cables, one for the speakers (a separate speaker-to-speaker adjoins the stereo pair) and a second for the subwoofer. It can all be stacked and lifted in one trip as needed, if you can handle the total 9.4kgs weight anyway.
All of the other connecting ports sit on the back of the front left speaker. There are two HDMI 1.4 inputs and an ARC-compatible output, optical, coaxial and 3.5mm inputs to handle linking to TV, music sources and so forth.
However, that second cable connecting the left speaker to the right is needed for both power and audio transmission. It's a 13-pin cable that's 2.5-metres long, so this aspect of the setup isn't wireless and you will need to consider that in the way it looks - perhaps by hiding it out of sight.
The main speaker also houses an NFC chip which allows you to sync your mobile via Bluetooth to play music through the speaker. We couldn't get this to work on the model we were sent though, it kept saying "sync failed" for some reason, even after recognising NFC was present. But since this was an early model that kink will likely be worked out in the final release.
A lot of single-unit Bluetooth speaker solutions lose the essence of immersive sound. The Fidelio E5, thanks to separate left and right speakers, gives a real sense of true stereo that's great for music, and when arranged as a 5.1 system is even more immersive. Sounds like an obvious thing to point out, but such separation makes all the difference compared to an all-in-one speaker base or other such solutions.
Further adding to this immersion is the included subwoofer. It can lead the sound to be a little bass-focused overall but the other speakers deliver ample mid- and top-end to cut through the mix. It's here that the included controller becomes important as it can be used to make bass and treble balance adjustments. Gaming with the surround system was a real pleasure, and although the rest of the house hearing every gun shot in Destiny might not haven been overjoyed, a few clicks down on the bass output and everyone was happy.
There is also a factory reset button to get the treble and bass back to default levels. This comes in handy as there is no display to show how levels have been adjusted - either on the system itself or via on-screen displays, it's just guesswork and a criticism we had of the Fidelio E2. Surround sound can be turned off, even when the 5.1 setup is engaged, by using the remote - but we didn't really find a need for that.
Auto Volume is another option that is supposed to balance sound so you don't get any volume shocks, say when advert breaks are twice as loud as the movies. This didn't work for us, though, instead muting voices and bringing out effects volumes when watching movies on Sky. A feature to avoid in our view and something we promptly switched off after trying it out, despite liking the concept of it.
Then there's Philips own take on sound, what is calls a "Crystal Clear sound engine" to "reproduce the sound source faithfully, precisely and without any distortion". Big statement there, but we like how the Philips E5 system sounds. From the sheen of treble all the way down to chair-shaking movie-explosion bass, we've had it all.
The Philips Fidelio E5 is an attractive and powerful system that can transform from a 2.1 stereo system into a full 5.1 surround sound system with ease. No need for a separate amplifier or loads of wires, it's an out-of-the-box multiple solution for the modern home.
For the money you're getting a Bluetooth speaker system for your music and a TV-boosting system for movies, gaming and more. It sounds great too although we would like more detailed equalisation adjustment options. Otherwise there's little else to truly let it down, except for the Auto Volume feature not working well, and our review sample seemingly having issues with the NFC connection.
Some may also prefer to opt for a dedicated 5.1 system rather than wanting to recharge the detachable speaker units - but that's a feature we're very fond of in the E5, along with the ability to move their positions at any time thanks to no wires. Plus you'd be hard pressed to find anything much clearer than the Fidelio system at this price point.
If you want to scrap the separate amplifier, modernise your audio setup and yet don't want to lose that classic design aesthetic then here's a two-in-one solution to cater for your TV and music audio needs. The Philips Fidelio E5 offers a complete home cinema sound system for those that need a little more versatility from their setup.