The other day I took possession of a pair of Philips Fidelio M1 headphones. They were a free sample for me to test out, which is nice. Coincidentally, Frankie had left his headphones behind (Beats by Dr Dre Solo) so it was an ideal opportunity to compare them head-to-head.
The Beats headphones are ubiquitous. You can see them round the neck of Premiership footballers as they get off the team coach, on Olympic swimmers as they come out of the changing rooms and on kids on every street. They just about created the market for quite expensive headphones, a market which Philips now want to get into with their Fidelio M1 and L1 models.
Personally, I have been getting by with a pair of in-ear phones on the mp3 player and some £30 Sennheisers on the PC so it was fun to step into the world of >£100 headphones, but which ones came out top in the comparison?
The Beats come in a choice of colours, all with the red ‘b’ logo very prominent, and distinctive red cable. The Philips come, like a Model T ford, in any colour you like as long as its black. The Beats are predominantly plastic-covered and the Philips have bare gunmetal-coloured aluminium, black leather, and foam, and black cloth-bound cables.
Looks are a subjective thing. You might consider the Philips colour scheme to be classic and subtle or you might think they are boring. You might think the shiny plastic of the Beats to be cheap-looking or fun and fashionable.
Personally I prefer the way the Philips look.
You can’t know for sure which set is more durable without a lot of use, but the Philips felt a lot stronger to me. They just felt more rigid and solid.
With their soft leather band the Philips feel more comfortable across the top of the head. The Beats look like they will fit better over the ears becasue they have a doughnut-shaped cup which the ear will fit inside, while the Philips have a flat earpiece. In practice the type of foam used in the Philips mean that they mould themselves around your ears very well.
I found the Philips more comfortable and less likely to slip off.
In some ways this is also subjective. The Philips have a more natural sound and a more faithful reproduction of the source and the Beats boost the bass a lot giving a sound that is more artificial but more popular so it depends what you prefer. If you are mostly listening to hip-hop and dance music and like a lot of bass then you will prefer the Beats. If you are going to also listen to other styles and want to hear the sound without the bass being boosted then you will prefer the Philips.
Both sets of headphones are loud enough for me, in fact they will both go louder than I want, so no problem there. I was very impressed by how well the Philips worked at extremely low volume. Even at the absolute minimum I was getting a full sound.
Another consideration is sound isolation: do you get to hear ambient sound over the top of what you are listening to and can anybody sitting next to you on a train hear what you are listening to and get pissed off by it? Looking at the different designs I would have put money on the Philips not having good isolation because they go onto the ear rather than around it, but I was gobsmacked to find the opposite.
I put the Philips on Jayne at a high volume, about as loud as I could stand, and could not hear a thing from them. On the other hand, the Beats let a lot of noise out. Even at a lower volume I could hear them from quite a distance. At high volume they are positively antisocial.
Me, I prefer the Philips. If I want to get simplistic about it, I think the Philips are for grown-ups and the Beats are for kids. If I was thirty years younger, cared about brand names and belonging to the herd, wanted extra bass on everything, and didn’t mind disturbing anybody within 10 feet I would go for the Beats.
You know how some youngsters drive pimped hatchbacks with generic dance music rattling the windows and waking the neighbours? The Beats are ideal for the sort of person who really wants one of those cars but can’t drive.
Here is the big problem for me. Neither set of headphones is any use to me. They both have TRRS jacks on their leads instead of TRS jacks. This means they will work fine on most smartphones and iPods but not on the standard headphone socket on a PC or my mp3 player. They both have a remote control and microphone on the cable and the extra contact for that means that the contacts just don’t line up.
I believe the Beats come with two cables. Maybe the other one is ‘normal’ and would be fine, but the Philips only has the one cable. In both cases they work fine if you hold in the microphone button since that cuts out the extra circuit. You could also use an adapter if you can find one. With eh Philips you could use a standard audio extender cable, as all the extra circuitry is in the cable and not the headphones themselves – of course it wouldn’t look as damn good as the nice cloth-bound cable that is supplied.
It is a bit irksome because this compatibility is not mentioned anywhere in the advertising, documentation or packaging. For the purposes of testing I had to borrow Chrystal’s iPod Touch.
As it happens I prefer in-ear phones if I am out and about and I will continue using them. I love the Philips headphones nad if I didn’t prefer in-ear jobbies I would almost be tempted to buy an iPod just so I could use them.