Philips Fidelio L4

Philips Fidelio L4

Verdict

The Philips Fidelio L4 put in a strong performance in a number of areas, but there are a few imperfections and the competition is even stronger.

Pros

  • Improved design and sound over predecessor
  • Sticky wireless performance
  • Excellent call quality
  • Warm, agreeable sound

Cons

  • Beaten for ANC
  • Beaten for sound quality
  • A little small for big ears


  • Bluetooth audio streamingSupport for SBC, AAC, LDAC and LC3 Audio

  • ANCAdaptive noise-cancellation with transparency mode

  • Bespoke 40mm driversRedesigned driver configuration that produces lower distortion

Introduction

The Fidelio L4 are the successor to the award-winning Fidelio L3 headphones, and Philips has given them a number of refinements and improvements across the board.

And those improvements are needed as, since the L3’s launch back in 2021, the competition has intensified with Apple, Beats, Bose, Sony, Sennheiser, and Sonos launching flagship headphones.

With so many alternatives available, what makes the Philips Fidelio L4 worthy of sitting on top of your head?

Availability

The Fidelio L4 went on sale via Amazon priced at £299.99 / €299.99, which was less than what I was initially quoted back at a preview event in September 2023 when it was initially £349.99 / €349.99.

Design

  • Smaller and lighter than its predecessor
  • Stylishly minimalist appearance
  • Physical and touch controls

Aesthetically, the Fidelio L4 would be a mirror image of the L3 model but changes have been made; some have worked, whereas others are less successful.

A positive is that they’re 10% lighter (320g vs 360g), though still towards the heavier end of the scales. Another change is that the headphones are slightly smaller, and according to Philips, the L4’s larger internal ear cup volume ought to improve sound quality but still make space for larger ears.

Philips Fidelio L4 earpad cushionPhilips Fidelio L4 earpad cushion
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

That’s not the case for me though. Whereas with the previous model my ears could fit easily into the earcup, the L4 sits on top of my earlobes. Maybe this is confirmation that I have big ears.

The use of a softer synthetic leather on the earpads is intended to improve comfort and reduce the clamping force, a change that’s worked as the Fidelio L4 doesn’t press as tightly as the Fidelio L3 did. However, with the headphones sitting more on my ears, it does cause some pinching over longer periods, as well as making me want to itch my ears.

The slider is step-less so when the headband is adjusted there isn’t a ‘click’ noise accompanying a change.

Philips Fidelio L4 stepless sliderPhilips Fidelio L4 stepless slider
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

Buttons are kept simple with power on the left earcup and mic/noise-cancellation buttons on the right; the former calls up the voice assistant on your mobile device.

Playback is controlled through a touch panel on the right earcup; double tap to pause, swipe up/down for volume and swipe across for track skipping. It’s fine for the most part, though touch controls aren’t always the most responsive, and there are times where there’s an odd change in pressure when swiping across the surface.

The Fidelio L4 only comes in a black finish with the aluminium mounting ring in a grey steely finish to provide contrast. I’ve found the mounting ring less helpful during windy conditions, which seem to latch around the structure and create a little noise.

Philips Fidelio L4 carry casePhilips Fidelio L4 carry case
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Features

  • LDAC and Bluetooth LC3
  • Adaptive Noise-cancellation
  • Claimed 40-hour battery life

Philips has covered its bases on the feature front with everything that you’d expect from a premium headphone including built-in spatial audio.

Wear detection is not often a feature I talk about unless it’s not implemented particularly well, and unfortunately that’s the case with the Fidelio L4. There are times when the headphones pause music despite still being on my head. More often is the case where audio pauses but doesn’t resume. It’s hit and miss.

The Fidelio L3 had aptX and aptX HD support but they’ve been usurped by Sony’s LDAC. Bluetooth 5.3 includes support for LE Audio and the LC3 audio codec that claims to offer “genuine” Hi-Res audio with 32-bit/48kHz content. It’s also possible to listen to Hi-Res Audio via the supplied USB-C cable.

Philips Fidelio L4 buttonsPhilips Fidelio L4 buttons
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

The wireless performance is very good – there were only small signal breakups walking through busy train stations in London, and I managed to get through a throng of people in Leicester Square with only a minor break-up.

I’d rate the call quality of these headphones as one of the best I’ve used. Even when the headphones were used in windy conditions, the person on the other end couldn’t hear that noise, and cars and general traffic weren’t an issue either. If anything people ambling managed to penetrate the noise-cancelling bubble.

The person on the other end did mention that my voice sounded a little low – perhaps voice pickup could be slightly stronger – but otherwise these are an excellent pair for calls.

In terms of noise-cancelling the Fidelio L4 boasts an adaptive four-mic hybrid ANC that’s spliced with AI technology. Philips claims this pairing can measure and cancel low and mid-range sounds with the “additional measuring of wind noise”.

It does cancel out noise fine enough walking around London and on the Underground. It’s able to chop vehicles large and small down to size, though the headphones can’t quite latch onto whichever frequency range motorbikes exist in. People’s voices don’t disappear but are filtered out enough that they’re less of a distraction. And on the Underground, they weren’t often overwhelmed but they needed a volume boost to cancel out noise.

Philips Fidelio L4 earcup designPhilips Fidelio L4 earcup design
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

They’re not as strong as the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones but at the moment none are, and the Philips are far less expensive at the time of review.

The Awareness mode works as advertised in providing more alertness of immediate surroundings, but it does affect the sound, which sounds thinner and loses some of the weightiness I’d associate with the Fidelio series.

Philips puts battery life at 40 hours, a slight increase on the Fidelio L3’s 38, although I imagine this is with AAC engaged. Streaming audio in LDAC, I found the battery performance closer to 30 hours with 11% battery lost over three hours with volume at around 50%.

Philips also says you get 50 hours without noise-cancelling. It refills its tank in two hours, and a quick 15-minute charge provides another two hours.

The Philips Headphones app provides support for the Fidelio L4 whether it’s through firmware updates or customisation. LDAC is toggled on here: you can monitor battery levels, adjust noise-control settings, and play with the EQ among other things. It’s fine to use but does bug out every now and then, requiring the old “power on/off trick” with the headphones.

Philips Fidelio L4 headphones appPhilips Fidelio L4 headphones app
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

Sound Quality

  • Slightly warm sound
  • Improved mid-range and treble clarity over the old model
  • Beaten for detail and clarity

If you’ve ever listened to Philips’ Fidelio headphones before, you’ll know what you’re in for. The Fidelio L4 sounds warm, at times bright, with a smooth quality that envelops the midrange. It’s a warm hug of a performance that envelops your ears.

The Fidelio L4 boast a new bespoke 40mm driver with a graphene coating that adds additional stiffness for lower distortion, as well as producing a cleaner mid and high-frequency performance over the previous model, and in that regard, the Philips are an improvement.

Philips Fidelio L4 brandingPhilips Fidelio L4 branding
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

The midrange has more focus and clarity over the older model, the highs register brighter and clearer with GoGo Penguin’s Erased by Sunlight. In terms of extracting more clarity and detail, they’re a step up.

These are an easy-going, relaxing pair of headphones but it does also mean they’re not the most detail-rich around.

Compare them to rival headphones such as the WH-1000XM5 and the Sonys have the edge in terms of retrieving detail and defining vocals in Annette Askvik’s Liberty. The Sony offers that extra ounce of clarity to shape and describe instruments better, while Askvik’s sounds just a tad more naturalistic than it does on the Philips.

The Sony is more of a dab hand at small-scale dynamics whereas the Philips is less expressive. The WH-1000XM5 adorns a track like Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now with more verve and energy, while the Fidelio L4 sounds more contemplative at its default volume.

Philips Fidelio L4 hangingPhilips Fidelio L4 hanging
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

That’s no bad thing, but if it’s excitement you favour, the Sony is the more exciting listen. That said, push the volume up and the L4 summon more energy, though I find the soundstage does become slightly less coherent and detailed.

And paired against the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 shows that Philips’ treble performance isn’t as bright, taking a more delicate approach to how it deals with the top end while the Shure plays it sharper and brighter.

And at the other end of the frequency range, the Philips’ warmth makes for a good listen with Kingdom’s Bank Head but the Shure hits harder. With Takuya Kuroda’s Everybody Loves the Sunshine, the Fidelio L4 doesn’t present the same levels of clarity, punch, or sharpness that the Shure brings to proceedings.

Lastly, the Spatial Audio feels ho-hum in execution, a case of box-ticking because as far as I can tell, there’s no difference between it on or off.

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Should you buy it?

You’re a fan of the Fidelio line-up

The warm Fidelio signature has been refined with this model, extracting even more clarity and detail than its predecessor.

You want the best audio experience possible

It’s a who’s who of headphone brands that Philips is competing against in Bose, Sony, Shure, and Sennheiser, and they’re all a step up on the Fidelio L4.

Final Thoughts

The Philips Fidelio L4 have waded into a very competitive market. Wherever you look, there are headphones of impressive quality.

So while the Fidelio L4’s performance is strong, to make a mark, these headphones needed to be outstanding, and they fall short of that level.

But they’re not headphones to shrug off either. The warm, detailed sound is an improvement over the previous model, the ANC is capable, the wireless performance is near faultless, the battery life is lengthy, and the call quality is excellent. There are plenty of areas where the Fidelio L4 are a match for the competition.

But overall they’re not stronger than the competition. The Sony WH-1000XM5 and Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless exist around the Fidelio L4’s price and eke out more performance and value.

If you’ve enjoyed previous Fidelio headphones, the L4 are worth a closer look, but rivals have the upper hand.

How we test

We test every pair of headphones we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry-standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.

Find out more about how we test in our ethics policy.

Tested across several months

Tested with real world use

FAQs

How long is the Philips Fidelio L4’s battery life?

Philips claims a 40-hour battery life for the Fidelio L4, but in tests, we found it was closer to 30 hours.

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