Philips is an audio brand going through something of a renaissance in the headphone market. My colleague James Rivington recently reviewed the Philips Fidelio X2 and gave them full marks so I was eager to try out the NC1 range to see if they could compete and while they don't quite warrant five stars, they are a superb set of headphones.
The Philips Fidelio NC1 are headphones that have been created for the frequent traveller. They come in a plush, hard case to stop them being ruined when thrown into a bag and also fold nicely into themselves, so they don't take up much room. Couple this with a noise cancellation switch and they are practically begging to become your travel buddy.
The Philips Fidelio NC1 headphones look great. The aluminium back has a slightly mottled design that looks and feels premium. I do think it is a little overkill to have High Definition Audio Philips NC1 written on both sides of the headphones but it does little to detract from the executive look.
Philips has opted to use memory foam for the earpads, which has been covered in soft leather. This foam is also used at the top of the headband, which ensures a snug fit. This makes them one of the most comfortable headphones I have used. Even after prolonged use, I never once felt the 'pinch' you get around the ear that on-ear headphones are famed for.
A slight drawback of this, however, is that the earpads sit on your ear rather than cup them. This does lead to slight noise leakage (as my workmates can attest to) and sometimes you have to readjust the headphones to position them perfectly on your ears. My ears were allowed to breath, though, making the NC1's an absolute joy to use.
Attached to the headphones is a replaceable cable. To make sure that it doesn't tangle, Philips has used a rope-like material for the cable which is flanked by a right-angled 3.5mm jack at both ends. These have been gold plated for better conductivity. There is also an in-line controller and mic on the cable that allows you to switch between your music and phone calls.
The only other thing of note on the design is an uncovered micro USB slot situated on the bottom of the right earpad and the all-important and rather unique ANC (active noise cancelling) switch on the left earpad, next to the 3.5mm jack port.
For some reason, when wearing the NC1s, I kept having to fumble around to find the ANC switch. This may well be down to my own motor response issues rather than design, however. When I did eventually switch it on, though, the results were superb.
This is because Philips has gone for a rather novel 'optional' noise cancelation option. This means that if the battery on these powered headphones does die, you can still use them but without the noise cancellation functionality. Give the headphones a charge, however, and they will offer up 30 hours' noise cancelling in return.
I tested the ANC function of the headphones on a two-hour flight and the results were great. There was a noticeable lack of background hiss when the ANC was switched on and the ambient noise of the plane was kept to a quiet minimum.
This is all thanks to Philips using an eight mic solution - four on the outside of the headphones to counteract mid and high frequencies and the other four on the inside to block lower sounds.
To make sure that you are completely covered on a plane, Philips has also added an airplane plug.
Even without the noise cancellation, the Philips Fidelio NC1 range offer up some stunning audio reproduction.
To test the headphones, I chose a number of tracks that would give 7-25,000Hz frequency response a decent workout. For the mid-range, Father John Misty's Bored In The USA was listened to on repeat. The timbre in J Tillman's voice sounded clear and the piano pin sharp. The NC1s offer a lovely balanced warm sound that proves Philips' engineers haven't tried to favour bass in their fine tuning.
To make sure that the bass wasn't being undervalued, though, I listened to the bass drum heavy Digital Witness by St Vincent and the low-end leanings of Get Up by Young Fathers. Both tracks were again cut with clarity but still had enough low-end rumbling to the 40mm neodymium drivers a decent workout.
I did get the feeling that the NC1 preferred pushing out music that was steeped in treble. Both TV On The Radio's hi-hat heavy Happy Idiot and Todd Terje's Delorean Dynamite challenged the NC1's high-range but the headphones passed with aplomb.
There is a lot to love about the Philips Fidelio NC1 headphones. They are a joy to wear and offer up great sound reproduction. They are also one of the lightest and most compact ANC headphones around.
To top all of this off, they look great. The styling is premium, for those not looking to make too much of a shouty statement with their headphones.
Sometimes you do forget to turn the ANC off when not using the headphones. This can be a problem if you forget to do this regularly, even though one charge should last 30 hours or so.
There was some noise leakage which could annoy work colleagues or those travelling in close proximity to your ears.
The Philips Fidelio NC1 headphones are a fine addition to Philips' headphone range. They are best suited for frequent travellers who don't want to lug massive cans around with them all of the time but also don't want to compromise on sound quality.
They offer superb sound that's balanced and warm and while I would love to see a wireless range, the cable offered in the mix is dextrous enough to not worry about it. A lightning cable version of the headphones was previewed at CES, so there is even more innovation to come from this range.
Philips has created a £250 pair of headphones that are more than worth their money.