Apple wants to kill off the 3.5mm audio jack, as it’s one of the few limiting factors preventing its smartphones from getting any thinner. The company is hoping to do it by using the Lightning port instead, and the first manufacturer to get on board is Philips. The Fidelio M2L eschews a 3.5mm jack for a Lightning cable, meaning it’s strictly limited to iOS devices, and even adds its own digital to analogue convertor (DAC) to provide higher quality audio than Apple’s phones and tablets are capable of out of the box.
Physically, the Fidelo M2L is almost an exact replica of the existing Fidelio M1 mk2, with the same black aluminium ear cups, black leather headband and memory foam-filled ear cups which makes them very comfortable to wear. They sit on your ears, rather than over them and create a fairly tight seal, blocking out most exterior noise but still letting you hear the people right next to you. There’s also a little sound leakage at high volumes, so your immediate neighbours might be able to hear your embarrassing music choices on the bus.
The only real differences are the Lightning adapter on the end of the cable, and the volume and playback controls on the right ear cup. The playback controls are easy enough to reach, with a jog dial adjusting volume and a single large button playing, pausing or skipping tracks depending on whether you single, double or triple-click it. You can also answer calls, but with no microphone built into the ear cups you’ll still have to pull your phone out of your pocket to talk back.
Frustratingly you can’t use the Fidelio M2l on other Apple products, like a MacBook or iMac desktop, as they both lack Lightning ports. Effectively, you’re limited to iPads and iPhones only, which is incredibly frustrating when spending £200 on a pair of headphones. We took our review sample on a foreign trip, but had to swap over to a different pair in order to watch the in-flight movie.
You’ll also need to take battery life into consideration. The M2Ls draw power from your iOS device in order to power the internal DAC, meaning you could find yourself out of juice sooner than you might with a traditional pair of headphones. Our iPhone 6 used approximately 20% more battery when listening to three hours of music through the M2Ls as it did when using a pair of standard headphones.
It’s inside that the M2L truly differs from the M1 Mk2. They both have the same 40mm neodymium drivers, with lighter voice coils than the original Fidelio M1s to improve the bass tones and overall sound precision, but in the M2L they are connected to a dedicated 24-bit DAC. The digital to analog conversion that is normally handled by your iOS device is instead offloaded to the headphones themselves, which should theoretically reduce interference as the converted analog signal doesn’t have to travel quite so far before it reaches the headphone drivers. The M2L’s 24-bit DAC is also capable of playing higher bitrate audio than an iPhone or iPad, which should mean higher quality sound.
Annoyingly Apple limits its Music app (and iTunes on the desktop) to 16-bit audio, meaning you’ll need to use a third party music app to play 24-bit tracks on the M2Ls. We used Onkyo HF Player, a free download with an £8 in-app purchase to enable High Resolution Playback, but even then hard limits in the Lightning specification means you’re restricted to 24-bit 48khz audio. Higher bitrate tracks will still play, but you won’t be getting the full effect.
Whether you’ll actually be able to tell the difference depends on your ears. When comparing 24bit FLAC files to AAC tracks converted at the highest possible quality iTunes will allow and still play back on an iOS device, it was difficult to tell in blind testing which was the higher resolution version. However, swapping between the M2Ls (which regardless of audio source is still handling all the signal processing) and a regular pair of headphones plugged into the 3.5mm audio jack revealed a more precise high-end and a more enveloping sound stage. If your music library currently consists of low bitrate MP3s the differences can be illuminating, but of course you’ll have to spend some cash upgrading your music to 24bit first.
Overall sound quality is in line with previous Fidelio headphones, meaning a warm signature with tight, yet manageable bass. Dance, electronic and rock tracks benefit the most, but we could still listen to more delicate music and appreciate the subtle tones.
If you only listen to music on an iPhone or an iPad, or prefer to have separate pairs of headphones for listening at home and listening on the move, you might be able to justify the cost. However, until Apple abandons the 3.5mm audio jack completely, we think you’d be much better buying a standard pair of headphones like the Philips M1 mkII – which are conveniently £55 cheaper.
|on ear cup
|One year RTB