CES 2012 Best in Show: Philips Lifestyle Products
I'm always surprised how companies can be so hit and miss when it comes to sound quality. Even the best makers rarely hit it two out of three times. So, it was with growing disbelief and giddy pleasure that I slowly made my way through more than a dozen new full-size headphones from Philips, almost all of which sounded spectacular for the price. (They also introduced maybe 2 dozen in-ear models, which I didn't audition.)
The price of headphones these days has gotten way out of hand in my opinion. Most makers are bellying up to the bar with skus at $149, $199, and $299 price points. Good grief, these are just headphones: a couple of drivers; some wire; and a plastic housing. Sure the engineering to do it right is expensive, but c'mon, there's got to be a way to make great $69 - $99 cans. At the moment, however, makers are ignoring the $99 price point ... because they can. Dr. Dre and Ludacris have established a new norm in the mind(lessness) of the pop-consciousness, and there's zero downward pressure on the price of headphones.
I think Philips may start to change all that.
At every turn as I circled the Philips booth, I'd first be surprised at how good the headphones sounded, and then I'd look down at the price and be surprised again. Everything was about 2/3 the price I expected to see. Most of the lines start at around $50 and top out at $150, even their flagship Fidelio L1, which sounded very good on quick listen, is only $299. I think other makers are going to have to do some rethinking on price, because given the sound quality, great styling, and low prices of the cans I heard at their display, Philips is going to kick butt.
The headphone that excited me most was the Downtown in the Citiscape collection at $99.99. This is an absolutely fabulous sounding headphone, but more importantly, I think it's a perfect lady's headphone. Ladies get ignored in the headphone business ... and for good reason. My YouTube channel is 94% male, and female headphone enthusiasts are exceedingly rare in my experience. Audio is historically a very male market. But women like music just as much as men, don't they? Could this disparity be in part because audio products are designed by men, for men? Nowadays women are carrying smartphones and playing music nearly as much as men, I would think. Looking at the Citiscape Downtown I've got to believe the ladies will be flocking to this great looking, great sounding, and sanely priced headphone in droves.
Also in the Philips display was a small dark alcove for demonstrating the new Fidelio line of ... of ... I don't know what to call them exactly. I think we're on the verge of a huge change in the way we think about our audio reproduction systems. In a 21st century home, your music is on a server somewhere, you walk around with an iPad in your hand controlling what you hear, and various speaker systems are conveniently placed in the rooms of your home. There's simply no reason you shouldn't be able to listen at your computer, then walk into your kitchen with the same music playing on a counter-top speaker while you make a sandwich, and then walk out on the veranda to eat it still seamlessly enjoying your tunes. In the 21st century home, there is no need for a "stereo system," per se, as long as these various speakers are of high-enough quality.
The Fidelio gear was driven by a programmed demo, so I wasn't able to test the line with my own tracks, but what I did hear was very impressive. With about six iOS AirPlay enabled products ranging in price from $199 to $799, the well-to-do music lover will be able to sprinkle these devices throughout the home, moving them as needed, to create a seamless whole-home listening experience. I thought they were very cool, and I'd love to do an InnerFidelity review of this very contemporary line-up.
Jude Mansilla from Head-Fi happened into the booth while I was there. After we had both spent a bit of time listening we got together for a little chat. It was two kids in a candy store, I tell ya.
The effervescent Jennifer Lalli showed me around the Philips headphone displays, followed by Bob McElraevy describing the Fidelio gear.