“Hard to justify the price”
FOR Wide spread of sound; goes loud; compact design AGAINST Lacks detail and rhythmic ability; too pricey
We had high hopes for the Philips Fidelio B1. This soundbar-with-wireless-subwoofer is designed for small rooms and small TVS, and seems the perfect antidote to the bulkier alternatives taking up space both in the market and in front of our TVS.
But at £450 the sound quality really has to justify that price, not least because it must beat the Award-winning Q Acoustics Media 4 (£330) and be better value than the £200 Acoustic Energy Aego Soundbar, which is also designed for small spaces.
Philips is off to a good start with the B1’s design. The main unit is solidly built and encased in a rather smart metal grille. Philips calls it the 'nano cinema speaker' and it’s certainly slim and compact, the ideal size for placing in front of your TV – especially if you have limited shelf space.
Of course, you can’t expect a huge amount of bass to come out of such a small unit, which is why Philips provides a separate subwoofer. It’s slim and discreet, and connects to the main bar wirelessly, so you can place it anywhere in your room. A stand is included to keep the subwoofer upright when positioned vertically, but we find it stays stable on its own too.
The metal buttons on the soundbar are lovely to use when switching inputs or changing the volume, but you do get a remote control for all those functions, too. You can adjust the treble and bass of the B1, as well as switch between music and movie sound modes using the remote.
We’re amazed Philips has managed to pack such a generous number of connections into this little unit. Hidden away on the back of the bar are HDMI and optical inputs, and a 3.5mm auxiliary socket for plugging in music players.
There’s even an HDMI ARC (audio return channel) connection for your TV. A simple LED display glows behind the metal grilles of the main bar, with big letters indicating which source is selected.
You’ll notice a USB port as well, into which you can plug a memory stick full of songs. The Fidelio B1 doesn’t support any hi-res music, but standard-resolution WAV or MP3 files are fine. If you’re playing music through the B1, Bluetooth is quick to connect to your smartphone, and you can stream any song stored on your device.
The B1 delivers a surprisingly wide spread of sound for its size. There are two drivers placed at either end of the main bar, with two more in the middle. Philips uses ‘microbeam’ technology to produce a wide arc of sound, and a surround amplifier to power all channels (including the sub).
For such a small unit it goes loud too, and, coupled with the wide soundstage, you’ll feel immediately drawn into the film. There’s a decent amount of detail – you can follow the pinging gunshots in the John
Wick Blu-ray, get a sense of the atmosphere inside the elegant Continental Hotel, and follow the deadpan dialogue.
But that’s where the good news ends. There’s not a whole lot of solid weight underpinning the B1’s sound and, as a result, sound effects don’t make a satisfying impact or have strength of conviction when whizzing around the screen.
The Philips has a lean presentation, with a coarseness at the edge of the midrange that’s difficult to smooth out even after running-in. Voices sound hollow, and our five-star Samsung UE55KS9000 TV does a better job at delivering solid, nuanced voices that sound natural and expressive. It can even make Keanu Reeves’s wooden delivery sound reasonably expressive.
Doing a proper job
We were expecting a huge leap in sound quality, but the B1's languid presentation comes to the fore when playing movies or music. If the TV sounds better on its own, you know the soundbar isn’t doing its job.
Play Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense concert on DVD, and the Philips struggles to keep tabs on the driving rhythm of
Girlfriend Is Better. There’s an attempt to keep pace: bass notes are alluded to, but they don’t reach too deep or rumble with texture. The edges of notes lack the accuracy and clarity of rivals such as the Q Acoustics Media 4, which spoils the Philips’ ability to render taut, fast-moving rhythms.
We’d recommend staying in Music mode, as 'Movie' thins the sound out – which, in the Fidelio B1’s case, is not a good thing. The lean, coarse edge is emphasised and takes away any solidity that exists.
The Philips Fidelio B1 draws us in with its big, open and wide sound, but does little to keep us captivated. The lack of rhythmic precision, insight and a poor way with voices mean it’s hard to justify at the price.
For £450, we expect a performance we prefer far more than the TV’S own speakers. The Fidelio B1 is a great idea, but we hope Philips can execute it better next time. And charge less for it.
“Using Philips’s ‘microbeam’ technology, the B1 delivers a surprisingly wide spread of sound for its size”
The Philips Fidelio B1 looks like an antidote to bulky soundbars, but does sound quality match its price tag?
A neat remote control lets you adjust the treble and bass, and switch between the sound modes