Disclaimer: This is not my ordinary review of the headphone but also some sharing of how my life going on recently after few years of retirement in audio review, so if you are not interested in this just jump to the audio quality section.
Disclaimer again: This is a long review, you might need to spend some time to digest it partly because of my bad English but I believe it is able to provide some insight if you are interested with the headphone.
I bought Philips X2HR 1 year ago, the time when I sold all my higher end audio gears and thinking to retire and focus more on my life because you know, my son was coming out that time and I rarely have personal time to enjoy music anyway, needless to mention about reviewing stuff, gratefully he is growing up healthy and happily. Even for now I am still don’t have enough of time to go back to my peak review time, just changed my job which require me to occasionally traveling and outstation, reviewing an audio equipment more time than you can imagine, even before decide which gear to be reviewed you have to do a lot of research and sometimes you don’t even get the review sample after hours of research, however, I am really enjoying review headphones and gears, that’s why even after 6 years I am still doing it despite my poor command of English and busy in life, every day I wake up 3.50 a.m and I will go for a run, walk my dog and prepare to work, after coming back from work at 5PM, it is the time that I played with my son and pat him to sleep about 8.30pm, that is the time that I went to sleep too, for listening and review session I definitely have to squeeze time out of it, I apology at here too for those loan review sample to me that sometimes I took too long for reviewing a gear.
Nuff said for my sharing of life stories, let’s get back to the headphone. During my retirement, I search for a headphone that can fulfill the below criteria:
- Must be affordable
- Must be easy to drive and less picky on amplification
- Open back and sounded good with a wide variety of music
- Means, it should be a cheap end game headphone for me
I owned Philips X1 before, I quite like the sound and the looks of it, it looked quite futuristic and classy but I wish to have more midrange and I don’t like that I can’t swap the ear pad of it. After reading reviews from some reviewers that I think have same music taste as me, such as Tyll Hertsens from innerfidelity, I am kind of poisoned by the headphone (I just know recently he has retired too from reviewing headphone and went for a better and more challenging lifestyle, which is laudable for him but such a big loss for audiophile community), I immediately search for it and after eyeing it sometimes, the price suddenly drops, I will say a super-duper dirt-cheap price at that time after I bought the offer disappeared and I must be lucky, so I pull the trigger and Philips X2HR reached my doorstep after few weeks.
Philips X2HR (retailed at 299USD, 130USD on Black Friday)
So you probably have already known that Philips sold their headphone department (Sort of, Gibson responsible for sales, marketing and distribution of Philips-branded audio and video products) to Gibson, and Gibson are well known for their bad QC, etc, luckily we have heard now TPV has replaced Gibson after Gibson’s bankruptcy in 2018. Good news, the Philips X3 is already under the development and you can see some pictures here, I am not really a Philips fan but I love their headphones, maybe not at the retail price but definitely when they have a promotion(or when you are lucky), Philips is not an ordinary audio company and they even have a Golden Ears Challenge program back years ago, they definitely know what sounds good and how to make a headphones that both sounded and looks good. Some people are nailed by the X2 and really difficult to find a headphone that sounded like it, including me myself, as a reviewer I appreciate all kinds of sound but when I can say Philips X2HR gets really close to what I really like in term of sound reproduction.
Build quality of it is good but not something that I can say solid as a rock either, like I said I love the design and it is quite a big headphone, it is a full size open back headphone anyway so it is not a good choice for portable use. Although it is quite big it sits quite comfortably on my head. The replaceable velour earpads are not soft and plush, but I can wear them for hours and not feeling tired. The design of the headphone is beautiful and Philips’s headphone design always nailed it in terms of design. Another thing that I liked is the replaceable cable (which also inherit from Philips X1), it is a single entry 3.5mm cable and I have changed my cable to a better third party cable as I think the original cable was simply too long and terminated in 3.5mm jack, I don’t like to use an audio jack adapter so I replaced the cable, do bear in mind though, you can’t use balanced cable unless you mod the headphone.
Philips X2HR is not a difficult headphone to drive, designers might design the headphone with portability in mind, the drivers are efficient enough and drive it purely from a smartphone is doable, however from the audio quality perspective, I never do it. X2HR appreciates amping but doesn’t need any power monster headphone amplifier, any headphone amplifier can drive it properly and honestly a better headphone amplifier certainly makes it sounded better but it doesn’t scale that nicely such as the Sennheiser HD600/650. In the hand, I do find that even the 100 ohms Etymotic Research ER4s and Hifiman Sundara are much harder to drive and can scale more accordingly. This is not a bad thing guys, for a guys that wish to end the audio game I see this as a benefit because I no need to fiddle with the DAC and amplifier and scratch my head for nice pairing, X2HR in another hand, sounded pretty good with headphone amplifier that has low output impedance, that said, I love it when paired with JDS Labs Element (the first version), for me the price to performance of this pairing is explosively great, sounded well organized, weighty, open and well balanced.
However I have to be honest, the lacking of scaleability made it a poor choice for an audio reviewer like me, especially when reviewing sources and headphone amplifiers, even if you can hear the differences easily but it is not as better to scale as something like the Hifiman Sundara, just saying.
Where should I start? There is a lot of things that I love about the X2HR, but there are sonic weaknesses that I can’t ignore as well. I know a lot will disagree with me, but generally and personally I think Philips X2HR is quite a well balanced and slightly warm sounding headphone, with a well-performed soundstage and imaging capability, reasonably natural but with details and has timely speed.
I see many shake their heads and disagree with me now, but frankly, this is how I think about the X2HR. Seems like a perfect headphone? Of course, it is not, the treble that many found hot and artificial while is fine for me, but the treble quality is just not that good, the treble is dry and rough, this alone preventing it from becoming a perfect audiophile headphone in my opinion, while I never found the amount to be exaggerated like a lot of headifers have experienced, I agreed that the quality of it is just not that good, not clean and airy enough.
I am saying that X2HR is a well-balanced headphone but how about the bassy sound and distant midrange that a lot of people are talking? Okay, to me the bass is the best thing and this is what makes X2HR that special and stood out of the crowd, but it is not a bassy headphone at all, like, not at all. For me the amount is perfect and it decayed fast enough and leave no sense of boominess and not overpowering by any means, it is not a headphone, at least in my opinion, that a real bass head will appreciate and it still has the early roll off of sub-bass that most of the open back headphone has. The bass to my ears has good impact, reasonable rumble, detailed and able to portray some sense of air/atmosphere, well behaved and I hope that it can be tighter and extend lower but it is quite excellent in its own already, I can’t understand why people saying the bass is too much and any closed-back headphone that is not balanced will have way more bass and rumble than the X2HR, open-back headphones are naturally rolled off earlier than closed-back so it is healthy to have more present to compensate, in my honest opinion, the most important factor that it is not a bass head headphone for me is the decay is fast enough and leave no extra resonance for it to vibrate excessively, I have to say this again, the bass is in perfect amount in my opinion, if you are a bass head, you will require way more bass.
The midrange is flat and neutral, it is not distant, but in another way, it is not as close to your ears like how normally a mid centric headphone will sound. I have owned Philips X1 before and the mids of it is distant to my ears, but not the X2HR, however, if you are a person that enjoyed a lot of vocal-centric music then I can assure you there are better headphones out there, however it is not that bad and sounded quite natural in this regards, me myself appreciated a mid centric headphones but the X2HR projected enough midrange for me, the vocals and instruments in mid-range frequency has good weight and detailed enough, albeit a little grainy. So now we are talking about the sonic weaknesses so I have to say that Philips X2HR is not a transparent headphone as well, and it always has some roughness and grain to the tonal and not clean enough.
These are all the sonic weaknesses that I can find in the X2HR, but to be honest, the musical presentation of the X2HR make me overlooked The tonal of the X2HR are exceptionally balanced and spot-on, it has the right amount for each of the frequency and sounded well blend together and so euphorically good. I never found anything is too much nor insufficient in terms of the tonal albeit a little dry and grainy, but the tonal balance just great, and the best that I have ever listened to.
Soundstaging is very competitive as well, it is wide and has good depth, the best, it sounded supremely open but everything still well organized and has their own weight, which never let me feel scattered despite the large soundstage. The sound stage is not extremely huge like the Sennheiser HD800 but it is significantly wider and deeper than the ever famous Sennheiser HD600/650, I found that the imaging is pretty good and better than those too. What I appreciate the most here is not solely regarding the size of the sound stage, but also how organized they are in the soundscape, it is just great, no pun intended.
Every instrument and vocal sounded right with the X2HR, I mean tonally right and natural with the X2HR. I love listening to Piano Sonatas and Concertos with the X2HR, the notes are weighty and can be bright across the range, which resemblance how a piano should sound tonally, people said piano is the hardest instrument to sound right and I think X2HR has done a remarkable job here,
Honestly speaking, when listening/enjoying the X2HR I can easily forego the sonic weaknesses of it and it is only when I am doing this review only I point out these weaknesses, for me, I can easily focus on the goodness of the headphone and ignored the weaknesses, not because of I want to escape from truth. I really enjoyed the headphone and the music, and it is simple enough for me to sound good (with relatively less picky on amplifier and sources), comfortable enough and cheaply priced, I have never regret to make it my retired headphone, while obviously, I am acquiring another set of headphone for review purpose (still searching).
-Sennheiser HD600/HD650: A lot of people seems to compare X2HR with the legendary HD600 and HD650, they might be influenced by Tyll and he compared X2HR to them and preferred the X2HR, while I have seen some have disagreed but my impression is all the same as Tyll, I actually compared them side by side before I read Tyll’s comparison on Innerfidelity, me too, found that the bass level, soundstage, and imaging are simply superior on the X2HR. X2HR is way easier to drive and less peaky, well built and sounded overall better. Read Tyll’s impression here. The midrange has different feel across 3 of these but I believe performed the best with best nuance.
-Philips SHP9500 – In my opinion X2HR is better in every way, except maybe the treble transparency, but X2HR is way more musical and satisfying to listen to, X2HR is a more balanced headphone too, in my opinion.
-Hifiman Sundara: The Sundara is a technically superior headphone, much more detailed and precise in imaging, it is a more capable headphone despite a little cold sounding, but to my ears, Sundara is brighter too, and not tonally as enjoyable as X2HR
-Beyerdynamic T90: T90 again is one of my favorite headphones, while I no longer have it but based on my memory T90 is a better headphone but it cost more and doesn’t have replaceable cable, T90 sounded airier/cleaner but at the same time it is also a bit less musical than the X2HR.
How about moving up from X2HR?
I have tried some higher-end headphones, normally will be staying one to two weeks in my place, something like Sennheiser HD800 and Hifiman HE1000SE, so what if you are stepping up the game and buy the much higher-end and pricier headphone, what will it bring to you? You will have a much more revealing, transparent, sharper transient, neutral timbre, fast, clean and better soundscape than the Philips X2HR, I will say it might worth the price depends on what you are looking for despite being 5 times more expensive than X2HR, stepping up the game will get you of course higher quality of sound, but it still depends on your sound preference, some will even prefer the X2HR compared to the higher end cans, such as musicality and low octave impact and rumble, weighty sound, those are still X2HR’s forte.
A lot of gamers love to play a game on X2HR, while I never really do so but I do watch movies on it. I have watched high-quality movies with it (Google Play Movies & Tvs and Netflix), it is really good and sounded dynamic and directional. Once again proved that X2HR is quite all rounded.
For the current selling price of Philips X2HR, it is a no brainer. People have seen it priced at 130USD around Black Friday of 2019, the price is insanely low and I believe they just want to clear the stock for X3, which we all have no chance to listen to for now, but if it is following X1 and X2’s tradition I believe it will be a very competent and superb sounding headphones, however, it should be costing a few times more expensive than the X2HR currently selling price. To be fair Philips X2HR is retailed for 299USD but I will still be buying it even if I buy with full retail price, I like it very much. I have listened to a lot of headphones and some of them are way more expensive than my X2HR, but I have hard to find a more well rounded and reasonably priced headphone than X2HR, the audio quality is simply good enough and balanced to my ears, it is a little warmer than neutral but this makes it a much more euphoric headphone, I am going to ignore the sonic weaknesses of it like what I have mentioned in this review, but for the price even at full retail price of the only 299USD, they are easily forgivable, there are no perfect headphones I supposed, it is just the one that suits me better. In other words, X2HR simply makes me enjoy the music, by not analyze the music, but it is able to do so if I want to.
So am I a bass head that prefers more bass in my music? I am not, in my past experience I always craved for a headphone that is balanced sounding, while I appreciate bassy headphone for the bass head, I never really enjoy them even when I am reviewing them. Am I a treble head? This is hard to say but generally, I found that I can tolerate a brighter headphone than most of the people but I enjoyed the quality of the treble, not the quantity of it. So what do I wanting the most in a good headphone? I supposed it is the tonal balance, soundstage/positioning and the headphone must sound right, these are also the areas that X2HR just spot on.
You probably have known it, I simply love this headphone. I love it and I anticipated for the X3, there is a lot of technically more capable headphones in the market but X2HR will always have a place in my heart, for 299 USD, you can try to have a safer choice such as the ever-famous Massdrop HD6xx and HD59x, the Hifiman Sundara (slightly higher price), however for 130 USD the X2HR, in my opinion, has no competition, unless you really hate the sound signature, me myself, however, will not trade my X2HR for any of the above-mentioned headphones, Sayonara and Arigatou Gozaimaz!