It seems every headphone maker in the land has at least one (and likely several more) noise-cancelling headphone models. Along with wireless connectivity, active noise cancelling is a key feature being proffered to listeners in a wealth of designs — with a hefty price raise riding along. But Philips’ new Fidelio NC1 (available abroad for $330, and in the U.S. for as low as $300) aims to do something few brands attempt: Pack solid performance and active noise cancelling into a pair of on-ear cans.
Considering that most over-ear headphones have the distinct advantage of, well, going over your ears to aid in keeping out outside distractions, creating the same effect for an on-ear is a serious challenge. In addition to those challenges, the Fidelio load all their tech into a lean and stylish frame, with minimalist controls that are barely noticeable, and a small hard case for easy portability.
The headphones are trim and slim when it comes to their overall profile. What’s more, they’re one of the lightest pair of on-ears we’ve tried on, seeming to almost disappear after a few minutes of listening — that’s thanks in part to the construction of the earpieces — which are accented with aluminum, not just plastic as we mentioned in the video. There’s plenty of cushion for the pushing on the ear pads, matched by a slim headband cloaked in a comfy strip of rubberized material, with padding on top.
As for sound performance, there’s a lot to enjoy here, especially for less discerning listeners. The headphones appear to target all engine power towards the top of the midrange, which outlines vocals and instruments like piano and guitar with clarity and detail.
Listening more deeply (the headphones run $300 after all) we wished for a bit more detail in the treble, where the sparkle at the attack of upper percussion and effects sounds a bit sanded down. At the other end, bass is firm, and balanced, but there’s also a little less oomph in the upper bass than we’d like, which leaves that clear midrange hanging out to dry at times, sounding a little thin and edgy. Still, the headphones mostly do a good job of evening out, drawing a balanced sound across genres.
As for noise cancelling, these cans are more about creating an intimate listening experience than blocking out the world around you. They’ll do a fair job taking out lower hums like air conditioner units, and refrigerators, but we wished for a bit more during our daily commute in which noises like engine sounds were quelled, but never gave way to that feeling of silent autonomy afforded by over-ear models in the NC1’s price class. That’s to be expected from an on-ear to some extent, but we still wished for more at this price point.
Overall, the Fidelio NC1 present an attractive, comfortable, and extremely portable design, with plenty of perks. But listeners looking for more autonomy and immersion into their music catalog may want to reach for similarly-priced competitors like Bose’s QC25. Still, if you’re looking for a slim design, solid sound, and more intimacy than your average on-ear cans, the Fidelio NC1 may be worth checking out.
Updated 5/20/2015: This post has been updated to include the fact that the earpieces offer aluminum accents. While the headphones are listed on Philips’ site at $330 MSRP for overseas versions, Philips reps also pointed out the headphones can be found for as low as $300 on Amazon for the U.S..