Beethoven, grumpy perfectionist as he was, only got around to writing that one opera about a woman who disguises herself as a male guard named Fidelio to save her husband, a political prisoner, from death – so that people in operas tend to do.
But AV enthusiasts may know Fidelio better as Philips’ range of premium headphones and speakers, including its latest home theater offering, the Fidelio FB1 Dolby Atmos Soundbar, which, like Beethoven’s titular character, is deceptively crafty with an awful lot lurking beneath its apparently simple exterior that you would not expect at first glance.
With a launch price of £799 / $800 / AU$1316, the Fidelio FB1 undercuts its closest rival, the Sonos Arc, which normally costs £899 / $899 / AU$1499. Like the Arc, it can be expanded by adding a sub and surrounds. In the case of Fidelio, these options include up to two Fidelio FW1 wireless subwoofers for £549 each (about $633 / AU$989) and the bookshelf-sized Fidelio FS1 wireless speakers with upward-firing drivers, each priced at £329 ( about $380 / AU$593).
Philips says the whole system offers 7.2.4 audio channels, and both sub and surround also come with LED backlighting to let the glow of a Philips Ambilight TV shine through your living room. For our review, we test the FB1 soundbar without any add-ons, and we’re pleasantly surprised that it delivers excellent bass and surround effects on its own.
Described by Philips as a 7.1.2 soundbar, the Fidelio FB1 has a whopping 15 drivers hidden beneath its dark gray wraparound metal grille, tastefully trimmed in perfectly matched Muirhead leather. It may not be vegan, but with the FB1, Philips has found a way to strike a balance between understatement and streamlined design elements, making this soundbar appear more compact than it actually is.
On the front are three LCR channels, each with a solo 25mm soft-dome Teteron tweeter flanked by a pair of 50mm midrange drivers in what’s known as a D’Appolito arrangement. This configuration can provide a more seamless blend between highs and mids, reducing directivity for more consistent playback across the entire width of the bar.
There are 63mm side firing drivers at either end of the FB1, while the top surface contains two 63mm high drivers surrounded by glowing LED lights (which you can switch off) and angled at 20 degrees to direct sound from the ceiling. bounce off. If you have a Phillips Ambilight TV, the lights can sync, but otherwise the soundbar’s lights will illuminate when Atmos content is playing.
The top surface also includes two dedicated 88mm woofers mounted in their own port enclosures, delivering a claimed low-frequency extension down to 40Hz, and a capacitive playback control panel mounted on more Muirhead.
That’s an awful lot of speakers (and lights and leather) for any soundbar, especially one that’s four feet tall. If you’ve been counting then you’ve realized the Fidelio FB1’s drivers are in fact in a 5.1.2 configuration, but Philips says the soundbar can handle up to seven front-facing channels, two of which are then mapped on the five horizontal driver groups to create its 7.1.2 soundstage.
This specification probably has something to do with the IMAX certification of the Fidelio FB1. Sound for IMAX titles is delivered through a particular version of DTS:X designed to produce a dynamic and bassy performance that is more cinematic than you would normally experience at home. For this, DTS suggests a 7.1.2 system as the ideal setup, but since that is out of reach for most consumers, the DTS:X decoder can reassign the channels to the available speakers.
As you’d probably expect from an IMAX-certified soundbar, the FB1 is pretty well specified in terms of immersive format support, with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X on board – and formats from both companies come with customizable options. There is a DTS: Neural X upmixing mode which defaults to ON to provide users with virtual multi-channel audio to make use of all available channels.
Meanwhile, a dedicated Dolby Atmos button on the painfully minimal remote (who needs volume arrows?) gives users four levels of Atmos to enjoy, from 0-3, described in the manual as minimal, minor, medium, and high altitude effects .
Philips says that changing this setting adjusts the volume of the upward drivers relative to the other speakers according to the height of the ceiling. The changes are subtle, but height junkies will love the individual channel volume controls in the PS Fine Tune app, where they can raise those vertical drivers even more.
In addition to level control, PS Fine Tune offers movie, music, voice and stadium sound styles, all with a two-band EQ. Or there’s a Custom Mode that gives you access to a seven-band EQ. If you haven’t already picked it up, this is a product that will definitely benefit from reading through the manual. There are an almost inordinate number of ways to adjust the sound of the FB1. We recommend experimenting a bit and maybe creating a spreadsheet to track your preferences.
Philips Fidelio FB 1 technical specifications
Links eARC, 1 x HDMI, optical, USB
HDMI pass-through 4K/60fps 4:4:4, HDR10+, Dolby Vision, HLG
Sound format support Dolby Atmos / Dolby TrueHD / DTS:X / DTS-HD / PCM
bluetooth? Yes,Bluetooth 5
Stream AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, DTS Play-Fi
Voice control Google Assistant and Alexa
Dimensions (hwd) 7.3 x 120 x 12.5 cm
Weight 7.2 kg
PS Fine Tune is separate from the Philips Sound app, which you also need for installation. The latter leverages the DTS Play-Fi platform to bring multi-channel and multi-room connectivity to Philips wireless products, as well as integration of music streaming and hi-res network playback. If you have a TV with DTS Play-Fi, you can add the built-in speakers to your FB1 sound system without a cable.
The two apps will be combined sometime in 2023, but until then you’ll still need PS Fine Tune to easily access the plethora of sound settings the FB1 offers without using the remote and peering at the scrolling text display. PS Fine Tune is also where you access the FB1’s simple room calibration setup, which involves plugging a small, AVR-style microphone (included in the box) into a socket on the back of the soundbar.
Also in the FB1’s generous connection bay you’ll find HDMI eARC and optical input, as well as a USB port for hard drive playback and one HDMI pass-through with support for 4K/60 HDR video, but not VRR or ALLM for the next -gen game consoles. As well as the Philips Sound app, there are plenty of ways to stream to the FB1 too, with AirPlay 2, Chromecast and Spotify Connect all on board, as well as Bluetooth 5.
Starting with Dune in Dolby Atmos, the opening cry of the Bene Gesserit jumps out of the FB1 with surprisingly powerful front and side projection that fills our listening room. The low extension immediately proves to be more substantial than most single soundbars, giving a hint of the sub-bass growl used extensively in this film’s soundtrack.
The bass sound is quite rounded, but with a decent leading edge and plenty of punch, although the woofers occasionally get a little too much and start vibrating audibly, as with the low pulsating drum that underscores Chani’s narration or Paul’s first attempt at using . the voice’.
The FB1’s approach to surround effects is particularly striking; from rainfall to birdsong to the gentle tinkling of wind chimes, these delicate sounds seem to be scattered around the listening position in a strikingly all-encompassing way.
However, with meatier sounds, there can be a slight disconnect between the surround effects and the direct sound from the drivers; for instance, the initial transition from the thunderous medieval-sounding drums bursting out of the soundtrack sounds overly diffused and almost removed from the rest of the envelope, making this busy percussion sound a bit ragged.
This also results in an imbalance of high-frequency information that makes sounds appear more spacious, resulting in an overly bright presentation. We try to temper this by lowering our Dolby Atmos level, swapping sound profiles and adjusting the EQ, but find this brashness shows up as a tonal character of the soundbar across a range of content and formats.
Vocals are well projected from the FB1 with sparkling clarity even in the trickiest scenes, whether it’s Mark Zuckerberg’s relentless vocal attack in the opening of The social network or virtually any syllable of The batter. We never have trouble hearing what is being said; hissing voices, however, like Liet-Kynes in Dunecan become somewhat stubborn.
Switching to James Bond, the bombastic score of No time to die has depth and scale that shows with all its dramatic dynamics, but the brass in particular sounds harsh and we lose some of the rhythmic speed of the music.
As Bond arrives in Matera, there are plenty of atmospheric effects for the FB1 to play with, as crickets, fireworks and voices whirl through the soundstage in a way that, while somewhat synthetic, is very engaging.
Compared to the well-measured Sonos Arc, the FB1 is more flamboyant in its approach. Still, the more neutral and collected sound of the former makes it a better all-round performer for our mindsets, and certainly less fatiguing for our ears.
With stereo tracks, the timing of the FB1 is generally more coherent than with multi-track audio and is generally pleasant to listen to. Stream Odettas Hit or missthe bass on the FB1 is warmer and fuller than on the Arc, with more richness in Odetta’s alto voice, but the Arc’s tight, controlled bass in particular produces a cleaner overall sound.
The Philips FB1 Fidelio is arguably one of the smartest Dolby Atmos soundbars we’ve come across, with great specs and plenty of customization options for those who like to tweak, all at a very reasonable price. It projects dialogue very sharply and delivers impressive bass and surround effects for a single soundbar.
Sonically, however, it tends towards a slightly aggressive, brash sound regardless of format, which seems to be compounded by the spatial processing used with multi-channel audio. This can make busy audio sound a bit erratic and, despite the soundbar’s outrageous EQ options, tricky to remedy.
Read our review of the Sonos Arc
Also consider the Sony HT-A5000
Read our B&W Panorama 3 review
Best soundbars: Excellent TV speakers at budget to premium prices