Once again Mark Craven enjoys the wireless multichannel flexibility of Philips’ flagship soundbar
Philips Fidelio B5 Review | Two years ago Philips turned some heads with the launch of the Fidelio HTL9100 soundbar, which featured removable, battery-powered and wireless side speakers that meant it could also function in a 5.1 mode. And it’s now returned to the concept, promising feature tweaks that improve usability.
There’s an awful lot about the new Philips Fidelio B5 Review that is the same as the HTL9100, however. The price tag remains at £600, which is upper midrange if not premium in the soundbar world, and the design is identical. The subwoofer is the same vertical-standing 200mm-wide monolith; the main unit showcases the same ‘airfoil’ curved design to reduce internal standing waves, and the same centralised silver strip. I liked the look of the HTL9100, though, so this continuity is no bad thing.
The bar arrives with its two additional side speakers unconnected. Attaching them to the main unit is a simple matter of pushing them into the corresponding slots.The B5’s driver complement has been beefed up (slightly) over the HTL9100. Each side speaker uses a single 3in full-range driver (previously 2.5in), joining a pair of 3in midbass units (ditto) and a pair of 1in tweeters on the main bar. The subwoofer retains the 6.5in woofer on its undercarriage.
Amplification is rated at a maximum 210W in total for the whole shebang. Connectivity includes twin HDMI inputs, an ARC output, and analogue and digital audio ports.You can run the Philips Fidelio B5 Review as a straight soundbar/sub combi – and indeed Philips suggests this is what it expects for TV and music use, switching to 5.1 for movies and games.
However, with Dolby Pro-logic onboard ready to transmogrify any source into multichannel, you could use it with its side speakers at the sides of your room all the time, as long as you remember to reattach them to the main unit so they can recharge their batteries. LEDs on each alert you to when power is under 30 per cent charge (red), and under 10 per cent (fl ashing red).
Completing the wireless ethos of the B5 is the subwoofer, which pairs to the soundbar without need of a cable.
The B5 exhibits broadly the same performance traits as its forebear and is a strong all-round audio performer, albeit with a somewhat dry (rather than smooth) delivery. The rear-ported subwoofer sensibly opts for a light-footed, tight delivery in favour of striving for ultimate depth and scale, as this usually results in booming, unsubtle rumbling in affordable bass boxes. Its sound is well blended with the drivers of the soundbar (it reaches up to 150Hz), and works well adding subtle low-end heft to TV material in addition to backing up the thudding footsteps of the T-Rex in Jurassic Park (Blu-ray) or capturing the driving rhythm section of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck (CD).Unhook the rear speakers and the B5 automatically switches to 5.1 mode, either matrixed or native Dolby Digital/DTS, depending on source (there’s no lossless audio provision here). And, again, the batterypowered side speakers draw a smile. They’re small and light enough to be placed on any available surface, and the 3in driver provides a level of noticeable bass alongside clear high-frequencies. The Gallimimus stampede from Jurassic Park becomes a real aural treat, with the dinosaurs running panicked through my viewing room. Above all, it’s cinematic.
The handset offers three audio presets – Music, Movie and Voice. Music, when the speakers are detached, creates an all-channel stereo effect that will be good for parties. Voice does lift dialogue clarity a touch, and may find use with regular TV fare. Select it with the speakers detached, though, and you’ll find dialogue booming from the surrounds.And what of the new features? The least exciting is the addition of NFC one-touch communication. There must be smartphone owners out there making use of this tactile connection protocol, but I’m not one of them.
Much more useful is the new ability to stream audio via Bluetooth to the individual side speakers, as well as the main bar. This, in effect, gives you a pair of battery-powered Bluetooth speakers for nothing. And, yes, separate devices can sync to the Left and Right speakers at the same time. Neat.
Setup has also been improved via a new Spatial Calibration feature, which works to optimise the multichannel soundfield when the side speakers are in detached mode – Philips appreciates that not everyone will place them in the ideal location. The calibration is achieved via test tones emitted from the speakers. Meanwhile, a new Close To Me mode mutes the main ‘bar but leaves the detached side speakers on. The idea is that you can listen to these from your seat without bothering other people in the room. I can see this working for music, but not when the TV is still flickering away. And the sub’s still active…The multi-functionality of the B5 is a clever idea that I’m surprised other brands haven’t imitated, and when added to the bar’s likeable sonic traits and extra-curricular talents, it makes it an essential consideration. It’s an innovative option when much of the competition is playing it straight and safe. I wouldn’t mind if Philips came back next year with another revamp – perhaps with upfiring drivers for Atmos audio? Go on, surprise us.
DRIVE UNITS: 2 x 3in midbass drivers; 2 x 3in full-range drivers; 2 x 1in tweeters
AMPLIFICATION: 210W (90W subwoofer)
CONNECTIONS: 2 x HDMI inputs (v1.4);
HDMI ARC-compatible output; optical digital audio input; coaxial digital audio input; 3.5mm jack; stereo analogue input; USB (service only)
DIMENSIONS (MAIN UNIT): 1,035(w) x 156(h) x 70(d)mm
DIMENSIONS (SUBWOOFER): 200(w) x 510(h) x 200(d)mm
FEATURES: Detachable left/right rear speakers with chargeable battery and wireless connection; wireless subwoofer; Dolby Digital; Dolby Pro-Logic II; DTS; wall-mountable sound bar; bass/treble adjust; Spatial Calibration; Bluetooth (NFC, apt-X); Close To Me mode; individual Bluetooth connection to side speakers