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Philips Fidelio B5 review: A soundbar with more flexibility

Christopher Minasians
11 Oct 2016
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
600
inc VAT

A clever soundbar ideal for awkward spaces, but sound quality could be better for this sort of money

Pros 
Neat and tidy
Wireless, battery powered rear speakers
Good movie sound quality
Cons 
Music sound quality not great
Quite pricey
Satellite speakers don't sound great as Bluetooth speakers
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Soundbars are popular for good reason. They add full-bodied sound to your LCD TV, and in many cases a decent approximation of surround sound, without the hassle of having to hook up an AV receiver or a hi-fi and stereo speakers. They’re neat, tidy and convenient – all words that accurately describe the Philips Fidelio B5.

On the outside, in fact, the Fidelio B5 looks just like any number of other soundbars. It’s compact, measures a metre wide and 16cm deep, with a curved front grille that looks great. It comes with a wireless subwoofer that’s tall, yet compact – about the size of an occasional table – and which can be hidden away wherever you fancy. It connects to your TV in all the usual ways (more on that later) with a separate infrared remote for control.

None of this is out of the ordinary, but the Philips Fidelio B5 does have one unusual party trick. Tug on the ends of the bar and a pair of surround-sound speakers detach, ready to be positioned to the side or behind you for full, enveloping audio.

There are a couple of reasons why this is great. First, you don’t always want to listen to full-on surround sound – when I’ve settled in for a spot of Bake Off, I’m not sure I want to hear Paul Hollywood’s voice coming from behind me; and I’m not sure how much the News at Ten benefits from it either. Second, since the speakers are battery-powered, you don’t need to find a plug socket to hook them up to, so there’s no need to have wires snaking all over your living room.

And it really doesn’t matter where you put the speakers. Once you’ve found a practical spot, just run the Fidelio B5/12’s “spatial calibration”, first for your room (the “listening zone”) and then for the speaker positions, and it will tune the sound and balance out all the various channels for the best possible surround-sound performance.

Plus, as an added bonus, each of the soundbar’s battery-powered remote speakers can be used individually as compact Bluetooth speakers, so you can take them around the house to keep you entertained when you’re not watching a movie or the TV.

Philips Fidelio B5 review: Features and connectivity

The Philips Fidelio B5/12 is among the neatest and cleverest soundbar systems I’ve come across for this sort of money. For small rooms and flats, the design is ideal. There’s also very little that it can’t do from a technical standpoint. You don’t get Atmos for this sort of cash, but it will happily copewith DTS Digital Surround and Dolby Digital 5.1 signals. There’s also Bluetooth with NFC touch-pairing and aptX codec support, while Dolby Pro Logic II will make a good stab at turning your stereo signals into surround sound.

Physical connectors run the full gamut, too. Tucked away in a spacious bay beneath the soundbar are a pair of HDMI inputs, and an ARC-enabled output, so you’ll be able to enjoy the audio output from your TV’s tuners and apps through the soundbar. There’s also a single optical S/PDIF connector and a coaxial S/PDIF jack, analogue 3.5mm and stereo phono inputs, plus a USB port for upgrading the soundbar’s firmware.

Perhaps the only mainstream feature the Philips Fidelio B5/12 lacks is Wi-Fi streaming, so if you want to listen to Spotify, TuneIn Tidal et al, you’ll have to do that directly via your TV, smartphone or streamer.

Philips Fidelio B5 review: Speaker configuration and sound quality

Given the advanced nature of the setup and flexibility of its battery-powered surround speakers, it came as a surprise to find that, physically, the Fidelio B5/12 doesn’t have the full complement of speakers to cope with the full six channels of a 5.1 sound system.

Instead, it’s a 4.1 system, delivering its sound via five channels. The soundbar is a stereo device comprising a pair of 3in woofers and a pair 1in tweeters, the two satellite speakers deliver rear audio – each via a single 3in full-range driver – and the wireless subwoofer produces bass in the 20Hz to 150Hz range via a 6.5in, downward-firing 6.5in driver.

The lack of a centre channel doesn’t seem to affect audio quality negatively, however, and there’s plenty of power on offer, with the soundbar and surround speakers pumping out a total of 210W and the wireless subwoofer 90W. That’s enough to fill all but the largest of living rooms with sound.

And sound quality is decent. Not stellar, but decent. First, the positives: the Philips Fidelio B5/12 produces a convincing surround-sound bubble, and once I’d ramped up the volume of the rear speakers in my room, there was a nice sense of being enveloped in sound. The overall balance and integration of all the various speakers is excellent, voices are clear, explosions suitably rumbling and, in general, the quality of sound output is well balanced. There’s a good range of adjustment on the subwoofer, so you can tune it to your preferences as well.

If there is a caveat it’s that the B5/12 lacks richness, both at the bottom end and in the mid-range – a weakness that’s cruelly exposed when you go to play music on the system. The bass, in particular, lacks extension and sounds flat to my ears; although acoustic guitar sounds fine, the bass thump on electronic dance music just doesn’t sound right.

As far as using the surround speakers as Bluetooth units goes, that’s a similar story. While the mid-range sounds open and clear and there’s plenty of detail in the treble, there’s no bass whatsoever. Trentemoeller’s "Moan", normally underpinned by a regular pulse of taut, electronic bass, is stripped of its heart and soul, and Kraftwerk’s "The Robots" sounds thin and insubstantial. At a pinch, you could use these to listen to talk radio and light-touch acoustic stuff; just don’t expect spectacular Hi-Fi results.

Philips Fidelio B5 review: Verdict

Despite this, there’s still plenty to like about the Philips Fidelio B5/12. It's one of the neatest and tidiest full surround systems you can buy, and if you tot up the value of all the various component parts, it looks good value for money, too. For £600, you’re getting a soundbar with a wireless subwoofer and surround speakers, room configuration and a pair of portable Bluetooth speakers as well; and for movies and TV, it sounds pretty good as well.

But its weakness as a music playback device undermines its appeal somewhat and means you’re probably better off looking elsewhere. My recommendation would be the Samsung HW-K650. This soundbar produces top-quality sound, and although it doesn’t come with rear speakers, you can add a pair of Samsung R1 Wireless 360 speakers at a later date, bringing the price up to a similar level as the Philips Fidelio B5.

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