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Philips Fidelio B5 review: A soundbar with surround on demand

Richard Easton
8 Jan 2016
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Philips Fidelio B5
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
643
inc VAT

The Philips Fidelio B5’s virtual Surround On Demand tech is more than just a party trick and this is an incredibly versatile soundbar

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Specifications

Speakers: 6, RMS power output: 120W, Dimensions: 1,035x156x70mm, Weight: 4.18kg, Dock connector: None, Networking: Bluetooth (aptX, AAC)

The very nature of a soundbar being placed under on near your television immediately makes it difficult to create a surround sound experience. That hasn’t stopped many soundbar manufacturers attempting to emulate the 5.1 or 7.1 experience, however. The sheer physical location of the speakers means that trying to recreate a rear speaker requires all manner of technical trickery by reflecting sound around the room, often with poor results compared to a true multi-speaker setup.

With the Fidelio B5, Philips has attempted to get around this with genuine rear speakers in what it calls ‘Surround On Demand’, something it has done in the past with its Fidelio HTL9100 soundbar. In a piece of clever design, two detachable rear speakers are attached to the main soundbar unit, allowing the B5 to be used as a conventional 2.1 soundbar with regular television and music.

When the source material requires it, such as when playing games or watching a film, the detachable speakers can be used as rear speakers to create a true 4.1 setup with genuine rear channels. There’s a mounting point on each so they can be hung on a wall or they can be placed on a surface if you have one behind your seating position.

The separate speakers communicate wirelessly with the main soundbar unit and 4.1 mode is triggered automatically as soon as you detach the speakers, which are affixed by magnets. Swapping between the two modes is seamless with only a short audio delay as it switches over.

Beyond triggering conventional 2.1 audio, docking the rear speakers also charges the built-in batteries. Philips says the batteries should last for five hours per speaker, so you’ll easily get through a movie or two, but perhaps not quite an epic movie marathon.

A new update over the HTL9100 is the ability to use each rear speaker independently as a conventional standalone Bluetooth speaker. As the main soundbar also supports Bluetooth, that means the Fidelio B5 can essentially become three separate Bluetooth speakers with the rear speakers able to be taken anywhere around the house with a different device paired to each. The main soundbar will still work for television viewing even if the rear speakers are being used as Bluetooth speakers, too.

The Fidelio B5's design has not changed drastically over its predecessor. It has the same ‘teardrop’ profile that sees it have a reasonably large footprint. It’s also reasonably tall at 70mm, meaning it could potentially obstruct the lower edge of your television if sat below.

You do have the option of wall-mounting and mounts are included. Sensors inside will detect the B5’s orientation and adjust the sound accordingly. It’s worth noting that when the rear speakers are detached, this exposes the hollowed-out docking point on the soundbar, which doesn’t look particularly attractive.


A status LCD screen is integrated behind the speaker grille, lighting up to show you what mode the soundbar is set to. With the B5 lying flat, the display is angled upwards, though, which can make it a little difficult to read. A remote control is included that allows you to tweak the treble and bass and activate different sound modes.

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