The Philips B5/37 Fidelio Soundbar Speaker is something quite unexpected and remarkable in the world of soundbars. It packs a whole lot more funk in its trunk that you might think of when you first lay your eyes on it. This sound bar is a shape-shifter – a soundbar that, thanks to two detachable speakers, can transform itself into a surround sound system, as well as a Bluetooth-powered multiroom system. All this from one package and no extra wires.
You see, Philips’ curvaceous soundbar has a seriously powerful USP: it can switch from traditional soundbar to 4.1 surround sound system in seconds. Whether you’re using it as a straightforward soundbar or as a surround system, the Fidelio B5 delivers a hugely entertaining and viable surround sound performance.
At first glance, it might look like an ordinary soundbar, with a wireless subwoofer and front-firing speakers, but yank the end units off either side of the Philips B5/37 Fidelio and they become individual wireless satellite speakers that you can place around your room to give you a more cinematic effect. The switch from 2.1 system to 4.1 surround takes a single beat, and the Fidelio B5 automatically switches into its cinema mode without you having to do anything. It’s even rocking some impressively simple room calibration tech, which dynamically adjusts the levels in the surround channels to cope with offset placement around your room.
Connectivity is straightforward enough, with aptX Bluetooth for music playback, and coaxial, analogue 3.5mm and digital optical inputs as well as an HDMI 1.4 ARC output. It also features a pair of HDMI inputs, enabling you to connect multiple devices.
It’s this ease of use which is the hallmark of the Philips B5/37 Fidelio. In each of the detachable end-speakers is a single, full-range 3-inch driver, and a lithium-ion battery that’s capable of delivering around 10 hours of charge when running wirelessly. The base soundbar is left with a further pair of 3-inch drivers to make up the two central channels, as well as a pair of 1-inch soft dome tweeters to take care of the high-end audio details. The wireless 6.5-inch subwoofer is a down-firing affair to bring depth to the cinema sound. It’s also got a relatively small footprint, enabling it to be stowed discretely out of sight.
But the B5‘s transforming skills don’t stop at its 2.1 to 4.1 transition. Each of those detachable speakers can become individual Bluetooth speakers in their own right – both have a discrete Bluetooth module inside, enabling them to be used independently of the main bar. When you detach the speakers from the centre section a pair of buttons are revealed which enable you to switch from surround to Bluetooth mode quickly and easily. And they’re rocking the now-standard aptX support, so you can get its full CD-quality audio capabilities across the wireless connection.
With the rear speakers deployed, that sense of immersion is enhanced. The rears don’t attract undue attention, instead, they subtly add atmosphere to the Fidelio B5’s overall performance. Most impressively of all, there are no gaps between the bar and the rears. All components of the Philips B5/37 Fidelio, the main bar, the subwoofer and the rears, integrate seamlessly, creating a detailed and balanced circle of sound. The sound is satisfyingly solid, too. There’s an authoritative weight running throughout the balanced frequency range, lending solidity to the smooth top end, as well as delivering a great deal of wallop and grit to the bass performance. The speakers aren’t that powerful on their own, however. Each is only rated at 8W, so they won’t be shaking the room by themselves, but they’re still able to deliver a decent audio range.
The audio performance of the Philips B5/37 Fidelio is impressive, whether it’s being used as a traditional 2.1 soundbar or in its more flexible 4.1 configuration. The clarity of sound is excellent. That wireless sub does a great job of adding depth to the sound while those soft dome tweeters, mixed with Philips’ Crystal Clear Sound processing, keep the aural experience precise and defined.
One of the biggest reasons for not having a surround sound system in place at home is the fact that those satellite speakers always end cluttering up the room and getting in the way. Wired solutions need a whole lot of planning to avoid a chaotic, tangled mess stretching around the lounge, and even wireless options can be a pain with their need for regular charging.
Having a setup that can house and charge its wireless satellites in a convenient place, and still allow you to switch almost instantly to a surround sound setup, is more than welcome. The other reason to opt for soundbars over complicated surround sound arrays is all about simplicity, and the Fidelio B5‘s unplug and play system is seriously slick. All you have to do is pull the satellite speakers from their docks; the B5 automatically switches to surround mode, and you can move the speakers around the room as you see fit.
The rear speakers are battery-powered, with each lasting up to a claimed 10 hours when in surround mode (five if using Bluetooth). The LED changes colour from white to red to indicate when the battery is low. To recharge, just reattach them to the main soundbar unit. Philips also includes an auto-calibration set-up to ensure you get the best possible surround sound from the B5. The calibration only works when the rear speakers are deployed, another clever touch from Philips. Press the calibration button on the remote and it will optimise the 4.1 system to suit your room in seconds.
The surround sound performance itself isn’t earth-shatteringly good, but it is effective, although you’re never going to get the precision of a proper Dolby Atmos kit or a 7.1 array. Of course, if you’re that desperate for the ultimate in spatial audio then you’ll be prepared to drill out your walls to install the satellites, and carve out holes in the ceiling, to create that 3D aural experience.
The rest of us just want something quick, easy and with a decent approximation of cinema sound, which is what Philips has created with this soundbar. If you’re listening to music you can switch from ‘Movie’ to ‘Music’ mode with a touch on the elegant remote control. This then alters the signal to deliver the full audio around the room, rather than just the surround channels. Both rear speakers can be switched into Bluetooth mode, and since they’re completely wireless and easily portable, you can take them into different rooms, and you got yourself a multiroom system, with no extra set-up, wires or fiddling with apps. Snap the rears back into place, and the song sounds more solid and cohesive with the full soundbar intact. That remote also enables you to adjust bass and treble, as well as nudge the audio synchronisation if the image and sound are falling out of step.
The Philips B5/37 Fidelio is an excellent soundbar that stands apart from its price rivals. The ingenious design, its expansive and detailed sound quality, and ease of use make it an absolute delight.
The Fidelio B5 is a fabulous soundbar that brings you the best of both worlds. It’s a clutter-free TV speaker that can also deliver real surround sound when required, a unique feature in the soundbar world. The detachable surround speakers are a brilliant idea well executed, allowing you to tidy away the clutter when movie night is over. The B5’s robust build quality, stylish design, plentiful connections, easy setup and polished, powerful sound quality also help make it one of the best soundbars on the market. With its detachable rear speakers, stylish design and stunning performance, the Fidelio B5 is a fantastic solution for those who want a clutter-busting TV speaker without compromising on surround sound.