Earlier this year we had an opportunity to review Phiaton’s PS 210 headphones. Their unique “half in-ear” design proved to be an admirable design point that improved how securely they fit as well as their sound quality. Now, we take a moment to review the new PS 20 NC headphones, a set of noise-cancelling earphones that combine the same “half in-ear” design with active noise cancelling that proposes to reduce ambient noise by 95%.
Out of the Box
The PS 20 NC headphones come packaged with 4 different sizes of silicon eartips, an airline adapter, a small carrying pouch and a single AAA battery to power the active noise cancelling technology. The set that Phiaton sent us is primarily black with gold accents but the PS 20 NC are also available in “iPod white”.
Features and Design
If you hadn’t seen Phiaton’s “half in-ear” design before it would be easy to take a look at them and wonder at how they’d ever fit comfortably. Perhaps this is because most of us think of the ear canal as moving inward rather than forward; so the unfamiliar, angular appearance of the ear-phones would seem to be at odds with our anatomy. Once placed in your ear, however, one can see the advantages of contouring the angle of an earphone to match our ear’s natural shape. The drivers of the earphone are directed down the canal rather than directly at a piece of cartilage and the larger, circular portion of the earphone helps to seal the ear and provide better bass response. Unlike the PS 210, our PS 20 NC did seem to create a solid seal and immediately provide some noise reduction. This may be due to the addition of a soft, silicone band around the circular portion of the earphone.
Roughly half way down the 3 ft. cord we find the noise cancelling section, which is barely larger than the AAA sized battery that it holds. Phiaton calls their noise cancelling technology “noise blocker” and claims that it will reduce up to 95% of outside noise. Like most in-ear and smaller on-ear headphones, the noise cancellation circuitry must be placed in-line with the cord rather than in the earphone itself. Unlike many other earphones, though, the PS 20 NC noise cancelling module is very small and lightweight. On the NC module we find a belt clip, an on/off switch, a “mute” button that temporarily mutes music and disengages noise cancellation (presumably to allow conversations with your flight attendant or travelling partner) and a red LED to indicate when the noise cancellation is engaged.
One of the most commonly overlooked features of noise cancelling headphones is their ability to operate without battery power. With many noise cancelling ‘phones, when the battery dies so does the music. Phiaton has addressed this issue with what they call “Everplay” a feature that allows the listener to continue hearing music without battery power.
We had just a few quibbles with the design of the PS 20 NC headphones. The on/off switch for the noise cancelling circuitry is difficult to toggle back and forth and requires a bit more force than we’d like. The cord connections on either side of the noise cancelling module don’t seem as rugged as they could be so we are a little concerned about strain-relief in the long term. Finally, the cord itself conducts plenty of noise as it scrapes across clothing or hits other objects but with noise cancelling in place, this issue was negligible.