Gadling Gear Review: Phiaton Noise-Canceling Earphones

Traveling with our smartphones, mp3 players and tablets has made life so much more enjoyable. Those devices bring a host of entertainment options in compact packages, allowing us to listen to music, watch movies and television shows, play games, chat with friends and a whole lot more. But to truly enjoy all of those features you really need a good pair of headphones or earbuds. The problem is, headphones can be large and bulky, taking up excess room in your pack and earbuds generally don’t provide enough noise isolation to allow us to listen comfortably while on a plane or in a busy airport.

Enter the PS 20 NC earphones from Phiaton. These earbuds promise audiophile levels of sound quality in a comfortable and compact package that also happens to include noise-canceling technology that is more commonly associated with larger and more expensive headphones. In theory, this combination of features should make for a great audio experience, as you get the ability to tune-out unwanted noises, such as a jet engine, while still having your music or movies presented with crystal clear sound. The earphones are also lightweight, compact and easy to carry with you no matter where you go, making them a terrific choice for travelers in particular.

For those who have never used noise canceling headphones before, the first time you activate them can be quite eye opening. These types of devices are powered by a battery and when they are switched on, they create low-level white noise that is designed to block out background sounds and allow the listener to hear music or other audio sources more cleanly. I’ve used a variety of noise-canceling headphones over the years and the good ones function remarkably well. In fact, they can often be a revelation when you first experience them. The downside is that if the battery dies you lose the noise-canceling functionality, and in some cases the headphones won’t work at all.That isn’t the case with Phiaton’s earbuds. The PS 20 NC’s continue to function quite well, with or without the noise-canceling system powered on. I found the sound quality to be impressive across the full range, especially compared to other earbuds, and when the noise-canceling system was activated, that level of quality didn’t change in any way. But what did change was that background noises simply melted away, leaving me isolated with the music or movie that I was listening to at the time. Phiaton claims that these earphones are capable of blocking out 95% of background noise, which seems a little optimistic to me. While they do a very nice job of preventing most unwanted noises from creeping in, some outside sounds still manged to break through. That said, the noise-canceling system in these headphones is impressive nonetheless and I think most people will appreciate how well it does its job.

As mentioned above, the audio quality of these earphones is much better than I expected. The mid- and high-ranges came through crystal clear and I heard elements to some of my music that I hadn’t noticed before. It’s tough to get any solid bass out of a pair of earbuds, but even the low-end sounds solid and substantial. That high quality shines through even as you increase the volume to higher levels, where similar earphones begin to get muddled and break-up.

I was also impressed with the comfort level of the PS 20 NC’s. Phiaton ships them with four different sizes of silicon tips, allowing owners to dial in just the right fit. And when they are placed inside the ear they feel like they are naturally meant to be there. This makes it extremely easy to wear them for extended periods of time, which hasn’t always been the case with most earbuds I’ve used in the past. In fact, I tend to prefer over-the-ear headphones to these types of audio devices, but Phiaton has me strongly rethinking that preference.

Phiaton obviously had travelers in mind when it designed the PS 20 NC. Not only does the noise canceling come in handy while on the road, but the earphones also ship with a soft carrying case and an airplane adapter. The latter of those is increasingly not needed in this day and age, but it is still a nice touch nonetheless.

Despite the fact that I obviously love these earphones, there are a few things that I would change about them. First, the battery compartment, which is just large enough to hold the single AAA battery that powers the noise-canceling circuitry, is located along the audio cable. This is a bit awkward at times and even the built-in clip doesn’t help all that much. Also, my other favorite earbuds feature an inline remote and microphone, which especially comes in handy when using them with my iPhone. The PS 20 NC doesn’t include that option and it was missed on occasion.

At $130 these earphones are also a relative bargain. That price tag puts them squarely in the same range as other high-end earbuds, but none of them include the noise-canceling technology and few offer comparable sound quality either. If you’re a frequent traveler looking for an new way to enjoy your favorite audio while on the go, I think you’ll find the Phiaton PS 20 NC headphones a more than worthy investment.

[Photo Credit: Phiaton]

Gadling Gear Review: Phiaton Noise Canceling Earbuds

I had a moment of anxiety when I boarded a recent flight from Amsterdam to Seattle. The middle cabin, where I was seated, was full of very small children. Now, before you hit send on that hate mail, let me tell you that I am always sympathetic with the yowling little ones; they’re expressing exactly how I feel when I park myself in coach for a ten hour flight. But the noise, oh, lord, the noise, does not make the flight any easier. You know this as well as I do.

When I first started testing noise canceling gear, I had hoped these miracle devices would make everything go away, that I would be in a bubble of beautiful silence, serenaded only by the voices of Ira Glass (“This American Life”) or Jad Abumrad (“RadioLab”) from podcasts I’d downloaded to while away the tedium of flight. Not so, not so. I’ve tried several different brands and configurations; they do not make the noise of the plane go away.

They do, however, make for less noise, and that’s a good thing. But headphones are bulky and take up space in your bag. Phiaton makes active noise canceling earbuds that do a good job of eliminating airplane noise – as good as the other over-the-ear headphones I’ve tested. They take up a fraction of the space; I can stuff them in my pocket and they’re feature packed.The buds have Bluetooth so you can use them while your phone is stuffed in your pocket or in your bag on the back seat in your car. Bluetooth doesn’t work when your phone is in airplane mode (that was news to me) but there’s a connector cable so you can wire the headset to your device. The controller – the earbuds are wired to this – clips on to your shirt (or whatever) so it’s easy to find and easy to use once you get the hang of it. The device charges via a mini-USB cable and the battery life is impressive; it easily lasts the life of a ten hour flight with juice to spare. They’re comfortable, too.

With regard to that noise reduction feature, the marketing language ensures, “background noise is virtually eliminated.” I’m not going to go that far. There is a significant reduction in that grinding engine noise; frequent fliers know exactly what I’m talking about. You will notice the difference; I absolutely did, but “virtually eliminated” is a bit of stretch.

Noise canceling headphones or earbuds do make a big difference in the quality of a flight experience. I pack mine whenever I fly and I am very pleased that now, they’re small enough to pack with barely a nod towards consideration of space. The Phiaton noise canceling earbuds are easily as good as my traditional, low- mid-range noise canceling headphones. That’s a terrific improvement. And anything that eases long haul travel – oh, I’m for it.

Phiaton’s earbuds are listed for $159 MSRP, shop around, though. I’ve seen them listed for $129 on the big online shopping sites.

Cellphone Accessories For Our Mobile Overlords

There’s no device I love to hate as much as I hate to love my iPhone. (You read that right.) Your mileage may vary; you may not feel like both a chump and a devotee while caressing your mobile whatever. Until I attain your Zen-like state, I feel annoyed whenever I find myself buying presents for my phone, even if they are practical and make using my phone a better experience. Here’s the drill on three extras I’ve been using lately.

G-Form Extreme Grid iPhone Case
: Drop your phone one time ONLY on the bus and you’ll wish you’d shelled out for a case. It’s like Apple is intentionally propping up the case market by using that slippery exterior. I used an Otter Box on my iPhone 3, but I’ve come to prefer the weird grippy exterior of the G-Form on my iPhone 4. People keep making fun of the almost tire tread like bumpy black box I wrap my phone in, but the fact is, it stays put in my hand and has enough padding and bounce that my phone didn’t shatter into tiny expensive bits when I dropped it on the 54. There was an audible gasp from the people around me, but I just picked up my phone and went back to listening to vintage sci-fi radio theater and posting pictures to Instagram.

The case comes in black or black and yellow. I kind of wish I’d got the yellow just because it would make the phone easier to find when it’s lost in my backpack. Cost: about $40. That might seem expensive, but it’s going to cost you more than that to buy a new phone.

Mophie Juice Pack Plus: With great addiction comes the endless search for outlets and places to recharge the phone, right? You can buy yourself a lot more time with a spare battery. Mophie builds theirs into an attractive case that allows you to double the use time of your phone. I think this case/battery combo is pretty freaking great. It serves to protect your phone, and gives you all that extra use time, and it comes in a bunch of happy colors. I dropped my phone in this case, too, because apparently, that’s how I roll. The case is a little scratched up, but it still works just fine and my phone is still totally intact. It’s charged via a mini-USB cable. You leave it off until you need the extra juice, then it charges your phone while you use it. It’s great for long-haul flights, especially if, like me, you spend your airtime with audio entertainment.

The Juice Pack is pricey – it’s about $100. Here’s the truth: I like this thing and bring it everywhere.

Able Planet Clear Harmony Sound Isolation Earphones: I’ve gone through half a dozen pairs of iPhone compatible earbuds. On my last trip I lost my isolation Sennheisers. The sound was top notch, but I was on my third pair because they kept breaking (while still under warranty, thankfully). I replaced them with a really cheap pair of JVC iPhone compatible headphones, and they broke too.

I like the isolation earbuds because they don’t take up the space of headphones, but I’ve yet to find a pair that reduces external noise the way active cancelling headphones do. I like the Able Planet brand just fine; they’re far superior to the standard Apple earbuds and they stay put, but I’m not totally sold. They sound great, don’t get me wrong, and they do help with noise reduction on the plane or the bus, but that crying baby still found his way into my head while I was trying to doze on the plane. Even with the white noise app I use, ambient sound leaked in through everywhere. Able Planet makes active noise cancelling headsets too, I own a pair, and I wish I’d packed them instead. I await perfect, affordable, noise blocking earbuds.

Able Planet Earbuds run about $170. They’re fine for daily use, but if you’re really looking for noise reduction and you’re going to spend that kind of money, go with active noise cancelling instead.

Review: Denon AH-NC800 active noise canceling headphones

Frequent travelers almost always have a couple of gadgets they consider a “must have” in their technology arsenal – and noise canceling headphones are almost always high on that list. Walk through any premium class cabin, and you’ll see row after row of people blocking out the noise of air travel.

In this review, we’ll take a closer look at a pair of headphones from audio experts Denon. Their AH-NC800 noise canceling headphones also celebrate the 100th anniversary of the company, making one of the oldest names in the industry.

The headphones are active noise canceling – which means they use microphones and special circuitry to listen to outside noise, and actually cancel it out with “anti-noise”. By creating an opposite audio signal, your music or other audio source is combined, and in an ideal situation, the only remaining noise is what you actually want to hear – blocking jet engines, crying babies and your husband or wife.

Before we go on – let me point out that these are by no means budget friendly headphones. With a retail price of just under $350, these are the headphones you buy when you really want to appreciate your music, and get rid of noise. If you are used to traveling with $2 headphones, you’ll either need to reconsider your needs, or keep suffering.Hardware

The AH-NC800’s come in an attractive plastic case, with plenty of mentions of the 100 year anniversary of the company. Inside the box are the headphones, a hard-shell carrying case, 2 audio cables, an airplane adapter plug and a AAA battery.

The AH-NC800’s run off a single battery, and the estimated lifespan of a single battery is about 40 hours. As can be expected from a pair of premium headphones, the AH-NC800’s will work with or without a battery, which means you don’t end up without music on a long flight if your battery dies.

The headphones fold up onto a neat little unit, flat enough to pack away in your carry-on. The carrying case has a pouch for the various cables, and enough room on the outside to store your media player.

Noise canceling comes from a system not found on most other headphones. Inside the AH-NC800’s are two microphones – one to pick up outside noise, and one that actually picks up noise from within the headphones themselves. These two technologies make it possible to block things like engine noise, but even things like vibrations from your airplane seat, and even cord vibrations.

Noise cancellation

Of course, the big question is whether these nifty technologies actually work in real life. Thankfully, they do work – just not as effective as some other products on the market. That said – all is not lost, because the AH-NC800’s excel at two things no other headphones on the market get close to – comfort and audio quality. Put simply, the Denon AH-NC800’s are the most comfortable on-ear headphones I’ve ever tested. Audio quality when used with and without the noise cancellation feature is also excellent.

On paper, the AH-NC800’s promise a 99% reduction in noise. This number is based off the combination of physical noise reduction (earpads) and active noise cancellation. Unfortunately, the actual number for the noise reduction is not published anywhere.

Sound quality

When the cancellation circuit is on, there is no evidence of the “hiss” you often get on other brands. One option on the active noise cancellation feature is an audio restoration switch, but even after trying a variety of compressed and uncompressed audio, I could not notice a single difference in sound quality.

Bass is rich, and as long as the quality of the sound you feed the headphones is decent, what you hear will be excellent too.

Performance on the road

Travel with the AH-NC800’s is obviously where they’ll be in their element. The entire package of headphones, a battery and cables weighs just under 13 ounces (368 grams). With enough battery life for several long-haul flights, you really only need to worry about a single backup battery to keep you going for weeks.

The audio cable can be removed, which makes it possible to sleep on the plane with the headphones on, and since they are mighty comfortable, keeping them on for an 18 hour flight shouldn’t be a big problem. In my experience, it does help to take them off once an hour to let your ears cool down.


The MSRP for the Denon AH-NC800’s is $349.99, but you can find them online for around $300. I always have a hard time recommending products like this when the price is this high, but you really can’t go wrong with a good pair of noise canceling headphones. Even though the AH-NC800’s may lack a bit in the noise canceling department, they more than make up for this in comfort and sound quality. Ideally, when spending this much on headphones, you’ll visit your local audio dealer and take the headphones for a spin before investing in them.

Warranty on the AH-NC800’s is one year, and Denon has a global network of customer service centers. You’ll find the headphones and a list of retail stores and online dealers at

11 tips for sleeping on planes

I have been blessed with the gift of being able to sleep on virtually any moving vehicle. I’ve slept in large airplanes, small propeller planes, trucks on unsealed roads, cars, trains and boats. I sleep without the help of drugs, herbal supplements or any other gimmicks. I find my seat and my brain seems to decide, “Hey, this is going to be boring; let’s just skip it.” Several hours later, I wake up as my plane is on final approach.

My personal record for continuous sleep on a plane is 11.5 hours on a flight from Sydney to Los Angeles. Granted, that was in first class on V Australia, so the conditions were optimal. But my coach class record is 8.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep on a flight from Detroit to Tokyo. I followed that up with a 2.5 hour nap later in the flight. I would say that, on average, I spend 85% of my time on airplanes in an unconscious state. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, how do I do it? Well, if I could guarantee a solid slumber on a flight, I’d be hosting an infomercial right now selling the Mike Method for two easy payments of $49.95. Sadly, I think I am just lucky that I can sleep anywhere. However, there certainly are a few things that you can do to create an environment more conducive to sleeping on a plane (or any mode of transportation, really).1. Relax
Whether you’re on your way to an important meeting for work, visiting your in-laws or just going on vacation, the act of transporting yourself from one place to another can, in and of itself, be stressful. The same things that keep you awake at home – stress, anxiety, pressure – will keep you awake on the plane. Clear your mind and sleep is more likely to come.

2. Remove Contact Lenses
I always fly with my contacts out and my glasses on. Plane air is dry and sleeping with your contact lenses in is never fun. I’m much more apt to fall asleep if my contacts are out and my eyes are comfortable. In fact, when I’m ready to go to sleep, I take my glasses off and clip them on my shirt. They’re close by for when I wake up, but without them my body knows that it’s time power down.

3. Familiar Music
An iPod (or other portable music device) is a great way to block out the noise around you. But for optimal results, create a playlist purely for sleeping. Fill it with music that is soothing (for you) and, most importantly, very familiar to you. If you listen to music that is new to you, your brain will stay active trying to pay attention to the unfamiliar stimuli. Find some comfort music that you know backwards and forwards so that your brain can listen to it on autopilot. I have a playlist on my iPod entitled “Sleep.” I’ve listened to that 400+ song playlist on countless flights over the years. It has changed minimally and the moment it starts, my mind begins to shut off.

4. Earplugs/Noise-Canceling Headphones
If music isn’t your thing, simply block out the noise with good old-fashioned foam earplugs or new-fangled noise canceling headphones. Whatever you need to block out the crying babies, sniffling germ-carriers and endless announcements from the flight crew about how the in-flight entertainment system needs to be reset.

5. Dress Comfortably
THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT SWEATPANTS IN PUBLIC ARE SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE! However, packing a change of clothes for long flights can be very helpful. If you don’t want to carry around a pair of pajama pants, wear an outfit that is comfortable and breathable. Bring layers so that you can handle whatever the plane’s climate control system throws at you. And take off your shoes when nap time comes. But trust me, put them back on when you visit the toilet.

6. Have a Drink
Notice that I said a drink. Drink too much and you’ll only guarantee yourself numerous trips to the lavatory and some fitful half-sleep followed by dehydration and a headache. If one glass of wine makes you drowsy, don’t feel bad. Just don’t let that one drink turn into a party at 35,000 feet.

7. Travel Pillows
This is going to shock many of you, but I do not use a travel pillow. At least not on planes. But I know more than a few people who swear by them. If you’re one of those people, find one that works for you and stick with it. The more you make it a part of your routine, the more likely you are to get comfortable with it.

8. Sit With Friends
Every little creature comfort can help when you’re not used to sleeping on planes. Having friends around you rather than strangers may help you relax and get comfortable. Plus, you won’t feel bad if your snoring keeps your husband awake. He probably deserves it.

9. Sleep Masks
Again, this one isn’t in my toolkit, but it may work for you if you are easily distracted or are a very light sleeper. Sure, you’re going to look like a moron, but if you need to block out everything in order to sleep, then you need to make sensory deprivation your top priority. What’s more important to you: Looking cool in front of people you will never see again or arriving at your destination well-rested?

10. Pack Snacks
Many people eschew sleep out of fear that they will miss the in-flight meal. While microwaved chicken is pretty underwhelming, it is often the only substantial meal you’ll receive on a long-haul flight. Pack a few filling snacks (ie, trail mix, dried fruit, a sandwich or Handi-Snacks) and you can eat whenever you stomach desires. Once you’re not held hostage by the flight’s feeding schedule, you’ll be able to relax, sleep and wake up to a treat of your own choosing.

11. Sleeping Pills
Call me a purist, but I consider sleeping pills and herbal supplements to be cheating. However, if you genuinely cannot fall asleep naturally and truly need to sleep on a flight, then I suppose I can understand going the pill-popping route. But I will put an asterisk next to your name in the record books.

It’s not rocket science, but falling asleep on planes can be challenging for some people. Hopefully these tips help you drift off to your happy place rather than enduring the mundanity of air travel. Your mileage may vary, and I can’t guarantee that you’ll be a plane sleeping machine like me, but utilizing some or all of these suggestions should help you get comfortable and sleep through almost any flight.

Do you have your own method for falling asleep on planes? Any tricks worth sharing? Drop us a line in the comments.