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]