Review: Phiaton PS 210 BTNC

As my flight reached cruising altitude, all the familiar annoyances were in full swing. The steady drone of the engines, the same canned announcements we’ve heard a hundred times, the obligatory high-pitched screams of the crying infant. This time I came armed with a pair of earphones made to ward off the insufferable sound pollution: Phiaton’s PS 210 BTNC, a wireless noise-canceling headset.

Ordinarily, I dislike in-ear-style headsets because they make my ears itchy and uncomfortable. But Phiaton’s unique “half in-ear” design proved to be a really nice compromise. There’s a nub that fits into your ear-hole, and a larger assembly that sits just outside of it. The earphones come with a quartet of cushy silicon tips in various sizes, as well as a set of Comply memory foam tips. It wasn’t a problem finding a no-slip, natural fit.

The tiny buds are attached to a little clip-on remote control about the size of a pack of gum. On the side of the remote, there’s one switch to toggle the power and another to turn on the noise cancelation. On the top, there’s a multi-function jog control that advances tracks and adjusts the volume, plus a separate button for answering calls that doubles as the Bluetooth pairing button. Although the clip-on unit makes it easier to handle music adjustments and voice call controls than those headsets with buttons on the earpieces, I still found the tethered remote to be an occasionally encumbering nuisance.

Phiaton’s unique “half in-ear” design uses a nub that fits into your ear-hole, and a larger assembly that sits just outside of it.

As for shutting out the plane noise, they provide plenty of passive isolation — with the earphones ensconced in my ears, all outside racket was reduced to a nearly imperceptible muffle. Then, with the active noise cancellation switched on, I was adrift on a far-off cloud with no distractions. No drone, no crying baby, no interruptions. And this was before I even cued up any music on my iPhone. Music playback sounds excellent, since the headset uses the newer aptX codec to stream audio over Bluetooth.

Phone conversations also sound excellent, even ones conducted on a windy, busy San Francisco street. Calls came through clearly, and the person on the other end of the line could hear me just as well, even with all the bustle around me. Phiaton claims its proprietary “Echo-Off” technology, which eliminates most background noise, is the reason for this. Whatever, it worked.

Having put the PS 210 BTNC through its many paces as a stereo headset, I think of it as a chameleon. I was impressed with its versatility — it’s loaded with functions that go beyond your typical mobile phone headset. Also, since it comes with the cables and adaptors you need to connect it to non-Bluetooth devices, it works equally well with a computer or any multimedia gadget. It’s smart enough to switch off the wireless radio automatically when you physically connect it to a sound source.

I liked having the built-in voice prompts to acknowledge each step of the pairing process and the execution of various button commands, including battery power status. For iPhone users with iOS 5 or later, a convenient battery status icon appears next to the iPhone’s battery indicator. Phiaton promises a calling time of 12 hours and a music playback time of 14 hours on a single charge. Although I can think of no one I want to speak with for 12 hours, after more than 10 hours of listening to music, the battery was still a quarter full. It charges up over USB (cable provided if you’re one of the 17 people who doesn’t have a huge stash of USB cables in your desk drawer). And when the battery dies, you can just run it as a conventional headset without noise-cancellation or Bluetooth.

This is the fanciest, most feature-laden in-ear headset in Phiaton’s line, which includes get-gadget, wireless, active noise-canceling, and non-NC earphones. It’s also the company’s most expensive — MSRP is $160, but you can find it closer to $100 if you shop around. I’d recommend it. But I’d also recommend that Phiaton do something about the name: PS 210 BTNC. It doesn’t get much nerdier than that.

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