Most in-ear headphones offer pretty good passive noise isolation with just their silicone or foam tips. But sometimes, when you need to block out an even greater amount of ambient noise, you're going to want to invest in active noise cancellation. The PS 20 NC in-ear headphones with active noise-cancellation by Phiaton promise to block out up to 95% of external sounds you would prefer not to hear. Can they live up to this claim? Hit the jump to find out!
The Phiaton PS 20 NS come in a plastic packaging that includes the earphones, three extra sets of silicone tips in different sizes, a AAA battery, a small carrying pouch, and an instruction manual.
The PS 20 NC earphones feature what Phiaton calls a "half in-ear" design. Basically, they look like standard earbuds, but with an angular "in-ear" extension. The design is supposed to provide better seal and comfort, but we'll get to that later in the review. The headphones themselves look relatively high-end, with their curved, glossy plastic housing outlined by a golden wire reminiscent of the wiring inside a lightbulb. A massive bit of rubber bridges each earbud and the cable to ensure the will be no joint breakage. The rubber coated cable is none too thin itself and feels relatively sturdy. A long ways down you'll find a glossy plastic tube that houses the active noise cancelling mechanism (this is where the AAA battery goes). Overall build quality is not terrible but the plastic construction leaves something to be desired.
The half in-ear design does seem to provide an easier fit in the ear but I wouldn't exactly describe it as more comfortable. Rather than having just a thin speaker, there will also be a earbud component in your ear. While this does help to keep the earbuds in your ears, it can cause fatigue with long listening periods. However, the 4 sizes of silicone tips are rather helpful when it comes to finding the right fit - Phiaton includes some of the tiniest tips we've seen but also packs in a massive silicone plug for those with larger ear canals.
The PS 20 NC's pump out some pretty impressive sound. The signature is balanced, with good instrument separation, but not particularly amazing soundstage. The vocals, on the other hand, are quite brilliant. Many lyrics which were not clear with other headphones could instantly be understood. The bass does not boom much but lows are definitely not hidden either. As a result, bass performance is good - it's a healthy balance of mid bass and sub bass. With the Phiaton PS 20 NC's you're able to notice another layer of detail in the background that you wouldn't usually be able to hear.
So what about the noise-cancellation feature? The PS 20 NC's do block out a fair amount of unwanted external noise, but we weren't totally blown away. The dull roar of a refrigerator in the background can be gone with a flick of a switch, but you'll still be able to hear people talking around you. The noise cancellation is only really effective with external noise at lower frequencies. Higher frequency sounds (like more high pitched voices or the sound of running tap water) faced less resistance.
We also came under the impression that part of the noise cancellation simply involves an increased minimum volume. One more annoyance we faced was a rather loud static noise when the active noise cancellation is turned on but you're not playing any music. It's less noticeable once music starts playing but it's definitely still there. The EverPlay feature allows music to keep playing even after the battery runs out of power. We tested this multiple times by flicking the power switch mid song and sure enough it worked. However, we should point out that turning it back on does briefly interrupt your music.
If you need to listen in temporarily, pressing and holding the "monitor" button on the noise canceling module will filter in external noise and mute your audio, after a fraction of a second's delay. When you use the monitoring feature, external noise will actually be louder than when they are without the headphones on.
The noise cancellation module can be a bit of a hassle at times. The AAA battery isn't exactly light and the box isn't exactly tiny. The metal clip on the rear of the module does allow you to clip it to your shirt it is not particularly tight. To top it all off the construction of the glossy plastic box is less than admirable - it feels a bit cheap and the noise cancellation toggle is a little difficult to operate.
After living with the Phiaton PS 20 NC's for a while, we didn't really feel that we gained much over certain in-ear headphones that provide excellent passive noise cancellation. Although sonic performance is impressive, the active noise cancellation isn't, which makes the battery powered box an even greater hassle. If you're looking for a great pair of earphones and don't mid the hassle of an extra noise cancellation box, the PS 20 NC's aren't bad at all. But if excellent noise cancellation is what you're going after, you'd be out of luck with the PS 20 NC's.