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Phiaton PS 210 BTNC Half In-Ear Headphones Review

by November 23, 2012
Phiaton PS 210 BTNC In-ear Headphones

Phiaton PS 210 BTNC In-ear Headphones

  • Product Name: PS 210 BTNC In-ear Headphones
  • Manufacturer: Phiaton
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarhalf-star
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: November 23, 2012 06:45
  • MSRP: $ 159
  • 14.3mm dynamic drivers
  • Bluetooth 3.0 wireless
  • noise cancellation
  • inline microphone and iOS/Android-compatible remote control
  • 3.5mm analog stereo input (for use when battery runs out)
  • spring-snap case included


  • Overall excellent Bluetooth and wired sonic performance
  • Able to use even when battery is dead
  • Central control unit means either headphone can be used for calls
  • Long battery life


  • Unique design means might not fit all ears
  • Bluetooth connection inconsistent
  • Control unit clip weak
  • Only USB charging out of box


Phiaton PS 210 BTNC First Impressions

Certain things in our lives have become standardized. Expected. A car has four wheels. Speakers have grilles on the front. Homes have roofs. You get the idea. When you see something outside of these expectations, people tend to do a double take. Or more. When you see a custom hotrod parked on the street, you stop and look. A custom motorcycle? Same thing. I've even stopped to look at odd-shaped houses from time to time. They grab your attention.

I thought that there was very little new that might come in the world of headphones. We've got over-ear, on-ear, and in-ear. While typical earbud type headphones (like the one you get with your iDevice) might just sit inside the cup of your ear, many are designed to be inserted into your ear canal. In-ear headphones are favorites of those that use their headphones when exercising since they tend to stay in place.

Notice I said "tend".

Phiaton is a company that I met when they first came out at CES a few years back (2008, I believe). Their booth was more like a museum for headphones than a traditional booth. Since then, I've been trying to secure a review sample of one of their headphones. The PS 210 BTNC is my first chance (four years later).

Half a Headphone

ps210btnc_stock_inearThe PS 210 BTNC has a lot of different technology to talk about. First, the BT in the model number refers to Bluetooth. The NC refers to Noise Canceling. But the really interesting thing about the the PS 210 BTNC is how you wear them. Mixing earbud and in-ear styles, the PS 210 BTNC are meant to be wedged into your ear cup while, at the same time, inserted into your ear canal. This gives the PS 210 BTNC the maximum ability to stay in place even during vigorous exercise. 

Now, if you are not a fan of either of those types of headphones, it might put you off. But it made me do a double take. This was the first time I'd experienced such a design and I was definitely intrigued. While I don't do any sorts of exercise like running which requires constant movement, I do climb and occasionally practice parkour. Climbing, my exercise of choice, is often slow but punctuated with aggressive if not violent movements. Not very headphone-friendly, especially when you consider that you spend a lot of time moving your head.


The other interesting design choice is a central control unit. This silver-colored device contains all the controls plus the microphone. Most headphone solutions with microphones place the microphone (and often the controls) in-line on one of the headphone cables. While this may be convenient, it requires that you always have that headphone in place if you want to use them for making a call. With the Phiaton PS 210 BTNCs, you can choose to use either - a nice advantage for long use sessions.

Phiaton PS 210 BTNC Use

ps210btnc_tipsObviously, there is a lot of technology that Phiaton included with the PS 210 BTNC. Physically, they've included three different sizes of silicone tips and a set of memory foam tips for maximum sound isolation. The headphones are meant to be both inserted into the ear canal as well as wedged in their ear cup. The control unit includes both an integrated clip as well as a leather strap that can be worn around the neck. Most of the press pictures provided by Phiaton show models wearing the leather strap while using the clip.

The clip is oversized but not all that strong. The control unit is a bit heavy for clipping on my t-shirt collar and I often found that it would pull forward uncomfortably. With a tighter t-shirt collar, it would stay in place but I would definitely recommend using the leather strap as well if you are going to be doing any vigorous exercise. I often used the clip to hold one of the headphones in place when I didn't have both inserted. That worked okay but it would be nice if in future versions they integrated some sort of mechanism for holding the headphones.



ps210btnc_compareThe most important aspect of any in-ear (half or full) headphone is fit. As I've stated in previous reviews, I believe I have oddly shaped ears. With the Phiaton PS 210 BTNC, I found that the in-ear posts were just a little too large. I compared them to in-ear headphones that I knew fit, the Moshi Vortex Pro, and found they were just a tad larger in diameter. It is hard to tell from the picture but it was enough that, push as I might, I couldn't get them to seat correctly in my ear canal. Of course, I tried all the sizes of tips but it didn't help. With any sort of exercise (including walking much less climbing) they fell out constantly.

The earphones themselves are interestingly shaped with the in-ear part angled off the main body. This facilitates inserting into the ear but also helps in identifying the correct ear. While each earphone is labeled, the labels are small and nearly impossible to make out in anything other than a well-lit room. The physical orientation of the in-ear sections makes it very easy to identify the correct ear.


Lastly, there are small holes on the back of the earbuds. These are for the microphones for use with the Noise Cancelling feature. Having one on each side means that the PS 210 BTNC has the information it needs to eliminate the ambient noise. The sunrise design serves double duty to differentiate the PS 210 BTNC from other headphones and to mask the microphones.


The Phiaton PS 210 BTNC headphones have two switches on the side and two buttons on the front. The top-most side switch controls power. Holding it up for a few seconds turns it on or off. You can also click it down to place the PS 210 BTNC in "hold" mode. Hold mode locks the headphones in what they are doing (as far as music playback) though you can still answer, hang up, and control in-call volume. The bottom switch turns on and off the Noise Cancelling feature.


The lower front button can initiate, answer, or end a call. The microphone that picks up your voice in located on the end next to the cable. The PS 210 BTNC is Bluetooth-capable so it will work with most modern phones and may MP3 players and some computers. The top button can be clicked to start or stop your music, left and right skips forward or back, and up and down controls volume. These are all standard controls and, aside from remembering the orientation based on where you clipped the control unit, work as promised.


Battery and Charging

A concern with all wireless products is battery life. Rather than including a wall charger, Phiaton has included a standard USB cable. On the bottom end of the control unit is a small panel which can be pulled open to access a micro-USB port and a micro 2.5mm jack (yes, 2.5mm, not 3.5mm). The USB cable can be used with a USB to wall socket converter (you've probably got one lying around) or plugged into any USB port on your computer. The integrated battery charges relatively quickly (a few hours) and holds a charge for many hours. In my tests, I placed the Phiaton in my car, used it when out and about, and charged it about once or twice a week.



If your battery dies, the PS 210 BTNC headphones can still be used by way of the 2.5mm jack. Using the included cable, you can connect the Phiaton PS 210 BTNC directly to your source. Bluetooth and Noise Cancelling features will not work but you can still use the PS 210 BTNC headphones with a dead battery, a nice feature. I tested the PS 210 BTNC headphones with the power off and they function just as if they battery were dead. The controls and phone answering do not work as well as the noise cancelling. But you can power off the PS 210 BTNC if you want to save the battery for an upcoming flight.

Phiaton PS 210 BTNC Sound

ps210btnc_inbox_front1There are three aspects to the sound quality of the PS 210 BTNC headphones - the wireless functionality, noise cancelling, and overall quality. I'll address these in order.

The Phiaton PS 210 BTNC utilizes Bluetooth 3.0. Pairing the PS 210 BTNC is as easy as any Bluetooth device I've used and, in the month or more that I used them, I never lost that connection. The wireless functionality sounded just as good in my tests as the wired connection. Even with lossless files, the sound quality was overall undiminished from a wired connection.

Phiaton promises "Exclusive “EVERPLAY-X” Ensures No Interruption of Music!" on their webpage. I did not find this to be the case. Bluetooth connection varied widely from having near-perfect connection all over my home to losing connection when in my back pocket. I'd like to think that was because I'm so dense with muscle mass that the Bluetooth connection couldn't penetrate, but anyone who's met me knows that isn't the case. Regardless, if you are looking for a wireless solution, don't be surprised if you occasionally have dropouts. Regardless of what the press materials tell you.


Noise Cancelling

ps210btnc_boxThe noise cancelling of the PS 210 BTNC was, in general, as good as others I've tested. Background noise was nearly fully eliminated when engaged. Even in extremely noisy environments (an enclosed pool area where my kids take swimming lessons was one of the more extreme), the PS 210 BTNC blocked out nearly all the noise. Without any content playing, the noise cancelling did add an audible hiss, but you will not notice it with music. The benefits of the noise reduction will far outweigh the slight hiss.

The only real problem I had with the noise cancelling was when I used the headphones outside. I can't say if it was caused by the poor fit, but when it was windy, the noise cancelling would add a very loud counter signal which was as ineffectual as it was distracting. It was actually worse than the wind itself. At first, I thought it was the wind and was unrelated to the noise cancelling but, a quick flick of the noise cancelling switch proved that the noise cancelling was the problem. All in all, I wouldn't call it a knock against the headphones as I most often used the noise cancelling indoors and not in windy environments.

Sound Quality

I have to say that I was fairly shocked by how good the PS 210 BTNC headphones sounded. Even with the wireless connection, Phiaton has managed to make a very solid set of headphones. From their website: 

"To provide listeners with rich, gentle-yet-powerful bass response, they feature Phiaton’s acclaimed “MaxBass Reflex” technology with a dual-chamber structure that virtually eliminates unwanted vibration and echo. Users enjoy carefully balanced low-frequencies and treble equalization for great sound quality with all music genres, from jazz and classical to rock, hip-hop and house."

I found that the bass response was respectable but not overdone. With some music, I preferred a bit of boost but that is more a personal taste and not, in my opinion, a systemic failing with the headphones. Bass extension was respectable but it was fairly obvious that the PS 210 BTNC didn't have the extension of other headphones in the same price point. That said, with a bit of boost, the overall presentation of the bass seemed more balanced to me perhaps because some of those lowest frequencies were more audible.


The top end of the PS 210 BTNC was very forgiving if a bit rolled off. They provided enough extension that you didn't feel you were missing much but weren't at all harsh or overly detailed. For a headphone that is designed with long listening sessions, perhaps when exercising or traveling, this is a good thing.

Left and right separation was very good though imaging wasn't as precise as it could have been. Considering the other features of the PS 210 BTNC, namely Bluetooth and noise cancelling, I felt that the PS 210 BTNC would stand up to many headphones in the same price category. To me, the PS 210 BTNC sounded every bit as good as many standalone $150 headphones!

Phiaton PS 210 BTNC Conclusion

While I found the fit of the Phiaton PS 210 BTNC headphones to be problematic, a little research will tell you that I'm the exception and not the rule. The fact is that, sonically, the PS 210 BTNC stands up to many headphones of the same price that don't have noise cancelling and Bluetooth 3.0. The half in-ear design is very unique and should help keep the headphones in place for most people. The noise cancelling works nearly as well as the others I've tested and the wireless connection doesn't depreciate audio quality appreciably. With the ability to bypass the wireless if the battery dies, and the Phiaton PS 210 BTNC are easily the most flexible headphones I've tested. With very good audio quality, a full suite of features, and a unique design, the Phiaton PS 210 BTNC headphones definitely get my recommendation.

Phiaton PS 210 BTNC Half In-Ear Headphones

MSRP $159



The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
Network Features/PerformanceStarStarStarStar
Ergonomics & UsabilityStarStar
Ease of Setup/Programming/IntegrationStarStarStarStarStar
Fit and FinishStarStarStarStar
Build QualityStarStarStarStar
Treble ExtensionStarStarStar
Treble SmoothnessStarStarStarStar
Midrange AccuracyStarStarStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStarStar
About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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