Noise-Cancelling Headphone Review: Audio-Technica ATH ANC23, Phiaton PS 20 NC, Sennheiser CXC 700 Page 3

Phiaton PS 20 NC

($149, phiaton.com)

The PS 20 NC is almost as simple as the AudioTechnica ATH-ANC23, yet it’s more stylish, with a sleeker design and a gloss-finish enclosure for the noise-cancelling circuit. Still, that’s a big price premium to pay for snappy looks. Fortunately, though, the PS 20 NC has something more going for it: Phiaton’s “half in-ear” design, which does a great job of sealing off the ear canal for better bass response. It also has a mute button that cuts off the sound, and it comes with four sizes of rubber tips to give you a better chance of getting a great fit.

When I reviewed Phiaton’s similar PS 20 BT Bluetooth IEM, I found the half in-ear design worked wonders for me. However, it didn’t work well for S+V web editor Michael Berk, and I’ve noticed in some online reviews that others have had problems with the fit.

The fit was also an issue for Lauren and Geoff. Unlike me, they didn’t have hours to fuss around with the headphones to get the sound just right. Lauren’s initial reaction was the same as mine: that the PS 20 NC had too much bass. She described it as being like “a speaker covered with a piece of foam.”

Geoff had the opposite problem: He couldn’t find a tip that fit his ears well enough to give him a good seal, so to him, the PS 20 NC sounded somewhat bass-shy. However, he liked everything else the PS 20 NC had to offer. “The treble is smoother than with the Audio-Technica, and it’s probably a more balanced sound overall,” he said.

I later found that subtle changes in the positioning of the PS 20 NC in my ear let me get pretty fantastic sound from it, much as I did from the PS 20 BT. The frequency response sounded even, with no particular frequency bands emphasized, and the sound seemed especially robust — much like what I hear from my Genelec recording monitors. The treble seemed substantially smoother than with the other NC-IEMs. These characteristics made the PS 20 NC my clear favorite of the three headphones.

Whether in my home with the speakers generating the noise, or in a jet airliner with a pair of Pratt & Whitneys making the racket, the noise cancellation capability of the PS 20 NC was subjectively good. In fact, it seemed slightly more effective than the AudioTechnica ANC-ATH23’s noise cancellation. However, my measurements showed a reduction of only -3 to -5 dB from 160 Hz to 2 kHz.

The PS 20 NC’s frequency response measurement is pretty much textbook, with a broad but mild boost in the bass plus mild peaks at 2.4 and 5.6 kHz. (Peaks at frequencies in this range are commonly added to headphones to yield a more subjectively neutral tonal balance.)

Distortion is typical, although a bit on the high side in the upper bass. At 100 dB, it rises to nominal 4% THD below 200 Hz, but stays at that level through most of the bass, actually falling to 3.2% at 20 Hz. Impedance is basically flat, typically 147 ohms with NC active, 26 ohms with NC off. Average sensitivity from 300 Hz to 10 kHz with a 0.179 volts RMS signal is excellent: 110.1 dB with NC on, 108.4 dB with NC off.

Provided you’re willing to experiment to get the best fit (and thus the best sound), the PS 20 NC is one hell of a good choice for frequent fliers.

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