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Computerized Investing > October 26, 2013

Phiaton Chord MS 530 Bluetooth 4.0 Noise-Canceling Headphones

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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

$349

Wirelsss on-ear headphones with Bluetooth 4.0 and active noise-canceling technology.

This past September I reviewed the Phiaton Bridge MS 500 over-ear headphones and was extremely impressed with the sound quality, just not the price tag. A couple of weeks ago Phiaton graciously sent me the wireless model from its Moderna Series—the Chord MS 530. These on-ear headphones differ from most of the other wireless on-ear earphones I’ve tested, many of which are from Phiaton, including the PS 210 BTNC and PS 20 BT. Probably the closest competitor I’ve reviewed in this column is the MEElectronics Air-Fi AF32s.

Out of the Box & Setup

I was glad to see that the Chord MS 530s were not merely a wireless version of the Bridge MS 500s. I actually like the look of the Chords better than that of the Bridge headphones. They aren’t quite as stylized as the MS 500s, but still sport the red, black and silver color scheme.

The MS 530’s ear cups are on-ear just like the MS 500s but have a more typical oblong shape than the inverse teardrop shape of the Bridge model. The shape, along with somewhat better padding, make the Chord model more comfortable to wear than the Bridge.

The headband of the 530s is also better engineered than that of the 500s. The rubberized coating makes it resistant to sweat and the elements, and it also offers better padding than the leather headband of the MS 500s. It also didn’t “pinch” my head quite as strongly as the Bridge headphones, which make them much more comfortable to wear for longer periods of time.

The headphones fold up for easy carrying. But, again, I was a bit put off by the cloth carrying bag Phiaton provides to protect your $350 headphones. For the money, a hard shell case seems warranted.

The Chord MS 530s weigh slightly more than the Bridge MS 500s, at 10.24 ounces. This makes sense because of the additional electronics required to make them wireless.

The Chord MS 530s have a collection of buttons and switches not found on the Bridge model. On the bottom of the right ear cup is the power button. On the back of the right ear cup is a call button to answer, end or call the last-dialed number as well as the multi-function button. There is also a compartment for the micro-USB charging port. On the back of the left ear cup is an on-off switch for the noise cancellation and a compartment that houses a 3.5mm audio jack for wired listening.

Pairing the headphones with my iPhone 5 was very easy. After turning on Bluetooth on my iPhone, I powered up the headphones by holding the power button for a few seconds until the “Power On” voice indicator sounded. Once the headphones were on, I held the call button for a few seconds until I heard “Pairing Mode Activated.” I then selected CHORD MS 530 from the list of available Bluetooth devices on my iPhone and received the “Device Connected” voice guidance when the pairing was complete. Once the headphones have been paired with a Bluetooth device, they will automatically reconnect when they are powered up and Bluetooth is activated on the device. The MS 530s also support multipoint connection, which means the headphones can connect simultaneously to two Bluetooth devices.

I was also impressed with the performance of the headphone’s Bluetooth 4.0 radio. This latest-generation technology offers improved sound quality (more on that later), greater range and extended battery life. The improved range was evident almost immediately, as I was able to put my iPhone in my commuter bag and listen to audio without losing connection, something I’ve never been able to do with other Bluetooth headphones.

The Chord headphones also come with a mic cable, which allows you to place and receive calls without a Bluetooth connection; a micro-USB charging cable; airport adapter; and cloth carrying case.

Audio Performance

My experience with Bluetooth headphones has been mixed, so I was blown away by the audio quality of the Chord MS 530s. These headphones deliver audio quality that is the closest to wired sound as any Bluetooth headphones or ear buds I’ve tested. The headphones deliver clear, crisp sound across the entire spectrum. Furthermore, I was impressed by the strong, yet not overpowering, bass.

The noise-cancellation feature also surpassed all my expectations. I commute to and from work on Chicago transit buses, and the noise cancellation blocked out the majority of the ambient background noise without sacrificing sound quality.

The noise-canceling technology also comes into play when using the headphones for wireless calling. While I am not a fan of making calls in this manner, the conversations I had were crisp and clear, again without any annoying background noise. The people I spoke with did not have any problems hearing me either. The only real complaint I have with the headphones themselves is the placement of the call button on the back of the right ear cup. This is exactly where I grasp to put them on or take them off. This led to more than a few accidental calls.

Being wireless, the Chord MS 530s eliminate one of my gripes about its Bridge counterpart: “cord bump.”

Battery Life

According to Phiaton, the MS 530s deliver 30 hours of playback time, or 18 hours with noise cancellation activated. I use the headphones, on average, for about an hour and a half a day and I have only charged them once in the two weeks I’ve been using them—and they didn’t need it. When paired with my iPhone, a battery indicator appears on the phone’s screen. A full charge takes about two hours when you plug the headphones into a powered USB port on a computer or use a third-party USB charger. Even if the battery is fully drained, you can still use the headphones by plugging them into the provided wired mic cable.

Overall

Phiaton once again has delivered a technologically superior product, first with the Bridge MS 500s and now the Chord MS 530s. On all fronts, these are the best Bluetooth headphones I’ve tested for this column. The audio quality and noise cancellation are better than anything I could have imagined from wireless headphones. I can’t wait to try them out next month when flying to Orlando for the AAII Investor Conference to see exactly how good the noise-canceling technology really is. While it’s not a feature I will be using very often, the call quality was equally superior to any Bluetooth headphones I’ve used. Beyond its performance, the MS 530s are also much more comfortable to wear for extended periods than the MS 500s. I am also impressed with the performance of the Bluetooth 4.0 technology in terms of range.

That leaves us with the $349 price tag. I gave the MS 500s a qualified recommendation due to its $299 cost. However, I do think the Chord MS 530s are worth the suggested $349 cost, even though you can find lower prices through online retailers. The noise-canceling feature can’t be downplayed, especially for commuters or those who do a lot of flying. Add in the fact that these headphones are extremely comfortable and foldable for easy transport, and these are perfect for those willing to pay for top-of-the-line wireless headphones.

Pros

  • Excellent sound quality for Bluetooth headphones
  • Bluetooth 4.0 technology improves range
  • Active noise-canceling technology designed to eliminate 98% of ambient background noise
  • Wired option for non-Bluetooth devices or when battery is drained
  • 18 hours of playback time (with noise cancellation activated)

Cons

  • Expensive for the typical consumer
  • Placement of call button may lead to inadvertent dialing
  • Cloth carrying case instead of hard shell case

Phiaton Chord MS 530 Bluetooth 4.0 Noise-canceling Headphones

$349 (Currently $299 from Amazon.com)

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA is a vice president and senior financial analyst at AAII and editor of Computerized Investing. Follow him on Twitter at @WayneTAAII.


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