Wireless “half in-ear” headphones for music and hands-free calling.
Back in March, I reviewed the MEElectronics Air-Fi AF32 Bluetooth headphones, which was my first foray into wireless stereo headphones. I immediately fell in love, not only because of their sound quality, but because they cut the cord that was seemingly always getting snagged on something during my commute to and from the office. I was wooed away from them, though, by the wired V-MODA Crossfade M-80 on-ear headphones because of their extraordinary sound quality. However, last week I was reminded why I loved the Air-Fi AF32s so much: The cord of the V-MODA Crossfades snagged the door handle at my local Starbucks, ripping the headphones off my head and sending them crashing to the ground (to their credit, though, they came away unscathed). This led me to start using another set of Bluetooth earphones from Phiaton—the PS 20 BTs, which were given to me by their PR firm.
The MEElectronics AF32s remind me a bit of the radio headsets of yesteryear, just not quite so bulky. The unit is self-contained, with all the controls on the side of the headset. The PS 20 BTs are quite a different animal. These “half in-ear” earphones have an 18-inch cord stemming from each earbud, which converge into a control pod that houses the controls, battery, Bluetooth transmitter and microphone. The control module is roughly 2 inches by 1.2 inches by 0.7 inches and weighs less than 0.6 ounces.
Along with the earphones, you get a USB to micro-USB charging cable, a lanyard and four sets of silicone eartips of different sizes. Sadly, you don’t get an AC adapter, which means you have to plug the earphones into your computer’s USB port to charge them (if you don’t already have a USB charger). More and more manufacturers are opting out of providing a dedicated charger. I am not sure if it’s because they are cheap or assume that users either already have a USB charger or only use their devices in the presence of a computer. Whatever the reason, it’s a bit annoying, especially if you are one of those people who don’t already have a charger and need one when you aren’t around a computer. You also get a cloth carrying pouch.
In the middle of the control pod is a mini-joystick that controls the volume, pause/play, and track forward and reverse. This controller isn’t as intuitive as the in-line controller commonly found on many of today’s headphones. While it took a little getting used to, once I did, the operation was very easy.
On one side of the controller is a lock button that prevents you from accidentally changing the volume or track (something that happened more than I was expecting). There is also a micro-USB port that is covered with a rubber door to keep out dirt and lint.
On the other side of the controller is the call button for answering and ending calls, which will automatically stop and resume your music playback. On this side there is also a power button.
On the back of the controller pod is a clip that you can wear on your clothes or bag, or you can connect the lanyard to the pod and wear it around your neck.
Before you can start listening to your device with the PS 20 BTs, you have to pair them with your device. You must first enable Bluetooth on your iPhone, Android, etc., and then put the PS 20 BTs in pairing mode by pressing the lock button and power button simultaneously until the blue LED light starts flashing slowly. Then, from your Bluetooth-enabled device, you select PS 20 BT from the list of available devices to complete the pairing. Phiaton’s “OmniPair” technology lets you pair the PS 20 BTs to up to eight devices at once. I was able to do so with an iPhone, an Android tablet and a Windows 7 laptop.
You may also need to charge your PS 20 BTs before using them. When I plugged them into my computer’s USB port after opening them, they were fully charged in under an hour.
The Bluetooth 3.0 transmitter gives you approximately 33 feet of line-of-sight range, with line-of-sight being the operative word. On more than one occasion, audio started cutting in and out when I was using the earphones with my iPod Touch, which was in a pocket of the laptop bag I was carrying. I also experienced this with the MEElectronics AF32s, but it’s annoying that they can’t stay connected to a device less than three feet away in a bag.
After my experience with the MEElectronics AF32s, I had relatively high expectations for the PS 20 BTs’ sound quality, and they didn’t disappoint. Like all in-ear earbuds, sound quality is correlated with the fit within your ear. To help you get the best fit, Phiaton provides four different-sized silicone eartips. Even after finding the proper-sized eartip, I found that if I played a bit with the positioning within my ear, I could improve the sound quality.
I don’t pretend to be an audiophile, but I do know enough to know when I have an enjoyable listening experience from a set of earphones; and this is what you get from the PS 20 BTs. During my “stress test”—listening at very high volumes—I did not experience any distortion at either the high or low end of the spectrum. The sound is clear and bright and the bass is noticeable, yet not overpowering. All in all, I found very little difference in the sound quality between the Phiaton PS 20 BTs and the AF32s.
The half-open design of the PS 20 BTs lets outside noise in. While I tend to prefer true noise-cancellation earbuds, being aware of your surroundings definitely has its perks, especially when wearing them in the middle of a busy city such as Chicago.
I was also impressed with the call quality of the PS 20 BTs. Using them with my iPhone 4S, I was able to hear my calls clearly, as could the people with whom I was speaking. I even tried them out on Skype and found the experience to be very good on both ends of the conversation.
Phiaton claims that the PS 20 BTs lithium-polymer battery will give you six hours of talk or music time and 250 hours of standby time. I was actually able to get more than six hours of listening time from my set.
The “half in-ear” design of the PS 20 BTs provides a comfortable fit. I was able to listen with them for hours on end without experiencing any type of ear fatigue.
Wearing the PS 20 BTs, on the other hand, has me in fits. Phiaton, in my opinion, misjudged the length of the cord running from the earbuds to the control pod. Either they are too long, which means they pose a bit of a snagging hazard, or they are too short because you can’t clip the control pod to a belt or put it in your pocket. If you aren’t wearing a button-down shirt, jacket or something with a breast pocket, your options are clipping the control module in either your collar or a bag (if you are carrying one). The collar route is awkward and makes controlling your device somewhat difficult. Clipping it to the strap of my laptop bag was the best option; but then if you reposition the bag, there is the risk of ripping the earbuds out of your ears. The lanyard allows you to wear the control module with less risk of snagging. However, it also means that the pod is hanging in the middle of your chest with a tangle of cords. The cord issue is why I went back to the MEElectronics AF32s.
As earphones, the Phiaton PS 20 BTs do not disappoint. I was very impressed with the clarity of the sound, even from a Bluetooth device. However, Bluetooth connectivity is supposed to make you feel like you aren’t tethered to something. When I am wearing the MEElectronics AF32s, that’s how I feel: no cords hanging down that I have to clip to something or worry about snagging on something. Sadly, I don’t feel that way when wearing the PS 20 BTs.
Something worth mentioning that I hadn’t thought of when reviewing the MEElectronics AF32s is the fact that you can’t use Bluetooth headphones on an airplane. Most electronic devices these days have an airplane mode, which disables Bluetooth. Keep this in mind if you are looking for headphones to listen to while flying.
At $129 suggested price, I feel that the PS 20 BTs are worth the price, considering their sound quality and the components required to deliver the wireless sound.
Not having a dedicated AC charger is an annoying quirk, although Phiaton is not alone in being guilty of this omission.
In the end, however, the usability factor trumps the sound quality. This is why I wouldn’t recommend the Phiaton PS 20 BT Bluetooth earphones.
$129 (currently $99 from Amazon.com)