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Phiaton edged its way into the headphone market last year with its MS 400 Moderna Series headphones, an eye-catching set that brought solid sound quality and comfortable construction to the table. Now, with the considerably more portable PS 300 Noise Canceling headphones, the company continues its tradition of sleek design and plush comfort. These on-ear 'phones pack in a slew of travel-friendly accessories and, at $299, cost $50 less than the competition from Bose. However, the set failed to provide great sound quality across a wide variety of music, making it most suitable for only a certain type of listener.
The Phiaton PS 300 Noise Canceling headphones are very similar to the Bose On Ear headphones in design. Two small, oval earpads measuring 2.7 inches tall by 2.2 inches wide are designed to be worn on the ear rather than cupping it. As with the Bose set, a single detachable cable descends from the right earpiece, although in the PS 300's case, the cord features an inline muting button that allows you to hear external noise without removing the headphones.
The style of the Phiaton PS 300 headphones varies slightly from the Bose, but we're rather keen on it. Rather than silver accents, you get champagne gold, and the outer covering of the earpieces is a textured black leather. It's a high-end look overall. Thanks to the padded, adjustable headband and super cushy earpads, the PS 300 'phones rival the Bose set in comfort. Of course, as with any on-ear model, you'll want to be aware that this design can overheat your ears after a time.
As far as features are concerned, the Phiaton PS 300 headphones are better than the Bose QuietComfort 3, as they include noise-canceling functionality, but can actually be used without this feature activated. So, if your battery runs out mid-flight, you won't be stuck without music. Not that you'll have to worry about the battery dying anyway, seeing as how Phiaton includes an extra rechargeable cell in the package. In addition to the noise cancellation, the PS 300 headphones include a bass boost feature, which can be activated via switches on the bottom of either earcup. Flipping one enhances the low-end a bit, and turning on the second pumps it up even more.
The extras don't end there. The Phiaton PS 300 headphones are pretty much a traveler's dream. The package includes a nice, hard-shelled case; an airline adapter; and a wallwart power adapter with snap-on attachments for various international outlets. To this you connect a compact USB charging unit, which directly accepts the rechargeable cells. In addition, you get a quarter-inch plug for use with home stereos for when you're not on-the-go. We're hard pressed to ask for anything else.
Of course, we're talking about headphones here: all these extras and design niceties are for naught if the sound isn't up to snuff. Unfortunately, the Phiaton PS 300 headphones aren't up to the standards it takes to satisfy a large variety of listeners. On the plus side, music sounds very open, with clear definition between the two channels--something you don't get from earbuds, which are perhaps the only things more portable than this style of headphone. High-end definition is excellent, and mids sound impressively warm and buttery. The noise cancellation feature also fared well against the low-end hum of nearby servers and an AC unit.
Our main complaint is that the low-end can sound mushy for certain types of music--new wave and indie rock, in particular. Bass performs notably better for pop, dance, and hip-hop music, where it is generally more defined. Depeche Mode's "World In My Eyes" Mode to Joy remix in particular sounded fantastic during testing, with tight and thumping bass, wonderfully rich male vocals, and sparkling clarity on the synths and hi-hats. Other standouts included the Alan Braxe & Fred Falke Remix of Kelis' "Bossy" and, surprisingly, The Deftones' "Change (In the House of Flies)." The artists whose music suffered particularly included Tears for Fears, Radiohead, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, among others.
In the final analysis, we can still recommend the Phiaton PS 300 Noise Canceling headphones as a viable alternative to the Bose QuietComfort 3, but only to those who have a particular affection for the genres and artists that they play best. Although the QC3's bass and overall sound quality is better, the PS 300 offers comparable comfort and compactness, more extras, and solid overall sound quality--all for $50 less.