Phiaton PS 20 Review

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Phiaton PS 20
Reviewed Feb 2011

Details: Phiaton’s mid-range ‘half in-ear’ model
MSRP: $79 (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $50 from amazon.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 31Ω | Sens: 101 dB | Freq: 15-22k Hz | Cable: 4’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5mm | Preferred tips: Stock single-flanges, Sony Hybrids
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear

Accessories (2.5/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (4 sizes) and soft carrying pouch
Build Quality (4/5) – The design of the PS 20 is an interesting one, with a bit of unprotected cable showing between the metal bits past the beefy strain relief and ergonomically-angled asymmetric shells. There is a second, smaller strain relief on the 3.5mm plug but none on the cable’s metal y-split. The cable itself is average in thickness but doesn’t tangle much and handles kinks well
Isolation (2/5) – As with the PS 210, the half in-ear design of the PS 20 drops isolation down into mediocrity, though aftermarket biflange tips can be used for a deeper seal. Phiaton does offer a pricier active noise-cancelling version, the PS 20 NC
Microphonics (4/5) – Very low but the PS 20 cannot be worn over-the-ear very easily so cable noise is difficult to eliminate completely
Comfort (4/5) – The Phiaton PS 20 is a ‘half in-ear’ design, meaning that the earphone fits like a conventional earbud but has a nozzle protruding into the ear canal. The earpieces are ergonomic and relatively lightweight but the sheer size of the drivers will make them uncomfortable for those with smaller outer ears. Those who generally find in-ear earphones unpleasant, however, may actually be able to tolerate the PS 20 due to the shallow fit of the earbud-inspired form factor

Sound (7.6/10) – Each model of Phiaton’s in-ear range is unique in its own way. The flagship PS 200 is fast, accurate, and bright. The mid-range PS 210 is spacious, ambient, and very well-balanced. What was missing until now is the opposite end of the spectrum – a warm and bass-heavy in-ear earphone – the new PS 20. The bass of the PS 20 is robust yet pleasant. Low notes are full-bodied and well-weighted, with plenty of impact and a tiny bit of ‘boom’ to the bass. Extension on the low end is moderate, with the otherwise extremely competent bass presentation missing a bit of rumble at the lowest of lows. On tracks that call for it, the bass of the PS 20 can be quite aggressive – easily on-par with the popular Klipsch S4 and Sennheiser IE6 earphones in impact but missing a tiny bit of depth. What’s impressive, however, is how small an effect the punchy bass has on the midrange. The midrange one of the most enthralling aspects of the PS 20’s sound – clean, smooth, and articulate, it is neither too forward nor too recessed in the overall presentation. The bass weight does impart a small amount of warmth on the mids but overall transparency is still impressive – a trait the PS 20 shares with the older PS 210. Vocals come through with authority and surprising clarity for such a large driver – absolutely no veil is present with the PS 20. The texture and microdetail, on the other hand, suffer slightly in comparison to the similarly-priced RE-ZERO and Sunrise Xcape but the greater smoothness of the PS 20 is likely a worthy tradeoff for most users.

The treble is laid-back and inoffensive. Harshness and sibilance are absent altogether but those looking for a bright and sparkly sound will want to look elsewhere – overall the PS 20 leans towards a darker tonal balance. There is nothing missing from the top end of the PS 20 – detail, clarity, and extension are all reasonably good for the asking price – but compared to the similarly-priced Etymotic Research MC5, RE0, or Xcape treble energy is lower by a significant amount. On the upside, those who find themselves easily fatigued by prominent treble will love the PS 20.

We come now to the presentation – quite possibly the most impressive trait of the PS 20. Being a half in-ear design, the PS20 doesn’t sound as ‘in-the-head’ as most entry-level in-ears. Instead, the presentation is spacious and more earbud-like in nature. The soundstage has good width and depth and – surprisingly –good height as well. Whereas other in-ears have a tendency to sound ‘tubular’ – i.e. portraying left-right distance well but staying near the horizontal axis at all times – the PS 20 sounds immersive and engrossing. It is neither too intimate nor too distant and the excellent clarity helps it separate out individual instruments. Positioning and imaging are not as precise as with the flagship PS 200 but reasonably good for the price – it can sometimes be difficult to place instruments in the sonic space but the basic distance-and-direction cues are there – it really takes a very congested track to throw the PS 20 off balance.

Value (8.5/10) – The Phiaton PS 20 is yet another impressive entry from the upmarket audio firm, retaining the overall sound quality of the pricier PS 210 but heading in a more mainstream direction with the signature. Aside from having the strongest and most full-bodied bass of Phiaton’s in-ear range, the PS 20 impresses with the clear, transparent midrange and spacious, engrossing presentation. The size of the housings may be an issue for those with smaller ears and the isolation is expectedly mediocre but those who do not mind the form factor are sure to be impressed.

Pros: Well-weighted and punchy bass; very immersive presentation
Cons: May be uncomfortable for those with smaller outer ears; mediocre isolation


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About Author

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

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