Thursday, June 10, 2010

[REVIEW] Phiaton PS-320 - A Great Listening Experience

Before the review, I'll like to thank Phiaton for the loaner unit of PS320.

Prelude
I kind of think I have moved from chasing the next best thing to simply trying to get more enjoyment from what I have, but once in a while I get the chance to listen to something I feel really special. It doesn’t have to be particular high-end or expensive, just a sound that fulfill a person’s inner craving. Now I must first admit I am a fairly analytical listener. Not that I don’t enjoy a balanced or warm sound from time to time, I just find myself being drew back to micro detail and neutral presentation all too often.  Being a self-proclaimed audiophile for a while also let me to reach some conclusion of my own. One of such conclusion is: there is no such thing as an absolute ‘correct’ sound. If all of the best gears around can reproduce sound as truthfully to the original recording as possible, then the only logical conclusion will be - they should all sound the same. Yet it is never the case no matter how costly or exotic the gears are. If such ‘correct’ sound does exists for a person, it will likely to be a blend of the listener’s taste, synergy of gears, and the interpretation of faithfulness to the original recording. That being said, it is my belief that the right sound is the better sound, but the reverse might not be always true - especially for those who could only rely on another’s impression or review. Hopefully you will find this review useful because you understand a little more about me as a reviewer.

PS320-2.jpg

PS320-3.jpg



Spec
Frequency Response: 11Hz – 23Hz
Design: Closed
Driver: 13mm and 40mm Dual Dynamic with Passive Crossover
Max input power: 500 mW
Sensitivity: 102dB
Impedance:  32ohm
Isolation: -10dB ~ -12dB
Weight: 122 grams w/o cord
Connector: 3.5mm Gold Plated
Cable: Y-cord, 1.25m

PS320-1.jpg

Packaging, Accessories and Build Quality
Most likely because of the limited quantity of loaner unit, I actually received one without the outer packaging. While it really isn’t much I can say about something I never handle in person, I was fortune enough to see the actual package of PS320 (and a few of the Phiaton MS series as well, which by the way are some serious eyes candy) in a dealership before, not to mention I have reviewed one of the in-ear models from the same series before. I think I will still describe it the same way I did on my last Phiaton review - simple yet classy. It seems to be a theme Phiaton has on most, if not all of their products.

Accessories wise, PS320 comes up a little thin with only a leather soft pouch, though the pouch itself is a real beauty. I would really like to see Phiaton improves on the accessories department. As the brand itself is building toward a higher class of music listener, I think most buyer will want to see more than just the pouch. A 6.3mm and/or an airline adapter will be nice. It will be even better if replacement leather earpads are included as well. Some time little thing goes a long way.

Build quality is overall good on PS320. The leather pads on each side of the earcups are very nice touch. The hard plastic headband has metal pieces to support the structure. The joins are all well designed and don’t seem to have any particular weak spot. Both earpads and the cushion on top of the headband are extremely soft and comfortable. It is most definitely not a dead clamp on the head. It is pretty secure when walking around but I won’t take it for a run. The only downside is perhaps the single side cable. Though the original cable is fine to use, a more robust cable would have added a lot more point to the overall build.  Removable cable would also be a great idea.

Though fully closed, PS320’s isolation is right about average, so don’t expect IEM-like isolation. On average it is better than opened on-the-ear headphone, but it isn’t enough to give you a clean sound in subway or plane ride. It is however good enough for quiet home / office use or street with light traffic.

PS320-4.jpg

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Sound Quality
Let be honest first, PS320 sound signature probably is not for everyone.  It is what I will describe as the on-ear equivalent of Etymotic. For those who are not familiar with the Etymotic sound, it is generally considered to be lean on the bottom while analytical on the top. While PS320 do not share a carbon copy of frequency response (FR) with any Etymotic, they do have some common characteristics, such as a quantitatively small yet very tight and accurate bass hit and an aggressive treble. The one thing, perhaps the one real sonic weakness on PS320 is the lack of any sense of warm or fullness. It is evidently bone dry. In fact, the dryness couples with the aggressiveness might make PS320 sounds just a little too ‘busy’ to some. That is, it lacks some fine resolution between notes. To me, it is not really an issue of resolution. The problem lies in the lack of good texture, thus the listener couldn’t properly hear each note. One of a quick fix is to give PS320 a little mid-bass bump. It doesn’t take much either, just EQ +2~3dB in the 250Hz region and we are cooking! While 2 or 3dB might not seem like much, the idea is to improves it just enough so the overall sound signature can remain as intact as possible. Just as a side note, PS320 does response to EQ very well. For people who don’t / can’t EQ, I have another trick for you on the next section when we discuss mod’ing.

One of the strong points of PS320 is the relatively neutral FR that extends very far to both ends, no doubt the benefit of having two drivers instead of one. Bass, though is not in abundance, is very precise and well extends to almost 20Hz. It is what I’ll like to describe as ‘quality bass’. Mid, as I have mentioned, can be just a tad too dry without EQ. While it is comparatively a weak spot in the whole sound signature, it is not really a turn down by any means. Treble pretty much goes as far as my hearing limitation at around 17.5Hz (till I can’t tell whether it is still going up or not).  It is very clean and sparkly, quite forward, bright and full of micro detail. This is by far the most linear of any headphone I have ever heard. Soundstage is decent, though nothing spectacular.

I find PS320 to be fine with most music genre that doesn’t require a good vocal and a heavy bass. Classical and instrumental music seems especially well because of how reveal PS320 is. With a little EQ however, even vocal and smooth jazz can be pretty good as well. Diana Krull and Sade actually both sound mighty fine in my ears. I didn’t find PS320 to be particularly hard to drive, so amping is not a necessity. Amped or not, I can’t say I find any weird sound frequency from the passive crossover. I probably won’t even notice there are two drivers simply by listening. Do note that you will be well to keep PS320 away from bad source and low bitrate. In my opinion a slightly warm source will probably have the best synergy.

PS320-6.jpg
Under the earpads: the coaxial 13mm treble unit on the front and 40mm bass unit visible in the vents

PS320-7.jpg
PS320 next to another dual driver, my mod'ed Panasonic VMSS headphone, which really isn't a match in SQ compared to the Phiaton.

The Mod
Here is a quick and pain-free mod for PS320 to add some warm to the sound. If you take a look at the picture where the earpad has been removed (by slowly prying them on one side, as they are just clipped onto the earcups), you can see 8 vents surrounding the treble driver. All you need is to cut some tissue up and cover 4 of those vents. My choice is the top and bottom’s two (in pair). No glue is needed; just clip the earpad back and the paper will be held in place. You can also vary the number of vents or the material you want to cover to achieve a sound you wanted.

Verdict
I am a fairly dedicated IEM user, have a few decent cans but never could really see myself converted to the other sides. However, there is something about PS320 that I do consider to be just right for me: It is portable, very comfortable and has a clean, neutral and highly detailed sound. More importantly, this is going for only $150 on the street now (MSRP is around $200). I don’t know how PS320 will fit your taste, but it is getting a thumb up from me. If you are an analytical listener like me, this will be a portable headphone I can truly recommend by heart. In fact, I am already setting my sight of picking one up in the future after the loaner unit goes back to Phiaton. Dual drivers or not, PS320 has turned out to be a great listening experience for me.

Disclaimer: All trademarks and logos in the website belong to their respective owners. Beside getting free review samples, I don't work for or get paid by anyone to write anything on this website, or anywhere else in that matter. Also, free review samples are never sold for any financial gain. I do buy gears and review them, but for simplicity you (the reader) should always assume what I review is free sample in nature (and thus comes with all the bias). The website does have Google Ads and Amazon Associates enabled (which I have no direct control over their content) - though I don't write review for a living, nor does the ads generates enough money to cover my breakfast (in fact, not even one breakfast per week). Listening to music and playing with audio gears are purely hobby for me. In short, I am just an audiophiles who happens to have his own blog. Not a journalist who happens to be an audiophile. Oh, and excuse my writing as I am not a native English speaker and can't afford a proofreader. Also, just because I don't write in a negative tone doesn't mean I don't write down the negative aspect of a gear. Please read them carefully. Last but not least, please note that this site uses cookies to track visitors' number and page view.

Important: All postings are my own personal opinion only and should not be treated as absolute truth. I do get things wrong just like everyone else. Always do your own research!

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