When I feel like I need to get away and take off somewhere, my best and least-expensive ways to travel are through books and music. TV? The trips are never long enough for my liking. There’s nothing like immersing one’s self into a great book or music album.
Lately, I’ve been on a musical kick, and I believe I have developed a problem. I can’t stay perfectly content with headphones, no matter how great they are. After awhile I start to wonder if there is more or better. So I look and test.
Since I plan on attending CES 2014, I felt that headphones with active noise cancelling would benefit me greatly. Not simply at a convention, but I can appreciate being able to shut out environmental noise around me when I’m in public places (e.g. coffee shops, pubs, etc.) and want to work in my own space.
What do I have on-hand right now? The Phiaton Chord MS 530. These on-ear headphones feature both Bluetooth 4.0 with apt-X technology as well as active noise cancellation, though it was the sophisticated design that originally caught my eye. So far, they haven’t disappointed.
The Phiaton Chord MS 530 showcases an elegance with its modern headphone styling. The combination of lightweight metal and durable plastic delivers a sense of quality, that one can expect the headphones to last for quite some time. The band is thick and flexible with the right amount of springiness.
The headphones fold down for easier and more secure carrying, but I wouldn’t necessarily consider it “compact.” Or at least as compact as some other folding headphones.
Part of the reason why is due to the way the metal band holding the earcups sort of flares out a bit. But that part is made for comfort.
In terms of construction quality, my biggest concern comes from the way the earcups are mounted. It’s plastic on plastic, with the click adjustment of the earpads right in the middle. I suspect that sufficient torque or force by drop will snap off an earcup before anything else.
Despite that concern, the rest of the headphones feel solid. The hinges are metal on metal, which lock the headphones in place and won’t wear down through time. I went over the entire product looking to pry apart any seams or points where two materials joined. Nothing is left loose or unsecured.
I strongly recommend a hard case for the Phiaton Chord MS 530. If you get one with some extra space, you can also fit the included cables and in-flight adapter. The soft bag that comes with the headphones is nice, but any gear I own that would get tossed into a pack deserves a hard case. Especially if it has some slightly wiggly parts, like these headphones’ earpads.
Durability aside, these headphones look cool, especially with no cords in sight on the build. It’s a shame that the pops of color are only on the insides where no one can see them.
As always, one should focus on the comfort of headphones before deciding on the sound quality. You’re going to have to like wearing them in order to enjoy any and all music being played.
The Phiaton Chord MS 530 has comfort covered in a light frame with a supple band. I especially appreciate Phiaton’s choice of wide, oval-shaped pads that cushion the entire ear.
Each earpad is covered with faux leather and filled with a memory foam that provides the right amount of resistance for comfort and hold. The foam is shaped to match the surface contact it has with an ear – a great attention to detail.
The taper of the band to angle the earpads is effective in that it evenly distributes the pressure over the entire ear, minimizing any pinching. There is a good range of vertical adjustment so the earcups can fit virtually all skull sizes and shapes. The little bit of play in the earcups, while a durability concern, automatically conforms to head contours. The ears get snuggled like eggs under a hen.
The earpads are awesome during colder weather, when they act somewhat like earmuffs. Though my ears haven’t felt hot (yet), the full contact of the faux leather has left them sweaty after hours of listening. That’s just from sitting there and letting the heat build up, not walking or jogging or anything. Even the manual mentions to wipe off any sweat with a cloth. I can imagine that this style of earpad will make some people’s ears roast.
The silicone head band has a nice firm feel to it and maintains its shape while worn. The band narrows down toward the head, which makes the Phiaton Chord MS 530 a poor choice for those who want headphones for light (or greater) activity. Walking is fine, jogging is not, and bending over tends to have the headphones slide off my head. Running is completely out of the question. These headphones are best-suited for sitting/standing/lounging and listening.
Controls & Connectivity
The buttons and controls are located on the earcups themselves. At first it almost seems like too much, but once you get around to using them it’s no big deal. They maintain a slim profile to the headphones and, with the exception of the power button, aren’t visible from the front
The single button/rocker provides the controls you want with only a single digit. The button itself works to play/pause, and flicking the rocker adjusts the volume. Skipping and repeating tracks is performed by a press-hold of the rocker until you hear the beep. The button itself is perfectly placed for my thumb when I bring my hand to the earcup.
Read through the included manual. The Phiaton Chord MS 530 has a number of really neat features such as: multi-point connection for pairing to two Bluetooth devices (e.g. smartphone and tablet), voice guidance, and a few more.
My favorite? When I press the power button twice (when the headphones are turned on) I’m told how much battery life is left.
The Bluetooth 4.0 gives some pretty killer range to these headphones. The signal is solid all over my house, through walls and floors) with my smartphone left in the kitchen. The Bluetooth signal has been good for me up to about 40 feet. It starts to sputter at 41 feet, quickly getting worse with every additional step. Still, 40 feet is awesome.
The Phiaton Chord MS 530 is a set of headphones I believe will please most audiophiles. The Chord MS 530 treats music as a pure entity, and it provides no discernable amplification or favortism to highs, mids, or lows. Having listened to so many other headphones that boost the bass, it’s refreshing to hear a natural balance across the spectrum of sound.
The amount of detail I can hear from my music is astounding. I’m able to pick out the pluck of a bass strings, saxophone buttons being pressed, and the breathiness that comes at the beginning or end of lyrics. These are the kinds of details that so many headphones on the market simply can’t reproduce well (or at all).
The sound that comes out is transparent as if I weren’t wearing headphones; It’s just me and this energetic music that feels alive. Everything from whispers to throaty yells are delivered with equal effect.
The volume increases evenly across all the levels and can get pretty loud too. I haven’t been able to hear any distortion from anything for as loud as I’ve listened with the Phiaton Chord MS 530.
The soundstage is exactly how I like it – intimate and dimensional. I can pick out the locations of individual voices and instruments, and I get a sense of depth to the virtual space I’m occupying within the music.
Bass. I threw some favorite artists (Celly Cel, Outkast, Scarface) on to see how I liked not having amplified bass. I’m a fan. The bass sounds clean, tight, and full, without stepping on the low-mids or vocals. “B.O.B.” by Outkast passes with distortion-free lows that have body/depth to it. The lows aren’t muddy and none of the drums sound toy-like.
Female vocals are top notch with proper pitch and inflection. I listened to a couple of albums by Ingrid Michaelson, and the Chord MS 530 transported me (almost) back at one her local performances a few years ago (if you were there – “boobie gnomes.” That’s right, you remember too).
The lead vocals in Kings of Leon songs ring true and pure as a bell in the still of winter. The track “You Can’t Quit Me Baby” by Queens of the Stone Age showcases how well the instruments pop up around you pull you into the musical performance. The list goes on.
I had a hard time finding distortion or other elements of imperfection in the music I played. The few times I thought I heard distortion was when the volume was past my comfortable listening range during heavy guitars and keyboards rocking it. But other than that, the Phiaton Chord MS 530 delivers accurate tone that’s balanced with rich vocals. It’s easy to get lost in the pleasure of listening with these on.
It’s not often that one finds Bluetooth 4.0 wireless and active noise cancelling in the same headset. The Phiaton Chord MS 530 has both. From one who has never really used or cared about noise cancelling, I have to say that it works well, although I’m hesitant to agree with the 98% ambient noise reduction claim (I can’t evaluate that in numbers!).
The noise cancelling cuts out vehicle road and engine noise while I’m riding around on city streets. But it can’t block the noise of rushing wind when I crack my window open.
I can sit in a busy restaurant and flip on the noise cancelling to silence all conversations except the ones close by. Even though I can’t hear whole words, I do get voice peaks breaking through.
I wore the headphones while at my local mall. Elevator noise gets completely eliminated, but the din caused by all the shoppers is only mostly reduced. My mall has vaulted ceilings, so the noise is greater while on the upper floor.
My only real complaint is the noise you can hear between tracks or when there’s no music playing. I know it’s meant to counteract outside ambient noise, but I hate the way it sounds.
Despite the limitations, the noise cancelling does a great job at encapsulating you and the music away from the rest of the world. While I don’t find it terribly useful for at-home listening, this is definitely a great feature to have if you’re one to listen to music within public places or noisy vehicles.
The quality of voice conversations with the Phiaton Chord MS 530 is surprisingly good. Phiaton is not known for communications products like other manufacturers. I’ve had conversations near a TV, a running microwave, on a busy street, and eight feet away from a screaming baby. Each time I asked the person on the phone if they could guess what I was next to, they had no clues to hear.
The rare instances of distortion with the Phiaton Chord MS 530 have only been from certain types of tracks with a volume higher than I normally listen to. Other than that, I can’t discern significant flaws.
This is either because my ears can’t ply apart the details further (think I need more training? email me some pointers or let me know what I’m missing out on!) or because the audio quality is truly up there with the best of them.
The Phiaton Chord MS 530 packs some great features, namely Bluetooth 4.0 wireless with apt-X technology and active noise cancelling.
Even with noise cancelling draining the battery, 17+ hours of wireless music playback before needing to recharge is damn impressive.
I, personally, have only been able to max out at around 12 hours of nonstop music listening before calling it quits for the day. Battery ran out? The headphones still work with the audio cable like it ain’t a thang.
Even if some consider the active noise cancelling as an unnecessary feature, they can still appreciate how these headphones treats music with purity and balance. The vocals are true and vibrant, and the instruments are rich and immersive.
The cost of the Phiaton Chord MS 530 comes at a premium. Even though I feel the pricing is right for what it delivers, many will balk at such a high cost for personal audio. I wouldn’t recommend these to someone who has a budget and no need for active noise cancelling. But if money is less important than audio quality (or not important at all), then be ready to enjoy the high-tech sophistication of the headphones.
Product page: http://phiaton.com/chord-ms-530