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Phiaton PS200 unboxing and review

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
Preface and unboxing process

I was caught by a strain of upgraditis a few weeks ago, when I was comparing my Monster Turbine and Etymotic ER6, two polar opposites at similar prices. The former had tons more bass and was much more musical, but the latter had much more detail and separation, lucid vocals, and a crisp treble I was missing, although it also sounded violently sibilant and the lack of bass sucked the life out of my alternative rock. So, after finding faults with these expensive (well, to most others) IEMs, I took the Head-Fi solution; buy even more expensive earphones! I settled on the Phiaton PS200s, seeing as few people seemed to have them. Plus, they look cool; sorry, TripleFi owners. I paid about $200 including shipping, and they arrived in a week. Some unboxing pictures:

A hard plastic box, somewhat reminiscent of Apple's packaging.

The frosted sleeve slips off to reveal the instantly recognizable 'jet engine' design of these earphones.

The box's halves are attached by tape, one side of which I've pulled off. The bottom is mostly barcodes and technical jargon. On that note, the PS200s have an impedance of 32 Ohms. The sensitivity is only 95 db/sPL, but they're actually quite easy to drive. My P3 can probably drive them to damaging levels, although I haven't done so myself.

Inside the box is another thin plastic box.

Inside the box inside the box, is another box. The carrying case simply slides out, and I can say that it makes Westone's and Etymotic's pouches look tacky by comparison.

Below the gap where the case was lies the warranty slip and a user's manual, the latter of which's importance is questionable.

The earphones themselves are held in a chokehold in the box, which comes apart rather elaborately. Unfortunately, the tips that were on them have been squished flat like Klipsch oval gels. On a side note, if Klipsch were to ever produce those gels for other earphones, like Comply, I'd snatch them up in an instant.

The carrying case unfolds like so, with a plastic frame to store the earphones and extra tips. At first I thought the piece in the center was just a decorative logo, but it's actually an airline adapter.

It's an interesting adapter - the line-out is actually in the center, so good luck using wider headphone plugs on a plane. The prongs actually fold out individually, and one of them is a stereo plug. When trying the stereo plug out, it actually seems to act as a volume attenuator, reducing the volume significantly, which is useful.

Here's the entire package, with the earphones in their carrying case. The cable conveniently winds around the plastic piece. In all, there's not much to see. From pictures I've seen on the Internet, Phiaton supplies about as many accessories as the audio-technica CK10 and and Earsonics SM2, but compared to other competitors like the q-JAYS and Turbine Pros, none of which I own, mind you, it's rather stingy. Although I don't like foam pieces, because they don't last very long, Phiaton could have included some in the package.
post #2 of 10
Thread Starter 
The long review:

Fit and finish

The PS200 fits well in my ear canals, although the body is on the large side. Because of this, they constantly push against my antitragus, making it sore after a while. However, I doubt this will happen to other users. Isolation is quite good; they isolate about as well as my ER6s, despite using single-flange tips. However, the tips are quite thick, and don't squish down quite as easily as the ones supplied with my other earphones. I haven't tried Sony's 'hybrid' earpieces, but I would assume those are softer and thinner.

The earphones’ build is no less than what I would expect for $250. The ‘jet engines’ are solid aluminum, and the cable is mostly well relieved, except for the Y junction. However, although it hasn’t caused me trouble, the strain reliefs aren’t molded directly onto the cable. Nonetheless, the cable feels very strong, and is not likely to fray. In addition, the microphonics are very low. With the cord hanging down, I get about as much cable noise as the Monster Turbine, with the cord over my ear.

Sonic impressions

The source I'm using for this review is my NuForce Icon Mobile's DAC, connected by USB to my ThinkPad, with Foobar2000 - not Windows Media Player, of course, which applies some nasty compression. My ever-expanding music collection is, as of now, 100% rock and variants of rock, from Vampire Weekend to Franz Ferdinand to Queens of the Stone Age. Sorry that there's little genre diversity here, but if anyone wants to send me test tracks in other genres they enjoy, I'd be happy to add my impressions with them to this review.

Detail, clarity, separation

I'm quite satisfied with the PS200, as they do exactly what I was looking for, as they manage to combine most of the merits of my other two earphones: more bass while preserving detail and clarity. Details are easy to distinguish and well-resolved, just as much as the ER6s. Instruments playing harmonies in the background are easily distinguishable. I can easily tell exactly which notes pianos are playing, which is no small feat as they’re buried under guitars and vocals. Individual strokes on a drum are each nicely separated as well. No attribute of the music is overemphasized, unless it was mastered accordingly. I haven’t heard the ER4s, which are renowned kings of detail retrieval, but the PS200s are no slouch in this area – actually, they’re very good.

Separation between instruments is also good, and it is easy to pinpoint the source, even during busier sections. That being said, though, I actually think the ER6s have even better separation through an amp. The detail and speed Etymotics produce is simply phenomenal, but it’s not a huge difference that I miss much. Being a balanced-armature earphone, the PS200s’ transient response is very fast; however, it’s not the fastest. While they’re definitely more responsive than the Turbines’ dynamic driver, there are still my ER6s and the breathtakingly fast Klipsch X5s, which I tried at a store. (As for the X5s, though, I believe the PS200s give better sound for the same MSRP as I disliked the X5s’ treble rolloff.)

Soundstage

As other owners have also reported, the PS200s throw a very good soundstage for an IEM. It feels quite wide, not to mention outside of the head, creating more of an atmosphere than the Turbines or the ER6s can muster. Music is less boxed in, with space created between instruments which goes a long way towards making music sound more alive. Although I’m not big on movies, I found that during various clips the broad soundstage really helps improve the experience. However, although the soundstage is wide, its overall depth is somewhat lacking. The PS200s don’t seem to extend to, say, the far reaches of a concert hall.

Frequency response

Moving on to the frequency response, I would say the PS200s are a fairly balanced-sounding earphone overall. That aside, though, they’re quite a forward sounding pair as well.

Starting with the low frequencies, the bass is definitely noticeable, but isn’t over- or underemphasized in any way. In short, it fittingly provides a base for the rest of the music. Several earphones have been described as such, and the PS200s are no exception. That’s not to say the bass response is uninteresting, though; there’s a good deal more than the ER6s for sure, making the ER6s sound piercing and dull. Notwithstanding, the bass is still much lighter than dynamic earphones, although transient response is much faster. If you like hip-hop, don’t get these; the deep beats of hip-hop need slow decay to truly settle in. As for rock, the bass is superb; quick successive bass drum hits, especially those of Neil Peart and Dave Grohl, are easily defined and inuntrusive. The PS200s’ bass detail does not disappoint either; bass guitar is easily discernible, despite being buried under other harmonies. One complaint is that compared to the Turbines, bass instruments and drums have less body and fullness; this is especially noticeable in Rush’s “YYZ,” I might add.

The middle frequencies of the PS200s are quite pronounced compared to other earphones, but nothing like the SE530s, another mids-loving earphone. The former tends to emphasize crispness and edge over the latter’s smoothness. Vocals are a real treat with this earphone, and sound airy and natural, but never forced. The PS200s are not forgiving towards sibilant vocals, despite handling them better than the ER6s. With midrange instruments like guitars more prominent in rock music, the sound is more vivid and active, but can be fatiguing as well. Despite very limited time spent with Grados, I would say they have a fairly similar sound signature – but don’t take that for granted.

The PS200s’ treble definitely has a lot of energy, making cymbals sizzle and hi-hats sparkle. In rock music, there aren’t a lot of instruments in the upper treble, which is mostly dominated by percussion. However, I feel the treble definition is especially good at this price point. This, and treble extension, are where the Turbines suffer the most. They sound dead and bloated compared to the PS200s. In addition, the treble is much better controlled. Whereas the ER6s had a tendency to ‘spike’ the treble at odd points, creating what I can only describe as aural pinpricks, the PS200s do not. Everything sounds very accurate and true to the music. I should add that the PS200s prioritize the snap of percussion over the succeeding resonance, some may not like.

A brief overview (thanks for making it through my long-winded ramblings, by the way):
Pros: great detail and accuracy, airy mids/treble, wide soundstage for an IEM, comfortable and well-built
Cons: bass is on the weak side, somewhat fatiguing

I especially enjoy Vampire Weekend, Rush, and the Hush Sound with the PS200s. This review might be somewhat biased because I only used rock music, so those of you reading this, please don’t hesitate to send me other genres.

Overall, I believe Phiaton has hit the nail on the head with the PS200s. I haven’t heard any more expensive IEMs, but notwithstanding, there’s nothing the PS200s really do wrong, and a lot of things they do right. I’m surprised more people aren’t snatching these up, considering how well they perform.
post #3 of 10
Hi 12345142, thanks for the pics. Waiting for further impressions

So you have a pair of CK10 and SM2? Are you going to compare PS200 to them?
post #4 of 10
I'm waiting too - I live in South Korea, where these puppies are made and it's possible I can get them cheap. I'll be interested in your comparison with the Etys because I used to own the ER-6i. Like you, I loved the clarity but missed the bass.
post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by KLS View Post
So you have a pair of CK10 and SM2? Are you going to compare PS200 to them?
Oh. No, I don't; the PS200s are the most expensive IEMs I've owned so far. That comment about the extras was from pictures I saw. Sorry, that was very misleading. I'll edit it.
post #6 of 10
Thread Starter 
Review is now up. Sorry for the wait, as I ended up writing a lot on these earphones. By the way, they're $129 on Amazon.com right now, which is a steal for this kind of sonic performance.
post #7 of 10
^ Thanks, excellent writeup, very detailed and informative! At this price I would be tempted to get one, thankfully they cost still €200 here.

BTW the NuForce Icon Mobile is a rather bright sounding amp and may not be the best pairing for these phones.
post #8 of 10
Thread Starter 

Well, it's been a while but I finally got my first home setup, one of those newfangled Audinst DACs hooked up to a Caliente. Being a warm amp, the Caliente definitely brings out the best in these earphones. Soundstage is more expansive, to the point where it sounds 'outside your head,' something very hard to achieve for an IEM, and imaging is slightly more accurate, especially the perception of instruments beside and slightly behind you. Vocals have added body and warmth, and the bass has a bit more thump and presence, without decaying quite as quickly.

 

These factors all contribute to a significantly better musical experience, but it's not exactly justified to evaluate an IEM connected to a home amp. I really like these earphones, though; perhaps a warm or bass-boosting amp like a T3D or a 12HE is next in line. Any other amps with a warm sound or bass boost? A Shadow, perhaps?

post #9 of 10

Nice writeup on the PS200's.  I just landed myself a pair and am starting the listening sessions as we speak ...

 

Can't comment much on the amp selection, as I'm not a fan of amps for IEMs since I use them exclusively while on the move and don't want the added bulk of an amp.  If no one else chimes in, probably would get more response by posting in the amp section of the forum.

post #10 of 10
Thread Starter 

I was loath to start an entirely new thread on these, but they are worth writing about:

 

A week or so ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see a PM from Ak24, in response to a review I wrote on the Phiaton PS200s. He offered me the chance to try new foam tips developed for said earphones. Normally, I don't even think of using foam tips, because they get gunked up easily, and cannot be cleaned. That's not to say I wasn't curious, though, so naturally, I accepted his offer..

 

They arrived in the mail yesterday, and trying them now, I think that they do, unsurprisingly, make a noticeable difference. I really don't want to take pictures of earphone tips, but they look like Comply T100s, just a bright yellow, exactly the same shade as HD414 pads. The visual result is akin to SR325is with the aforementioned pads. It's a pretty brash combination, even for Phiaton's head-turning standards. But they're in your ears, so no one will really see. I got carried away there.

 

In short, the foam tips improve everything that was good about the PS200s, albeit only very slightly. Imaging, soundstage depth and clarity take an incremental step in refinement. An advantage of foam, as we all know, is that it's denser than silicon tips, which does change how the sound behaves. In this case, I noticed a small improvement in bass reverb, and overall tonal decay across the spectrum was slightly lengthened, creating a more natural, musical sound. To be honest, I was expecting significantly boosted bass, but actually, the sound signature itself didn't change all that much.

 

As stated, the main criticism I have with foam tips is that they cannot be cleaned, which means they don't last very long, but these tips were a pleasant surprise. The outside is totally smooth instead of the porous foam of other varieties. When I finished listening to them, one wipe with a damp cloth was all they needed - my ears don't produce much wax. I think as long as nothing gets in the sound tube itself, these could actually last a fairly long time.

 

I hope Phiaton will officially make these for sale, seeing as many people prefer foam over silicon tips, but until then, Complys will probably do just fine.

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