Phiaton PS 200 in-ear headphones

Phiaton is the brand name used by the South Korean Cresyn Company. Wes Phillips reviewed Phiaton's conventional closed-back Moderna MS 400 headphones in January 2009 and was as impressed by the sound quality as he was by their appearance. The PS 200 ($249), the only in-ear headphone sold by Phiaton, also has a striking appearance: the black rear face, which is all someone sitting next to you in the subway will see, resembles the turbine blades of a fan-jet engine. There are two balanced-armature drive-units, with a passive crossover network.

The 48" cable is a little long for shirt-pocket use, though it has a sliding collar to help with cable dressing. It ends with a straight 3.5mm stereo jack plug—I prefer a right-angle plug because it puts less strain on the contacts of an iPod's output jack when pushed from the side. Phiaton supplies three sizes of gray silicone-rubber sleeves to fit over the short tube that protrudes from the inner end of the body; the largest size fit snugly into my ear canal and provided good acoustic sealing. I have one operational quibble: The PS 200's two ear-pieces are identical in appearance, distinguishable only by a tiny "L" or "R" printed below the drive-unit tube. I never did get used to having to look at the earpieces before inserting them in my ears. With the various Shures, which are "handed," you can tell which one goes in which ear by touch alone.

The Phiaton PS 200's sensitivity is specified as 95dB, but I didn't find that it required much in the way of drive. The volume control of my Benchmark DAC1 D/A converter and headphone amp needed to be cracked open only a smidgen for the headphones to play at a satisfyingly high volume.

The sound was clear, clean, and open, but with a lot of treble energy—a lot. On the plus side, the elevated treble enhanced older rock recordings that otherwise might have sounded a tad dull. The Phiatons allowed every filigree detail in the wonderfully produced "Disney Girls," from the Beach Boys' classic Surf's Up album (Brother/Caribou/Epic ZK 46951), to be appreciated, without the mix starting to sound overcooked. My new CD of Bob Reina's jazz quartet, Attention Screen, Live at Ottos's Shrunken Head (CD, Stereophile STPH020-2), which has a naturally balanced high end, sounded a little brighter than it should, but not to the point where it bothered me.

On the other hand, Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire," from the 26-disc sampler Sony Music 100 Years: Soundtrack for a Century, sounded unbearably bright. And while the virtuosic interplay between Bruce Hornsby's piano and his superb rhythm section on the Bach Two-Part Invention he quotes in "Way It Is," from his free Christmas 2007 live download album, Noisemakers Summer 2007 (256kbps MP3, apparently no longer available), was laid delightfully bare, the treble emphasis did make the music sound a touch relentless.

Unfortunately, this balance was exacerbated by the PS 200's low frequencies, which were light in weight, though the bass was still well defined. I made sure that the silicone tips were a tight seal, but the bass still remained suppressed, not only in comparison with the Ultimate Ear UE-5Cs, which are bass busters supreme, but also with the single-armature Shures, which had a little more LF extension and more upper-bass energy. The 1/3-octave warble tones from Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2) smoothly diminished in intensity as the center frequency increasingly dropped below 250Hz on the Phiatons, and were inaudible below 63Hz at normal listening levels.

Summing Up
The Phiaton PS 200 is a nice-looking, nicely presented pair of in-ear headphones—the supplied case allows the cable to be neatly spooled—but whether or not its bright, rather lightweight balance will bother you will depend both on the music you prefer and on a personal audition. Unfortunately, that won't be possible with headphones you can purchase only online.

Phiaton Inc.
18662 MacArthur Blvd., Suite 405
Irvine, CA 92612
(866) 313-3203