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September 27, 2009

Closing out the world, but letting the music in, with Phiaton headphones

Ordinarily, the products I receive unsolicited in hopes of a review are recordings. Lately, I've been having fun testing a product made for listening to those recordings -- headphones by a company called Phiaton.

Time was when I could work contentedly with any amount of distraction in the newsroom, but I've been finding it harder to do so. I tend to plug into the computer soon after getting to work, listening to CDs or XM/Sirius while I write. Until now, that has meant using whatever headphones came with the computer -- featherweight, adequate-sounding types that just did barely the job.

I was intrigued to try out Phiaton's model MS 400, not only for the chance to gain a sonic advantage (and greater noise reduction), but also for the cool look -- this baby's got a bright red headband and ear cushions to match. Nothing like making a fashion statement while you're gettin' down with Mahler or Strauss.

Of course, I'd never want to have an aural accessory purely for style (although a devotion to "Mad Men" has sure made me susceptible). It's got to sound good, good enough to put up with having something that weighs 6.5 oz. stuck on your head.

To tell the truth, it has been so long since I put on any truly solid headphones that I didn't think I'd like the experience at all. I had gotten used to earbuds or products only a small step up from those junky things that airlines pass around. There's something to be said for barely being able to feel something on your head or in your ears, but there's a lot more to be said

for putting on a device that can deliver life-like, full-spectrum sound. Phiaton does that handsomely. I have found that great clarity, warmth and evenness from bass to treble are the rule, as much in listening to classical as pop (I really do listen to other stuff, you know). External noises are nicely muted, but I can still hear the phone or an angry editor just fine.

The headphones show off best when plugged into a regular stereo system, needless to say (a plug adapter is included), but I'm delighted with the results at the computer, where I end up spending so much time each week. They're also terrific with an iPod.

(By the way, I tried out the cool-looking Phiaton PS 200 earbuds, which I assumed would provide a big improvement over the standard issue you get with an iPod, but I can't say I was blown away by the results.)


Posted by Tim Smith at 1:46 PM | | Comments (1)


Earbuds are easily the _worst_ invention for audio playback. Nothing beats a good pair (or set) of studio monitors blasting away before you, but _closed_ high-end headphones (Sennheiser, AKG, etc.) are a decent alternative -- people just have to make sure that they find a comfortable set, since heads come in all shapes and sizes! Earbuds just _cannot_ provide the same experience: they're _too_ freakin' small!!! -- plus, in order to compensate for the obvious design shortcomings, a lot of people simply raise the volume -- can you say, "Permanent hearing loss?" WHAT?!?!?

(I'll have to give a set of Phiatons a shot -- I'm seeing lots of people mention just how darn comfortable they are!)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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