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Recommended
4 stars
Amazon
$179.00
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Overall Grade
4 stars
Bottom Line
Recommended

Phiaton BT 330 NC Wireless Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

Reviewed by:
Review Date:1
February 19th, 2016
Manufacturer:
Phiaton

What's better than being able to place your music and audio entertainment directly on your ears? Being able to block out all that useless ambient noise at the same time… and being able to do it all wirelessly, of course! After all, what good is being able to listen to John Denver's 'Leaving on a Jet Plane' on your next flight if all you can hear is an actual jet plane? And how can you dance to Men without Hats' "Safety Dance" when you're chained to a headphone wire? You can't! And if you don't dance, then you're no friend of mine!

With all that in mind, wireless Bluetooth headphones with active noise cancellation have become a very popular option among headphone models, offering greater mobility and a more pleasant listening experience in loud environments. This brings us to Phiaton's BT 330 NC, a pair of headphones that promise to deliver all your favorite music tracks -- whether you're in the comfort of your own home or subject to the discomfort of a noisy commute.

Specs and Design

The BT 330 NC Headphones feature an on-ear design that incorporates 40mm drivers with an optimized vibration system and a frequency response rated for 20 Hz ~ 27 kHz. Impedance is listed as 32 Ohm, sensitivity is 98 dB/mW, and max input power is 1,000 mW. In the box, customers will find the headphones themselves, a carrying case, a micro USB to 3.5mm audio cable, a USB charging cable, a limited 1-year warranty card, and a quick guide.

The device offers Dual Action Active Noise cancellation technology that uses dual microphones to cancel out a wide range of low frequency noises at up to 95%. Likewise, the headphones include support for wireless Bluetooth 4.0 playback at up to 33ft with aptX and AAC. In addition, Multipoint Connection is offered as well, letting users connect two Bluetooth devices at the same time. Battery life for music playback is rated for 14 hours with Noise Cancellation on, and 30 hours with Noise Cancellation off. Standby Time is listed as 29 hours with Noise Cancellation on and 630 hours with Noise Cancellation off. The full charge time is about 3.2 hours.

From an aesthetic standpoint the headphones look rather nice with a black and silver headband and red accents on the earcups. Functionally, the design is also sound, with controls for Bluetooth power and playback on the back right earcup and a switch for toggling NC on/off on the back of the left earcup. A standard slide adjustment is integrated on each side of the headband as well, allowing users to customize the band for their desired size. Likewise, a very handy hinge on each side of the headband allows the earcup sections to fold up for portability. 

Overall, the plastic build quality is solid, though the headphones are just a hair on the flimsy side. Thankfully, the ear cushions prove to be very comfortable, even during extended listening. With that said, the headphones might veer toward the tight side for some users, and comfort did take a hit when wearing glasses. With my specs on, the headband would occasionally squeeze my ears against my frames (they are on the thick side) -- but this is an issue with most headphone models… revealing just another "perk" to having myopia. 

The BT 330 also comes with a nice black cloth drawstring carrying case with a red inseam to match the colors of the headphones. When folded up, the headphones fit perfectly in the pouch and there's even a second inner pouch for putting cables. 

Unfortunately, I do have two small caveats when it comes to the included cables -- first the headphones only come with a USB to micro USB charging cable, meaning one must purchase a separate AC power plug adapter if they want to charge the headphones through their wall outlets. Otherwise, the headphones need to be plugged into another USB port capable of charging, like a computer or laptop. This isn't too much of an issue, however, since most users already have an AC adapter from their cell phone chargers. Second, the included micro USB to 3.5mm audio cable is rather short in length which does limit its usefulness. Of course, these headphones really are geared more toward wireless Bluetooth use, but a slightly longer cable would have been appreciated.

Audio Performance

For this section, I'm going to address the headphone's overall audio quality using a standard wired connection. For review purposes, I listened to numerous HiFi music tracks through TIDAL. 

Upon first listen, I found the BT 330 to sound just a tad hollow, but after a bit more break in time and test material, the strengths of the headphone's audio signature quickly became more apparent. In general, the BT 330 offers a pleasingly balanced and neutral sound profile with a slight bias toward mids that offers good performance for a variety of musical styles and genres. My usual array of test tracks covered songs from a variety of artists, including David Bowie, Arcade Fire, Gnarls Barkley, Miles Davis, Radiohead, Fleet Foxes, Norah Jones, Kanye West, The Beatles, Nick Drake, Tinashe, Beach House, Julee Crusie, Max Richter, The Weekend, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj, and the Antlers.

For the most past, vocals were nicely realized, and Norah Jones' soft, delicate lyrics came through with lovely texture on "Don't Know Why." In contrast, Matt Berninger's trademark baritone carried a deep, commanding presence on The National's "I Should Live in Salt" and the band's moody rendition of "The Rains of Castamere" from 'Game of Thrones.' And though the headphones lack the warmer quality I grew to like on another pair that I recently reviewed (the in-ear AudioFly AF 140), the comparatively neutral bias here provides a more accurate listening experience. With that said, some vocals can sound a little on the flat side.

On the low end, the BT 330 handles bass quite well, offering clean and steady low frequencies that don't distort. Deeper tracks from artist's like Kanye West, Gnarls Barkley, and Nicki Minaj retained full, thumping bass without overpowering the rest of the music. More varied pop and R&B tracks from Ariana Grande, The Weekend, and Tinashe also sounded great, mixing a range of frequencies, instruments, and electronic beats while keeping highs, mids, and lows nicely balanced and spacious.  

Likewise, with rock and indie music selections the headphones also did a good job of keeping instruments and vocals distinct without any cluttering or notable issues with muddiness or sharpness. Radiohead's "Life in a Glasshouse" is a favorite test track of mine due to its eclectic style and use of varied instruments, crooning vocals, and escalating range -- and the BT 330 handled it all like a champ, bringing in those blaring trumpets without drowning out the rest of the track, allowing all of the audio elements to breathe. 

Airier songs from artists like Beach House and Julee Cruise maintained an appropriately eerie presence with gentle, haunting melodies. Classical and instrumental pieces also played well through the BT 330. I've become a bit obsessed with Max Ricther's score for HBO's 'The Leftovers,' and these tracks, especially "Dona Nobis Pacem," are great for demoing range as the mournful tune slowly builds toward a powerful crescendo with no distortion, even at higher volumes. 

When it comes to movie performance, the BT 330 headphones offered similarly pleasing results with a variety of Blu-ray discs, including 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,' 'Game of Thrones,' 'X-Men: Days of Future Past,' and 'Roger Waters The Wall.' Clarity, stereo separation, and range were fairly strong with all of the material, though some of the nuances in the 'X-Men' mix did get a bit lost in the chaos of action scenes. 

In contrast, 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' and 'Game of Thrones' were better balanced through the BT 330, mixing aggressive cues (like the Battle of Blackwater Bay) with more delicate texture. Of course, 'Roger Waters The Wall' proved to be the most impressive through the headphones, and the music sounded amazing with enveloping fidelity that came through with precision on all ends of the spectrum – making it feel as if I had the concert experience strapped to my ears.

To cap off my movie testing, I also demoed some streaming DTS Headphone:X clips (which allows for 11.1 immersive audio with height channels). The BT 330 was able to produce the effect without any issues, creating a convincing sense of side, rear, and overhead audio that almost mimicked a genuine surround sound setup.

Usually with headphone or speaker models I can pinpoint specific flaws in the highs, mids, or lows if the device veers too hot one way or comes across as too bright or dull. But the BT 330 really avoids any egregious issues with its audio profile. With that said, there is perhaps a slight gap going toward the extreme highs/lows robbing some of the punchier material of a little "oomph." Whether with music or movies, the BT 330 can sound a little flat at times and some material doesn't always come across as dynamic as one might expect. Still, this relatively neutral audio profile moves more toward a technically accurate presentation and does a great job of avoiding any troublesome muddiness or harshness.

Features

Beyond standard wired playback, the real draw of the BT 330 is its Bluetooth wireless playback and Active Noise Cancelation. To test Bluetooth, I used my Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone with a variety of MP3s and streaming apps like Spotify and TIDAL. 

Engaging Bluetooth really couldn't be any simpler. Users simply need to press down on the power button on the headphones. A handy voice will then speak letting you know that the Headphones are on. Then, after engaging the Bluetooth mode on your smartphone and selecting the headphones, another handy voice chimes in to let you know that they have been paired. From there, playback was essentially flawless with no notable technical quirks. Likewise, though not quite as strong as wired playback, wireless playback quality with aptX was very strong, and I could get about 40 feet away from my phone before I encountered dropouts. 

The headphones also offer some convenient Bluetooth playback controls, letting users easily play/pause, cycle through tracks, and adjust volume with a single switch. A quick flip up and down increases or decreases volume (separate from your phone volume), while holding the switch up or down will skip through tracks. Meanwhile, pressing down will pause/play the music, and holding down will disengage audio playback to let in ambient sounds for about 30 seconds. Getting used to the functions can be a little awkward at first, but after some time with the unit, the controls work just fine.

In addition to audio playback, the headphones include a Bluetooth calling feature allowing users to answer calls with the headphones and integrated microphone. This feature also works pretty well, and I was able to hear the other caller clearly. Likewise, my Bluetooth calling guinea pig (my lovely mother) could also hear me just fine -- though she did note that I sounded comparatively amplified and a little far away... causing her to fret with worry until I explained the situation.

Of course, wireless playback isn't all that useful if your music is still being drowned out by troublesome ambient noise. Thankfully, this is where the Active Noise Cancelation feature comes into play. To engage this option, users simply need to activate the NC switch on the left side of the headphones. In general, this works pretty well but isn't quite on par with other superior NC models. Still, the feature comes in very handy during subway rides and plane trips. To be clear, Active Noise Cancelation does not get rid of higher pitched sounds like background chatter or dreaded crying babies. 

Instead, the technology is designed to cancel out ambient low frequencies, like a plane engine or the loud continuous noise of a moving train. In both cases, the NC mode was able to noticeably reduce the loud ambient hum in these environments, making it much easier to focus on the music without cranking it up to obscene volumes. With that said, the mode does also introduce some inherent side effects to the general audio profile of the headphones, making playback sound a tad flatter and with a very subtle hiss. It's a tradeoff, of course, and though some other Noise Cancelling models have better performance, the implementation here is still very solid.

Final Thoughts

With its full set of features -- including Bluetooth, noise cancellation, wireless calling, wired playback, and a foldable design -- Phiaton's BT 330 is a very solid pair of headphones. Audio quality is very good, avoiding any notable sharpness or dullness in the highs or lows while maintaining a consistent mid-range. Though this relatively neutral audio profile can sound a tad on the flat side with some content, the headphones offer a balanced sound without distortion.

Likewise, Bluetooth playback works perfectly and the active noise cancelation manages to wipe out a decent amount of troublesome low frequency ambience. While there are some more expensive models that offer better NC performance (the popular Bose QuietComfort 25 come to mind), these headphones are definitely no slouch. The BT 330 never quite reaches that almost revelatory quality in accuracy and dimension that comes from the very best premium headphones, but in this price range ($179 on Amazon) they offer very well-rounded performance and a great set of features -- giving users the ability to enjoy their music with the portability to get their funk on, even during noisy commutes. Though I must caution, dancing on a NYC subway train with noise cancelling headphones on can lead to dire consequences... not that I would know from personal experience or anything...    

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