Phonaudio PHN100 Headphone Review by mark2410
Thanks to Phonaudio for the sample.
TLDR? Try here http://www.head-fi.org/t/819924/phonaudio-phn100-headphone-review-by-mark2410#post_12856116
First Impressions: So I’ve already had in its little brother, the PHN200, which is on ear but then so is this. This is bigger certainly, the cups are still on ears though which is a little bit of a surprise. On their website they do refer to them as over ears but they aren’t. I guess they want a high degree of portability. So colour wise this time I went with the black with silver and I can’t decide if I like these more or less than the black on black, both look quite nice. What I do notice is that they have taken a price plunge, so have their siblings which went from £209 to now just £169. I err, can’t remember what the 100’s were previously but I remember they were more than the 200, which they still are coming in at £189.
On the ears they go and near silence. Oh something is very wrong here. Oh, right I forgot the cable has its own variable resistor volume control. Oops that was why it was so quiet. With that adjusted and instantly these sound just like their siblings. A big, weighty bass centric power fest. Though if acoustic memory serves these have a dash more treble. Is a bitty touch more metallic an impact? Is there also greater breadth to the mids? Hmmm, burn in time.
Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-650, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Lumia 735, Nexus 5 and Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear.
Lows: These have a rambunctiously vigorous bass quantity. The audio snob in me instantly thinks oh this is much too much, it is highly elevated. However its really rather fun, I’m not particularly keen on lots of bass but here they have pushed its bass hump down a bit, leaving a bit of space between it and the mids. The bass therefore isn’t that instantly recognisable mid/bass cup hump you get with some. So it isn’t as recognisably bassy at first as it really is. You need a little track skipping and then you find something that has its bass ranges a little fraction lower down and then GRRRRRR!!! It’s got a lot of power. Flicking back and forth with the 200 there are certain similarities and given their driver sizes being the same I wonder if it is the same one. This however with its rather larger ear cups has a larger chamber in which to resonate and for the pressure wave to expand into. Intentional or not but this nudges the bass down in that critical mid/bass zone. These are therefore the slightly more mature sound signature. There are still bassy beasts but it’s more centred on the middle bass ranges and it’s got a bit of a softer low bass texture. It’s less potently assertive.
Quantity wise these are still bass centric but is better bass, it’s more where it should be. It is still capable of being significantly too much for me. There is a serious potential for acoustic skull crushing pressure. This is also enhanced by powering these well. That potency is power and thus it needs to be fed power to be its most forceful. Depending or your tastes you may want all the power you can throw its way or you may want to use a lesser source (like a phone) and push that bass in a more expansive, bloomy, less hard direction.
Mids: They may be in a relative valley however they are fractionally dry and are given a good deal of space and breadth. They thusly are goodly clear as you would expect from a premium item. This is after all what it I think you’re paying for in better quality bass cannons like these. Sure you get gobs of bass but you also want to be able to have rendered the vocals, cleanly and intelligibly. You need to hear after all how Miss Minaj’s isn’t missing any meals and how her gentleman caller finds that most pleasing. While I recognise that its music of the acoustic sort that these are likely to encounter in the wild, they are still capable of performing very well with more erm, refined vocal styles. Beverly Cravens “Lost Without You” is more bassy than it ought to be but the vocals are of a good quality. There aren’t quite nailed perfectly but for a big old bass cannon these are still holding their own against the likes of the Momentums. Granted the senses do mids better, more openly and with less congestion but they then don’t come close to the voluminous scale of the bass on the 100’s.
The clarity aids greatly in their lack of total abundance so while the bass and treble are both greater in quantity I don’t especially feel like the mids are lacking explicitness. Their space from the bass given how much bass is something they must have spent some time ensuring. I think while it’s not my ideal vocal style as I’m very much a midhead, I am still kept rather pleased by their detail levels despite the bass.
Highs: They are pretty good. They cut through pretty cleanly and crisply, like the mids, despite that bass. Thankfully they haven’t gone crazy with them and while it is V shaped a sound signature, it’s a slanted V in the favour of the bass. Thank goodness because if there was as much as treble it would kill me. They are a bit weighted down by the bass also by their rather closed nature. The treble doesn’t have the airyness nor the space to feel light. It has a slightly dampened quality. Stylistically this is probably a good thing as I suspect these are headphones not destined to be fed 24 bit 192kbit, masterfully mastered symphonies. Firing up some Miss Gaga, who I find particularly notorious for bad mastering and her treble doesn’t offend, well much anyway. They have a pretty credible detail level which imparts a bit of an impact that’s slightly rounded. This does suffocate somewhat the delicate shimmer of other sorts of music. As I say though these are not likely going to be used by big Susan Wong fans. When playing back Gaga’s “Telephone” the star of the show is the bass, the treble here recognises the fact its playing second fiddle.
Quantity wise there is an elevation to the treble, it’s somewhat like the bass in that it’s not elevated where it comes close to the mid-range. The treble exists predominantly in the middle of the treble range, rather steeply trailing off in the very high end so it doesn’t give that greater airy feel. The dominant force is the big, darkening, weighty bass. The treble is a complimentary accompaniment though it does deliver decent detail levels. It never dominates and it’s never abundant enough to be the start of the show even in treble happy Owl City stuff.
Soundstage: These are deep and darkly enclosed. The treble is enough to stop them feeling proper suffocating but the bass sucks a lot of the air out of things. Big and powerfully scaled. The bass is what’s dominant though while these are most definitely enclosed sounding that enclosure isn’t tiny. It’s a fair sized room but it is one that is sealed.
Fit: On they went and that was it really.
Comfort: While there are called over ear, they aren’t. Unless I have stupidly massive ears (which I don’t) these are still very, very much on ears. They just aren’t resting on the inner ear but round the edges, all around. It’s not like some that just catch the bottom of my ear, these are resting on my ears on all sides, all the way round. They therefore are a headphone that after a few hours my ears wanted a bit of a break. Not unusually bothersome or anything but my ears did want a bit of a breather from time to time.
Cable: Quite nice. I like that it’s replaceable and I do also rather like its inline volume controls. What makes this a little different from many modern things is that the control is based on a variable resistor so its works with everything. It isn’t control signal dependant on your phone.
Isolation: Dependant on how good a seal you get, for me it was reasonable. I’d be fine using these out and about and possible on a bus too. Though perhaps not entirely my first choice. Not one I’d recommend for Tube or flight use. However as always with music playing they will easily obscure motorised death machines of you don’t watch where you’re going.
Phone use: Plugged into phone (nexus 5) and made a call. I was told I sounded rather muffled, why this was so when the 200 I was told I sounded fine, who knows. Still I rather am still a fan of the control button being on both sides, as in both ear cups, of them. It’s a little thing but I just like it.
Build Quality: As with their siblings there are rather nice. They are predominantly plastic. They do say it’s I think, TR90 or something. Phonaudio like to call it “Plastic Titanium” which I guess means it’s really tough. The headband extension arms are metal though. Visually it’s all very neatly put together and it feels sturdy too. I can find no cause for complaint. Very nice.
Aesthetics: This pair I got is the silver one. It’s obviously mostly black with silver highlighted bits. You can also get these is black or in gold too. The black one (my PHN200 is a black one) looks really nice to me as do these silver ones. I can’t decide which I prefer as I like them both equally. The gold one though, yeah but no. I’ve never been a fan of gold, ever, gold just isn’t me. It is relatively tastefully done, the gold or silver highlights are visually gently accentuating rather than dominant.
Amped/Unamped: With their inclusion of a mic and control buttons they are obviously made with phones in mind. Phone as musical sources tend to suck. They just don’t have the power behind them to drive things to their best but that isn’t strictly a bad thing with these. You see these have a highly potent bass response and when you run them off a weedy source that bass loses some of its vociferously bombastic impact. The bass softens, blooms a bit and is noticeably less aggressive so that may be to some people tastes more. It’s softer on the ear and given it’s of a very significant quantity that maybe desirable. Still these are not strictly in need of amping they perform well out of just about everything I tried but the purist in me wanted them excelling. I think if you’re going to buy a bass cannon, and a rather premium bass canon then to not allow it to unleash its fullest potential is a waste. It would be like buying a Ferrari and only using it on Sundays to drive to church, never exceeding 20mph. That said you maybe don’t to always drive that same Ferrari, stamping on the accelerator if you’re just nipping to Tesco.
Accessories: You get a moderately light bundle. Their website says you get a cable, a user guide and a carry pouch. Mine came sans pouch so I can’t say what it’ll be like.
Value: These have already taken a price cut down to £189 which still isn’t cheap, these are premium product with a premium price. Now while in terms of the Head-Fi world these aren’t going to HD600 challenging, they are a radically different proposition. These are taking a commonly lower end sound signature and elevating its quality to levels. There are highly bass centric acoustic beast. Beastly, beastly bassy monsters these can be if you throw power and a bassy track at them. They take that signature that is so readily available in low quality products and push its quality upward. This taking aim at the likes of Beats but more visually tastefully so and with a more accomplished sound quality.
Conclusion: These are very mixed felling provoking for me. At times a found them highly entertaining, some random track would come on and it would offer up a rip roaring party time. Oodles of fun even it was readily apparent someone had been playing silly buggers with the bass boost button. Wild, bassy party time all the way. However like downing shots of tequila one or two or three, maybe even 4 can be fun but there is a point my ears reached where they expressed they had had enough. You know I’m not 18 anymore and while back then I could go out multiple days on the trot, get hammered and feel fine. Now if I do so I know there will consequences and days of wanting to do nothing but curl up on the sofa, in the dark with maybe just a cup of sweet tea. The PHN100’s are Tequila. They might be good quality Tequila but still there is only so much my delicate constitution / ears can handle before I’m bowing out.
It’s safe to say these couldn’t be my only headphone, they are too wild, too bass, too drama filled, too riotously rambunctious. In little doses they are fabulously crazy and I can love them, I just can’t do it for long. Crazy crazy bass monsters, party cannons extraordinaire.
So would I / should you buy one? Me, maybe, but maybe not. Crazy things can be fun for sure and I don’t know I want this level of crazy. You however, if you want posterior kicking bass by the barrel load you could do a hell of a lot worse than grabbing a pair of these. Vast bass but its quality bass, especially when amped. It’s got a good solidity to its kick and if you want backside kicking bass this I feel is the better of the siblings. The nudge in its bass peak downwards gives the mids better breadth and the treble too seems to have a little more air in which to manoeuvre. You do give up some degree of mid and treble quality to get this bass but it is the bass on these that will be the reason you want and buy a pair.