Review: Phiaton BT 460 Wireless Touch-Interface Headphones

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Design & Comfort

The Phiaton BT 460 headphones with carrying case and cable accessories
The Phiaton BT 460 headphones come with a felt-lined hard case and cables (no battery pack included). Stanley Goodner/Lifewire

Over the years, Phiaton has challenged the portable audio market with award-winning products that combine smooth style and desirable aspects for a fantastic price. The company has been known to push forth notable headphone features, such as active noise cancelling (ANC), Bluetooth with aptX support, long battery life, convenient controls, and more. Unveiled at CES 2016, the Phiaton BT 460 ups the ante for affordable wireless over-ear headphones, while indulging a subtle nod towards the design of one of its highly-successful predecessors.

Those familiar with the Phiaton Chord MS 530 Bluetooth headphones will undoubtedly notice the shared resemblance by the BT 460. Hinged, oval-shaped ear cups fold up into a silicone-cushioned headband for compact portability. If you look carefully, you’ll notice how the BT 460 headphones’ over-ear cups are slightly angled back to more closely match orientation of the average human ear. All too many headphone models settle for that straight, vertical style that misses out on the comfort/positioning benefits of curved cups, such as demonstrated by the Phiaton BT 460.

Despite the near all-plastic construction, the Phiaton BT 460 shows care and attention to detail with its design. Sure, it’s not hard to notice the lines where separate pieces join together, if you scrutinize. But the edges are finished smooth to the touch, and the simple, alternating contrast of matte white and silver helps to maintain an elevated appearance. Bold, red fabric lining the insides of each ear cup gives the Phiaton BT 460 a delightful pop of color. Left and right are also discreetly labeled within – some manufacturers still choose to stamp visible L/R markings on the outside, which ends up looking more tacky than not.

Overall, the Phiaton BT 460 headphones’ lightweight frame is openly flexible, but to a point. After fully extending the ear cups down – there are only nine clicks of adjustment that offer a max of 1.125 in of added length – and then pulling them apart from each other (like you’re going to fit the headphones over a basketball), you can see where the potential stress points lie on the headband. Those with above average-sized heads or smaller probably need not worry too much about this kind of wear-and-tear. If you remember not to stretch further than absolutely necessary when putting them on, the Phiaton BT 460 should last – they’re still better than many more we’ve tested in the past.

Although only minimally-padded, the headband is cushioned where it counts to cover contact points made with craniums. The Phiaton BT 460 weighs in at only 240 g (8.4 oz). Coupled with the supple, evenly-distributed clamping force of the ear cups, there isn’t too much pressure to bear down on the top of most heads. It’s been easy to binge-listen to media entertainment without having to take an early break (although breaks have been required) due to accumulated fatigue.

The foam-filled ear pads – technically considered over-ear, but just barely for average-sized ears – are soft and (surprisingly) manage to create a complete seal despite the interior being on the shallower side. However, those with more sensitive and/or larger ears may not find the fit easy or comfortable for so long. Some of us prefer to have over-ear cups that do so with room to spare. But at least the ones on the Phiaton BT 460 offer ample range of vertical and lateral movement. As soon as you put these headphones on, they naturally conform to the shape of your face to mitigate pinch points. Other than tucking in earlobes just a bit, we haven’t had to perform much of any adjusting/repositioning while wearing and listening with these BT 460 headphones.

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The Phiaton BT 460 headphones in white on a table
The Phiaton BT 460 challenges basic wireless headphones through its combination of style, sound, and hardware. Stanley Goodner/Lifewire

A press-hold of the headphones’ power button introduces a fleeting, musical chord and quick vibration buzz in the right ear, followed by a voice greeting. While some won’t/don’t care about startup or shutdown sounds, others of us are put off by obnoxious and/or lengthy sequences. Thankfully, the Phiaton BT 460 is quick about turning on/off, although the vibrating motor element feels very unexpected and unusual – especially for not having any other purpose.

Phiaton’s BT 460 aren’t the first or only headphones to provide users with non-button touch control over music and volume. We’ve seen this functionality with others, such as the older Jabra Revo and the newer B&O Play Beoplay H8 headphones. Sliding a finger forward/back and up/down on the BT 460’s right-side ear cup serves to increase/decrease volume and skip/repeat tracks, respectively. The interface seems equally sensitive over the entire surface – except for the extreme edges – so you don’t have to worry about pressing hard, hitting dead center, or swiping the full length each time. Overall, the touch experience is smooth and responsive. Play/pause, which is performed by double-tapping, can "miss" quite often, even with the right cadence. Alternately, the same function can be done with a single press of the power button, which ends up being far more reliable.

Another notable feature that ends up being more useful than it sounds is the smart play/pause. As with some other headphones, such as the Plantronics BackBeat Sense/Pro or Parrot Zik 2.0, the Phiaton BT 460 automatically pauses music when removed, resuming once they’ve been put back on. A sensor built into the right ear cup detects the difference of applied pressure and triggers the function within a second. Although it’s mostly smart enough – if music happens to be playing while the BT 460 headphones are off, it stays playing when they’re back on – the automatic play/pause does fail to activate once in a great while.

The Phiaton BT 460 also offers hands-free voice conversations through its built-in microphone, with double-taps on the touch surface serving to accept or hang up the current call. To you, the other person’s voice may have a hint of nasal at times, despite sounding quite full and present. And to them, your voice will come in loud, clear, and natural, as if you were speaking through a phone held up to your face. Hands-free may not be a big deal to some users. But if it is, you’ll be pleased with how well the BT 460 performs in that regard. People would never guess that you were speaking through a pair of wireless headphones.

If you’ve used any other Bluetooth audio device, the Phiaton BT 460 pairs as easily as anything else. The Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX support touts "CD-like audio quality," but only with devices that also support the aptX codec – we used a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 smartphone with lossless FLAC and 320 kbps MP3 files throughout our testing. Otherwise, those concerned with maximum fidelity can always plug in the 3.5 mm audio cable. The Phiaton BT 460’s specifications list having a Bluetooth wireless range up to 33 ft (10 m). You can expect the average Bluetooth audio device to make it as far as 24 or so feet before straining the connection. In our real-world tests, the Phiaton BT 460 headphones manage a solid functional range of 32 ft before an abrupt cut-off; you can have greater freedom to roam around corners and/or obstacles without losing the music so quickly.

The Phiaton BT 460 comes with a felt-lined hard case that certainly helps to offset the headphones’ rather lightweight, modestly-durable construction. This case is formidably crush-proof, so you can toss it into a bag with other gear without giving much of a second thought. Inside, there’s extra space with netting that can store the included micro USB and 3.5 mm audio cables. If you own a portable headphone DAC/AMP – preferably something not so much larger than a FiiO K1, HRT dSp, or Cambridge DacMagic XS – you can toss that in there, too. Maybe even a compact external battery pack (around 4,000 mAh capacity) for charging, if you tuck it in the gap made between the headband and folded ear cups.

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Audio Performance

The Phiaton BT 460 headphones resting on a tablet and keyboard
The Phiaton BT 460 headphones provide users with non-button touch control over music and volume. Stanley Goodner/Lifewire

The Phiaton BT 460 headphones are designed well enough so that the Bluetooth wireless adds only a minimal amount of white hiss to the noise floor. Although you can still hear a faint "click" followed by greater silence after pausing music, quieter parts of songs remain pretty clean. There are no tone indicators for adjusting volume with the Phiaton BT 460 headphones, save for when you’ve achieved the maximum or minimum. Although the minimum volume essentially functions as mute, it doesn’t stay that way after unpausing, as the headphones automatically bump the volume up one level from that.

Maxing out both the connected device and headphones pushes the decibels to a range most would consider between "uncomfortable" and "almost painful." So if you like to listen loud, there’s more than enough to go around. It takes nudging the volume to that uncomfortable range before music starts to distort. Any speaker device pushed beyond its ideal output will start to compromise the audio. With the Phiaton BT 460 headphones, distortion is expressed through sharper/edgier highs, strained/fatiguing vocals, gritty mids, bloated lows, and a moderate blurring of edges and overall imaging quality.

The isolation properties of the padded ear cups are par for the course. You can expect to reduce some ambient/environmental noise while wearing the BT 460 headphones, but not a whole lot. Leaking sound is managed better, as you can crank up the volume pretty high before someone sitting a few feet from you would have any idea you're playing music. We’ve found the comfortable listening volume to be set between 25 to 40 percent on the connected device if the headphones are maxed out.

The Phiaton BT 460 headphones pump out enjoyable tunes, depending on personal tastes to sound signatures and genres of music. The soundstage is appreciably wide with enough headroom so that the performance doesn’t feel cramped or squashed. The depth is good, which helps to add to the level of realism. Movement between the left and right sides is active, with elements exhibiting decently clear imaging in their respective places. You can expect to hear enough of the softly-playing details as well as loud ones. But that also depends. The Phiaton BT 460 headphones have a v-shaped sonic curve, which emphasizes the highs and lows over the mids, which won’t be ideal for all people (purists especially) or music types.

While the BT 460’s v-shaped emphasis isn’t necessarily sharp or excessive, it’s certainly evident. These headphones show a bit of their value-oriented pedigree with how transitions in pitch or volume can seem slightly unnatural at times, especially as music moves through the mids. This can also lead to parts of music tracks experiencing pale edges and/or a thinly-veiled sound, although vocals tend to rarely exhibit any sibilance. But for headphones that wouldn’t be considered hi-res by most, the Phiaton BT 460 neatly holds its own for everyday enjoyment.

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Audio Performance (continued)

The Phiaton BT 460 headphones close up on the right ear cup
The Phiaton BT 460 headphones feature oval-shaped ear cups that fold up for compact portability. Stanley Goodner/Lifewire

Hi-hats and cymbals retain a smooth metallic sound, crashing and fading nicely with the very infrequent shimmer or tinny sizzle. There’s sufficient depth to the level of detail, that you can pick up on some woody clicks of sticks beating against the brass. String and wind instruments play nimbly and come across clear with fairly well-defined edges. A lot of overlapping activity (e.g. an increase to track complexity) can lead to a blending of sound, but not to the point that it causes a negative impact on the music. Despite the boost to the highs, the Phiaton BT 460 headphones still deliver more of a relaxed performance – you might find yourself leaning in just a bit for more.

As music moves down into the mids, the Phiaton BT 460 remains mostly solid with respect to tone and texture. While the clarity is good, it does have a tendency to sound cluttered when there is a greater depth of layers. If you enjoy music that highlights midrange vocals and instruments, the Phiaton BT 460 isn’t completely devoid of intensity and expression. But the issue for some may be experiencing recessed sound, especially when the mids are contrasted against the highs and lows. Midrange horns and trumpets may still carry that characteristic burnished tone, but some detail can often be left seeming somewhat muffled and less defined.

The v-shaped sonic curve shows itself in other ways, such as when midrange backup/harmony vocals sound oddly detached versus a lead voice singing rich and clear in the upper registers. Vocals can sound slightly off as they transition between the highs and mids. Midrange vocals can also be thrust behind instruments, sounding like they’re coming from the back of the stage instead of front and center with the lead guitar. And the Phiaton BT 460 headphones can come across as a little colored and grungy as the mids transition to the lows, most notably with prominent electric or bass guitars (e.g. hard rock or heavy metal music).

Although infrequent, based on the music you might listen to, it’s not too hard to get accustomed to the subtle changes to midrange sound. But then you’ll find many albums that play to the Phiaton BT 460 headphones’ strengths of focusing on the lows and highs. Throw on some Digable Planets to immerse yourself into the funky beats of steady drums and bass guitar that contrast nicely against Mary-Ann Viera’s own fresh, sweet vocals. Drums, bass, and synth sounds from the Phiaton BT 460 are quite prominent, yet do well not to step past the line of overindulgence. You can expect a hefty amount of impact and pleasing level of sub-bass rumble. But despite the added weight and emphasis, drums maintain a respectably tight bounce that pairs well with the boosted thump.

The Phiaton BT 460 expresses lows with somewhat more power than finesse – especially at higher volumes – that still maintains proper balance with the highs. While you won’t necessarily pick up on all the musical aspects within the lower frequencies, you can expect a healthy amount that complements what you get from the highs and mids (to a lesser extent). It’s not hard to notice if you know your music tracks intimately. However, for throwing on headphones to enjoy some fun beats and full jams, you may not be so likely to miss it.

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The Verdict

The Phiaton BT 460 headphones resting up against a messenger bag
Red fabric on the inside of the ear cups give the Phiaton BT 460 headphones a delightful pop of color. Stanley Goodner/Lifewire

Whether for wearing at home, in the office, or on the streets, the Phiaton BT 460 headphones have the looks and performance to complement most any lifestyle. Although familiar in some ways, the chic design offers both attractive appearance and supple comfort. The Bluetooth range is excellent, and a three-hour charge time is not too bad for having been able to consistently deliver over 18 hours worth of wireless audio playback. While the Phiaton BT 460 may not be built with materials to withstand severe use, the included hard case helps to prevent it from being crushed under stuff when tossed into a bag.

While most of the features on the Phiaton BT 460 headphones work as intended, some fall short and/or are just puzzling. Touch control for volume and skip/repeat feel natural to use, but it’s the inconsistent play/pause that throws off the experience. It also took us a bit to realize that LEDs flash through the right ear cup to indicate a change in volume – tone indicators for each adjustment level would have been far more useful to the user. And the vibration effect, associated with powering the headphones on/off, feels unnecessary and distractingly out of place.

As for the audio performance, if you love that v-shaped sonic signature, expect to be quite pleased. The Phiaton BT 460 headphones deliver the right balance of detail, clarity, high-end sparkle, and low-end oomph without any forced excess. Although the mids can pull back a bit, it’s not hard to get comfortably accustomed. But what makes these headphones a solid buy is a price that doesn’t break the bank. Available in white or black colorways at US$200, the Phiaton BT 460 challenges your more basic wireless headphones through its enticing combination of style, sound, and modern hardware.