Phiaton Chord MS530 Noise-Cancelling Bluetooth Headphone

01
of 05

Noise Cancelling. Bluetooth. Style. Does the MS530 Have It All?

phiaton_ms530.jpg
Brent Butterworth

The Phiaton Chord MS530 is one loaded headphone, in the same sense that a $100,000 Mercedes sedan might be loaded -- i.e., it's got almost every conceivable feature. The MS530's got noise cancelling. It's got Bluetooth. It's got a mic/volume control cable that works with both iOS and Android devices. It folds for easy carrying. And it looks really cool.

Not bad for a headphone that costs just a little more than the hyper-popular Bose QC-15, which has far fewer features and absolutely does not look cool.

What else could the MS530 have? Maybe some fancy DSP processing like the JBL Synchros S700. Maybe a full over-ear design instead of its on-ear design. Maybe an inexplicably prestigious brand?

Oh, and of course it'd be nice if it had the sound quality of PSB's M4U 2, arguably the best-sounding noise-cancelling headphones on the market. Does it? Let's give it a listen.

To see full lab measurements of the Chord MS530, click here.

02
of 05

Phiaton MS530 Chord: Features and Ergonomics

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Brent Butterworth

• 40 mm drivers
• 3.7 ft/0.9 m detachable cord with iOS/Android-compatible inline mic and volume control
• Bluetooth apt-X wireless
• Active noise cancelling
• Micro USB charging jack
• Still works in passive mode or when battery runs down
• Weight: 0.64 lb/290 g
• Soft carrying case included

Like I said, it's hard to come up with a feature you'd really want that the MS530 doesn't have.

Ergonomically, it's a lot better than most on-ear headphones. That's because it's kind of a pseudo on-ear. The ear pads look like they cover the whole earpiece, but there's no foam in the middle, so they don't press hard on your earlobes like most on-ears do. I wore them for an entire Los Angeles to Houston nonstop flight, with nothing but a couple of brief ear breaks, and found them as comfortable as most over-ear noise-cancelling models -- in fact, more comfortable than some.

I loved the little volume/play/pause control slider on the edge of the right earpiece. All of the key functions you need to control are right there, easy to find by feel. It takes a bit to get the hang of it -- adjusting the volume takes a bunch of quick flicks while holding the button skips tracks. I also loved that the cable includes a potentiometer-type volume control that works with any source device.

03
of 05

Phiaton MS530 Chord: Sound Quality

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Brent Butterworth

Let's hit the noise cancelling function first. I got the chance to try the MS530 on a round-trip, four-leg flight from L.A. to Texas, and found its noise cancelling to be about average -- i.e., as good as with typical good noise-cancelling headphones but nowhere near as good as the noise cancelling in the Bose QC-15. But that's still pretty good. The MS530 does a nice job of diminishing the droning engine noise in an airliner cabin. I estimated it at about -10 to -15 dB, comparable to, say, the PSB M4U 2.

The sound quality is more complicated because the MS530 has three different sounds: passive wired non-NC mode, Bluetooth non-NC mode and NC mode (which sounds about the same with the Bluetooth or wired connection).

Let's start with the wired non-NC (passive) mode, since that's the one that reveals the quality of the acoustical engineering. I noticed right away when listening to "Shower the People" from James Taylor's Live at the Beacon Theatre that the MS530's midrange sounds exceptionally clear and neutral, with no noteworthy sonic colorations in Taylor's voice. I heard the same character with audiophile recordings like jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie's version of "I Only Have Eyes for You," and even with mega-compressed heavy metal like Mötley Crüe's "Kickstart My Heart."

So the MS530 got the most important part -- the midrange -- right in passive mode. However, I thought the bass was about +3 to +5 dB too loud. I also noticed that the sound lacked a good sense of space. That could either be because there's a deficiency in the upper treble, above 5 kHz or so, or because the extra bass makes it sound like there's a deficiency in the upper treble. Not only did I lose the ambience in the James Taylor and Lester Bowie recordings, I even lost much sense of the colossal fake reverb effect in "Kickstart My Heart."

Bluetooth mode with noise cancelling off sounded even better, mainly because the bass was more controlled and somewhat reduced in apparent volume. It was still a little pumped-up, but I think it's at a level where most listeners would like it. I still didn't hear much sense of space, so I'm guessing that a soft upper treble is part of the headphone's tuning.

With noise cancelling turned on, the MS530 sounded more colored and muffled, The bass sounds less defined, somewhat bloated ... or more mushy, if you want to put it that way. It also seems a little crispier and coarser in the treble. It's still a satisfying sound, but more along the lines of what I'd expect from a typical good-quality noise-cancelling headphone like the Harman Kardon NC.

Bottom line: I'll give a solid thumbs-up to the MS530's sound in wired passive and Bluetooth wireless modes. With noise cancelling on, I'll give it a "pretty good" rating.

04
of 05

Phiaton MS530 Chord: Measurements

Phiaton MS530 FR.jpg
Brent Butterworth

You can read the full lab measurements of the Chord MS530 here. The most important graph is above, showing the frequency response of the MS530 with noise cancelling on (left channel = blue trace, right channel = red trace) and noise cancelling off (left channel = green trace, right channel = orange trace). In both cases the headphone was connected to the test amplifier with the included cable. There's an unusual amount of energy in the range between 1 and 1.5 kHz. Most headphones have a dip in this range, thought by some to create a more realistic similacrum of real speakers in the real room. This might make the MS530 sound a little midrange-heavy, or even a little soft in the lower treble. You can also see that much of the bass output is lost when noise cancelling is switched off.

05
of 05

Phiaton MS530 Chord: Final Take

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Brent Butterworth

Pros:

• Great styling
• Superb ergonomics and control layout
• Terrific feature package
• Above-average comfort (especially for an on-ear model)
• Excellent (if a bit bass-heavy) sound in wired passive and Bluetooth wireless modes

Cons:

• Just average noise cancelling
• Just average sound (for its category) with noise cancelling on

The MS530's a good choice for someone who wants a noise-cancelling headphone with Bluetooth and great styling, who demands good but not audiophile-perfect sound. If that sounds like I'm hedging -- well, every noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphone I've tried has its flaws.

For example, the Sennheiser MM 550-X sounds fantastic but looks even more workmanlike than the Bose QC-15. The Beats Studio Wireless looks cool, but has a colored, hyped-up sound, which some obviously like but some will not. 

So while the MS530 isn't perfect, it's definitely desirable.