Not unlike the current proliferation of quality television available, we also live in a golden age of headphones. Since we can now easily carry enough music to last us weeks at a time, we need the means with which to listen to it effectively; hence the million-and-one list of accessories for our earholes. But how to choose what’s right for each of us as individual listeners?
It’s not an easy question to answer, since personal listening tastes can vary widely. If you pay any attention to portable audio, you know that mp3 isn’t the best file format for accurate sound quality, and perhaps because of that headphone brands like Beats have had a lot of success trading high-fidelity audio reproduction for massive levels of bass, figuring if they aren’t going to move you with the accuracy of their sound reproduction, they’ll do it by bruising your eardrums instead.
But there are good headphones out there that figure you actually want to listen to the music in a way that makes it pretty close to what the musician intended. I’d put the Ph?z P2 headphones in that category.
My current baseline for headphones that deliver a good quality, clean, and balanced sound are the Bowers & Wilkins P5. I’ve spent the last week comparing the Ph?z P2 headphones to the B&Ws, actually listening to songs, pausing, switching headphones, and replaying segments to compare and contrast, and the Ph?z came out of the challenge standing strong. While I’d say the B&Ws have an overall slightly cleaner sound, the Ph?z P2s deliver in a couple ways that may make them a more attractive choice for listeners.
The B&W headphones are on-ear–meaning the earcups rest against the cartilage of your ear–which may be uncomfortable to some people, whereas the Ph?z are over-the-ear. The B&W headphones actually deliver passive noise reduction, doing an effective job of blocking out external sounds to create a more “enclosed” listening environment. The Ph?z gear allows a lot more ambient sound in which, some might say, would interfere with the listening experience. On the other hand, that makes them much safer to wear when walking down a street or doing other activities where you still need to be aware of what’s going on around you–a personal listening choice.
Where the Ph?z headphones really get interesting are in the features they carry that most other headphones don’t. Without getting into a deep explanation, your portable music device, whether it be your phone, your laptop, or whatever, only has so much power to devote to generating the sounds that come out of the speakers sitting on your ears. Better sound often depends on the size and quality of the drivers inside those speakers, which in turn demands more power. This is why you see many really pretentious audiophiles use additional mini-amplifiers to power their headphones. Really, it’s just like needing an amp between your turntable and your speakers.
The Ph?z P2s include a small battery-powered amp built into the headphones. The effect is pretty neat. You can listen to them turned off, and they’re nice headphones. You press and hold the on/off button for a couple seconds, and suddenly the sound swells, becoming fuller and more well-rounded. It’s not just like you turned up the volume, the music becomes a bit more alive.
And if that’s not enough, there’s also a bass boost button. It won’t bring you up to Beats levels of eardrum bruising, but it adds just that little bit of extra, added oomf–if that’s your personal taste. I tended to keep it off, preferring the balanced sound instead.
To power this ability, the headphones have a rechargeable battery built in, so yes, you’ll need to recharge them after every 10 hours of use, but this adds another interesting side feature: you can recharge your phone or other device FROM THE HEADPHONES. There’s a USB-out jack you can use to pump power into another device; Ph?z claims you can get up to a 70% recharge, depending upon a number of factors. It’s kind of a quirky feature, but potentially useful in a pinch.
Speaking of connecting to another device, the Ph?z P2s also have an audio out jack, so you can share tunes as well, which is a nice touch. They also fold down about as far as you could expect over-the-ear headphones to go, and fit into a decently rugged carrying bag that’s included in the box.
Bottom Line: music listening is a very personal experience, and tastes vary widely. The Ph?z P2s are a very interesting entry into a very busy playing field, offering an enjoyable, balanced sound and features that make them stand out from their peers in the price range. If you prefer listening to all of your music, rather than just a bass line pounding on your eardrums, these are a good choice, and the mix of onboard amplification, music sharing, and device charging make them pretty compelling.
You can order the Ph?z P2s from the maker for $199, or you can find them from various authorized re-sellers on Amazon.
Wired Over-Ear Style
Integrated mobile device charging technology
Integrated, discrete, HD amplifer
15db Active Bass Boost switch
Active Music Share listening port (3.5mm)
40mm drivers w/ neodymium magnet
Carbon Fiber design
Interchangeable, perforated, black leather ear pad
1200 MAH batter
Micro USB internal battery charge port
USB Type A external device charge port
Apple MFI version 3 Button Mic/audio cord
Internal Charge LED status indicator
External Charge LED status indicator
[Note: a review unit was provided by the manufacturer.]