Phiaton’s Chord MS 530 is a comfortable pair of headphones with both noise cancellation and Bluetooth streaming audio. At $349 (list), it’s also priced like it does both things, but it does one (wireless audio) far better than the other—this is not noise cancellation that can really compete with the industry leaders, like Bose. From an audio standpoint, however, the Chord MS 530 sounds great, with rich sub-bass response and crisp highs to balance it out. Purists may not like the sculpted sound, but it’ll appeal to plenty of listeners who like some added low-end without the balance of the mix getting destroyed. Throw in a detachable cable (with inline remote and microphone for mobile devices), and it’s hard to fault the Chord MS 530 too much for its so-so noise cancellation.
The Chord MS 530 is a supra-aural (on-ear) headphone pair, though the earpads are large enough that it almost feels like a circumaural, over-the-ear pair. The pads are exceptionally comfortable as well. While the color scheme of the Chord MS 530 is reminiscent of the Beats by Dr. Dre lineup, its black, metallic, and red highlights combine in such a way that it looks like its own design and not a complete copy.
The headphones are easy to pair with any modern Bluetooth device (we used an iPhone 5s), but they also ship with a detachable cable. There’s no need to re-pair every time you power up, by the way—the headphones and device pair up again automatically (if you pair using Auto mode, as detailed in the manual) when you turn the headphones on.
The cable includes an inline remote control and microphone for mobile devices—its volume slider is fairly unique, and is accompanied by a single button for controlling playback and answering calls. When the cable is connected, it’s impossible to power up the headphones, which is a nice battery saver.
The Chord MS 530 charges via a USB cable that connects to the left ear piece, near the switch for activating the noise cancellation circuitry. It would’ve been nice to see a dedicated charger at this price, but it’s not a deal-breaker. The right ear houses a Call answer button, a combination Play/Pause/Volume control, and the Power button. The control is fairly intuitive, but if you hold it down for too long, you can end up doing things other than adjusting volume, like scrubbing, fast forward or backward, through a track.
Phiaton rates the battery life for the Chord MS 530 at anywhere from about 17-30 hours when playing music—the low end represents the life with noise cancellation activated and the high-end without it turned on, while the headphones get an estimated 50 hours of standby battery life.
Included with the Chord MS 530: the aforementioned cables, an airplane jack adapter, and a snazzy black drawstring protective pouch.
The noise cancellation circuitry is a bit of a conundrum. In moderately loud rooms, it’s easy to hear the very audible hiss the circuitry creates—it actually makes a quiet room louder. But in rooms with substantial noise, or on a train or plane, the circuitry does a reasonable job of eliminating constant ambient hums and drones. It’s hard to view the noise cancellation circuitry as a real selling point of these headphones, however—they can’t touch what the Bose QuietComfort series is capable of. The selling point is that for $350, you get not only a wireless headphone pair, but one with noise cancellation built-in as well. Since these are solid in the wireless audio department, the noise cancellation can be viewed as a bit of an unnecessary but pleasant extra feature. And purely speaking about the wireless transmission itself, it is clean clear, and dynamic.
From an audio standpoint, there’s not a wild difference between the wireless and wired sound signature of the Chord MS 530. On tracks with deep bass, in both modes, the Chord MS 530 does not distort, and delivers some powerful low-end, even at top, unwise listening levels. At more moderate volumes, the bass still seems plenty powerful—not to a fault, but these are definitely designed with the bass lover in mind.
On Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” both his baritone vocals and the drumming in the background get a nice, subtle dose of added richness in the lows—nothing is boosted so much that the bass becomes a distraction, and the vocals also receive a healthy helping of high-mid presence that keeps them, and the guitar strumming, in the forefront of the mix.
Overall, this a nicely balanced sound, on full display on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the wild”, which combines the ominous depth of sub-bass synth stabs with the treble edge of the kick drum loop’s attack. This is a pair that gives you the sub-bass when it’s in the mix, but it never invents it when it’s not there. Classical music is also handled nicely—with only a subtle added bass presence, the higher register strings and percussion own the spotlight, but things never sound too thin or brittle. No one would mistake this for a flat response pair, but if you like a little added bass and crispness, you’ll likely enjoy the Chord MS 530′s sound signature.
If booming bass in a wireless pair is what you’re looking for, it can be found, perhaps at the sacrifice of the overall balance of the mix—check out the Scosche RH1060. If your main priority is having quality noise cancellation, both the Bose QuietComfort 15 and the Bose QuietComfort 20i are excellent, but the latter, in-ear version is a level beyond anything we’ve tested in terms of lowering surrounding noise levels. And if you’re really just looking for a balanced Bluetooth headphone pair, but want to spend far less money, the Sennheiser MM 100 is a solid, lighter on-ear option. At $349, the Chord MS 530 would be overpriced as a Bluetooth pair only, but the added, albeit modest, noise cancellation, as well as a cable that allows it to be used in wired, passive mode, adds versatility and value.
|Active Noise Cancellation||Yes|
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