Phiaton Moderna MS 400 Headphones
by John Crossett
||"The Phiaton MS
400s have a smooth overall sound with no rough edges that jarred me out of the sonic bliss
they induced." "If I had to compare them to a full-sized loudspeaker, it would be a
Lowther model. Lowthers are single-driver speakers that, together with a low-power amp, have
subdued highs and lows but offer a glorious midrange." "As is usual with most
closed-back headphones, the soundstage is a bit constricted. Yet the MS 400s offered good
definition within the space they allotted for the instruments to inhabit."
||"The MS 400s are
on-the-ear headphones -- sort of. While they are far smaller in circumference than full-sized
headphones, their oval shape is also slightly larger than most round on-ear models."
"They have decent-sized 40mm drivers and can accept up to 1000mV of output power. They
offer a low impedance of 32 ohms along with a highish sensitivity rating of 98dB. This means
that they should be able to be used with an iPod at little or no sonic penalty."
||"These 'phones do
not use electronic noise canceling, but they still kept a majority of outside noise from
reaching my ears. They do an even better job of keeping the music inside with little leakage
of sound in, even in the quietest environments. I could listen to these in the same room with
my sleeping spouse and never bother her."
||"The MS 400s
sounded very good straight out of my iPod and laptop. This quality alone would make them
perfect for the on-the-go, value-conscious music lover who still craves high-quality sound
without the extra weight and expense an outboard headphone amp."
New products, especially ones sold
manufacturer-direct, have an especially difficult time gaining acceptance in the picky
audiophile community, which raises a question: Who is Phiaton and why should anyone get
excited about what they have to offer, especially when they ask you to spend $249 USD on
the Moderna MS 400 headphones?
First off, Phiaton is a division of Creysn
Corporation of Korea. According to the company website, Creysn has a long history of
producing raw components "found in many of the best-selling headphones, earphones,
and speakers." In a move to gain a larger slice of the economic pie as well as put
the company's years of research to a more consumer-friendly use, Creysn created Phiaton to
market two lines of full-fledged audio products and three different headphone models in
the Primal and Moderna series. The MS 400s are the upper member of the latter group. By
combining high-tech design with high-fashion acceptance, Phiaton hopes to make audio
equipment that is not only stylish but good-sounding as well. The Moderna MS 400
headphones most definitely are striking to the eye, but how would they sound to the ear?
Two aspects of the Phiaton MS 400s jumped out at
me right away: the bright-red leather ear pads and headstrap. Since they were not what I
expected, they made for a big "wow" factor. Then the carbon-fiber enclosures
also caught my attention. They showed that Phiaton wanted to ensure that sound quality was
not forgotten, because carbon fiber is an extremely light and rigid material. Its
inclusion here means that the MS 400s will weigh next to nothing and that little
sound will be lost due to the enclosure flexing. (As an aside, carbon fibers light
weight and extreme rigidity are why it is now used almost exclusively in the manufacture
of high-end bicycles, where these qualities are highly prized.) Plus, the carbon-fiber
weave on the backs of the headpieces looks high-tech cool.
The MS 400s are on-the-ear headphones -- sort of.
While they are far smaller in circumference than full-sized headphones, their oval shape
is also slightly larger than most round on-ear models. If you have smaller ears, the MS
400s will fit comfortably around them. On the other hand, if your ears are large, the MS
400s are going to rest more on their edges than around them. Fortunately, the MS 400s
press firmly but without undue pressure, so they are going to be comfortable during
marathon listening sessions.
Because the MS 400s are also closed-back
headphones, proper isolation becomes very important. These 'phones do not use electronic
noise canceling, but they still kept a majority of outside noise from reaching my ears.
They do an even better job of keeping the music inside with little leakage of sound in,
even in the quietest environments. I could listen to these in the same room with my
sleeping spouse and never bother her.
The MS 400s are fairly lightweight at only 6 1/2
ounces. They come with a one-meter cord that matches ideally with your iPod, laptop or
other portable audio device. A 1/8 " miniplug is standard, with a 1/4" adapter
included. Both are gold-plated to ensure the best electronic signal transfer. One of the
few nits I can pick with the MS 400s is that the 1/4" adapter is a clip-on, not the
standard screw-on type, and it comes already attached. Because the user's manual only
mentions that you need to disconnect the adapter but not how to do it, I was left
scratching my head, until I simply began pulling on the plug and it finally popped off.
But its pretty firmly attached. All this should be mentioned in the manual!
This brings up my second problem: the manual
itself. Its not overly long and is printed in four languages. It offers only very
basic information. It doesnt even tell you how to fold the MS 400s into the included
hard-sided carrying case, again leaving it up to the ingenuity of the user to figure it
out. A better manual, especially considering the cost of the MS 400s, seems essential. I
strongly suggest Phiaton update the manual to include all pertinent user information.
My final issue is with the design of the MS 400's
cable. While its perfect for use with an iPod, its far too short to be used
with a home audio system This makes me wonder why Phiaton thought that the 1/4"
stereo adapter was even necessary. Unless you plan on sitting (or lying) right next to
your headphone amp or receiver, the cable just plain isnt long enough. An added
three-meter extension should be included. And nowhere does Phiaton mention what kind of
materials the thin cable is made of.
As far as specifications go, the MS 400s are the
equal of most top-quality headphones. They have decent-sized 40mm drivers and can accept
up to 1000mV of output power. They offer a low impedance of 32 ohms along with highish
sensitivity of 98dB. This means that they should be able to be used with an iPod at little
or no sonic penalty.
At this time, the MS 400s are available only via
Phiaton's website. The company does offer a 30-day return policy, though it is not as
open-ended as that of some other mail-order companies, so read the terms closely.
I used two different sources, both with and
without portable headphone amps. My main source was my trusty iPod full of Apple Lossless
files. My secondary source was either my desktop or laptop computer. With any of these, I
added either a HeadRoom Total BitHead or Portable Micro Amp with DAC. I didnt use
the amps often because the MS 400s are designed to work well without them. But I did want
to see if adding more clean power would affect the sound. I gave the MS 400s a week of
run-in time before doing any serious listening.
While nothing in particular about the MS 400s'
sound jumped out, their overall cohesiveness made them an enjoyable listen. Im not
sure what the measurements will show, but if I had to compare them to a full-sized
loudspeaker, it would be a Lowther model. Lowthers are single-driver speakers that,
together with a low-power amp, have subdued highs and lows but offer a glorious midrange.
The Phiaton MS 400s have a smooth overall sound with no rough edges that jarred me out of
the sonic bliss they induced.
The MS 400s went solidly into the midbass and
offered good pitch definition and clarity, though they didnt seem to plumb the
absolute depths. Whether I was listening to CD or Apple Lossless files, the low
frequencies were solidly handled. The new CD by Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and Victor
Wooten, Thunder (Heads Up HUCD 3163), was impressive. The MS 400s gave an accurate
representation of Clarkes speed and midrange richness, Millers thunder, and
Wootens intricate slap-fret work, and the 'phones sounded as though they went deeper
than they actually could.
Moving up the sonic scale to the midrange --
wherein lies the bulk of the music -- again I was impressed by the clarity of the MS 400s.
They do a wonderful job in the midrange, much like Lowther speakers, and they are similar
in design and use in that they do not need much power to come alive. Vocals were clear and
easily understandable, whether male or female. The MS 400s kept any excess chestiness to
male voices at bay. They also allowed female vocals to soar, with no pinched quality
showing through. Instead they conveyed each singer's unique vocal style. I love Holly
Coles latest self-titled CD (Alert 652810918) due to its standout sonics. The MS
400s conveyed a clear, three-dimensional sonic picture with this recording. When
confronted by multiple singers, such as with the Wailin Jennys song "One
Voice" from 40 Days (Red House RHR177), the MS 400s did an excellent job of
separating each of the three vocalists and their harmonizing.
Instruments such as acoustic guitar, tenor
saxophone, and piano were also accurately reproduced. Any jazz or blues track that I
listened to offered that "in the studio" feeling that should epitomize a good
set of headphones. For instance, listening to Little Hatch sing "Rock With Me
Baby" from the CD of the same name (Analogue Productions CAPO 2012), I could hear
distinctly the raspiness of Hatchs voice, and his harmonica and the accompanying
rhythm guitar were portrayed as full-sized instruments, exactly as they would have sounded
in the studio.
The MS 400s' treble gave a good representation of
the frequency scale without any etch or stridency. Their top end is an almost perfect
match with their bottom end -- both sounding slightly reduced in energy. By creatively
matching the two ends, Phiaton has created a headphone that offers linearity within their
given frequency spectrum. This keeps the MS 400s from straying too far, becoming either
overly light or dark, which allows them to do a good job of hewing as closely as possible
to that straight-and-narrow path between colorations.
As is usual with most closed-back headphones, the
soundstage is a bit constricted. Yet the MS 400s offered good definition within the space
they allotted for the instruments to inhabit. I found I could pick out individual players
in even the densest of mixes.
To my real surprise, I found that, unlike the
majority of high-end headphones, the MS 400s dont need an amp to make them
sing. While having that extra power certainly did make them sound a bit cleaner, the
difference wasnt night and day. Id say that the low impedance and highish
sensitivity that Phiaton included in the design represent smart choices. Sans amp, I did
naturally need to turn up the volume, but just a bit. The amp also added a bit more
texture and depth to the bass and wiped the midrange window a bit cleaner, opening the top
end up slightly. But, again, these were things I expected to hear, so the fact that
I heard them didnt surprise me much. However, The MS 400s sounded very good straight
out of my iPod and laptop. This quality alone would make them perfect for the on-the-go,
value-conscious music lover who still craves high-quality sound without the extra weight
and expense an outboard headphone amp.
I wish I still had the Denon AH-D1001 headphones
($149) I reviewed last year to stack up against the MS 400s. They would have made for an
interesting comparison. Not having those 'phones, I used my closed-back reference
headphones, the Beyerdynamic DT 770s ($339) instead. These fall closer in price of the
Phiaton MS 400s.
The Beyerdynamic DT 770s are full-sized
closed-back headphones that fit over the ears. They come in any color you like as long as
you like black with silver trim. They reach deeper in the bass with more authority and
offer a fuller, richer sound than the MS 400s. Both are a little mellow in the upper
registers, but the DT 770s do extend further before their gradual roll-off kicks in. The
MS 400s counter with their much smaller, more portable size and far more attractive
appearance, together with a more midrange-oriented sonic signature. Two more pluses for
the MS 400s are their impedance and sensitivity. The DT 770s need a
headphone amp to make them come alive. Without one they will sound dull and lifeless. On
the other hand, the MS 400s can be used, and fully enjoyed, without an amp and its
Finally, the case included with the DT 770s is
large and soft-sided, as opposed to the hard-shell one Phiaton includes with the MS 400s ,
which is small enough to slip easily into any carry case or backpack. This hard case
protects the MS 400s perfectly.
If portability, good looks and midrange-centric
sonics are important and you dislike over-the-ear models, then the MS 400s are certainly
an attractive option, especially if you don't own and don't care to buy a separate
There are exceptions to every rule. The Phiaton
MS 400s are one to the rule that companies selling direct arent worth the attention
products sold by established dealers are afforded. They offer an appearance that is very
definitely not the norm and a sonic signature that will surprise with its overall
quality. While they do have one particular sonic aspect that stands out -- their clear,
prominent midrange -- what they offer overall is a good sound that will allow for
long-term listening enjoyment. They also allow the buyer to enjoy them straight out of the
box without the necessity of spending more money on an outboard headphone amp.
Phiaton has a long road to travel to be the equal
of the big-boys of the headphone world, but then those companies arent producing
headphones that offer the looks and sound of the MS 400s along with factory-direct
pricing. I could live happily with the MS 400s. Check them out and prepare to be
|Phiaton Moderna MS 400 Headphones
Price: $249 USD.
Warranty: One year parts and labor.
18662 MacArthur Blvd., Suite 405
Irvine, CA 92612
Phone: (866) 313-3203
Fax: (949) 756-8928