Phiaton MS 400 (Moderna Series)
- Studio grade 40 mm Electrodynamic Drivers
- Impedance: 32 Ohm
- Sensitivity: 98 dB
- Max input power: 1,000 mW
- Weight: 6.5 oz / 185 g without cord
Construction and Appearance
My initial impression upon taking them out of the box was "meh, plastic", but within seconds of handling these headphones you'll realize the quality of construction behind them. The swiveling earcups and folding mechanism have a mild resistance to them but they are super smooth to turn, with tight machine tolerance. The horizontal cup axis is far too loose however, and the cups have an annoying tendency to flip around unless you handle them directly.
The headband is sturdy metal and expands in steps to a very large size. Each step holds quite securely, and the clamping force is moderate. The headband stretches evenly across the entire band which is nice, unlike some headphones which only bend at the middle and place pressure at the top of your head. You can shake your head quite a bit and these will stay securely fastened.
The wires feel a little flimsy, are prone to mild memory, and there is only a small strain relief at the connecting points. I wish they had been a little beefier overall, but I suppose that detracts from the portability. Cable length is about 4' (1.2m). A 1/4" adapter is also provided, with a recessed female end so the headphone jack fits snugly inside.
Padding on the headband and earpads is luxuriously soft and in a red which is much nicer in person than in pictures. Once the headband has stretched out a little bit, the fit and comfort is amazing as the top pressure is distributed evenly across your entire head so you barely feel it. As with most closed cans, they also become warm after longer sessions, and I would say that these heat up faster than average. There is a nifty slide-lock mechanism that lets you take the entire pad assembly off, handy for changing pads or any future mods.
There is a rather large angle to the earpieces (not nearly so bad as the first picture would indicate) which I find a little awkward. For me to fit the earpads to my ear, I wind up angling the headband a little further back than normal. This is one of those things that's highly dependent on the person's ear size and shape however, and those with normal sized ears shouldn't find this an issue at all.
A criticism I have is that the earpads are in this awkward in-between size of supra or circumaural. I have smallish ears, and they tend to fall inside the padding. This normally isn't a problem, except the pads aren't particularly thick and if your ears fit inside, they bottom out on the hard grill underneath (instead of the padding resting against the side of your head) which is uncomfortable, and worse yet you wind up with your ear right next to the driver which sucks for sound and causes an inordinate amount of pressure and fatigue. I would have liked if the earpads were large enough to fully encompass my ear, or shrink the opening slightly so the pads rest flat on my ear. As I mentioned earlier, if you have normal to larger size ears, this problem is nonexistent.
In terms of appearance, the MS400 has a certain eye catching "wow" factor to it. The red accents and composite shell will draw a lot of attention. I daresay there's even a certain sex appeal to them, as these are the only set of cans I've ever worn that have made girls do a double take and who've asked to try them on (well it might have just been me; work that mojo baby )
A nice bonus is the hard shell case that comes with the headphones. Nothing special, but it gets the job done. About the size of a cd wallet, simple net pocket on the inside, zipper around. It's surprisingly small, yet the headphones fold up neatly inside. There's even enough spare space inside the pocket for my Clip+ and e5. You could possibly fit other stuff in there; thickness is the main factor here.
If I had to sum it up in one (maybe two) words, it would be "anti-Grado". This is by no means a bad thing, just that the sound signature is completely opposite from what I'm used to from my SR80s (and I've briefly auditioned the 225 and HF-2 as well).
The bass is emphasized and has a bit of a thump which is characteristic of many closed headphone designs, but isn't bloated or boomy. All sounds are incredibly crisp and sharp, especially vocals. The high end is clear but drops a bit and is lacking in "sparkle", so you'll miss that extra ting from the hi-hats or shimmer from a piccolo. The extended midrange is what plays to the MS 400's strengths; there's a clarity and smoothness to it that just gives me goosebumps when the right song comes on. Vocals are especially clear and present themselves in front of the music. The frequency response charts show a bit of a positive slope in the mids (most phones are negative here) which accounts somewhat for the unique sound.
Compared to the Shure SRH840, the MS 400 reaches deeper and has more body to the bass. This becomes readily apparent when you play deep genres like downtempo or trip-hop. Vocals (especially female) are also more prominent on the MS 400 and have a smoother feel. The Shures present a more balanced and neutral sound, have better extension in the highs, and a slightly wider soundstage.
The overall sound is also highly sensitive to placement. Moving the headphones around to sit more forwards or back, up/down etc will alter the sound. As I mentioned earlier, I have smaller ears so I have to seat the headphones a little forward, which brings the overall stage forward.
An amp is recommended, though not because the MS 400 needs power. Quite the opposite, they are ridiculously easy to drive loud, and in fact go loud far too quickly. Having a low to mid powered amp to tame the volume goes a long way. I would be interested in seeing a future iteration of these headphones/brand with a higher impedance.
As an odd blip, I liked the sound coming out of my dacs and amp, but strangely not so much coming out of my Clip+. Not sure why that is.
Isolation is excellent, especially in the high end. I have the Shure SRH 840's which are like big ear muffs, and the MS 400's actually beat them for mid to high range isolation. Outside voices are virtually eliminated when you have your music playing, especially female ones, though loud traffic noise will probably still leak through. On the flip side, the phones do have a bit of sound leakage, but it's minimal. Samples of isolation:
Airplane - Cuts out most ambient noise and chatter, including a crying baby four rows down. Reduced but did not eliminate engine noise..
Washing machine/dishwasher - You can still hear hear a low motor rumble, but no water. It's rather weird actually.
Bus - As above, vocals are strongly reduced, but low end road and engine noise are still present.
The Cotton Mod
I felt that this mod made a big enough difference that I'd include it in the original post. You'll need a few cotton balls and one minute of your time. That's it. If you don't like it, it takes all of 5 seconds to undo.
In my case, I used a strip of cotton the length = circumference of the earpads (about what you see in the frowny face pic). A few cotton balls works just the same. I took the strip and split it in half lengthwise, but you can experiment with how much to use. Simply stuff the cotton under the pads to raise them up. In my case, I brought the pads up maybe a 1/4" (5mm).
For me, this increased the comfort substantially. A little bit softer, with the same pleather feel and no loss of isolation. With the extra space, the pads could now rest comfortably against my head without my ears bottoming out on the grill. Restoring that space allowed the sound to reach my ears more naturally and eliminated the fatigue of being right next to the driver.
Bass got a little bit softer, but felt more spacious. Mids and highs were mostly unchanged, though overall sound seemed a bit airier which was nice on the high end.
edit: I changed the cotton out for gauze. A bit more work, but less fluffy stuff all over the place. I cut out a strip approx 3.5x7" (9x18cm) and scrunched it up lengthwise before stuffing under the earpad. You might want a bit more or less depending how deep you place it. Overall sound seemed about the same, but the pads felt a teensy bit firmer. I decided to raise the pads up a tiny bit more, and this seemed to bring out the shimmer in the mid-high end. I especially noticed it on acoustic guitar. Still doesn't have the high end sibilance of other cans though, if that's what you like. The fit starts to feel different at this point, so add/remove stuffing at your discretion.
edit 2: on a whim, I decided to double the amount of gauze. I could barely get it all in at this point. The fit is actually quite different, and for me it feels a bit better. I can wear them over my glasses without discomfort now (although the arms of the glasses do get compressed a bit at the sides). The sound has a taken a slightly veiled characteristic, since the drivers are further away from my ear (sounds a bit more like my Sennheisers now). As before, the low end got a bit more thumpy (I feel feel a bit of head reverb), but the highs are more distant. Male vocals seem just a touch more prominent, the opposite for female vocals. Isolation seems to be better too, probably because there's just more damping overall.
Well that's it for my review. Hope you guys found it informative.
Edited by Armaegis - 7/19/10 at 10:22pm