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Phiaton MS300 Review -- a Portable Grado?

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 


I initially posted a rather badly-done review of these cans earlier, because I was rushing to meet the Phiaton-sponsored contest. I apologize for the half-baked effort, but now I think I am ready with what a more mature impression on these cans. Here is my more or less final review of the beautiful MS300.




The MS300 was a difficult purchase decision for me. On the one hand, it had almost everything I wanted in a portable --  great looks, single-sided cable, foldable into a small, sleek hard case, great sound. On the other hand, I kept hearing about how great the MS400 was. So why the MS300? Because it had a single-sided cable! The MS400 has the usual y-cable attached to both cups. Coming from the Bose Triport OEs, I found that it was perhaps the perfect portable headphone from a design standpoint. 

The Triports were small, light, and foldable, came with a very nice small hard case, had a single-sided and detachable cable, and comfort to die for. The only issues were its possible long term build quality (let me tell you those hinges felt rickety!) and of course the sound is not for everyone... though they were fine for me. The MS300 captures most of that, and gives you killer looks to boot. 
The only missing nicety was a detachable cable -- the thin cable doesn't look particularly sturdy and could possibly break in the long run. A detachable cable would have allayed all concerns as well as make it more versatile, letting you swap to a cable of your choice and length. It would also have been nice to have a fully leather-padded headband like the MS400; the MS300 has padding only where your head hits it, akin to the Beyer DT440 or PX100. Clearly a cost-cutting measure, but this is already extravagant desires talking. The important thing is the sound. Yes, the sound!
The Sound
In a nutshell, the MS300 is a Grado in disguise. The sound gave me a bit of what I was missing in the Bose -- more detail and less veil. The MS300 is a very upfront headphone, unlike the uber-relaxed and laidback Bose. Just how upfront? Grado Prestige Series up front, that's what!
The sound is very in your face, you can feel it centering at your forehead even on more laidback music. The treble extends very far,is very sparkly, too sparkly perhaps, and is very detailed. The mids are strong and clear, putting the vocals right in your ear. The bass is lean and taut, there when necessary and retreating if not called for. The emphasis is definitely on the mids and highs.
I can only call this signature "Grado-ish." And the ultra bright nature is very reminiscent of the SR225, or perhaps even the SR325 due to its powerful attack dynamics and tight, thrummingly punchy low end. If the SR325 had a love child with the Bose Triports and asked Ferrari to adopt it, the result would be the MS300. 
My main concern with the MS300 is that, even after burn in, it sounds a little metallic and often too bright. On some songs the attack can be too dynamic and powerful, the highs become strident and hurt my ears. On Dave Matthew's Busted Stuff for instance, the snare drums have such a kick in the high end that it becomes unlistenable at moderate volumes. Lowering the volume fixes the issue, so if you listen at low volumes these are fine. These are very easy to drive anyway, and I find myself just listenign with the volume less than 9'oclock on the uDAC's headphone out, or about 25% on my iPod Nano 2G. 
I do not like the synergy of these on the uDAC. The uDAC tends to add extra energy and power to the mids and highs, and these have too much already. The result is a very strident, punchy sound that is unwelcome in my typically warm, laidback and bassy realm. They work better just straight out of my Nano, which tends to sound a bit muddy and bassy. The detail and clarity of these cans work well to make the Nano listenable, and at the same time the Nano's muddiness softens the edge on these cans, making them more pleasurable. As this is designed to be a portable, it makes sense to me to use it with the Nano. 
Assuming you can live with the treble (and you can EQ it out if it really bothers you that much) the MS300 is a very capable set of cans. I put them through the gauntlet of music I listen to, and found them to be more than adequate for anything I threw at them. They seem to be great all-rounders. It handled everything from Cymande funk, to Eric Clapton singing Tears in Heaven, to some Jpop from Masami Okui, Michael Jackson, new wave, Andy McKee Acoustic, Miguel Migs, John Mayer, The Shapeshifters, Beyonce, it does most everything quite well.  It was fast enough to keep up with Infected Mushroom, it was bassy enough to satisfy me with Wez Clarke, and suave enough to keep Ive Mendes sounding sultry and sexy. 
Because of this rather bright, forward nature, I think that its best genres are rock, metal, and similar high-energy genres like trance. Though I admit listening to some of the screechier metal on it, I find it too harsh for my taste. But I am not a big metal lover at heart, other metal lovers probably would enjoy it. It can do chill out and smooth jazz relatively fine, but I don't think these are its strongest genres. The great extension on the treble gives chillout some nice air but overall there are better cans for this. I also have not tried these out with classical and country, as I don't listen to those genres much.
All in all the MS300 is almost perfect for what I wanted it for -- a portable I can bring with me anywhere, look really spiffy wearing, and bring me great music while I'm away from my home setups. If only I could fix the highs, it would have been a real keeper. I am sure though that many here, especially the Grado lovers, would love this can. It has the sound of a Prestige Series Grado tucked into the shell of the Bose Triport OE, in a beautifully designed closed-back package. 


Edited by Mochan - 7/12/10 at 6:03am
post #2 of 21

nice review.

post #3 of 21

Interesting, will have one coming in the coming weeks, nabbed the open-box pair on Headroom.

post #4 of 21
Thread Starter 

Nice, how much did you score the open box pair?


BTW while we're here let me derail my thread. I see that you have the Monster Jamz, could you describe to me how it sounds? Particularly in relation to the TF10 and Coppers.

Edited by Mochan - 7/12/10 at 2:44pm
post #5 of 21

$115 for the open box, with shipping came up to around $135.


Jamz are pretty mediocre, got them from Monster for free as a replacement to my pair of broken Turbines. Veiled compared to both the Coppers and the TF10s, especially in the mids and highs. Bass is decent though, I'll give them that, if slightly boomy. They do look nicer than the Coppers though, I like their form more than it (biggest complaint of the Coppers).

post #6 of 21
Thread Starter 
Good to hear, I guess it sounds the way I expected. So it was aboutlike the Turbines, but less highs and mids, and with rather boomy bass. Well I'd like to give it a hear one of these days.

The MS300 for $130 is a good buy. I bought mine for $180, about $200 altogether and felt it wasn't a gooD value. Perhaps I should have gotten the PS320 instead, it was going for about $120.
post #7 of 21

Heh, just thought I'd cross post over here since you mentioned it in my MS400 review thread. In a twist of things, I found the MS400 (big brother to the MS300) to be decidedly "anti-grado" in sound.

post #8 of 21

A smallish portable that sounds like a Grado? I think I'm in love!

post #9 of 21
Thread Starter 

It's been a while since I gave the SR325 a nice good listen, I should talk to my friend who has one and do some comparisons. They're not exactly like Grado's but I think the sound is close enough. 

post #10 of 21
Thread Starter 

You know, I have to change my impressions again.


It seems my MS300s have mellowed down a bit after further burn in. I think I now have about 300 hours on them now and the sound has changed even further.


What I can say is, they no longer sound quite as bright as a typical Prestige Series Grado with bowls. The overall sound of the mids and treble still resemble say the SR325, but the sound has become quite a bit more laidback than I remember it being.


I'm not entirely sure what happened, seems to be a burn-in thing. The sound is more laidback now. The bass is nothing like a Grado, only the mids and treble, but they are more muted and laidback. The bass on the other hand is very tight and quite delicious, though still not as prominent as I'd like. And still not overly bloated or powerful, though. 


Would be best to compare these to a Prestige series side by side, though, to really get a handle on the sound compared to a Grado. But I fear my original thesis of a portable Grado is no longer completely accurate.

Edited by Mochan - 7/20/10 at 5:58am
post #11 of 21

Got my pair in last night, burning them in right now. Has a slightly nasal, typical closed headphone sound so far, with the mids sucked out quite a bit. Will see if they change with more hours on them (hopefully it does). Build quality is quite good though, although the cable does not inspire confidence.

post #12 of 21
Thread Starter 

That nasal quality is my main issue with these cans. I noticed that too, and even after all the burn in it hasn't gone away. It improved a bit but I can still hear it on certain songs affecting the vocals and certain snare drum hits. It makes the snare sound plasticky and tinny. It's very annoying. Vocals sometimes sound really good depending on the voice of the singer but some singers have a tone, pitch and timber of voice that shows the flaw of this headphone.


But generally I found they work well with all genres, but certain songs across any genre fail, and sometimes from the same band. For instance, the MS300 generally does well with Dave Matthew's Band, but one song in particular has horrible snares on it (Jimi Thing I think IIRC).


It's a shame because otherwise this would have been a near ideal portable. It works for most songs though so I am not really complaining.


I'm a bit surprised though that you found the mids sucked out. I guess I'm so used to laidback stuff that this sounded like it had forward mids! Even with how I hear it now as a not-so-forward set of cans, I wouldn't consider the mids to be sucked out.

Edited by Mochan - 7/21/10 at 8:00pm
post #13 of 21

Yeah, might be just be first impressions. Mids aren't really sucked out, but there's a weird quality to it that I can't put a finger on just yet. Might be that I'm just used to foward mids (SRH840, HF2, DT880 all pretty mid-centric cans). These headphones do NOT work for Classical, for what it's worth.

post #14 of 21
Thread Starter 

Yeah the MS300 really has this weird thing in the mids that is hard to put a finger on. Most of the time it sounds good, but suddenly a certain song comes up and it makes you feel something is off.


I think with more listening I have a bit more insight. The MS300 really sounds different with different songs, not just between genres but sometimes even from the same band!  Like I mentioned with DMB most songs sound fine. I found they sound great on just about every song from the Lillywhite Sessions Album for instance. The Lillywhite Sessions have songs tend to have a morose, laidback quality to the songs with smooth mids. But I tried it on the song "Stolen Away on 55th and 3rd" from the Standup Album and the snares on this were very prominent. On all my other cans it sounds great, but on the MS300 in particular there was a tinny/plasticky feeling to just the snares (every other instrument and vocals were awesome) that kept distracting me.


I think it's a small frequency spike over a very small frequency range in the mids that is causing this problem. I should check out the Headroom graph later. It's accentuated because of the lack of midbass and lower mids warmth I think, that doesn't cover up the strange frequency spike.


The mids in general though do seem more recessed than I originally though -- when I first gave these a listen it sounded a bit warm and laidback, then for a while I though it was very forward and bright, now I am leaning more towards it being strangely relaxed but not altogether recessed.  I think it must have a strange spiking behavior in the mids. And that listening to it with different songs gives it a different quality that can deceive you into thinking it has this kind of sig, when actually it can do the opposite kind of sig just as well. Seems to be very song-dependent.

post #15 of 21

I am totally bumping this thread. I am interested in getting a pair of these and was wondering what you guys think of them 5 months later?

Edited by Vikingatheart - 1/6/11 at 8:11am
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