If the Phiaton brand isn’t exactly on the tip of your tongue when it comes to high-end audio, we’ll forgive you. Phiaton (pronounced fee’ ah ton) emerged not long ago from South Korea’s equally low-key Cresyn Corporation as a retail name to peddle its own high-end audio products. Between the chic Moderna series products and fashionable Primal series, nothing the company makes sells for below $200. The $250 carbon-fiber-studded Moderna MS 400 ‘phones occupy the middle of the line, between its $200 MS 300, and PS 500 and PS 300 NC, both marked at $300. They promise audiophile-pleasing sound from a package that looks slick enough to bust out around town, and folds down neatly into a carrying case to bring them out of the studio.
Features and Design
We wouldn’t go so far as to say that Phiaton directly copped the style of Monster’s Beats by Dre headphones released only months earlier, but you’ll find some definite similarities between the two – most notably, the copious red accents. Phiaton has swathed the headband and earcups on these headphones in plenty of silky, extra-plush leather, and every inch of it is drenched in red. It’s also hard to miss the enormous carbon fiber shells sealing up the outside of the driver enclosures. Gaudy paint-on designs have all but ruined the mystique of this high-end material, but have to admit it still looks gorgeous its authentic form, as seen on the Phiatons: encased in a thick layer of epoxy that makes the weave come to life in three dimensions below.
Like most studio-style headphones, the Phiatons feature an adjustable, ratcheting headband with earcups that swivel on U-shaped mounts that allow them to fit the head. Two other hinges lend them their portability: they rotate 180 degrees into the headband to take up less space, and turn 90 degrees inward to lay flat.
The hard-sided zipper case included with the MS 400 makes a nice touch, but we wish the headphones folded down more easily into its confines. We felt more like we were packing an overstuffed suitcase than using a custom-built case. Without obvious cutouts, it takes some finagling to realize how they pack in, and even in the proper position, there’s barely enough space to close it up.
A scant four-foot cord felt fine for using the MS 400 on the go with an attached MP3 player, but at home, it came up well short of comfortable, even using a pair of computer speakers with a built-in headphone jack. Because they’re clearly meant for in-home and portable use, it would have been wise of Phiaton to include an extension the way Jays did with its v-Jays headphones – especially given the $250 price tag. Fortunately, you do get a 3.5mm mini to ¼-inch headphone adapter for using the MS 400 with full-size stereo systems (if you don’t mind sitting two feet away from your equipment rack).
Testing and Usage
Clear “left” and “right” markings on each earcup (they even used the whole word!) make putting on and adjusting the MS 400 a simple affair – and the slight jaw-word tilt will immediately let you know if you have them on backwards. We had hoped to come up with a less cliché comparison for the quality of leather on these things, but the old line is just too apt, so we’ll say it: They’re soft as a baby’s bottom. Feathery soft. Enough to almost disappear on your ears and head. However, like most circumaural (closed-ear) headphones, they are prone to making your ears heat up a little with extended wear.
Though the over-the-top outside styling had us skeptical about whether these dressed-up phones could really deliver on the aspirations of their price tag, a few minutes of listening quickly put our doubt to rest.
It’s a rare pair of cans that come through the door that don’t tempt us to toy with an equalizer to coax just the right sound of out them, but the MS 400 sounded gorgeous right out of the box. Bass is punchy, and freight-train powerful, driving songs hard rock songs forward without flooding the ears with flabby rumble as cheap imitators do. Yet vocals remain clear, and highs seem crisp enough to hover and float in the air.
The MS400 also excels in imaging: Each instrument seems to occupy its own distinct place in space. Clicking tambourines on Radiohead’s Reckoner from In Rainbows sounded like they were just a few feet over, while percussion instruments clanged along quietly in the distance, Thom Yorke crooned in from dead center and bass swelled up from beneath. If ever you need a pair of headphones close your eyes with and place yourself dead in the center of the studio or stage where a song was recorded, the Phiatons are it.
Fifty years of audio experience from parent company Cresyn shine through in the MS 400. They’re the rare pair of headphones that sound as good as their seductive good looks suggest, seamlessly coupling innovative style with jaw-dropping sound. You’ll pay for the privilege, but we consider $250 a fair, if slightly steep, price for admission to the world of superlative audio that these cans unlock. Of course, like all audiophile wares, be aware that the law of diminishing returns are in full effect, and a pair of sub-$100 phones will get you pretty close. A more thought-out carrying case and additional accessories (like a headphone extension) would also go a long way in justifying that price tag, and put the little-known company more in line with the big boys. Phiaton may not yet have earned the accolades to place it in the headphone hall of fame along with the likes of Sennheiser, AKG and Grado, but it’s well on its way.
- Loud but likeable styling
- Comfortable for extended wear
- Excellent detail and imaging
- Tight, well-balanced sound
- Ultra-short cable
- Difficult to fit into carrying case
- Audiophile-grade price tag