In the wide world of headphones, it seldom pays to stand still for long. Phiaton has achieved real success with its popular MS series, especially the flagship MS 400. But that didn’t deter the company from throwing out the playbook entirely when it came to creating its latest addition to the series, the Bridge MS 500 (available at $300). Named after the bridge on a stringed instrument, the 500’s wiry aluminum frame and ‘V’-shaped earpieces stand out among even the most avant-garde competition. But with change comes risk. Would these new-fangled cans bring that same Phiaton sound we’ve enjoyed in the past? We recently sat down with the MS 500 to find out.
Out of the box
Red is kind of Phiaton’s thing, and the company didn’t hesitate to remind us of that from the onset, starting with the MS 500’s bright red and white box. Opening the box revealed a shiny black pouch with a velvety red lining. Inside the box we found the MS 500 folded in on itself, sporting heaps of black leather-hugging angles of silver aluminum, all of which was accented in thin red lines. Also in the box were two cloth-lined removable cables, and a ¼-inch adapter.
Features and design
At first glance, the MS 500 appear to be sporting small silver antennae. The bent tubular arms that attach the earpieces to their frame pop out at the sides of the band when adjusted, like stacks from a big rig. The headband itself is constructed of flat plates of aircraft-grade aluminum. A smooth sheath of dimpled leather surrounds the entire bow, stitched at the back with a crimson accent, and sporting small puffs of ridged padding along its underbelly. At the base of the headband are hinged pieces from which the earpieces attach. Though the hinges fold inward, the earpieces butt heads at the interior of the band, unable to fully collapse like other similar designs we’ve tested.
The earpieces themselves are shaped into rounded triangles, with thin plates on their outer face that are reminiscent of giant guitar picks. Large foam pads encircle the earpieces’ interiors, cloaked in soft, worn leather. At the mouth of each pad is a bright red screen, behind which sit the MS 500’s newly-designed 40mm drivers. The earpads rest forward at a slight angle, due to the aforementioned bend in the slim poles that attach them to the frame. At the base of each pole is a 2.5mm port, which accepts input of the removable cable from either side.
Each of the two provided cables is wrapped in braided red cloth, surrounding “Oxygen Free Copper” wiring. Both cables are terminated at each end with nimble pieces of textured aluminum, shaped at a 90 degree angle at the input source. The virtually identical cords are separated only by a single-button microphone on one of them, shaped into a silver capsule about four inches below the insertion point.
The MS 500’s light frame and thick earpads make for a soft fit that many of our colleagues found extremely comfortable. However, the pads seemed to fall somewhere between an on-ear and over-ear design, which never quite fit over our ears correctly, causing a bit of a pinch after prolonged use. Obviously, fit will vary for each user, so we recommend trying the MS 500 on before jumping in. On the plus side, the tight fit provided some pretty excellent passive noise isolation.
Sonically, there are a lot of things to like about the MS 500. Auditioning a wide array of genres from our music catalog, the headset displayed fluid clarity up high, and reams of punctual low end force. However, the midrange was, for us, a bit of a disappointment. To put it bluntly, the mids were kind of wimpy, illustrated with a Disney-pop sheen that left us slightly unsatisfied. While the headphones do a lot of things very well, those who live for midrange warmth will be disappointed.
We were actually unaware of the judicious balance with which the bass was distributed until we’d heard it at full force.
The weak-kneed midrange was most evident (fittingly enough) from strong midrange instruments like percussion, acoustic guitar, and vocals. Auditioning lighter genres like acoustic music and softer recordings from The Cure and R.E.M., there was a thin edge to the overall sound, as if we were listening to the diet version of the tracks. The effect was emphasized by a lack of overall definition in the instrumentation. Snare drums came through in laminated pulses, while the lower rim of cymbals was shimmery, with little resonance. Acoustic guitars were often a bit bright, with the kind of sparkly ring you get from a fresh pair of budget strings.
All of that is not to say that there weren’t some great things happening with the MS 500. As our ears adjusted to its sculpted sound, the headset revealed a relatively balanced exchange between the fire down below, and the luminous upper register.
The delicate clarity of the treble allowed for good delineation of complex electronic productions from artists like Radiohead and Coldplay. While the detail in the timbre of instruments wasn’t quite at the level we expect at this price, the headset provided a wide soundstage, ushering rippling waves of synths, awash with brilliant electric guitar tones and vocals. Heavier rock tracks were pleasantly airy as well, bringing a clean approach that went down smooth once our ears adjusted. We still found ourselves wanting a bit more warmth and presence, especially in percussion, but the overall effect was frequently enjoyable.
We were also impressed with the MS 500’s bass reponse which, when activated properly, was rich and powerful. We were actually unaware of the judicious balance with which the bass was distributed until we’d heard it at full force. While bass was relatively tame during much of our lighter listening, diving through hip-hop and electronic music offered a brash wall of thunder, with deep grooves that reached well into the coveted 60Hz range. Too Short, Lil Wayne, and Kanye all brought the heat, with well-tuned beats that were aggressive and booming without being overbearing. Often in our listening, just when our ears were beginning to tire from the light top end, the velvety bass would swoop in from below, righting the ship.
The Phiaton Bridge MS 500 offer a pleasant blend of clear highs and barreling bass, all wrapped up in a flashy frame. While the light midrange doesn’t offer the warmth or granular detail we look for in an elite model, these headphones still provide an enticing mix of brilliance and power with a look that will certainly stand above the fray. If you’re searching for something a little different, both in sound and style, you may want to give the Phiaton Bridge MS 500 a try.
- Clear upper register
- Smooth, powerful low end
- Good passive noise isolation
- Cool, portable design
- Weak midrange
- Doesn’t reveal finer detail