The Fusion MS 430 is the latest addition to Phiaton’s popular Moderna series. The new cans definitely live up to their namesake stylistically, boasting an attractive, ultra-modern design that’s lavished with sleek touch points like flashy carbon fiber and bands of brushed aluminum – especially impressive considering the Fusion’s manageable starting price of $180.
However, while we’ve been fans of Phiaton’s sound signature in the past, the last model we auditioned, the $300 Bridge MS 500, were a little too bright and “pop-ified” for our taste. With this latest effort, we held hope Phiaton would move back into our “favorites” column. After spending some long hours with the MS 430, here’s how things played out.
Out of the box
Opening the Fusion’s thick, magnetically-sealed cover revealed a collection of accessories in a slim black box. Inside the box was a black carry bag with red felt lining, as well as an anti-tangle, oxygen-free copper (OFC) cable in bright red.
…the [Fusion’s] headband offers absolutely no padding.
(Note: the original press release claims the headphones come with two cables, but we only found one in the package)
Digging beneath the top layer, we found the Fusion nestled in a bed of dense, glittered foam. As we removed them, we noted a chic and understated design with a contemporary burst of flare. The headband was smooth and light, carved into sexy curves. A svelte foam layer cloaked the topside, with a slotted pattern of holes that demurely revealed a stripe of metallic red underneath. The smooth, rounded ear cups flashed shimmering carbon fiber patterns at us behind clear windows cut into the sides, while silver bands of brushed metal encircled their borders.
Features and design
The Fusion’s sharp design brings an enticing combination of clean lines, soft, yet sturdy materials, and just enough elegance to keep their modern style from crossing over into gaudy territory.
The rubber sheathed arc at the top of the headband meets the band’s plastic adjustable arms at dual strips of brushed metal. The Fusion’s arms adjust for size along slim metal bars, which are painted with a yellow tape measure pattern so you can always find your desired size after the ‘phones have been tucked away. The arms meet the ear cup chassis at rotating hinges, which allow the cups to collapse inward for easy storage, and also spin a full 90 degrees on the horizontal access to lay flat while at rest.
The Fusion’s ear cups connect to circular chassis pieces via a two-point axis, allowing them to also move inward to adjust for fit against your ears. Lining the ear cups are thick circles of padding, cloaked in soft leather. Deeper inside are the MS 430’s 40mm dynamic drivers, which Phiaton claims employ “oversized neodymium magnets.” The single headphone cable can attach to either ear cup.
The cable bears a unique inline microphone which comes with a button for pause/play/skip at the top, and a sliding bar to adjust volume below. Once we got used to it, we really enjoyed the “volume bar” design, which allowed for faster, more efficient volume control. The cable is approximately four feet in length, and the ends are robustly terminated with glossy silver facets bearing gold plated jacks, one of which is angled at 90 degrees.
The MS430’s ear cups were supremely comfortable thanks to their supple softness, yet firm fit. However, the headband offers absolutely no padding. While the comfy ear pads shoulder the majority of the work, our crown got a little sore after extended use.
We started our evaluation by auditioning the pop song “Starlight” from the Muse album Black Holes and Revelations. From the very start of the track, we were attracted to the headphones’ vividly clear and open sound signature, which provided a well-sanded balance across the frequency spectrum that we found extremely accessible. The ‘phones punched up percolating sawtooth patches with an enthusiastic fervor, especially notable when the song broke down to only the vocals and arpeggiated synths snaking along the sides. It was here, too, that we noticed the MS 430’s talent for carving space around instruments to reveal ambient reverb that floated from the sustain of each note, especially noticeable in the vocals.
…the Fusion exhibited a transparent and space-filled sound stage that provided a wealth of detail and accuracy.
Moving across a variety of genres, the Fusion exhibited a transparent and space-filled sound stage that provided a wealth of detail and accuracy. While we missed the textural definition and dimension you get from more elite over-ear models, the vivid clarity and detail went a long way in making up for the loss. Very occasionally lighter vocal lines, like those from Ryan Adam’s Heartbreaker, cut a little too sharply. But mostly, we just enjoyed the ride as the headphones spread out the instruments with a subtle touch, allowing for very little masking or smearing of the layers.
The MS 430’s bass response was firm and unyielding; hard as concrete in the lowest frequencies on many of the tracks we auditioned. While the headphones reached down deep enough to provide more than enough force for our taste, they probably won’t get heavy enough for listeners who really love the boom. The lighter color of the lower midrange also didn’t provide that buttery caramel flavor we tend to prefer in bass lines from classic rock and jazz.
That didn’t stop the Fusion from putting a big smile on our face when classics like “Martha My Dear” came up on shuffle, however. While Paul’s bass guitar in the song never got as rich as we wanted, it still had a pleasant little tone that was enjoyable. And when things really got cooking musically, the brass in the right side was displayed with a perfect balance of flash and saturation that made the horns glisten with Beatles brilliance. And the precisely delineated counter melody in the musical breakdown was shown with enough color and space to have us wondering: is that a trumpet or a cornet?
Finally, the Fusion provide an excellent level of passive noise isolation. You won’t be able to completely shut out your gabby co-workers without the assistance of music, but once the tunes get going, you are left to enjoy the privacy of your own little audio ecosystem, something we found came in handy on a few commutes.
You’ll have a hard time finding a better set of headphones in the $200 price range than Phiaton’s Fusion MS 430. They provided a brilliantly clear sound stage with excellent balance, detail, and solid passive noise isolation, all in a modern, classy package. Those looking to step into something with more refined definition and resolution would do well to consider the Sennheiser Momentum as an alternative – but you’ll have to pony up $50 more for that pleasure. If, however, you just want a travel-ready headphone that looks cool and sounds great under the $200 watermark, we think the Phiaton MS 430 might be just what you’ve been looking for.
- Clear and bold treble
- Open, detailed sound stage
- Great balance
- Chic and stylish design
- Lacks refined definition and dimension
- Lower midrange not as rich as we’d like
- Slightly uncomfortable after long periods