Aside from its attention-grabbing design, the $249 Phiaton MS 400 headphones feature booming volume and thundering low-end sound. But like many purchases, it all comes down to the price tag, and while the MS 400 delivers plenty of ear and eye candy, $249 is a lot to spend on cans that don’t offer active noise cancellation.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Phiaton MS 400 headphones is their electric red color. With an adjustable headband wrapped in a plush red pleather cushion, the 6.5-ounce MS 400 sits snug-as-a-hug on your crown. Less comfortable are the device’s earpieces, which are also wrapped in the same bright color. Some users may find the device’s padded cups too small to completely encapsulate their ears, sitting on top of them instead. The contact was minimal at first, but after a few hours of listening, the discomfort kicked in. Smaller ears will get full coverage and minimal pain from the mid-size cans.
A high mark for the MS 400 headphones’ design is their durable portability. Because the hinged earpieces fold upwards into the area just below the headband, we never had trouble finding space for the device in our crowded messenger bag.
Good General Listening
The MS 400 has a sound pressure level capable of reaching 98 decibels; that’s about where audio can become painful. In a variety of listening situations, from playing tunes at our cube during the day to commuting with an iPhone, and no matter the music source, the MS 400 pumped out well-tuned audio with ample volume, pitch, and register. Unlike the Able Planet NC200 Clear Harmony Foldable Headphones (when used in standard listening mode), the output from these Phiaton headphones never streamed at inaudible registers, and all our MP3s, favorite comic book podcasts, and NPR news programs shot out loud and clear without a single fleck of distortion or interference.
But just because audio playback was never murky or washed out in any way, doesn’t mean the overall quality of audio from this device was exceptional. While the MS 400 delivered output as strong as the NC200 (with its powerful noise-canceling option engaged), the audio quality of the latter was so layered and full of nuance that we heard new details in songs we’d been listening to for years. For example, the rich instrumental backdrop and the vocal detail of Outkast’s "Humble Mumble" was more easily discerned in the NC200 than with the MS 400.
Whereas some headphones come equipped with electronic noise-canceling technology built into the device, the MS 400 works passively, relying on the contact between the earpieces’ cushions and your ears to keep music clean of noise from your immediate surroundings, and vice versa. This strategy works well on the MS 400, as long as you don’t rock out too loudly. Once we pushed volume past the 45 percent mark, a good bit of the audio began to splash out into our surroundings. At 65 percent, our fellow subway commuters became agitated; one person standing directly behind us on a crowded D train asked us sternly but politely to turn down the music.
Phiaton MS 400 Verdict
Wearing the flashy neon-colored Phiaton MS 400 headphones around town garnered a few sidelong glances, but we were too busy enjoying the heavy bass and explosive volume of these closed-back cans to care. Then again, including perks like active noise-canceling and more refined audio quality would have justified the $249 price tag a bit more.