Phiaton MS-300 Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Nov 9, 2012.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Video review: Phiaton MS-300 Stereo Headphone Review by Dale - YouTube

    Sources: iPhone4 alone, iPhone4 with PA2V2 amp using LOD, various computers using Audioengine D1 DAC and the D1's headphone out.

    The Phiaton MS300 was released 3-1/2 years ago and is not as competitive among today's ~$200 USD headphones as it was when first released. That said, it sounds pretty good, it's possibly the most comfortable on-ear headphone I've used, and the bling factor is exceptional. My one complaint is the 1.8 mm thin cable, which is likely to fail since all of my likewise-thin B&W cables have also failed. I found it difficult to compare the MS300's sound to any of my existing headphones, since there wasn't a close match among them. The MS300 was obviously cleaner with better detail than the $99 Logitech UE4000, but I doubt that it's significantly better than the Beyerdynamic DTX501p I had recently (a rebranded Soundmagic P30?), which also costs $99.

    The MS300's highs are soft, moreso than the v-moda M80, Sennheiser Momentum, and ATH ESW9A, all of which have soft highs compared to the better high fidelity headphones. I use Apple i-device treble booster or the desktop equivalent in Foobar2000 for the MS300, which makes the treble sound quite good with no sibilant problems or other irritations. My impression of the MS300's midrange is a slight hollowness, as though the mids are emphasized in the 400-500 hz range. This is noticeable in direct comparisons to some of my other headphones, but not especially noticeable when taken on its own, so my conclusion about the midrange is that it's good - I haven't experienced any irritations with peaks or forwardness caused by an emphasis in any given frequency range.

    The MS300's bass is down about 6-8 db at 30 hz compared to the midrange, and while many types of music sound light in the bass with this headphone, there is noticeable bass weight and impact when the genuine tones are in the recording. I would categorize the bass as just shy of neutral, or similar to the very fine Shure 1840, to name one example. The music tracks listed below have more detail about specific qualities of the sound, including the bass. I would like to suggest that if you do mainly distracted listening with headphones on such as gaming, watching movies, or cruising the Internet, the bass may seem especially light or unsatisfactory. If you listen to music exclusive of other activities, the bass qualities will be more noticeable and more likely to satisfy.

    The MS300 is very light with spongy leather-covered earpads and a moderate clamping force. I find it extremely comfortable, especially for an on-ear headphone. When wearing it, if I tilt my head forward the headband slides forward slightly, but there is no tendency for the headphone to fall off even if I shake my head a little. So it's pretty stable for moderate physical activity such as walking, and possibly for running if your head doesn't bounce too much. The earcups can be pulled all the way down and the headphone worn around your neck all day comfortably when not in use, which for me is a very important feature of a good portable headphone. The earcups can also be folded flat, which is a nice bonus. The MS300 comes with a very small and stiff zippered carrycase that every portable headphone should have. With the earcups folded flat and into the headband and the headphone inserted into the carrycase, the entire package is just 6 by 6 by 2 inches thick - very convenient.

    I can grab the MS300 cable's strain-relief where it connects to the left earcup and rotate the rubber connector 360 degrees (and keep on rotating it), yet in spite of obviously not being locked or soldered into place, it apparently isn't detachable. I did some Google searches for more information on this, but found nothing. If there's any good news here it may be that the cable is easy to have replaced by Phiaton's service center, or even a competent independent technician. The cable termination is a standard 3.5 mm miniplug - no extra connectors for music player controls. The MS300's headband has about 1/2 inch of soft padding underneath, covered by the same leather used on the earpads. The earpads and the headband pad are bright red. Isolation is very modest and pretty much at high frequencies only. Leakage is moderate as well, and in a very quiet office, a person sitting in an adjacent cubicle will hear some sound unless the volume is kept fairly low.

    In other reviews I've done I've included the following music examples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to other reviews and see how the MS300 compares with each individual track.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled fairly well by the MS300.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Very good overall sound. Note the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts won't overwhelm you since they're soft and well in the background, but you can feel some of the weight they carry.

    Blues Project - Caress Me Baby (1966): Rarely mentioned, but one of the greatest white blues recordings ever. The loud piercing guitar sound at 0:41 into the track is a good test for distortion or other problems. Handled well by the MS300.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled well by the MS300.

    Buffalo Springfield - Kind Woman (~1968): A Richie Furay song entirely, rarely mentioned, but one of the best sounding rock ballads ever. This will sound good on most headphones, and it's pretty good with the MS300.

    Cat Stevens - Morning Has Broken (early 70's): A near-perfect test for overall sound - this track will separate the best sounding headphones from the lesser quality types. Nothing specific, except that almost any deviation from perfect reproduction will stand out with this track. Sounds very good with the MS300.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the MS300 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Def Leppard - Bringin' On The Heartbreak (1981): MTV goth/pop/metal at its best - good ambience and high energy - the better headphones will separate the details and make for a good experience. Lesser quality and the details tend to mush together. The MS300 plays this fairly well.

    J.S. Bach - E. Power Biggs Plays Bach in the Thomaskirche (~1970): Recorded on a tracker organ in East Germany, the tracks on this recording have the authentic baroque sound that Bach composed for, albeit the bellows are operated by motor today. The MS300 plays the tones seamlessly through the upper limits of the organ, which cover nearly the full range of human hearing. Of special note are the pedal notes - tracker organs have low-pressure pipes and don't typically produce the kind of impact around 30-35 hz that modern organs do. A headphone that's lacking in the low bass will sound especially bass-shy with this type of organ, but the MS300 provides a satisfactory experience.

    Jamming With Edward - It Hurts Me Too (1969): Intended originally as a test to fill studio down time and set recording levels etc., this was released a few years later for hardcore Rolling Stones fans. Although not as good technically in every aspect as the Chess studio recordings of 1964, and in spite of the non-serious vocals by Mick Jagger, this rates very high on my list of white blues recordings, and sounds very good with the MS300.

    Jennifer Warnes - Rock You Gently (1992?): The strong deep bass percussion at the beginning of this track has been cited as a test for weakness or distortion in certain headphones. Having played this track many times now, I'm favorably impressed with the MS300's bass reproduction and detail throughout the track, and even the beginning notes which have a moderate impact and a distinctive drum-type sound.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has some loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical on some headphones. The MS300's reproduction sounds somewhat dull compared to my other headphones. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in, for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrumental separation and detail, and the MS300's reproduction (using treble boost as noted above) suggests to me that the drivers just can't keep up with the intensity of these blasts, even though the treble reproduction is fine elsewhere.

    Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch (~2009): Featured in The September Issue, this song has heavy overdub and will sound a bit muddy on some headphones. Sounds good with the MS300.

    Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery - Delilah (Take 3) (1962): The vibraphone is heavily dependent on harmonics to sound right, and the MS300 plays it fairly well.

    Pink Floyd/Dark Side of the Moon - Speak To Me (1973): Strong deep bass impacts will be heard and felt here.

    Rolling Stones - Stray Cat Blues (1968): Dirty, gritty blues that very few white artists could match. On some headphones the vocals and guitar lack the edge and fall more-or-less flat. If you're a really good person, playing this song will probably make you feel nervous and uneasy. Sounds great with the MS300.

    Tony Bennett - I Left My Heart In San Francisco (1962): Frank Sinatra's favorite singer. Highest recommendation. With some of the best headphones, the sibilants on this recording are very strong, but they're not an issue with the MS300.
     
  2. RobinHiFi

    RobinHiFi Super Moderator

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    Thanks Dale. These look quite well thought out, I like that there are more better made on-ears around at the moment. What you get for around £100 or $150 has improved a lot in the last year.
     
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Yes, thanks. I was looking at the main site to see if I could bring up a list of small headphones (not IEM's) suitable mostly for portable use, but didn't see a category for that.
     
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