No law of physics says headphones that look cool sound bad. It just seems to work out that way. That's why Phiaton's $299 MS 500 Bridge had me worried. I really do think it's the coolest-looking headphone I've ever seen. Which logic might suggest would make it the worst-sounding headphone I've ever heard. But what the heck, let's give pretty boy a chance, shall we?
See my full lab measurements for the Phiaton MS 500 in this image gallery.
• 40mm drivers in sealed enclosures
• 2.5mm cord jacks on both ears
• 3.6 ft/1.2m cord with inline mic and play/pause/answer button
• 3.6 ft/1.2m standard cord
• soft carrying sack included
• Weight: 8.8 oz/250g
For my taste, the MS 500 might be a little large and flashy for portable use. Still, I couldn't resist wearing it for a couple of hours on Los Angeles' Orange Line. For the first time ever, I got the feeling that people were checking out my headphones -- and I have rocked many an awesome headphone on the Orange Line. With its angular black earpieces mounted on flashy, sliding metal bars and highlighted by red accents, the MS 500 looks like something the Borg would wear. (The Star Trek guys, not the tennis guy.)
The earpads are small enough that the MS 500 might not quite qualify as an over-ear model, but they proved amply pillowy and plush to pamper my larger-than-average pinnae. The pads do clamp fairly tightly, which can be initially uncomfortable, but after a few minutes they settle in for a comfy fit.
The fabric-wrapped cord is practically impossible to tangle, although it does make scratching sounds in whichever earpiece it's connected to when the cable scrapes across your clothes.
The case, though, is lame: just a velvet-lined leatherette drawstring satchel that offers only a little drawstring to seal the top to keep the 'phones from falling out.
I bet the MS 500 will get an immediate "wow" out of you the first time you hear it. How do I know? That's exactly what happened with me and with the other two experienced headphone testers I ran it by, L.A. jazz musician Will Huff and A/V tech blogger Geoff Morrison. The MS 500's vivid, spacious sound even gives an old familiar cut like Led Zeppelin's "Dancing Days" new life. It made it easy to hear all of Jimmy Page's layered guitar parts, yet the enhanced detail didn't add any edge to Robert Plant's voice.
The MS 500's pumped-up but tight-and-punchy bass gave extra kick to the tune's solid groove without obscuring the mids and treble as a lot of hip-hop-oriented headphones do. Yet the MS 500 is a superb headphone for hip-hop, too. On Wale's "LoveHate Thing," from The Gifted, vocalist Sam Dew's falsetto sounded super-smooth, and the guitars and background vocals sounded spacious and ambient, like they were in the room with me rather than coming from two little speakers strapped to my ears.
As with "Dancing Days," the bass on "LoveHate Thing" sounded pumped up, but in a way I liked and I think most people will love. The MS 500 is definitely one of those rare bass-boosted headphones that don't sound muddy.
Will loved the MS 500 even more than I did. "Four-and-a-half stars because I have to take off a half-star for comfort -- it doesn't know if it wants to be an over-ear or an on-ear," he said. "Otherwise, I love everything about it. The sound is so spectacular. I've listened to the version of 'A Night in Tunisia' by Dizzy Gillespie and Arturo Sandoval at least 50 times, but through the Phiaton I heard new elements I hadn't noticed before. The clarity is unbelievable. The bass is tight and accurate. And the sound quality holds up across all genres of music."
Geoff and I had similar opinions of the MS 500. We had a chance to shoot it out against two major competitors, the PSB M4U 1 and the Sennheiser Momentum. (Actually, we compared it to lots of competitors, but the M4U 1 and the Momentum are the only ones of the bunch that are in the MS 500's class.) We both preferred the more neutral bass balance of the PSB and Sennheiser models, but thought the MS 500 definitely deserved a place alongside them as one of the today's best $300 headphones.
The Phiaton MS 500 is a great headphone. If you want style that’ll get you noticed, it’s got that. If you want a vivid, exciting sound, it’s got that. There are some choices at the same price that audiophiles might prefer, but I think fans of hip-hop, rock and pop might like the MS 500 better.