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Computerized Investing > September 14, 2013
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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

$299

In this age of wireless this and wireless that, the traditionalist in me appreciates running across an “old school” gadget such as wired headphones. It’s been over a year since my last review of wired headphones: the V-MODA Crossfade M-80 Shadow headphones. For the past month I have been trying out another set of high-performance, on-ear headphones, the Phiaton MS 500 Bridge headphones. I have reviewed a few Phiaton products previously, including the PS 210 BTNC wireless earphones and PS 20 BT earphones, so I was very curious to see how they do on the wired side of things. They certainly didn’t disappoint!

Out of the Box

If you are going to spend $300 on a pair of headphones, you are expecting quality, rugged construction. That is exactly what Phiaton delivered with the Bridge MS 500. The headphones are arguably the most stylish I have reviewed in this column. It seems that red and black is becoming the color combination of choice, as I have run across my fair share of headphones featuring this color palette. Even non-tech products are getting into the act, including the Digital Treasures PocketPro Padfolio Case I reviewed a few weeks ago. Luckily, the red is merely an accent, so even those with the most conservative of tastes probably won’t be turned off by the color.

The MS line, short for Moderna Series, lives up to its name. As I have mentioned in other reviews, headphones are becoming fashion statements in their own right. The headband is made of genuine perforated leather while the body is machined aluminum.

The MS 500 ear cups fit over your ear, compared to the on-ear ear cups of the V-MODA Crossfades. I have come to prefer this type of ear cup, as I find that it seals off outside noise better and tends to be more comfortable when worn for longer periods of time. The ear cups themselves are well padded as well, which elevates the comfort level. However, their unique inverse teardrop shape has posed a problem for some reviewers. Phiaton appears to be trying to mimic the shape of the human ear. Depending on the size of your ears, the ear cups may not fully cover your ears.

The Bridge MS 500 comes with two tangle-free cloth-wrapped cables, both of which are bright red in color. One is merely a cable, while the other has an in-line microphone for phone calls (more on this later). The MS 500 also sports “ambidextrous” inputs, which allow you to connect the cable to either the left or right side of the headphone. I really like the fact you can detach the cable from the headphone, as often the cable fails before the headphones themselves. It is much easier, and cheaper, to replace the cable than the entire set. The connectors and cables themselves also appear to be of a high quality. One trade-off of being tangle-free, however, is that the cables are rather stiff and I found myself fighting with them on occasion to get it positioned the way I wanted it. The cables are 3.6 feet in length, which I found to be plenty long enough to connect them to my iPhone and still carry the phone in a pocket with slack to spare.

The Phiaton MS 500 tips the scales at 8.8 ounces. This isn’t surprising, given the engineering and materials used. Some may find that to be a bit weighty to wear for extended periods of time, but I didn’t. Any “discomfort” comes from the amount of pressure the headband puts on the ear cups to keep them from moving around. After more than an hour of two of wearing them, I did find it necessary to take the headphones off for a bit.

The headphones fold up for easy carrying. However, I was a little disappointed that the Bridge MS 500 only came with a cloth carrying case. For the price, I would much prefer a hard shell case, like the one you get with the V-MODA Crossfades.

Performance

When it comes to sound performance, the Bridge MS 500 is unrivaled. I thought I was near the apex of sound quality with the V-MODA Crossfades, but the Phiaton Bridge MS 500 has shown me that there was room for improvement. The headphones handled the entire audio range with ease. The highs were crisp and bright while, for bass lovers, the MS 500's new dual-chamber, “multi-tune acoustic design” delivers rich and powerful bass. Some may find the bass a bit much, but it is never muddy or overpowering. Furthermore, there wasn’t any distortion at high volume. Whether I was listening to John Barry’s orchestral pieces or the guitar solos of Eddie Van Halen, I was repeatedly amazed. The MS 500 made every favorite of mine sound “new” again, as I was introduced to sounds I’ve never heard before with a pair of headphones. If you are looking for a set of headphones to help you truly enjoy your music, these have to be near the top of your list.

The plush ear cups provide excellent noise isolation, allowing you to focus on your music without being distracted by background noise. This feature is especially nice for commuters such as myself. As I mentioned earlier, I did find it necessary to take them off after extended wearing (over an hour) to relieve the pressure from the headband. I will admit, however, that I have an above-average-sized head; this may play a role in the discomfort I experienced.

Another slight annoyance is the “cord bump” you get with the cloth-covered cables. The sound of the cable rubbing against your clothing is noticeable, especially when you are on the move. The microphone cable allows you to answer and end calls as well as control music playback, all with a single button. I much prefer the three-button controller of the V-MODE Crossfades. With the MS 500, one push of the remote will either answer or end a call or play/pause music; two clicks will advance the music track, and three clicks will play previous tracks. The multi-click method takes some getting used to. The remote does lack volume control, so I found myself having to dig my iPhone out of my pocket on occasion to adjust the volume.

Overall

The Phiaton Bridge MS 500 headphones have become my new everyday headphones. They deliver the best sound quality of any headphones I have ever tested, with a deep bass that may turn off some, but which I prefer. I am equally impressed by the lack of distortion at high volume. They are solidly built as well, which makes me believe I will be using them for quite some time. The detachable cord also means that I won’t have to ditch the entire set if the cord fails.

It is important not to overlook the fact that these headphones can become a bit uncomfortable when worn for longer periods of time. Whether it’s the size and shape of my head or a drawback of the headphones themselves, I’m not sure, but this may be a factor to consider. That being said, I can put up with having to take them off every hour or so because the audio quality really is that good.

My only real complaints are the lack of volume control on the remote and the cheap cloth carrying case.

That brings us to the cost: $299 suggested retail. This is $70 more than the suggested retail price of the V-MODA Crossfades and you aren’t going to find very deep discounts via online retailers such as Amazon.com. While I love these headphones, I also got a free set to review. At this price point, the Phiaton Bridge MS 500 headphones are for enthusiasts, thus receiving my qualified recommendation.

Pros:

  • Amazing sound quality, with deep bass response
  • In-line remote and microphone
  • Removable cables that connect to either the right or left side of the headphones
  • Excellent noise isolation

Cons:

  • Can become uncomfortable after prolonged use
  • Remote lacking volume control
  • Cloth carry bag instead of hard-shell case
  • “Cord bump” noticeable when moving around
  • Expensive

Phiaton Bridge MS 500 Over-Ear Headphones

$299 (Currently $269 from Amazon.com)

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA is a vice president and senior financial analyst at AAII and editor of Computerized Investing. Follow him on Twitter at @WayneTAAII.


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