Over time, I’ve reviewed earphones made from plastic, aluminum, silicone, and even wood covering every price range. Earphone makers claim that their chosen material has some advantage over the other. Well, there may be some truth to those claims. Each material does, in fact, have inherent advantages, but they also each have disadvantages. There is no perfect earphone. Which brings us to the Phiaton Moderna MS 200, an earphone housed in something a bit different – carbon fiber. However, is this addition of carbon fiber the holy grail that leads to audio bliss?
Phiaton is a company known for very stylish and well-made headphones and earphones, some which include noise cancellation. The look reminds me of Italian sports cars – exotic and pretty. There are some nice touches with the MS 200 earphones besides the unique carbon fiber shell. Included is a bright red cord that’s not round or flat, but oval, and which could be the best of both worlds. The oval shape is almost tangle-free but has softer, rounded edges. Also included is an unusual, tubular-shaped rounded leather case that’s lined with microfiber – red, of course.
Each earpiece is topped with a small bit of bright aluminum which covers one of three acoustical dampers the MS 200 incorporates.
Phiaton uses what they term a “Multi-Tune Acoustic Design” with a dual-chamber and 5 tuning points engineered to accelerate airflow. They say this provides crystal clear audio with potent bass. Is there anything to this hyperbole? I’m not sold on the crystal clear audio part, but the bass … not too shabby. Actually, it’s quite good.
Despite a generous selection of MS 200 tips to choose from, I had issues with the fit. It was hit or miss. I have the same problem that I had with the recently reviewed RBH EP2 earphones. The large 14.3 mm dynamic speaker sits against the outer ear, which prevents the earphone from being inserted very deep into the ear canal. This can sometimes mean a less than perfect seal, which translates into less bass. However, the supplied Comply tips do give me all the bass Phiaton intended, so I can hear everything needed to write a fair review. A slightly longer foam tip would have felt a bit more secure in my ear, but they don’t exist for this earphone.
Then there is what Phiaton calls the “RightFit” silicon ear tips that are – they say – perfect for exercising. I’m sure they are, but they’re not perfect for listening – far from it. These tips may be comfortable and grippy, but they offer no bass. As in none.
In a bow to the commuting crowd, Phiaton includes a mic and music button on the left ear cord. It’s a standard three-button design that works perfectly with any Apple iDevice, but can be hit or miss with other smartphones. Call quality is on par with other earphones in this price range.
The MS 200 handles the high frequencies well and the mids are even better, but it’s the bass where Phiaton has paid special attention, and it shows. It’s powerful and clean – two audio qualities seldom mentioned in the same sentence.
This emphasis on bass is more apparent on modern tracks vs. classic rock. For instance, while James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” sounds good with its nasal, folksy vocal, it’s certainly no rocker. But when it was followed up with the Amy Winehouse song, “You Know I’m no Good,” the bass almost knocked me out of my chair. (Gotta hand it to the shuffle setting in iTunes.) The bass was enormous, especially when compared to the laid-back Taylor. It was also tight, meaning there was none of the muddiness or booming which can occur with some earphones. Now that’s how bass should sound.
What does sound muddy though, is the classic Jimi Hendrix song, “Red House.” His purposefully distorted guitar just drowns out everything else to the point of distraction. Granted, this late 60s’ recording technique wasn’t great to begin with, but the MS 200 didn’t – or couldn’t – help out on this song. However, Phiaton magically pulled a rabbit out of the hat with This Mortal Coil’s reworking of the Talking Heads’ song, “Drugs.” This song can easily be just as muddy sounding as Hendrix’s but Phiaton cleaned it up and let the bass and higher frequencies play nicely together. In fact, the entire TMC album, “Filigree and Shadow,” both kicks and soothes, often at the same time.
Electronic music benefits from the MS 200‘s controlled bass. OMD, Talk Talk and even early Spandau Ballet sound punchy and fresh, rather than watered down, as heard on cheaper earphones. If you’re a fan of 80s New Wave or New Romantic genres, these earphones can make you rediscover old favorites.
Moby’s more recent “Myopia” has a deep, deep bass line that has distortion written all over it, but not with the MS 200. Even with the volume pushed up to an uncomfortable level, the bass became quite overpowering and unpleasant, but not in a buzzy or grainy way. It was just too loud.
While the design of the MS 200 earphones may not be to my taste, I can appreciate their appeal to a more style conscience (younger) crowd. I would have preferred a more subtle black (or even white) to all that red, but they are distinctive and impressive looking.
If you are a basshead, you should seriously consider these earphones over a certain celebrity brand known for its bass. Plus, the Moderna’s design beats the other’s rather plain looks. Who knows, after hearing the MS 200, you just might wave goodbye to the good Doctor.