Phiaton’s headphones have always looked like a luxury version of the Beats by Dr. Dre lineup, despite typically being less expensive. At $179 (list), the Phiaton Fusion MS 430 is neither cheap nor overpriced, delivering audio quality that stands prominently in the crowded sub-$200 field that has such greats as the Editors’ Choice Marshall Monitor. With a solid bass response that delivers deep lows and excellent high-mid and high frequency presence, it maintains a wonderful balance for just about every genre you can throw at it. This headphone pair could join some elite ranks, but over long listening periods it can get quite uncomfortable.
As usual, Phiaton uses leather and other luxurious (non-plastic) materials to create a stylish-looking, (initially) comfortable design. The Fusion MS 430 features leather earpads with carbon fiber panels on the earpieces. The dominant color here is black, though the removable cable (which can be plugged into either earcup) is bright red, adding some flair to the design.
Phiaton describes the Fusion MS 430 as an over-the-ear, circumaural pair, but it’s on the cusp of being a large on-ear (supra-aural) pair. I didn’t find that the earcups really fit around my ear to create a seal against my head like a typical circumaural pair does. Instead the pads pressed against my ears, with the tops and bottoms of my ears hanging outside of the circular earpads’ borders.
Regardless of nomenclature, the earpads are comfortable and well-cushioned at first, but they exert enough pressure on the ear that wearing them can be quite fatiguing over time. The headband has a rubberized lining that isn’t very plush and gets a bit uncomfortable over time, and seems to collect dust and pet hair with the effectiveness of a Swiffer. Though it is a handsome headphone pair, the Fusion MS 430 simply isn’t very comfortable over long listening sessions, and if you wear glasses, it tends to press them into the side of your skull.
The cable features an inline remote control and microphone for mobile devices. A single button controls playback, track skipping, and answering incoming calls, depending on how many times you tap it and what you mode you’re in (playing music versus receiving a call). Instead of buttons to control the volume, the remote uses a slider, which can sometimes be a bit more sensitive than you might want; it’s harder to make minor volume adjustments than it is with buttons. The cable’s detachability adds value to the Fusion MS 430, since cables often are the first thing to malfunction on a headphone pair and replacing them is easier than replacing the headphones themselves.
The Fusion MS 430 folds flat and fits into an included drawstring protective pouch, but there are no other accessories like adapters for different headphone jack sizes or extra cables to go with it. The pouch and the one cable are all it comes with.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Fusion MS 430 delivers a well-defined, powerful low frequency response that never distorts, even at top volumes. At reasonable listening levels, the bass response possesses richness and definition—things are boosted slightly but not ridiculously, and the presence of crisp high-mids and highs allows the overall sound signature to remain balanced.
Often with bass-boosted headphones, Bill Callahan’s “Drover” gets a little muddy, with his voice receiving too much low-end and not enough high-mid clarity. This isn’t the case with the Fusion MS 430, which gives his baritone vocal delivery a nice treble edge and favors the mids over the lows. This means the drumming stays pleasantly in the background instead of doing thunderous battle with Callahan’s vocals for the spotlight.
The Fusion MS 430′s balance is also apparent on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild.” The attack of the kick drum loop on this track gets a nice amount of high-mid grit to slice through the mix, while the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with a healthy amount of power.
Classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” sound balanced and flat through the Fusion MS 430. The bass boosting adds a bit of richness to the lower register strings and percussion without sounding over the top, and the higher register strings, brass, and percussion maintain a nice, bright forefront in the mix without ever sounding harsh. For fans of flat response (in the sense that flat response can also include deep bass, just not overwhelmingly-boosted gobs of it), the Fusion MS 430 is a solid option. It may have a bit more bass and treble sculpting than a truly flat response pair would have, but the balance maintained here, and the unwillingness to allow the bass to overtake the mix, makes for compelling listening.
At $179, the Phiaton Fusion MS 430 is a great pair of headphones with only one real downside: They become uncomfortable over long listening sessions. That’s a pretty substantial downside for some listeners, and enough to keep us from giving it our Editors’ Choice award. From a purely sonic standpoint, though, the Fusion MS 430 is a winner. In this price range, there are plenty of excellent options to consider. The Editors’ Choice Marshall Monitor brings a clear mix to a stylish design, and the Harman Kardon CL with its refined sound signature is another solid option. If you’re looking spend less but still want decent balance, the Editors’ Choice Griffin WoodTones Over-the-Ear Headphones and Sennheiser HD 429s exceed expectations for their price range.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc