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TechnologyTell Review: Phiaton MS 100 BA earphones

Sections: Audio, Gadgets / Other, Headphones, Lifestyle, Reviews

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When it comes to wearable personal audio, I tend to prefer on- and over-ear headphones. Not so much earphones, even though I’ve experienced some really great products for sound and/or features. For me, in-ear devices are all about the comfort and how well they can hold up to my binge-listening on a daily basis.

If it’s not comfortable, you’re not very likely to wear it all the time, right? Now I’m a fan of Phiaton’s products for both looks and performance. But nothing prepared me for the level of comfort with one of their latest earphones.

Design & Connectivity

At first glance, there isn’t much about the Phiaton MS 100 BA earphones. You’ve got a red cable, grey buds, and probably wouldn’t think there was anything so great about these. But once you get some handling time and ears-on, it becomes apparent how worthy of your attention these earphones can be.

Phiaton MS 100 BA earphone headphone box

Box, buds, bag, and tips all appear basic and simple.

The build quality is good, and the Phiaton MS 100 BA should be able to withstand all but the roughest daily wear and tear. The L-shaped auxiliary plug is reinforced with rubber to protect the cable leading into it. There’s only a small neck covering the cable before it reaches each bud, but the cable itself seems pretty durable and should be fine over time. Just don’t get crazy.

If you hate hunting for the L and R marks to indicate which side is which, it’s easy enough to remember that the in-line remote and mic is on the left-hand side. This discreet little clicker, that looks like an innocuous bump in the line, multi-functions for track control (play/pause and track forward/reverse) as well as taking incoming phone calls. And that’s about it for these earphones. The overall look is clean and classy.

I think that this might the first time I’ve used a headphone/earphone with an oval-shaped cable; I must say that I’m now a fan. Oval-shaped cables are like a happy medium between standard cables and flat ones. This one by Phiaton, which also happens to be textured, does indeed keep coiling and tangling at bay. Just as advertised.

I’ve wrapped the MS 100 BA earphone around four fingers before stowing it away in its included carrying bag. When I go to pull it out, all it takes is a quick shake or two for the cable to unravel without any snags. Although it comes with some memory-related kinks right out of the box, these disappear over time as the cable relaxes and straightens out.

Despite the tangle-free nature of the Phiaton MS 100 BA cable, it happens to be a bit noisy. But only if vibrations make it to the buds. A gentle tap or rub on the cord sends a hollow rumble through to the music, which makes the Phiaton MS 100 BA not the most ideal choice for physical activity. Even if you used a Klingg earbud cord holder to keep it pinned down, noise still comes through the cables if they make contact with your cheeks. It’s no better or worse than most quality, cabled earphones anyway; these by Phiaton are best for sitting or walking and not jogging or running.

Comfort

The Phiaton MS 100 BA earphones feature a straight-barrel design, which may or may not please everyone’s ears. There is no curve or anything fancy to fiddle with. They just go straight in. The buds fit in my ears, don’t stick out in any awkward way, and stay in pretty well, even with light tugs on the cable. It’s simple, and they work.

Phiaton MS 100 BA earphone headphone bud

Looks deceive, since each bud is extremely light and comfortable.

The ear gels that come with these earphones are super soft and flexible. I almost thought they might be bordering on being too thin, that is until I tried them on. They have this way of creating a perfect seal without any added pressure.

The default tip on the MS 100 BA works for me exceptionally well. The package also includes three additional sets of tips for custom fit, each of which are color-coded for size. These tips have a seriously good grip, so it’ll take a little more direct effort to switch them on and off. I find it helpful to flip the eargel inside-out first before trying to push or pull them off.

Although fit and comfort are subjective, these are some seriously fantastic-feeling earbuds. I think that part is due to the gels, and the rest is due to the overall weight. The body of the Phiaton MS 100 BA is so light that you could mistake it for cheap plastic. And that’s why we love crafted aluminum for its higher quality material with better physical properties. It both looks and feels impressive.

Phiaton MS 100 BA earphone headphone tips

You get four sets of ear gels in total.

Wearing the Phiaton MS 100 BA, it feels like they just float right there in the ear. And they don’t slip, move, or require constant adjusting every few minutes because you’ve been walking around or happened to have turned your head once. Since there is no downward drag, the pressure the eargels exert against the canal is even, balanced. I have worn these for hours without feeling the fatigue that normally creeps in on a focused spot in my ear.

Generally, earphones are just ok to me. But I think that the MS 100 BA is a cut above the rest with respect to comfort. They sit snugly, don’t excessively push outward against the ear, yet also don’t give you that feeling like they’re about to fall out either. Shake your head back and forth and they stay put – the worst you’ll do is send thundering noise up the length of the cable. My wife, who has very sensitive ears, has a hard time giving the Phiaton MS 100 BA back to me after using them. Most earphones she’s ever used wear on her quickly – I’m going to let her keep these.

Audio Quality

These earphones can get more than loud enough for most people. Even at higher volumes, the distortion of sound doesn’t get too bad. You get the typical excess brightening and fixing. Music starts to roll off and come out muddy once you go past even that, but then you’ll have a harder time dealing with excessive decibels driving pain into your eardrums. Keep the volume moderate and you’ll maintain the best sound output.

With the best tip to fit your ear, the Phiaton MS 100 BA provides a good bit of noise isolation. It doesn’t do much for anything loud, but moderate to low noises get pushed towards the background of your mind. And when you have music playing, well, it’s just that much easier to ignore everything outside of the earphones. I actually have to take these (at least one) out of my ears when someone is speaking to me if I want to understand them the first time around (and they’re usually shouting). These are much more effective than your average earphone for isolation.

Phiaton MS 100 BA earphone headphone buds

Inside-out ear gels first to make it easier to attach.

Although the Phiaton MS 100 BA lacks the depth of stage of bigger headphones, it delivers a solid amount of definition to what you hear. Surprisingly, instruments and vocals don’t feel so crowded; at least not like one might expect from standard earphones.

There is a bit of cozy overlap, however, when big bursts of instruments veer over into each other’s space. Tracks with excessive layers and/or complex composition tend to suffer some in this aspect as the Phiaton MS 100 BA tries its best to keep up with all the action. You’ll get a bit of halo effect, too. But for earphones, they do a pretty good job at maintaining outstanding clarity and detail to music tracks.

But the horizontal expanse is imaged very well. Like seriously. The little five-second intro to “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver” made me jolt up and pay attention when I first listened. That engine purring in left ear was very unexpected and delightful. It’s not every day an earphone surprises like that.

The MS 100 BA flows music playful and dynamic between the left and right buds, almost seemingly past each ear as the sound engulfs. As such, it’s easy to pinpoint the lateral location of elements and follow the movement. Many other earphones tend to muddle this kind of activity by having big, albeit less-refined sound. The Phiaton MS 100 BA paints a better picture by way of its clear output and lateral activity.

Phiaton MS 100 BA earphone headphone cable

This is one of the most tangle-free cables you’ll ever use.

Many headphones/earphones under the $150 mark tend to suffer from tinny highs to a varying degree. The physical limitations directly relate to the overall quality; smaller-sized earphones are more affected than their larger counterparts. The Phiaton MS 100 BA does an impressive job at maintaining highs that are clean with minimal junk (e.g. sizzle, sibilance in vocals, brittle, etc), but at the cost of seeming a little distant or recessed.

Personally, I prefer it when highs take a small step back in order to blend in with mids and lows better. Sometimes you’ll get a headphone/earphone with aggressive highs that serve only to showcase its flaws in a glaring way. This isn’t the case with the MS 100 BA. Hi-hats and cymbals will sound tinny for sure, but not in that irritating or distracting way. These earphones escape that completely-flat sound by keeping notes in the highs crisp and curt. This quicker decay prevents the music from lingering and blending into everything else.

Phiaton MS 100 BA earphone headphone worn side

It’s a basic, straight barrel earphone design.

But the Phiaton MS 100 BA does draw attention to its highs in good ways, too. Even though slightly downplayed, there is no mistaking the sweet, effortless notes that come from mandolins, harps, flutes, and dulcimers, to name a few. Tracks featuring acoustic instruments are very inviting and balanced. And when it comes to vocals, especially female, wow. Forward, silky, and transparent are what you’re going to get. When you’re focusing on the vocals, especially the pitch, power, and inflection, it’s easy to forget that you have anything sticking in your ears.

Listen to Ingrid Michaelson’s album, Be OK, and you’ll hear how the Phiaton MS 100 BA flexes its high-end clarity and delivers energy. You won’t get this kind of audio from cheap, throw-away earbuds. And the quality of vocals is consistent, no matter who or where they’re from. Midrange vocals, especially, come out full and forward. Most all instruments showcase great tone and texture. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be that bluesy electric guitar, like you hear throughout the album, Hope Radio, by Ronnie Earl. Fantastic stuff.

The Phiaton MS 100 BA earphones make excellent use of the lateral imaging to compensate for a slightly-less depth of stage. Although drums and guitar may sound like they share the same plane, the left-right offset helps to maintain perceived dimension. It’s all too easy for earphones to sound flat, and the MS 100 BA does an admirable job at preventing that experience.

Phiaton MS 100 BA earphone headphone worn front

It doesn’t stick out as far as it feels it might.

And when you listen to the track, “Scary People”, by Mr. Moonshine, you can feel how these earphones deliver a dynamic stage. Instruments are spread across, appropriately swaying back and forth between the right and left channels. And the Phiaton MS 100 BA accentuates midrange detail, deftly separating vocals from instruments with clarity. Although these earphones sound close to being balanced, it doesn’t take long to hear that the midrange has a touch focus, procuring more energy and drive.

While most elements within the mids stay accurate, some instruments develop a slight warming tone. Horns and brass, specifically, and synthesizers/keyboards, sometimes. It’s a subtle blurring that seems to (mostly) affect the outermost edges of the envelope. At times, it sort of seems like these instruments are hitting a wall, unable to fully expand their sound. This is most noticeable when brass plays closer to the lows than to the highs. So, I can hear this warm coloration throughout “Tears Dry On Their Own” by Amy Winehouse, but none at all in Buena Vista Social Club’s “El Cuarto de Tula.”

Although noticeable, It’s not necessarily bad or distracting. This coloration seems to be more prominent as the complexity within music tracks increases. Not all instruments are affected to such a degree either, and vocals remain untouched. All in all, the Phiaton MS 100 BA earphones handles it pretty well.

If you are expecting something other than clean, bold lows, you won’t get that here. Songs rich with drums and/or bass won’t get much more than the top end of the lows. However, if you push the volume up far enough you will feel some physical in-ear pressure that intensifies big-bass-beat sensations. It doesn’t replicate the lush feeling that bigger cans deliver, but it’s a nice touch nonetheless.

Phiaton MS 100 BA earphone headphone coiled

Definitely a favorite for 2015.

I find that the lows from the Phiaton MS 100 BA fit well in the scope of these earphones. They’re strong, yet not overdone or sloppy. The overall definition, attack, and decay of low-end hits are readily enjoyable. Despite not having a whole lot of room for depth, the lows exhibit admirable texture and character. The sound is also deftly balanced with the highs and mids. Although the lows color part of the low-mids, at no time do they outshine or take over the stage.

The overlap of drum sets and bass guitar is minimal (with exception to the before-mentioned situations paragraphs up). Average (and especially lesser) quality headphones can make the pairs sound almost indistinguishable. While listening to Primus and Sailing the Seas of Cheese, I can identify and follow drums and bass individually. I know I’ve said it a few times before, but these qualities are due to the clarity and dynamic lateral imaging. I’ll take it over excessively-muscular lows any day, all day.

Verdict

Considering they’re made by Phiaton, I’m not surprised that the Phiaton MS 100 BA earphones ended up surprising me. You wouldn’t think that there is anything so immediately special about them at first. But after you start using these earphones, it quickly dawns on you how fantastic they really are. And, in my mind, that’s how you know you’ve come across a superb audio product.

The cable is excellent, and I dare say it sets the standard for being tangle-free. Drop it on the table, pick it up, plug it in, repeat, and it just hangs like an al-dente pasta noodle. None of that twisting and coiling nonsense. The lightweight body and comfortable fit of the eargels make the Phiaton MS 100 BA earphones a dream to use for extended periods, and their ability to isolate sound and shut out the world deserves a proper nod.

Audio quality is subjective, though I feel that these earbuds will please most all. Even though the soundstage comes off more flat than deep, the lateral imaging and astounding clarity of instruments and vocals more than make up for it. The overall sound is pretty close to balanced; the mids deliver the most oomph and energy, as the highs and lows are kept in check to maintain optimal quality for the size.

If a $99 MSRP is a fair price, then $79 makes the Phiaton MS 100 BA a deal. If you love music, yet are still using cheap $20 earbuds, you deserve a lot more. Everything about the MS 100 BA earphones is proof positive that the difference in cost (from cheap stuff) translates into an experience galaxies apart. Fall in love with your music – and earphones – all over again.

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