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The Phiaton Bridge MS 500s (MSRP $299) strive to offer consumers a fine marriage of high-quality audio and good looks.
Hailing from a lesser-known company, these on-ear headphones manage a solid first impression. The price point is a definite commitment, but the audio quality is free of any huge drawbacks—and that's not always so easy to come by.
That's not to say the MS 500s are flawless. A potentially uncomfortable cup design, an overly tight clamp, and a soundscape that lacks a bit of detail in some key areas ultimately rob these headphones of a great score. For their sale price of $269, however, this sound profile is actually a lot better than what many consumer-grade products offer.
Fresh out of a bold red-and-white box, the Bridge MS 500s immediately look and feel as if plenty of care went into the packaging and design. A leather-wrapped aluminum band segues almost seamlessly into foldable limbs. The ear cups sport smooth, firm plastic that seems to magically deny any hint of fingerprints.
The shape of the ear pads themselves, however, is questionable. Unable to decide whether they're over-ear or on-ear headphones, the Bridge MS 500s are decidedly neither, instead describing something of a hybrid shape.
It doesn't really work, and will likely have you adjusting and readjusting for the first few hours. Unfortunately, the first few hours are also the best few hours.
If the clamping and cup design makes quickly finding the best fit just a little tricky, it makes long-term use even harder. On top of that, though the leather ear cups are lavish to the touch, they also retain a lot of heat. I found myself growing almost uncomfortably warm (even amidst Boston snow flurries) after a few hours of use.
There are positive flourishes, of course: The piston-like arms provide enough distance from the band for even much larger heads. The cups rock lightly up, down, left, and right for added flexibility, and leather along the band makes for a comfortable fit. One notable feature is that the cable is completely detachable, and plugs into either ear cup. The slender in-line controller features a single red button embedded into a silver base—it's just a one-button affair, but works with both Apple and Android devices.
Finally, the included carrying bag is an especially nice addition to the whole package. The drawstrings and stitching are high quality, and the interior's red felt and cable pocket are a nice touch. While the band isn't foldable, the arms that hold the cups are, making it easy to bag these headphones up and go on your merry way.
Minor complaints aside, the Phiaton Bridge MS 500s are a very handsome, detailed set of cans that are comfortable enough for short-term listening. And since you're also getting a meticulously crafted black-and-red carrying bag, 6.3mm adapter, and two 3.6-foot, tangle-resistant cords, the finely crafted appearance and great extras may outweigh the less-than-luxurious fit.
Things like tight stitching and quality craftsmanship are nice touches when you're dropping $300 on a pair of headphones, but if the music doesn't cut it, it's all for naught. Fortunately, everyone but the most delicately petaled audiophlowers will be quite pleased with the sound the MS 500s deliver.
I took these cans for a spin, both through our objective laboratory testing process and through a few tracks I'm quite familiar with, and can confirm that they sound very good. We tested decently balanced sound, with only minor dips in the high mids. Sound quality like this won't appeal to everyone, so don't expect any low-end boosting here—these cans are more refined than that. Musical attributes, like layers of harmonized vocals, were easy to distinguish without overpowering foundations of drum and bass. More subtle nuances, like a solo pianists' intended crescendo, were also well preserved.
In an overall sense, there really weren't any performance bombs, just your general balance of strengths and weaknesses.
For instance, volume between the left and right speakers proved very even, so that sound is never notably louder or softer on one side than another. On the other hand, the MS 500s don't do the best job of blocking outside noise. If you're considering lots of travel, such as by train or plane, the Bridge MS 500s may not be the right choice. These headphones block only a tiny amount of sub-bass and bass sounds, but high-pitched outside noises are effectively held at bay.
My personal experience with these headphones was positive, as well. While they weren't the most comfortable pair I've ever worn, both MP3- and CD-quality audio from both my smartphone and music player sounded great.
The Bridge MS 500s do an excellent job lending even emphasis to the bass and midrange—where most acoustic and electric instruments live. Unfortunately, they're not the strongest when it comes to representing overtones, high mids, and sibilance sounds like cymbals. Ears accustomed to a bass-heavy soundscape will appreciate this timbre, but it's a long shot from the flat, studio response sought by engineers and professionals.
From a pure audio quality perspective, the Phiaton Bridge MS 500s are not quite equal to their $300 MSRP. Bass notes are represented almost perfectly, but certain delicate high notes and overtone series are lost, as it were, in the mix. While still a friend to all but the staunchest of ears, the Bridge MS 500s could be better, too.
For their current sale price of $269, however, and considering the meticulous craftsmanship of the design, we have to give at least one thumbs up to Phiaton's red-and-black beauties. The MS 500s are physically impeccable, which is not a negligible trait by any means. I still recommend trying before buying, however, to make sure that the snug band and on-ear design prove comfortable enough for your noggin.
These are not the most beautiful headphones on the market, nor do they wield the best overall sound quality—yet they still score very good marks in both areas, and for a relatively competitive price point. While users can achieve similar audio quality for less money—entries from Beyerdynamic and V-Moda come to mind—the Bridge MS 500's stand out as a rare combination of good looks and commendable audio.
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