These on-ears stand in as durable, portable friends to the music lover on the move, but their overall audio quality could be better. Users looking for a flat (read: non bass heavy) response will be pleased with the overall sound, though it's not as clean and distortion-free as it could be.
Minor flaws aside, the Fusion MS 430 on-ears deliver above-average sound for the price. Best of all, their high-quality materials ensure that they're a smart investment, mile after mile.
A carbon-clad warrior
Because they're specifically billed as "travel headphones," the Fusion MS 430 on-ears naturally come with an overnight bag and footy pajamas. Not really—but their design is specifically tailored for a ramblin' man (or woman). A compact form factor and ear cups that fold into the band make for decent portability, though they're not as portable as most in-ear types.
Where the MS 430 on-ears really shine, however, is in the durability department. Phiaton chose to reinforce them with carbon fiber, meaning everything from the backs of the ear cups to the band and arms is tough and crush-resistant. The MS 430s also include an equally sturdy, detachable cable that's capped by firm plastic and metal around each gold-plated jack. The cable includes a volume slider and serves as an in-line microphone, but you can't use it to skip songs or answer calls—a real inconvenience considering the travel pedigree.
With so much durability, these on-ears could look a lot worse and still be winners. The aesthetics of the design aren't anything to write home about; as a pair, black-and-red join forces all the time. There are little details to appreciate, however: Brushed aluminum strips wrap each pad to match the metal extensions on the band, while a crosshatched black-and-gray pattern decorates the back of each cup, protected by smooth plastic. In a nod to these finer details, Phiaton includes a drawstring bag to store the MS 430s while on-the-go, helping keep them safe from scratches and dings.
Of course, the real question is: Are they comfortable? Thankfully, yes. For on-ears, the MS 430s are quite bearable, even over long periods of time. The ear cups are padded just enough that you'll forget about all that carbon wrapped around your head. My one complaint is that the clamping force is on the weak side, so that the headband feels as if it could slip off at a sudden stop. The pads also trap a lot of heat, so between them and the clamping force, these definitely aren't appropriate for physical activity. They're great for a train, plane, or a stroll through the park, though.
A frequency response chart illustrates how a set of headphones handles each frequency across the audible spectrum, from the deepest bass tones to the highest trebles. During testing, we feed the frequency spectrum at 78 dB to the headphones, and our head-and-torso simulator (HATS) then graphs how those headphones handles each frequency.
The MS 430s performed well here. Sub-bass and bass frequencies from 20 through 200Hz respond evenly around 78 dB, meaning they are neither over- or under-emphasized. As bass frequencies shift to mid-range frequencies, the emphasis begins a steady, subtle decline. This doesn't mean that mid-range frequencies will be hard to hear, though. Because of the way human ears are attuned to sound, the slight de-emphasis actually balances the middle and bass frequencies to a degree.
The only area where the MS 430s don't respond somewhat evenly is between 5kHz and 6kHz, both upper midrange frequencies that primarily handle musical and vocal overtone series. This de-emphasis means that some elements of music lack full resonance and sound compared to the rest of the spectrum.
Above-average sound for listeners on the go, though not without some flaws
Overall, the Fusion MS 430 on-ears favor the traveler over the audiophile. That's not to say that these cans produce a bad sound, but they're also not on the level with some of Phiaton's less travel-focused options, such as the Bridge MS 500 over-ears.
First of all, if you're looking for big, booming bass a la your own portable sub-woofer, you may want to look elsewhere. The MS 430 on-ears neither over- nor under-emphasize bassy tones, meaning the rumbling yawn of a cello quartet or the mellow sweep of a bari sax will sound at their recorded levels—something many listeners prefer. Middle-of-the-road instruments like the trumpet and the oboe stand out with plenty of volume, too. Finally, while the highest notes receive plenty of emphasis, more subtle harmonic overtones in the upper midrange—such as certain vocals or crashing cymbals—are a bit underplayed compared to the rest of the spectrum. This omission causes the MS 430 on-ears to sound a little less full compared to headphones that don't under-emphasize that range.
Close listeners will be elated that the Fusion MS 430 play music with an even balance between each speaker. Across the entire range of sounds, there is very little variance between the left and right channels, giving your ears an even dose of sound.
On another bright note, testing revealed almost no audible distortion. While it may not seem obvious, the electro-mechanical elements in headphones can add unwanted, non-musical noise during playback. Fortunately, the Fusion MS 430 on-ears tested with very little distortion within the most audible range, meaning playback lacks any trace of unsavory sounds.
Perhaps the best feature of these Phiaton on-ears is that, with the right fit, you can block out a lot of outside noise during your commute. Despite a gentle clamping force, the cups mold to your ears in a way that blocks a good amount of mid- and high-pitched noise, so things like screeching tires, crying babies, and squeaking, un-greased axels will all but disappear behind a wall of classic rock, jazz, show tunes, or whatever it is you listen to on the go.
Our tracking test measures volume in each ear cup (channel) of a set of headphones. Ideally, both channels will handle playback volume equally. The MS 430 on-ears performed well here: Other than slightly favoring the right channel around 200 Hz, and the left channel around 3kHz, volume is evenly balanced across the frequency spectrum.
A staunch traveling companion
The Phiaton Fusion MS 430s don't provide audiophile-quality playback, but for the price, many consumers will like what they hear. Flat, even bass emphasis gives your music plenty of oomph, and with the right fit, you won't have to hear the usual squawks and hollers from your daily commute. Toss in collapsible ear cups and high-quality materials, and you've found a traveling companion that'll stay by your side through train or shine.
They might be on the pricy side of the line, but it's a good side to be on if you don't want to replace busted travel cans every other year. Within the realm of "premium" traveling headphones, the MS 430 on-ears don't have a ton of competition, but there is one big contender: For $20 more, this entry from V-Moda promises the same killer durability, comfort, and superior sound.
Overall, these Phiatons might be on the pricy side of the line, but it's a good side to be on if you don't want to replace busted travel cans every other year.
Our distortion test measures the presence of unwanted sonic elements like clipping and mechanical noise within a set of headphones' sound production. Ideally, total harmonic distortion (THD) will total 3% or less above the sub-bass frequency range. While the MS 430s tested with a somewhat high degree of distortion in the sub-bass range, it tapers off by about 1kHz. Unfortunately, there's still more than 3% THD around 60Hz, meaning some distortion is present in the bass range, albeit a very small amount.
You can expect these results to remain consistent as long as volume stays below 114.413 dB, which is way louder than you should be listening anyway.
Meet the tester
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.See all of Lee Neikirk's reviews
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