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Phiaton Moderna MS-200 in-ear headphones review: Comfortable, versatile, and sporty

Despite a few minor drawbacks, the Phiaton Moderna MS 200 earbuds are a very appealing day-to-day half-in-ear pair that also work well for exercising indoor or outdoors.

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Steve Guttenberg
headshots_Steve_Guttenberg.jpg
Steve Guttenberg

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.

4 min read

The Phiaton Moderna MS 200 is a "half-in-ear" headphone design, which means it's midway between an earbud and an in-ear headphone. While the MS 200s have eartips, you don't jam them all the way into your ear canal. Instead, they simply rest in your ear canal, so they let some sound in. That said, depending on which tip you choose (several kinds are included), they offer a little more of a snug fit than the Bose MIE2is, which have special customized silicone tips and let even more sound in.

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7.7

Phiaton Moderna MS-200 in-ear headphones

The Good

The <b>Phiaton Moderna MS 200</b> model offers a very comfortable fit and stylish design with a flat cord and inline remote/microphone. The earphones are water-resistant and sound full and very open. They also come with a nice carrying case and several eartip choices, and they don't seal out ambient noise, which means you can hear cars coming when you're biking or running.

The Bad

Not ideal for people who want a tight seal (they let a lot of sound in). Definition could be a bit better.

The Bottom Line

Despite a few minor drawbacks, the Phiaton Moderna MS 200 earbuds are very appealing day-to-day, half-in-ear headphones that also work well for exercising.

It's an interesting design, and the earphones are very comfortable to wear. The target customer is someone who wants versatile in-ear-style headphones that can be used on a day-to-day basis as well as for outdoor exercise activities such as walking, running, or biking, where you don't want to be cut off from your environment. I liked them. In terms of sound, the MS 200s don't offer incredible definition, but they do sound full and open, particularly for this type of headphone design.

Design and features
The MS 200s' distinctive styling, carbon graphite fiber body, and bright red cable stand out in the crowd of in-ear headphones. Phiaton claims that the MS 200s' "Multi-Tune Acoustic Design" uses a dual chamber and has five tuning points engineered to optimize airflow. That sounds like technobabble to me, but the sound is richly balanced and has good detail.

The unusually shaped earpieces are larger than most and have a vertical "post" that hangs down from your ears, which makes them feel a little unstable. That didn't detract from comfort, and since the design doesn't require a tight ear seal to produce solid bass, there's no need to fuss with the fit every time you put them in your ears.

The earphones have a graphite fiber body. Sarah Tew/CNET

The oval-shaped, 47-inch-long red cable has mic and phone controls located high up on the flat, tangle-resistant cord that is attached to the right earpiece. The MS 200s come with four sizes of matching red soft silicone tips, and one pair of Comply foam tips. There's also a set of RightFit silicone eartips, and they definitely provided a more secure fit for exercising than the other tips, but the headphones' bass output dropped with the RightFit tips installed. I much preferred the sound with the standard tips. The attractively styled travel pouch is the only included accessory.

The headphones are sweat- and water-resistant, so you can enjoy your music during a heavy workout or in a light rain without fear of damaging them. The MS 200s have unusually large 14.3mm drivers and a 32-ohm-rated impedance.

The four different types of included eartips Sarah Tew/CNET

Warranty runs to one year on parts and labor, but only when the headphones are bought from an authorized Phiaton dealer; proof of purchase is required to make warranty claims.

Performance
The MS 200s sounded more open than just about every other under-$400 in-ear headphones I've ever tried. Returning to in-ear headphones after listening to the MS 200s, you can't help but notice how the sound is smaller, more stuck inside your head. Another plus, the half-in-ear design doesn't seal you off from your surroundings, so you can wear the MS 200s when walking or exercising and still hear cars coming. The downside to the design is that it lets in a lot of noise, so if you crave isolation, go for noise-reducing or conventional in-ear headphones.

The included carrying case Sarah Tew/CNET

I didn't have any higher-end earbuds on hand, but a comparison with standard Apple earbuds proved the MS 200s' superiority in a hurry. The Apple earbuds' sound is so bass-light, it's anemic. Voices also sound thin and the higher frequencies are fuzzy and crude. It's the headphone equivalent of listening to a cheap table radio. Switching over to the MS 200s, the sound blooms, the balance is much richer, and there's clarity, plus you hear the sort of large and small dynamic gradations that were completely inaudible over the Apple buds.

The flat cord is tangle-resistant and the earphones are water-resistant. Sarah Tew/CNET

That wasn't close to a fair contest, so I compared the MS 200s with a set of Klipsch Image S4 in-ear headphones. The MS 200s' bass may be full, but definition isn't a strong suit; the S4s' bass is just as full, but much more detailed and natural. Cymbals sounded more realistic over the S4s; the MS 200s' treble sounded a wee bit harsh on some recordings. The S4s' sound was clearer, more immediate and present, but spatially smaller and more confined than the MS 200s'. That's why I found the MS 200s' wide-open sound easier to listen to and less fatiguing after hours of use.

These are two very different-sounding headphones, and I liked them for different reasons. I enjoyed the MS 200s most when walking on the streets of New York City. While some people like to seal out ambient noise on the streets, I personally don't like feeling too cut off from my surroundings, so the MS 200s were appealing.

The one-button inline remote/microphone for making cell-phone calls Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion
The Phiaton Moderna MS 200s may look a little like in-ear headphones, but they don't sound like them. Like earbuds, they don't seal you off from the world outside, and the sound is more open and spacious than that of most in-ear headphones, which will appeal to folks who don't like the intrusive feel those can have.

The downside to the MS 200s is that the sound feels less direct and immediate than you get from a good in-ear design. But these are versatile headphones that will appeal to folks who want in-ear-style headphones for day-to-day use as well as for exercising. At $120 online, they're reasonably priced, but I think Phiaton could get more traction with a $99 price point.

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7.7

Phiaton Moderna MS-200 in-ear headphones

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Sound 7Value 7
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