Headphones with an MP3 player built in aren't a new concept by any means, but they've failed to gain much ground in the market. It's a bit of a shame, really, as this form factor allows users to do away with wires, but most models have failed to provide adequate comfort or sound quality. The Koss Tugo goes a long way toward remedying these two issues, though at $299 for a mere 512MB of built-in memory, it still won't appeal to everyone. However, the decent sound quality and cordless listening experience are certainly attractive traits.
On first glance, the Koss Tugo looks like a standard set of full-size headphones, with two oval earcups attached to an adjustable, padded headband. Closer inspection reveals some important differences, notably the lack of a cord for attaching to an audio source. Of course, this is because the Tugo itself is the audio source--a 512MB MP3 player is built right in. The right earcup houses some basic controls that indicate this purpose. There's a play/pause key, track shuttle buttons, a volume knob, and a power switch. A standard mini USB port sits near the bottom of the earcup and is covered by a rather flimsy rubber cover. Koss includes a nice, hardshell case for protecting the Tugo during transport.
There are a few things worth noting about the Koss Tugo's design. First, though the earcups are cushioned with a soft leatherette padding, the fit is pretty tight and can put some pressure on the jaw. Proper adjustment should alleviate this for the most part, but if you wear post earrings, you'll need to take them out for comfort--there's no getting around that. Also, while the headphones are closed-back in design, sound does leak out at high volumes. They still do a good job at blocking external noise for the listener, though. Finally, we think the cordless design is great, but an option to attach an audio cable--and thus an external sound source--would be nice. Considering the price and the fact the MP3 player offers only 512MB of memory, we'd like to be able to attach another player and use the Tugo as standard headphones.
The Koss Tugo is predictably light on features. There's no screen, no support for playlists or protected music, and no shuffle option. The player mounts as removable storage on either a Mac or a Windows machine, and you can use Finder or Explorer, respectively, to transfer files via drag-and-drop. The Tugo also works with Windows Media jukeboxes such as Rhapsody, and it supports both MP3 and WMA files. There is some song organization on the device, but it is all alphabetical--either by artist and album if you transfer using a jukebox, or by track name and number if you use drag-and-drop with individual songs. Thus, you can order songs as you prefer by appending numbers to the beginning, or by creating alphabetical playlist folders.
Those who can get past the Tugo's limited memory and high price tag will be rewarded with rich, clear-sounding audio. Perhaps due to the same unseen opening that allows for sound leakage, the headphones seem to offer wider, more open sound than some of their full-size counterparts. Also, the fact that the speakers are not pressed directly against the ear undoubtedly helps with this. The Tugo offers impressive bass response and nice, warm mids. The rated battery life of 10 hours isn't spectacular, but it's pretty typical for this form factor.