With so many funky headphone designs flooding the market right now, it's getting harder and harder to choose which one to buy. Instead of showing you the latest snazzy set of cans, we're taking you back in time to showcase the Koss PortaPros. These headphones are the ultimate in retro chic and are guaranteed to get a few comments, but you won't hear them thanks to the beautiful symphony of sound flooding your ears. For $50, we're hard-pressed to find another set that rivals their sound quality and quirky design.
The first thing you'll notice about the PortaPros is that they look like something from the 1980s. That's because they are--Koss released these exact headphones in 1984 and they became so popular that Koss hasn't changed a thing for 23 years. These headphones retain the same design both internally and externally. The earcups are secured to your head by a thin steel headband that adjusts with two sliders that tighten and loosen the tension. Once you have them in place, the PortaPros are actually very comfortable--they're featherweight and additional cushions on top of the ear pads prevent the headset from slipping. The comfort level is taken a step further with what Koss calls their "Comfort Zone." This feature has three mechanical settings that let you adjust the tension of the earpiece against your head. The downside is that there's no way to lock the headband in place and the sliders like to get caught in your hair as you take them on and off. This also becomes a problem when you want to rest the headphones around your neck--the band immediately tightens up and practically strangles you.
On the plus side, the PortaPros also fold up and clip together for relatively convenient storage. The overall design of the PortaPros is hit or miss. Not everyone will be keen on the design, but we actually love the way the headphones look. The light blue touches and extended hardware conjure fond memories of a time when Marty McFly, Lobot, and Tron ruled the world, and who are we to argue with a 23-year dedicated following?
Looks aside, the real reason why the PortaPros still remain classic (albeit underappreciated) is because of their fantastic sound quality. Just keep in mind that these came out decades before studio-quality sound-isolating headphones became available to the consumer market, so they definitely won't block out the majority of ambient noise. They also started to leak sound at the one-third mark on our iPod's volume bar, but we're not surprised given their open-ear design, just be sure not to crank it up too high around your neighbors. However, aside from that, we have very few complaints.
In our audio test, we compared the PortaPros with another set of foldable cans, Sennheiser's PX100 miniheadphones. We had good things to say about the PX100, but were ultimately unsatisfied with the lack of treble range. In contrast, the PortaPros simply blew us away with their range and ability to maintain quality at a high volume. We pumped several songs in a wide variety of genres through the headphones and each one produced a focused sound in the midrange with detailed resolution in the highs and surprisingly thick, head-shaking bass. Our MP3 of "Fatalist Palmistry" by Why? sounds much better with the PortaPros as well, clearly separating each instrument with equal balance while maintaining sonic realism. According to Koss, the sound output is handled by "neodymium iron boron rare earth magnet structures" that provide a 15-25,000Hz frequency range, which certainly sounds like random vendor jargon, but truth is that for the sub-$50 range, the Koss PortaPros are the headphones to beat.
If all that isn't enough to convince you to snatch up a pair, consider that Koss offers a "no questions asked" lifetime warranty on the PortaPros. If anything happens to them during normal use, Koss will send you a new pair for the cost of shipping ($6.00). Now, that's music to our ears.