Koss is known for simple, inexpensive headphones with conservative designs that have withstood the test of time -- check out the Koss PortaPros for proof. We haven't seen any big changes to the lineup for awhile, but we received the Koss SP330 on-ear headphones in our office a month ago and couldn't wait to listen to them. These guys will set you back $130 in the US, £110 in the UK and AU$179 in Australia.
In terms of design, the SP330s have a more modern aesthetic than the PortaPros, but they're still very plain compared to competing models from Bose and MEElectronics . The headband is standard fare made from a thin piece of silver metal with a strip of rubber down the center that allows you to adjust the earpieces to fit your head.
There's also a piece of perforated nylon plush underneath the headband that's supposed to ease the strain of long listening sessions. However, there's very little actual padding to protect your skull, so I found myself taking more breaks than usual to give my head a chance to breathe.
Instead of the usual circular padding we see on most on-ear headphones, the D-shaped ear pads are offset at an obtuse angle relative to the headband. I found that the angle put the headband farther back on my head, which actually felt a lot more comfortable than most 'phones I've tested.
Another reason they felt so comfortable might have something to do with the memory foam padding that adorns the ear cups. The cushy foam wrapped in soft leather sat lightly on my ears during testing, and although I did feel some of the aforementioned pressure on top of my head, my ears didn't experience the same fatigue.
As with all headphones we review here on CNET, we recommend that you head to your local brick-and-mortar electronics store to try them for yourself before buying to ensure a proper fit.
Another design advantage worth mentioning is the detachable cord that extends from an open port on the left ear cup. Headphones usually tend to break at common stress points like the headphone jack, so in the event that happens or if your dog chews up the cable, all you have to do is buy a new double-sided 3.5mm cord and you're all set.
At this price, however, I expected more mobile-friendly accessories than Koss provides in the package. You don't get any of the typical trappings, such as extra ear pads or a remote control on the cable to control music on your smartphone.
Koss does give you a ballistic nylon carrying case, but you'll need another bag to carry it around because the headphones don't fold into themselves for compact storage. You should check out the highly regarded Beyerdynamic DTX 350p or the Bose on-ears if you really want a folding set that's in the same price range.
The SP330s are backed by Koss' widely celebrated lifetime warranty. If these or any other Koss headphones ever fail, all you have to do is send them to the company's headquarters in Milwaukee, Wis. along with a check or money order for $9 and you'll get a brand-new set in a week or so.
I've done this myself on two occasions with my PortaPros, and even though both instances were my fault, Koss was great about getting me a new pair in no time. A true-to-its-word lifetime warranty goes a long way for someone like me that isn't afraid to test the durability of their headphones, and Koss gets major value points for being one of the only companies to make it so easy to get a replacement.
If you're the type of music listener that demands a natural sound portrait out of your cans, you're going to love the sound quality on the SP330 headphones. I plugged them into a variety of sources, including an Apple iPhone 6, an Apple MacBook Air powered by a HifiMan EF2 built-in USB DAC, and a Marantz 1050B paired with a Technics SL-1100A turntable, and I was very pleased listening to all types of music.
The headphones sound great plugged into a mobile source like a phone or an MP3 player, but they really came alive when I hooked them up to a dedicated receiver playing Kenny Burrell's staple "Midnight Blue."Where other cans would normally struggle with the droning rumbles of Major Holley's upright bass, the SP330s pick up the nuances of the studio echoes with ease.
Still, this isn't a headphone designed for listeners that run their music players at full volume or demand a physical bass vibration. The Sp330 features ample bass, but I wouldn't describe it as a deep thump, but rather a quick punch that doesn't linger in your ears like over-ear headphones can.
As part of our jury test, I also asked fellow CNET headphone editor David Carnoy and "The Audiophiliac" Steve Guttenberg to offer their thoughts. Steve enjoyed listening to the SP330 and its older sibling, the SP530 over-ear, citing thick, dynamic bass contrasts and an overall lively sound, while Carnoy also commented on the sharp clarity and natural "mood" of the sound design.
The Koss SP330 is a well-balanced on-ear headphone that re-introduces the brand back to the audiophile community with a flat frequency response. However, the headphone market is too competitive at this price to omit a remote control and a microphone on the cable. We like the way these headphones sound, but it's hard to recommend them when you can pay about the same for the Bose on-ears and get a pair of smartly designed cans with a generous spread of travel friendly accessories. Until the price for the SP330 drops below $100, your dollar will go further with any of these value-driven on-ear headphones.