Koss makes a bunch of headphones over a wide price range, but the company has a special affinity for making outstanding budget 'phones. Take its Porta Pro: It's been in the line since 1984, and when you pick up a pair it's easy to see why. Nothing else looks or feels like a Porta Pro, and it's so darn lovable. I mean that -- when I'm wearing a pair people sometimes stop me in the street to tell me how much they love it! So I was eager to check out Koss's latest budget model, the KPH30i on-ear headphones.
The sound is beautifully balanced, with an amply endowed midrange tone that flatters the sound of vocals, and the upper bass is also rich and satisfying. This on-ear is classified as a semi-open design, and indeed the stereo imaging is broad. Treble detail is soft, the KPH30i isn't by any stretch a high-resolution headphone. There's a fuzziness to the sound to be sure, but it didn't intrude or detract from the music.
The non-user-replaceable cable is 4 feet (1.2 meters) long, and it has a one-button remote. The headphone's impedance is rated at a slightly high-ish 60 ohms, but my iPhone 6S had no trouble making the KPH30i sing. It comes in two colors: black (which looks like gray to me) and white. Better still, the KPH30i comes with Koss's limited lifetime warranty -- if it breaks Koss will always repair or replace it. The KPH30i is unusually comfortable to wear for extended periods.
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The KPH30i actually feels more solidly constructed and upscale than the more expensive Porta Pro, and the KPH30i's thicker cable and plastic barrel plug certainly feel durable. The Porta Pro is more transparent and clear, so in that sense it's a more audiophile-oriented sound. The KPH30i is less so, with a more prominent mid bass and fatter midrange. It's a sweet and non-fatiguing sound, very easy on the ears.
The price is easy on the wallet too, just $30. UK and Australia prices haven't yet been set, but that converts to about £25 or AU$40. For comparison, the Porta Pro runs $50, £33 or AU$70.
The National's "Sleep Well Beast" album has some great tunes -- too bad the sound is aggressively harsh with a lot of headphones -- but here with the KPH30i I made it through the whole album, and that's a first! Matt Berninger's deep, throaty vocals were given their full due, and the band's strong rhythm section made me sit up and take notice. Then I remembered I was listening to a $30 headphone -- nice!
I liked the Koss's big soundstage. It extended outside the ear cups, which is not always a given with on-ear headphones, including a lot of very expensive ones. Maybe that's the thing about the KPH30i that kept me coming back for more -- it's a cheap headphone that doesn't sound like one.