Koss Porta Pro Headphone Review: Wow! The Best Value on the Market, Period.
For years, people have told me that the $49 Koss Porta Pro is great.
First released on the market in 1984 (the same year I was born), its clever design has endured ever since. Countless reviewers, audio consumers, and professionals have sung the praises of these over the last three decades.
I should have listened to them sooner.
Much like Sony’s venerable MDR-V6, this is an exceptional headphone that more than deserves its long life. If you’re looking to get into the audiophile world, this is the best place to start.
The Koss Porta Pro is a small, on-ear, open back headphone, designed in the early 80’s. It has an all-metal headband with no padding whatsoever. It weighs essentially zero. The ear pads sit gently on the ears. Secondary “temporal pads” take any pressure off by resting on your head just above your ears. They fold down to a tiny size, and come with a little carrying bag.
Retail price is $49, but they’re easy to find for cheaper online. I got mine for about $40. They come in a few different special edition colors too, but only on Koss’s website. There’s also a version that includes an inline remote and mic for use with phones, should you want that. The cable doesn’t detach, but it does end in a 45 degree angled plug. Every mobile cable should probably end with the same type of plug, because it’s the best at relieving strain.
The sound of the Porta Pro is otherworldly, considering its tiny size and affordable price. Bass is powerful and punchy, but it doesn’t bleed into the mids. The mids are nice, smooth, and natural, with no hint of harshness or artificial grain. The highs are rolled off, but still detailed enough to hear, providing a rather relaxed, easy-listening type of sound that you could listen to for hours without fatigue. It’s a bit like the Bose sound signature, but differently-executed.
You’d have to be the most cynical person in the world to not be impressed with the sound of these tiny headphones. The open-backed design provides a surprising amount of air and width for such tiny drivers. You won’t get a tremendous 3D effect, but you won’t feel like the music is pounding you in the face.
These provide a shockingly punchy, pleasant listen, and I wouldn’t blame you for buying these as your sole pair of “nice” headphones. They don’t have the bass thump, detail resolution, or wide expansiveness of more premium headphones.
But they don’t do anything wrong sonically, either.
You can rest easy knowing these are giving you a good rendition of the sound you’re listening to. That’s amazing.
Koss came up with a cool design for these, and I’m surprised no other on-ears have copied it. The pads are small but comfy. The temporal pads, with their “comfort zone” adjustment, are brilliant. These are little blobs of pad that touch your head just above your ears, and they are the actual anchor point that holds the headphone to your ear. Above the ear pad is a comfort zone adjustment switch that allows you to decrease the amount of pressure on your actual ears by angling the temporal pad closer to your head.
It really works! I prefer how it feels on the medium setting, but all three are quite wearable. This is the only on-ear headphone that never feels pinchy on my ears or my glasses. That’s a tremendous accomplishment, and it’s all thanks to the secondary pad system. It’s an unbelievably comfy and light headphone. It sits securely on the head, yet feels like it’s just floating there. A little disconcerting at first, but you get used to it.
The headband has no padding at all, and is made from some sturdy metal bands. You can push on little plastic adjusters to slide it out, and it gets super big. The headband adjustment has no detents to maintain its size, so once you take it off it will return slowly to its unadjusted shape. I usually put it on by expanding it to its full size, then cinching it down till it’s nice and comfy and secure.
Some folks complain that the headband can easily grab your hair between its bands, and indeed it can. But I got used to this, and as long as you’re careful about putting it on, it’s not a big deal.
The look of the headphone is straight out of the 80’s. It looks like something that would come bundled with a portable cassette player. Makes sense, because that’s precisely the market it was designed for. The default is painted in black, silver, and blue, and I think it looks subtle and nice even today. Koss has some special edition colors on their website, including a gold and black one that I’m weirdly tempted to get.
Here’s the rub.
There’s always a *but*, right?
I usually just lump isolation into another section. But then I’m almost always reviewing closed-back headphones.
The Porta Pros are open-backed, meaning they have little holes in the back of the ear cups. This helps them to achieve their impressive sound and sense of soundstage.
It also means they have no isolation whatsoever.
“But wait, they seem pretty portable and they have ‘Porta’ right there in the name, so what gives?”
It’s true. These were designed as a portable headphone, but they block almost no sound out. I’m using them in a coffee shop right now and I can definitely hear everything happening in here. However! Their sound profile has enough bass than you can still listen to them comfortably in a public space without destroying your ears. You just won’t get the same listening sanctuary that you’d normally get with closed headphones.
If you’re sitting right next to someone, they’ll probably hear what you’re listening to, as these can leak a fair bit of audio. However, they’re tiny enough that as long as you’re not blasting them, you should be fine in a more crowded, non-library type of place.
I almost never recommend using open-backed headphones in public, because they can leak, and because I like the silence that closed headphones provide. But these are a rare exception. You can use them just fine in public, even though it’s not 100 percent ideal. They’d probably make a great running headphone though, since they stay secure on your head and still allow you to hear traffic and other sounds.
The open-backed design also makes them great for gaming, for locating positional sounds in the game world. Pretty great stuff.
I’m not gonna trade in my noise-cancelling headphones, but these work in a pinch. If you’ve ever used a pair of Apple Ear Pods in public, I’d say it’s like that but maybe 15 percent better, thanks to the clarity of the bass.
The Koss Porta Pro includes a small cute leatherette carrying bag, a shocking inclusion and unmatched in this price category. Those special edition colors linked above include a hard case as well! They fold up into a compact shape, and a little hook holds them together. When folded, they’re small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and most pants pockets.
The cord doesn’t detach but has a nice angled plug, as mentioned above. Certain models come with inline controls, so if that’s something you need, make sure you buy the right one. The cable is y-style, with cords going to both ear cups. Some people mod their own custom cable onto these, but I don’t think that’s necessary.
The pads are replaceable. You can get a pack that includes three sets of ear pads and temporal pads from Koss for like five bucks.
I’m really impressed. Turns out everyone was right. Go figure!
I always recommend the Skullcandy Grind as a go-to cheap portable headphone. It has a detachable cable and a good sound…but it’s much larger than the Porta Pro, and doesn’t fold down. I also think the Porta Pro sounds a little better, particularly in the bass and the soundstage. So from now on, the Porta Pro is my new value headphone recommendation.
At $49 it’s worth every penny, and it’s often cheaper. It’s good enough that you don’t need to bother with other headphones, unless you really want more isolation…or you’re crazy like me.
Thanks, as always, for reading! I’ve got a look at another cheap classic headphone coming in the next week or so. Happy Holidays!