Koss PortaPro 25th Anniversary Edition Headphones Review

In a perfect world, things come full-circle. From the redesigned, retro-styled Mustang and Camaro to vinyl albums, products can go out of style only to come roaring back. Such is the case with the Koss Porta Pro headphones. Well, sorta the case, anyway. See, Koss first produced the Porta Pros in 1984… and never changed them. While some internals may have been upgraded through the years, these uber-retro headphones look the same on the outside as they did in 1984.

There is a really good reason for this. Koss just keeps selling them… and selling them. Why on earth would they change something that customers keep buying, no matter what? So they didn’t. But in 2009, they did come out with a limited edition version to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Porta Pro. And it is still available for sale.

If you want to see what the fuss is all about or if you are buying a replacement pair you bought back when you had big hair and leg warmers, the 25th Anniversary model may interest you. It comes packed in a sturdy box. It has a cloth cord and a faux-leather carrying case and includes a little book on the history of Koss with a commemorative medallion. Is that worth the extra bucks? Maybe not, but the all-black look is nicer that the blue and black plastic originals, even if the design is still kinda dorky.

There are other reasons why Koss has left well enough alone. These things are comfortable. I have headphones that cost hundreds of dollars that don’t fit this well. Plus they stay put. You can actually exercise in them, right along with that old Jane Fonda workout VHS tape. So, if you just can’t stand the whole idea of earphones inside your ear canal, these headphones are a good substitute. Oh, and did I mention that they sound fantastic? They do. The Porta Pros are just about perfect in the sound department given their price and what they are designed for. Yes, I have heard many headphones that sound richer and fuller, but they cost way more and you can’t take them for a jog. The design is neither open backed or closed. It’s a little in-between. The earpads rest on your ear, like open-backed headphones, but the sound “leakage” is minimal. Fellow commuters will never know that you are really listening to Duran Duran instead of Lincoln Park.

When you store the Porta Pros, they fold up nicely. Another plus is that you can safely use these on the street. While they are isolating enough, the Porta Pros will not remove you from the world so much that it’s not safe. Plus, in a crowded setting, you don’t have to worry about someone grabbing them because lets face it, who’s gonna steal them? They look so… old.

Refinements are few. The headband is metal, not leather or even padded. The plastic looks  shiny and cheap. The earpads flop around and look like they could fall off if you just look at them wrong and they rattle like a cheap car… until you put them on. Then all the pieces settle down and don’t budge, rattle or intrude in any way. You just hear – and sometimes feel – the music. It’s then that you realize the genius in the design.

There are settings – made by a plastic slider button – to make the headphones feel firm or looser on your temples. Frankly, on my head, the differences felt subtle at best. When you fold the headphones for storage, the slider defaults back to the firm setting.

I’ve been listening to all kinds of music from Flock of Seagulls to Russian Choral (I’m not kidding). One thing I noticed right away is that the Koss Porta Pros are extremely forgiving in their sound. They lean well into the warm side which diminishes the accuracy some, but I truly don’t care. Ordinarily, I would care – a lot – but there is something here that is hard to define. Maybe it’s that  “signature sound” that many companies strive for, but never achieve. Grado has it. Sennheiser has it. Klipsch has it. And only a few others have it. So if the Koss Porta Pros have their own signature sound, they are in rare company, indeed.

Because of the warm, forgiving nature of the Porta Pros, songs ripped at a lower bit rate fare better than on more expensive headphones. I have the Electric Light Orchestra’s “Eldorado” album at a lower bit rate and some detail is most definitely missing. But, ELO’s mixes were never all that crisp anyway, so on these, it’s not a problem. One other thing that is missing are the lowest bass tones. Because they are not as isolated as earphones or even closed back headphones, these tones get lost in the din of background noise. But keep in mind that these were designed for busy environments, and complete isolation is dangerous, anyway.

Let’s explore that warm sound. The Bee Gees “First of May” from the highly underrated “Odessa” album features cellos layered under plucked violins and piano notes. There is no clinical separation, but the wash of sound comes across like a warm wave. Speaking of strings, Procol Harum’s “A Salty Dog” lacks detail, but that’s partly because it’s a 40 year old recording and partly because the Porta Pros can’t handle the detail. This is a song that needs a better speaker to really involve the listener.

However, “Flaming” from Pink Floyd’s first album, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” shines on the Porta Pros. The compressed, analog mix (recently remastered) is warm and inviting. This is what these headphones were made for. It’s a perfect match.

If you are an active person who wants good headphones at a decent price, you can’t go wrong with the Koss Porta Pros. They are more solid than they look, sound terrific, are extremely comfortable, retro in a geeky way, and are an absolute bargain. Plus they’ve been selling like crazy for 26 years basically unchanged. Try and name another product that has the kind of longevity other companies can only dream about creating.

 

Product Information

Price:$79.99 US - 25th Anniversary model $49.99 US - Regular Porta Pro
Manufacturer:Koss
Pros:
  • Amazing sound for the price.
  • Retro Style.
Cons:
  • Too expensive compared to the regular Porta Pros.
  • Retro Style.
Posted in: Audio, Video, TV Gear, Reviews

{ 12 comments… add one }

  • EL December 4, 2010, 8:12 pm

    I’m so glad someone decided to review these remarkable headphones! As an owner of several pair over the years (porta pro / porta pro JR) I can testify to excellent sound quality. I have other major brand headphones, but mist admit, for their size and portability, nothing comes close. I must however disagree with your opinion regarding the lack of low end bass. Actually that’s their main feature. Look at the specs the range on the ones I have are 15-25,000. That’s the best of both worlds that other manufacturers don’t even come close to. But I do agree they have that ’80s look and feel to them, and people laugh at them until I let them hear them. Then they shut right on up! Thanks again for covering it, but definitely double test the bass response again. You may be surprised.

    1
  • Bill Henderson December 4, 2010, 10:07 pm

    Hi EL,
    Thanks for commenting. I probably wasn’t as clear as I could have been. My point was that I didn’t think the bass ranked up there with closed back headphones and good earphones (of which I own many). You are right: the bass is good, but I’ve heard better from other types of headphones/earphones. But they are pretty cool, aren’t they?

    2
  • EL December 5, 2010, 12:12 am

    Yes they are pretty cool, but I must say, I’m curious what song(s) were tested for bass response. I do recommend testing something that sure to push the limits (808 type bass) and compae to other headphones of such size and the truth will be evident very quickly.

    3
  • TacoTime December 5, 2010, 12:22 am

    EL,
    I’m curious where you get that 15-20k Hz figure from, and how much variation is allowed (3db? 5db?). 15hz is below what a human can hear, and very few subwoofers will go that low. Most headphones can’t even reach 100hz, and I’d be surprised if these could get even close to that.

    4
  • 10basetom December 5, 2010, 1:36 am

    I own much more expensive cans from AKG, Sennheiser, and Ultrasone, and I also use my Future Sonic in-ear monitors when I’m on the plane, but I find myself listening through my beloved Koss Sporta Pros the most out of all of the above. I only break out the big boys when I want to have a serious listening session, but that also requires the headphone amp and a quiet listening environment. I think Koss really nailed the sweet spot with the Porta/Sporta Pro line when it comes to performance-to-price ratio, portability, comfort, and efficiency (they sound great with my MP3 player without requiring a headphone amp).

    5
  • Janet Cloninger December 5, 2010, 12:30 pm

    @TacoTime EL probably got it from the Koss website. That’s what they list for the PortaPro.

    @Bill Henderson I believe you mean Linkin Park, unless you are referring to the Chicago community…

    6
  • Bill Henderson December 5, 2010, 3:32 pm

    You’re right Janet… You can tell where my tastes lie. :)

    7
  • cybergoose December 6, 2010, 10:32 am

    There are better open portables out there now: The Aiaiai Tracks, The Jays V-Jays come to mind. I can’t make up my mind if the px100ii is really better or not. But these anniversary editions are more tightly tuned than the normal edition portapros. People say they’re the same but there’s only a few headphone sites to say out loud what we all know: that they’re not.

    8
  • EL December 6, 2010, 5:12 pm

    @ Tacotime & Janet – I actually quoted that from my recollection of the OEM packaging from years ago prior to them having a website (PortaPro), PortaPro JR were a lol different and the 25th anniversary ones may be also.

    9
  • Randy Hoffman November 16, 2011, 4:02 pm

    I’ve used the PortaPro and Radioshack’s Optimus (Koss) Pro-25 and 35 for many years. They do have the best base for bass rolled-off battery mp3 players. Other more expensive portable models may have a flatter response but for the feeling that you can walk around with a living room sized stereo on your head the Koss can’t be beat. I use to walk around with full sized phones to to get the most out of my portable deck that I strapped on my back. But these are good compromise. What I am looking for is a good replacement for the Optimus Pro-35 that doesn’t fold and is more comfortable than the PortaPros.

    10
  • Bill Henderson November 16, 2011, 4:11 pm

    Randy,
    I would check out the Aiaiai Tracks headphones. The sound reminds me of the PortaPros. They are also extremely light, comfortable and very minimalist in the styling. I will be reviewing these soon, so stay tuned.

    Bill H.

    11
  • Austin January 25, 2012, 1:15 am

    My opinion on the bass is that that do have strong, but not insane, bass that leans more toward the punchy than deep side….

    12

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