Koss Porta Pro: All in good fun

Listen to this article

Listening to music should be fun. That’s the whole point, right? A lot of audiophiles and music lovers who indulge themselves with the quest for the “perfect” sound become obsessed with the gear and forget to just relax and enjoy the music.

Its easy to become obsessed: you get one really nice headphone, you enjoy it for a while, but now that you have all these new details to pay attention to, you start noticing things you didn’t care about before, which leads to finding flaws, which leads to buying more headphones … and so the vicious cycle begins.

At some point, as a music lover, you have to put down the measuring stick and forget about the gear; after all, this is about music, and you should be enjoying it rather than constantly analyzing.

That’s exactly what the Porta Pros have reminded me to do. Since purchasing them, I have actually stopped using some of my nicer kit; I find myself opting for them over a few of my higher end earphones for use on the go, one of which I decided to sell, and sometimes even in lieu if my full sized cans at home. They are just so damn fun.

When Koss introduced the Porta Pro in 1984, it was a landmark product in portable audio. Not that I was around to compare, but to my knowledge, no other company made a headphone at the time that sounded as good and was so incredibly versatile: between its relative tonal neutrality and simultaneously aggressive yet spacious presentation, it is capable of doing justice to just about any genre you might want to throw at it.

The bass can be a bit excessive at times for genres like classical, which would also benefit from a wider sound presentation, but the Porta Pro imparts a pleasant warmth to most music, and if its really too much for your taste, it can be tamed by stretching the headband gently.

The midrange of the Porta Pro is a strong point, at least from the standpoint of open-back earpad headphones. It is forward and actually rather detailed, with a more neutral tone than its arch nemesis, the PX100-II from Sennheiser, which has a slightly warmer tilt and overall thicker note presentation.

It is more forward than the Sennheisers, which will be a turn off for some, but those who love that real front-row sound will probably prefer the Koss. It does electric guitars surprisingly well for a bassy headphone and although the lows can creep up on the midrange occasionally, it works well for metal, alternative, and even some indie rock.

The Koss Porta Pro headphone (Photo via Wikipedia)
The Koss Porta Pro headphone
(Photo via Wikipedia)

The real strong point of the Porta Pro, in my opinion, is electronic music. The Porta Pro offers a level of instrument separation that is accessible only to open-backed headphones, which allows it to present a flood of synthesized tones side-by-side without bleeding into each other, and it has the speed to keep up with most EDM.

It even handles my psytrance collection, which consists of everything from Cosma to Infected Mushroom, Shpongle, and even Goa Gil, with full capability, and never sounds overloaded or congested.

Obviously it isn’t as detailed as $300 open cans like the Beyerdynamic DT880 and the like, but everything you need to really enjoy the music is there, without any glaring flaws or shortcomings.

Rock music is a mixed bag; it really depends on how you like to listen, and why you’re buying the Porta Pro. If you want to sit at home or in a quiet space to rock out, I’d say go with Grados instead; the Porta Pro’s bass will probably sound excessive in these environments. But if you, like me, choose to use the Porta Pro on the go, then you will find that it has just the right amount of extra bass to compensate for external noise and still deliver a full sound.

This is one of the really great things about this headphone: the open design allows it to be used outdoors without blocking everything out, allowing you to be aware of your environment and they have just enough bass to compensate for what you lose due to traffic noise, wind, etc. without overwhelming or muddying up the rest of the spectrum.

Obviously close and careful listening isn’t really possible like this, but if you want to do close and careful listening while out and about, you should be looking at in-ear monitors, and not open-back earpad headphones. The Porta Pro are the best headphones I’ve used for biking to date: the slim headband fits inside my helmet, music sounds great, and I can still hear traffic just fine.

On that note, I think the Porta Pro sounds great with rock music, whether I’m biking or walking down the street. It doesn’t miss a beat, even with ultra-fast and detailed guitar work from the likes of Joe Satriani, and Dream Theater sound as good as I’ve heard them on headphones, except the one time I had the privilege of hearing the Grado GS1000i at an audiophile meetup, and that’s a $1,000 headphone — yikes.

Overall the Porta Pro is a great headphone for under $50 and one of the most versatile pieces of audio equipment I’ve ever come across. The KTC version, costing an extra $15 or so, includes remote with a mic that is top notch. My friends have reported being able to hear me loud and clear as I weave in and out of heavy LA traffic on my bike at 15-20 MPH.

To top it all off, Koss offers a no-questions-asked life-time warranty. If anything happens, you just send‘em in, pay for shipping and you get a new pair! All of this together makes the Porta Pro an easy recommendation for anyone who is new to audio or needs an open headphone for use on the go; it’s really got just about everything you could ever ask of a portable headphone.