The best-selling headphone in Koss’s lineup is the classic Porta Pro. First launched in 1984, it has a lovely and timeless retro design, mixing a fully customizable fit with the sumptuous sound of their iconic 60ohm speaker drivers. You’ll see its praises sung far and wide, and even I got in on that action.
Not a company to waste the engineering they put into one of the most celebrated headphone drivers of all-time, every few years Koss releases a new design based around that classic sound goodness. While some of these revisions, including the Koss UR40 I reviewed recently, go part of the way towards recapturing the magic of the Porta Pro design, only 2004’s KSC75 has ever drawn as much acclaim as the original.
It’s time to add a new entry to that list.
Koss’s KPH30i launched in 2017. Their regular price is just $30. And they often go on sale for less than that.
At $30, if you have any interest in them whatsoever, they are perhaps the safest blind buy in audio. Once I saw Metal571 raving about them on Twitter, I practically knocked over my furniture in my rush to buy one.
Or I would have, if I hadn’t already been sitting at my computer.
The KPH30i’s are an open back on-ear headphone. You can get them in “Black” and “White” variants. The “Black” Model is really a dark grey with black accents, and the “White” model has blue accents. There’s also a limited edition version that shows up every once in a while with one red pad and one blue pad inside a beige chassis, for a throwback feel.
They have a 4-foot permanently attached cable with a high-quality 3.5mm plug, an in-line mute button and basic microphone, and a brand new suspension headband and auto-adjusting ear cup design created by Koss just for this model.
Those design improvements and some small tweaks to the audio are what elevate this to the level of its celebrated predecessors. And perhaps, beyond them.
Just like the Porta Pros, the KPH30i’s have a warm signature, but with just enough detail retrieval to avoid any of the bad things associated with a bass-focused response.
Lows are powerful and creamy. There’s a slight emphasis in the midbass, and they of course don’t have the same sub bass punch that a closed-back headphone would provide, but they deliver far more quality bass than something this small has any right to.
Mids are basically perfect to my human ears. Instruments and vocals sound very natural, and are forward enough in the mix to not get drowned out under the bass.
Treble takes a bit of a back seat, with a sudden shot coming out of nowhere depending on what you’re listening to, and nothing even approaching the fatigue level. Highs have never been the strength of this driver, and the same ragged but gentle treble response shows up here to do its duty competently.
Still, for $30 the level of sound here is remarkable. Compared to the Porta Pro, it’s just a touch more relaxed and neutral. The Porta Pros are more “fun” to my ears, and both are great for extended listening sessions thanks to their gentle treble response. Most music/audio lives in the midrange, and it’s here that the KPH30i delivers just as well as headphones costing many multiples of this price.
There’s no isolation here whatsoever! So, in spite of Koss advertising these as a portable headphone, they aren’t the best portable listening experience. They’ll let in all the sound from your surroundings, and if you push them past moderate volumes, sound leak is also quite prominent.
That didn’t stop me from doing my usual coffee shop listening test, which I don’t totally recommend. The warmth will help mask your surroundings if you push the volume up, but I don’t like to listen long at high levels.
On the plus side, these have a generous soundstage, just like other more expensive open back headphones with decent sound signatures. They have a nicely pleasant out-of-the-head listening experience without the congestion and intimacy of studio-style closed headphones, and you’ll be impressed at their ability to image and separate.
I like the overly adjustable fit of the old Porta Pro design, but it takes a little work. You’ve got to expand and contract the metal headband bits and adjust the “comfort zone” temple pads for a while to get a perfect fit. Its circular ear pads also won’t always line up perfectly with your ears.
The KSC75's use an ear clip design which is easier to fit quickly onto the ear, but the hooks might irritate the skin of some users, and if you wear glasses like I do, they’re a little harder to use for long sessions. They also retain the same circular pad and housing of the Porta Pros.
For the KPH30i’s, Koss shifted over to a D-shaped ear pad design, and it’s but the first of many comfort delights. The D-shaped pads are very easy to place correctly onto your ears since they have the same shape, and the padding is soft enough to evenly spread pressure across the whole ear.
Helping with this are the hybrid suspension headband and the new auto-adjusting ear cup joint. The headband has a wide range of standard click-style adjustment, and a silicone suspension band on top that will help it conform to your head’s personal shape. The old ball-and-socket joints on the ear cups are gone, replaced with a cool hourglass shaped rubbery grommet thing that instantly snaps into the right position for your ears.
Once you get the adjustment sliders set correctly for your head size, you just put them on and have a nice, light fit. It’s wonderful, and it’s my favorite fit ever in a 60Ohm Koss Headphone. It doesn’t pinch my ears or my glasses arms at all, and stays comfy for hours.
Build quality fans will be a little let down by everything on the KPH30i’s… except for the cable. The 3.5mm plug is robust, with a long thick plastic housing featuring the Koss logo and a metal spring strain relief. The rest of the cable below the y-split lives up to this level, with a thicker rubber surround than many other small Koss models. It has a little bit of spring to it but it’s not very tangle-prone.
The headband and headphone are constructed almost entirely out of plastic and silicone. There’s no metal frame for reinforcement here, but that also makes these tremendously light, helping with their comfort. They’re not robust traveling or studio headphones, and they’re not really made for sitting on or throwing around.
Still, the many new features of the design do enough to overcome the plastic build. And like every Koss headphone product, they have a lifetime warranty.
The in-line play/pause button works fine on both my MacBook and Android phone, and I like that it’s big and runs most of the length of the barrel it’s attached to. It’s easy to grab and click without feeling around too much. The included microphone is serviceable for phone calls. It’s able to suppress a little background sound, but your voice will sound the same way it does coming out of any of these small phone-style microphones.
Honestly though, it’s incredible to get either of these features at this price point with sound quality this pleasant. I wouldn’t have blamed Koss at all for including just a plain cable.
This is the most easily-recommendable audio thing I’ve reviewed in a very long time. It’s a great starter open-back headphone with sound quality that I’d find good in a $150 product. It’s not the most robust thing ever built, but its new design touches make it a worthy addition to the pantheon of “Shockingly Good Koss Headphones.”
These are more than worth the $30 they cost, and they’re completely free of the weird gimmicks that so dominate this industry. All of the little design features work exactly the way that Koss says they will, and they’re paired with great sound. It’s important in such a buzzword-focused market to support companies that tell you the truth, and these cost the same as 4 to 5 cups of fancy coffee. Go forth with confidence that you’re about to see what “good sound” is all about without breaking your wallet.