Ultra Portable Shootout: PX100, PX200, PortaPro, K404, V-Jays, Tracks, Oldskool, and HD238

When I first discovered IEMs, ultra-portable headphones such as the PX100 suddenly has lost its meaning and purpose. Over the years, however, I started to find a fun factor on portable headphones that I don’t quite get in IEMs. Perhaps it’s something with the ergonomic design that allows you to wear it easily without any pains in the ear canals. Perhaps the way it allows you to enjoy music and still interact with the outside world. Whatever it is, I’m still a loyal fan of ultra-portables. And even owning ultra high-end headphones and IEMs, I still find the ultra portables to fill a niche that none of the other design can. So, here it is, eight ultra-portable headphones compared!

  • The Establishment: Sennheiser PX100-II, PX200-II, Koss Portapro, AKG K404
  • The Newcomers: AIAIAI Tracks, Fischer Audio Oldskool, Jays V-Jays
  • The Supercharged Ultra Portable: Sennheiser HD238

As the auditioning period was done over several weeks, I have used many systems to evaluate the performance of these headphones. From direct to Ipods, with portable amps (mainly Ibasso PB1), to desktop systems (mainly Grace m902), and even using a desktop CDP source. Obviously the portables work fine straight from an Ipod. But many of the newer models are transparent enough that feeding them a better gear up the chain will yield a noticeable improvement. Of course I’m not suggesting you to pair the PX100 with a desktop CDP and a desktop amp, but just in case you wanted to know, yes they do make a difference when amped.

I also apologize for missing a lot of the other mainstream brands, such as Sony, Audio-Technica, and even Ultrasone. No discrimination against those brands, but simply a lack of resources and product availability.

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  • Jose

    Very true. You said in it’s review though, that you are finding yourself reaching more for the PMX 680 than the V-Jays, now, is this an ergonomic preference more than a sonic one?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Yes, sonically the V-Jays rules, but ergonomics, and the open design makes me grab the PMX680 more.

  • Jose

    Wouldn't the PMX 680 be here?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      It can, but it's not quite the same "category", if you know what I mean. It's more like earbuds, I think.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Jose, you are right. I should've included the PMX680. It would be interesting to see how it compares to the group. Although I did compare the PMX680 to the PX100 in the PMX680 article.

  • Graham

    Great review, I especially enjoyed the photography!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      @Graham: Thanks
      @JulioD: I know, it’s my fault actually. :)

  • JulioD

    Very unprofessional of the Koss Portapro to miss the photoshot. Those little touches are the details that keep me coming back.

    Kudos!

  • David

    cannot agree more on V-Jays… this phones + Audinst HUD-MX1 are my traveling rig…

    V-Jays is really that good… very balanced phones… IMO, it is like a child of the marriage of Grado HF2 and Sennheiser HD580/600.

    …if only there is a “grown up” headphones that have V-Jays sound aspects (read: HF2 strength + HD580/600 strength), that would be my favourite one…

  • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

    Thanks David. Can’t see where the V-Jays cross with the HF2 though…

  • David

    V-Jays IMO cross not just HF2 but also HD580…, but cross more heavily on HF2..

    first reason: HF2 is fun phones… it is difficult to be analytical with HF2… the same with V-Jays: it is fun phones too… I’m mesmerized on the music that it plays rather than to analyze the music…

    what HF2 excel, IMO, is its capability to protray and render believable size of musical instrument… (ofcourse within HF2 comfort operating zone, which is from the bass area going to around 2-2.5KHz). V-Jays and my other phones (AKG K701 and HD-580) cannot do this. But, V-Jays at least still happily cover HF2 comfort operating area and even going further up…

    so, the second reason: V-Jays HF2 cover the bass frequency to the mid frequency like HF2 and even extended to the comfort operating zone of HD580 (which seems to be started from 1KHz going up). But, more within HF2 coverage area rather than on HD580 area…

    this, I believe back to the driver design of these phones… HF2 have a big cone driver; make it like an mid-bass driver extended to the upper frequency. HD580 have a dome driver; make it like a dome (tweeter) driver pulled down to cover lower frequency. OTOH, V-Jays small cone driver is like a full range driver; it cannot move air as much and go as low as bigger cone driver, nor move as fast and go high as dome driver. V-Jays, however, then could covers low to high area more seamlessly…

    Mike, look for Katie Melua album “The House” and listen to the first track “I’d Love To Kill You”, with all the 3 phones… HF2, HD580/600 (silver screen, not the black one) and V-Jays… This track will excellently show the strength as well as the weakness each of these phones…

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks David, your posts are always enlightening. :)

  • TTT

    Have you ever tried the AKG K420

    It is really good

    and imo better than all the can in this article

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks for the comments, I haven’t, and I’ll look into finding a K420.
      If I may ask, how is it better than the K404?

  • Bosan

    Seriously TTT, you have tried ALL of them?

  • donunus

    I just received the V-jays this morning (9hours ago) and its technically really good for a portable. Much better defined than the portapro that I am comparing with side by side but its a little too forward sounding to me. Somewhere around the 3khz region it has an annoying peak to my ears. Is this going to improve through time? Maybe I am just a senn type of guy after all since i found the mids of the first px 100 better than this. It was the uneven highs that turned me off the px100s. Hmm… To wait til it settles or to trade with a px100-II, that is the question LOL

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Dude, that 3k area is what lacking from the px100. LOL. Sounds like you're a senn guy who should settle with the px100-II. The 3k is not that peaky IMO, unless you're really sensitive to that area, or you have really hot recordings. The only thing that improves after burn in is the bass area.

  • donunus

    I noticed that the highs smoothed out too but the mids were too forward so I sold them to a friend that really liked them. I got some px100-2s after that and except for the hardcore big bass, I luv it. The liquid senn sound aaaaaaaahhhh :D

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Lol, donunus. Senn-guy, you are. I like Senns, but I'd prefer the V-Jays over the PX100s. Different taste and preference, that's all. :)

      • Rick

        Agree 100% Mike

  • donunus

    In all fairness I do agree that the V-jays seem more detailed and defined sounding because of their balance and I actually liked them out of my friends Fiio E7 out of the ipod 5.5gs lineout. Direct out of the Ipods 5.5gs headphone jack or out of my Nuforce Udac, I didn’t quite jive with them.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Yes, a lot of my friends who's normally not into portables are really digging the V-Jays. The tonal balance is actually good, but if you feel that the mid is too forward, then the Senn is the better option.

  • donunus

    The perfectionist in me is experimenting with different pads though to try to add some sparkle to the px100s top end hehehe. I noticed that using the portapro pads for example shifts the bass emphasis higher in the midbass region(say coming from a 50 to 90hz bump to a 70 to 160hz emphasis) than the stock pads and also sharpens the mids a little. The px100-2 ends up sounding slightly less lush, harder sounding due to the more pronounced upper bass and slightly crisper around the edges especially when doing a hole mod one the pads. Still no air and shimmer like full sized cans though. Maybe I can make a pad that has sort of a Grado bowl shape that can add some distance from my ears to the drivers to get some airyness out of these cans :)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Looks like the perfectionist in you wants the V-Jays back. :)

      I don't know, upping the bass emphasis to the midbass? I've never tried that, but I don't think I'd do that with the PX100-II. One of the nice things about the PX100-II is the low bass that you don't find on many other portables. I think the V-Jays gives the closest experience to a full size cans' air and shimmer. Perhaps you want to give it another try, if you still have it around.

  • donunus

    The V-jays don't have a lot of highs above 12khz either since the upper mids mask it unlike the the HD580s/600s for example have that sparkle that I want above the lower treble region.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Interesting… I don't seem to hear the mids masking the frequencies on the V-Jays as much as you do..

  • donunus

    Remember my question in one of the 555/558/598 threads about whether there is a possibility that I would like the 558s more than the 598s because of how I get annoyed by forward upper mids? Well I am very sensitive to forward upper mids and since my average listening volume is around live music levels, I tend to prefer more laid back mids like how the senn 580/6×0 series for example does it. Basically want something like the hd600 sound in a portable/easy to power model. I should probably just leave these alone and enjoy them for what they are and buy some hd558s too :)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Ah… that is true… Well the perfect solution would be to get a DAP with a custom EQ. Some Ipods are also inherently more laid back than the other. The Nano Video that I have is more forward than the Classic, for instance.

  • Boyd

    Can you compare HD238 HD228 MM450 MM550 and V-Jays pls .. : )

    • Boyd

      sorry it's PX210BT PX310BT MM450 MM550 and V-jays

      • Mike

        Hi Boyd, no plans for them at the moment. :)

  • Dave

    Hi Mike
    Loved the review, just what I was looking for. I can't decide between the V-Jays or the PX200 II Could you tell me which, in your opinion, is more comfortable and will block out unwanted background noise e.g. Traffic etc
    Thanks
    Dave

    • Mike

      Hi Dave, I think both are roughly just as comfortable, although I slightly prefer the V-Jays' comfort. The PX200 II may have a little better noise isolation due to the closed design, but these headphones are not designed to isolate noise too much anyway — so I wouldn't bet on their noise blocking capability.

      If you have the budget to go up, then get something like the HD25-1 which is excellent at noise isolation.

  • Jenny

    How would you compare Senn Px100-ii and the V-jays? Music preferences would be pop rock

    • Mike

      Hi Jenny. Both are good for pop and rock. The Senn is darker, the V-Jays have more engaging mids. If this is your first "good" headphone purchase, you'll probably be happy with either one. But if you already have a history with headphones, perhaps sharing some of your headphone history can help me point the way better. :)

  • Dave

    Hi there, thanks for the roundup! But next time, would you be so kind as to include some "popular" anchors in your shootout to act as a baseline? This would allow new visitors some frame of reference as to how each shootout is faring.

    Apple stock iBuds: Everyone's listened to these. An actual review of these compared to the ultraportables would provide a very good frame of reference.

    Sony MDR-V150: The worst Sony ultraportable. Found in many department stores for about $15, I see many people use them, much to my chagrin.

    Beats by Dr. Dre: It's way out of the target price range, but too many casuals believe these are the best headphones on the market. Then there are some who believe even the PortaPro is better than these. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

  • Pingback: My 2nd Portable Headphone .. « sTiLL To9eTher..

  • James.

    You lost it for me when you started waxing enthusiastic about the V-Jays. I own a pair. Worst pair of headphones I ever heard. Every other reviewer on the planet seems to agree also.

    • Mike

      Well can't agree with everyone right? :)

  • Neonomide

    Hi! A very good article here!
    My beloved PX 100 seems to fall apart after a year of heavy duty usage and I’m thinking of upgrading to 100 II or something. I really like the deeper bass yet would like even a bit more and even more richer mids and higs. Any suggestions? Rock and classical are perhaps my top genres yet I do regularly others as well.

    Otherwise I have had Klipsch Image S4i and really liked the detail and balanced sound. It’s usage for me seems more limited though compared to foldable ones so I need an alternative. I also have had PX 200 II and did not like the lack of massiveness and bass.

    Also, have there been any noticeably differences after months of usage in the earphones tested compared to the time of reviews, by the way? I heard some require some usage before showing their full potential.

    Some notes and advice will be appreciated!

    • Anonymous

      Hi,
      If you want a richer mids and highs, try the V-jays. If you want deeper bass, go with the PX100-II. I also listen to classical and Rock and I alternate between the two.

      Regarding that “time difference between use” also known as burn in, on most headphones the changes happen within the first few hours. But people have far different beliefs on this issue, and some will tell you that after 300 hours they will transform into a totally different creature. To each their own I guess.

      Cheers

  • Rick

    I can’t say enough good things about the V-Jays, simply awesome, i agree that they are the best portables out there. I would also like to give major kudos to Tim Maberly of Jays for the excellent customer service, I highly and strongly recommend these headphones and the Jays company.

    • Anonymous

      Glad you’re enjoying it, Rick.

      A friend of mine is currently on a hunt for a V-Jays after I loaned him my V-Jays. :)

  • JT_ANDYOUDONTSTAAAAP

    V-Jays sound soo good it’s unreal. They are bassy but at the same time very spacious and bright. The only thing that required getting used to is the way they look, PortaPro’s are much better (closer) fitting.

    • Anonymous

      I know. The V-Jays is unbelievably good. I think it makes the Portapro
      obsolete.

  • Aksek

     I agree with a previous comment about the AKG K420. I would be interested in hearing your opinion on these. Also how do the Senn HD228 compare?

  • P. J.

    Nice comparison. Something that is worth mentioning: pads like on PX100II will likely disintegrate over time. I’ve had some Sennheiser gaming headphones (PC150?) which had the same pads and they are dust now.

    • Anonymous

      True. I missed mentioning it on the comparison.

  • http://twitter.com/SoundEskimoo Eskimoo

    any input for ultraportables “dynamic bass” HD218, HD220, and “Explosive bass” HD228 ? thanks

  • Guest

    I can’t understand how you say the porta pro sounds better than the “old” version, they have the same driver, its only diffrence is cosmetic.

    • Anonymous

      Sorry, where did I say that? 
      Do you mean the Portapro anniversary version? 

      • Guest

        yeah, the anniversary and the old one are the same the only difference is the box and the coloring. “The LE model has a more refined sound and a better bass performance than
        the regular edition, which justifies the price tag that it sells for.”

        • Anonymous

          I think I should’ve said the LE model then. It’s the bassier and
          smoother sounding one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/syakir.zainol Syakir Zainol

    Mike,

    Jays V-Jays vs Audio Technica SJ55 which is better?

    • Anonymous

      Different headphones for different purposes.

  • Rez069

    Hey I just wanted to drop a line telling you that I bought the V-Jays only because I read about them here.
    I wanted to go with Koss Porta Pros first but since they sold me fakes Ive sent them back.
    I’m glad I found your site. The V-Jays are great.

    Dave

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Rez
      Hope you enjoy the V-Jays. Sorry about the fake Porta Pros.