Back To The Future Friday: The Koss PortaPro

Lieven’s Story

I first heard of the PortaPro over a decade ago when I was looking for my first headphone. Yes, there was a time when I was headphone-less. I had just switched jobs and now had to commute 2 hours a day. I had never heard of Headfi and Headfonia didn’t even exist yet. Indeed. That long ago.

I’ve always been quite the internet review seeker for anything that I buy and after a few weeks of searching I ended up with three possible headphones. The original Sennheiser PX100, the AKG K26P and the Koss PortaPro. Both the AKG and the Koss share the same kind of sliding headband while the Sennheiser has the foldable kind. I ended up with ordering the AKG and I’ve always been very happy with it. Looking back now I should have gone with the PortaPro or the PX100 but I have no regrets. Well I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention. From then on I listened to the PortaPro whenever I had the chance to listen to it but I never owned one. Till now. And that’s way too late for that matter.

The PortaPro

The PortPro is a small, ultra-portable, on ear headphone. To get featured in our “Back To The Future” Series, a unit has to be at least five years old and it still has to be spoken about as much as on day one. The PortaPro, if I’m not mistaken, was made in 1981 and got on the market in 1984. The Walkman was just coming out and people needed headphones for on the go. 1984! Can you believe that? 30 years later I am still listening to the exact headphone. Oh yes, the PortaPro is a real classic.

I’m pretty sure a lot of people worldwide have cursed at the headband system used, I know I have. Besides that the PortaPro is fairly comfortable. The pressure on your ears is adjustable, it’s extremely light and the tiny microphonic free cable never gets in the way. After a few hours of use you won’t find it that comfortable anymore but that goes for almost all on-ear headphones. It’s well-built even if it doesn’t always look that way. That being said, it’s fairly basic and I wouldn’t just throw it in my bag as this thing will break. Fortunately that’s where the Lifetime! Warranty comes in. Unbelievable.

Cult favorite

Once you’ve listened to the PortaPro you will remember it for the rest of your life. That doesn’t mean this is the best sounding headphone ever but take in to account its age and its size and you will be amazed at how this thing sounds. It’s over 30 years old and still thousands of people still love the typical PortaPro sound, it’s that good.

In general the sound is more in front and between your head but it has a fairly good sound stage. Its sound is balanced and it basically sounds good with all kinds of music. The PortaPro has a heavier low end but that doesn’t mean it’s a bass-head headphone. The mids are smooth the way I like it and they have great body to it. Treble could be better. It isn’t the most extended or detailed but for portable use I doubt it will bother a lot of users. The PortaPro has good detail retrieval from bas to highs but it doesn’t isolate at all.

The PortaPro is incredibly fun and easy to listen. A full bodied and inoffensive sound that you really wouldn’t expect it from a headphone this size.

It’s awesome. It’s a must have. It’s the Koss PortaPro

Technology nowadays is much more advanced and yet a whole lot of more expensive new headphones don’t come close to the sound quality of the PortaPro. Koss made a budget headphone with great sound quality. It’s almost unbelievable for a headphone of this age. A true Classic and a Budget King.

Headphones you see on the street here are mostly Beats or cheap Pioneer, Sennheiser and Sony headphones. You do see a PortaPro in the wild here now and then and it always makes me smile, there is still hope. In the end the PortaPro is here to stay. If you never owned or listened to the PortaPro you owe it to yourself to get one right away. They’re going for $39.35 on Amazon right now but you can also buy them directly from Koss for $49,99.

Thank you Koss for making this classic. I love it.

Back To The Future Friday: The Koss PortaPro
3.9 (78.18%) 22 vote[s]

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

35 Comments

  • Reply October 31, 2014

    George Lai

    Having read previously about this icon, I bought it last year. I hated it mainly for the discomfort. I threw it away – into the Salvation Army donation bin.

    • Reply November 1, 2014

      dalethorn

      A long time ago in a land far away, I bought approximately 50 different Koss headphones, including the ESP-9. I cut my teeth in cable repair fixing most of those headphones. The biggest problem I had was the subtle (or sometimes not subtle) ringing and other distortions caused by poorly mounted drivers and other parts, which I wasn’t able to fix.

      • Reply November 4, 2014

        ohm image

        Pictures or it didn’t happen!

        • Reply November 4, 2014

          dalethorn

          It happened all right. I could write a book, with names and dates. If you’d like to do an interview I’m listening.

          • Reply November 7, 2014

            ohm image

            OHM AIR: Dale Thorn and the horrible Porta Pro. I like it.

            • Reply November 7, 2014

              dalethorn

              I never had a Porta Pro, but I had several Pro4AA’s, an ESP9, and a dozen or so of the HV (High Velocity) series introduced around 1980, so quite a bit of experience with Koss. What was disheartening was to learn that even though the PortaPro was well received, offering good sound for the price, and even though Koss has offered very generous warranty replacements, the fact remains that their reliability isn’t good, and going through all processes necessary to secure a replacement is rather expensive, unless time means nothing to you. Yesterday, my Beyer T51p failed with a loose connection on the right earcup at the strain relief, and getting that taken care of cost about 3 hours total – valuable hours since I have other things I need to do. That T51p was very gently cared for, the wires were never snagged or yanked, and I got about 2 months use out of it in the 11 months I had it, due to working with many other headphones.

              • Reply November 7, 2014

                Michael Dowling

                I’m not sure I get your point, Dale. Are you saying that Beyerdynamic are no more reliable than Koss? Regardless, the slightly negative vibe here towards the Portapro cannot dampen my enthusiasm for it. Though I’ve moved on to more expensive and arguably better sounding cans I still love the sound of the Portapro. It’s a truly fun headphone.

                • Reply November 7, 2014

                  dalethorn

                  There is no need to discuss a ‘point’ about a brand that’s noted for their failure rate. Nor is there any argument about your enjoyment of the Porta pro, so enjoy and don’t worry. As to the T51p, the wires going into the earcups are way too thin and fragile for a $300 headphone.

                  • Reply November 7, 2014

                    Michael Dowling

                    Sorry, Dale – I was honestly just not sure what you meant!

                    • November 7, 2014

                      dalethorn

                      I’ve been involved with production quality and QC theory since the Deming days (typically under Six Sigma now), and many of the companies I’ve worked with, such as Firestone/Bridgestone, Hewlett-Packard et al, have struggled to define a break point of sorts where merchandise returned for repair or replacement incurs a greater burden on profits than efforts to improve quality and reliability up front, or vice-versa. Corporations that have opted for lower quality and more frequent repairs or replacement, proving the viability of their method to the corporate directors, do indeed exist as profitable entities, but in doing so they shift the burden of dealing with the frustrations of replacement to their customers. Those corporations have devised methods of managing repair or replacements that are highly automated and relatively cheap for themselves, but for customers whose time is limited and valuable, it’s costly and very annoying. BTW, I ordered a DT990 Manufaktur 2 days ago, so I feel confident in the Beyerdynamic products.

                    • November 8, 2014

                      Michael Dowling

                      Thanks for clarifying, Dale. It’s certainly an interesting issue. What we would consider consumables now I would imagine is markedly different from 20 years ago. I just spent a lot of time keeping my old Saab on the road. No one is making the parts anymore which means an otherwise functional vehicle would be scrapped for the sake of a headlight… Still The ear buds which came with my ipod breaking and then the process of looking for a decent replacement was the thing that made me take a good look at what was going on with headphones…
                      Thanks again, looking forward to hearing about the 990!

                    • November 10, 2014

                      ohm image

                      DT990 Manufaktur… nice. I have the DT880/600 Manufaktur (but stock) from 2006. Looking forward to hearing from you.

                    • November 10, 2014

                      dalethorn

                      Got mine from Massdrop for $269 – not all of their bargains are really bargains, and while they deny being grey-market, they kinda are. But they’ve been pretty reliable so far, so good. I wish they had a better set of choices in the Manufakturs like Beyer does on the Beyer main site, but for $269 I’m not complaining. Maybe next time I’ll get a DT880 from the Beyer site with some of the color customizations they offer.

    • Reply November 4, 2014

      ohm image

      Comfort isn’t high, but if everything is right, it is a great phone. Unless you have hair.

    • Reply July 15, 2015

      trisul

      Interesting, I also bought them and I completely forget that I am wearing them. Obviously, each head is a story for itself.

      • Reply July 15, 2015

        dalethorn

        Please report back in a couple of months about how the headphone is holding up.

        • Reply July 15, 2015

          trisul

          I’ve had it for two years now, last week I managed to snip one of the wires. Folding is a bit messy, otherwise everything as before.

          • Reply July 16, 2015

            dalethorn

            That does seem to be the average experience, that users are very satisfied with the Porta Pro.

            • Reply July 16, 2015

              trisul

              Yes, I bought the model with the microphone, so I also use it on the phone. A good portable all-rounder for that price, which is not high. I got a few friends to buy one too, but I haven’t had any enthusiastic responses, but no criticism either. So, it seems a safe bet, my own attempts to improve on it by trying others, even slightly more expensive one where not a success.

  • Reply November 7, 2014

    Michael Dowling

    I’m not sure I get your point, Dale. Are you saying that Beyerdynamic are no more reliable than Koss? Regardless, the slightly negative vibe here towards the Portapro cannot dampen my enthusiasm for it. Though I’ve moved on to more expensive and arguably better sounding cans I still love the sound of the Portapro. It’s a truly fun headphone.

    • Reply November 7, 2014

      dalethorn

      There’s no need to discuss ‘point’ about a brand that’s noted for their failure rate. Nor is there any argument about your enjoyment of the PortaPro, so enjoy and don’t worry. As to the T51p, the wires going into the earcups are way too thin and fragile for a $300 headphone.

      • Reply November 10, 2014

        ohm image

        While I didn’t break my T51p, I understand what you’re saying about the cables. That said, I think they are pretty well reinforced, though it’s certainly not perfection. It’s not the thickness of the cables that matters as much as it is the cable’s ability to stave off breakage pressure.

        Certain thin-cabled phones are wonderfully robust: Audio Technica ES10 and 11 (which use the same cables as those found in the might CK10). But they are very, very well thought-out cables with excellent coatings. Still, they are thin.

        When first I purchased them I was certain that I would break the cables. After now 4 years or longer with the ES10 and many drops and gravity snags (all violent), they work as well as the day I purchased them.

        But their cable, while thin, is excellent.

        The T51p is also in a hard situation. It is meant to be a portable headphone. I uses a decent, albeit suboptimal cable. I’ve not heard of widespread breakage, but as with you, the groups I hang with are silly nerd groups that tend to baby everything they use.

        I do not.

        I’d love for the Porta Pro to have the same cable as is found on the ES10, thought it probably costs more than the headphone does.

        • Reply November 10, 2014

          dalethorn

          I have had thin cables that have held up well – the ATH ESW9a for example. So I presume the problem with the T51p was a combination of poor attachment/soldering and poor-quality strain reliefs, which don’t actually relieve anything based on close inspection. The DT1350 is much better made.

          • Reply November 10, 2014

            ohm image

            I can’t remember if the ESW9 use the same cable as the ES10 (the ESW11 do). That cable is awesome. I tried the new DT51p only a little while so I haven’t the on-hand experience you do.

            Thanks again for the update.

            • Reply July 7, 2017

              dale thorn

              The ESW9a cable broke a couple months after my post. I’d say that these thin cables (T51p included) are ridiculously inadequate for portable headphones.

  • Reply March 30, 2015

    Nicolas Chupick

    It’s been a while and the PortaPro is completely outclassed now. The JVC S400 is simply superior: better sound (you still get that warm sound and thick bass but the vocals sound noticeably better), better comfort, better isolation, thicker cable & similar compact folding . Moreover, if you stick some blu-tak at the back of the drivers you can even out the treble and tighten up the bass. Sadly, it looks blocky and plasticy and cheap. The PortaPro just has unbeatable style.

    • Reply March 31, 2015

      dalethorn

      I looked up the JVC – reviews said that isolation is very low because the earpads don’t seal – the earcups just don’t rotate enough. The S400 looks really good with the red trim (Japanese import).

      • Reply March 31, 2015

        Nicolas Chupick

        This could be true (especially with more expensive headphones), but the bar is set pretty low with the portapro. I actually didn’t mind the pads at all on the S400. But the headband is definitely on the small side like the Philips M1.

        • Reply March 31, 2015

          dalethorn

          Thanks – I put it on my Amazon list, to follow some others that are on the way. If I get this it would be my first JVC.

  • Reply March 31, 2015

    dalethorn

    PortaPro just popped up on Massdrop for $31 USD.

    • Reply March 31, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      I saw but that’s not a special deal is it?

      • Reply March 31, 2015

        dalethorn

        I don’t know the usual price if there is one, but I have gotten deals from Massdrop – the $1500 AKG K812 for $1079, the TH900 for $1100. Today I got the Edifier H850 for $39, and that’s really amazing. Massdrop is safe to buy from I think, but for most products they’re not an “authorized dealer”.

  • Reply November 17, 2015

    Alexa Scott

    I received a pair
    of Koss UR-20s as a gift years ago and loved them so naturally I looked to Koss
    again when replacing my portable/on-the-go headphones. I figured they were
    good, especially considering that the design seems unchanged since the 1980s
    (which has to mean something), but I also figured that this was one of those
    things that was just too good to be true. However, these are bar-none the most
    amazing headphones I have ever put on my head. Listening to some of my favorite
    songs for the first time was one of those ‘wow’ moments where you realize you
    have found something that changes your expectations completely. The bar will be
    raised the instant you hear the bass response and incredible acoustic qualities
    of these light, comfortable headphones. I don’t know what I’m impressed with
    the most: the amazing bass, the excellent stereo division, or how loud they can
    get! These things are just as amazing as most of the reviews show them to be
    and then a lot more… I was worried about the eighties styling, but in person
    they don’t look bad at all. I hate headphones that scream for attention, but
    these don’t look like that when you have them on and I have already been
    wearing them in public (something I didn’t think I would do after only seeing
    the picture of them online). And even if they’re a bit outdated in appearance,
    the design is so functional you won’t even give looks a second thought after
    you put them on. I can’t say enough good things about these PortaPros! They’re
    simply amazing. These are the first headphones (or speakers) I’ve had that
    sound absolutely awesome without adjusting the equalizer or pumping up the
    bass. They sound good on everything from R&B to Country and everything
    in-between. I’ve been especially impressed that they pull the bass and highs
    out of a song without getting that shrill, tinny treble that plagues so many
    headphones. If there ever was a question about the quality of Koss stereophones
    in my mind, these PortaPros have put it to rest and made me into a lifetime
    customer! Take what other reviewers have said about these headphones, believe
    them, and then multiply it by 100. Some more technic details here
    http://topchoice.best/main-review/best-headphones

  • Reply March 10, 2017

    Anthony

    Hi,

    I have used Porta Pro for 20 years and more. Some lasted less than a year, others lasted 2 or more years. They sound better to my ear than $500 headphones and I paid usually about $50 but had in the early days paid as much as $120 in Sydney Australia.

    I find them very comfortable and wear them when working out. No slippage at all.

  • Reply July 7, 2017

    Jon

    Hi,

    I’ve used a pair for over 20 years, and I can’t fault their sound for the price I paid, about £30. I find them very comfortable, but for me the fit probably isn’t secure enough for running, jogging etc.

    They’ve broken once in that time but they had a lifetime guarantee, so I sent them off and received a brand new pair. I don’t know if this is still the case.

    I think of them as a classic much in the same way that I view the Etymotic ER4PT, an old design that still does the job it was originally designed for, and does it very well.

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