Pros: Intense bass, but still clear and can deliver clean mids and highs
Cons: Uncomfortable on the ears. Bass can be too much-- takes some fine-tuning for balanced sound
Ahhh, the quest for an inexpensive pair of headphones that are reasonably comfortable and deliver reasonable sound continues. If youve been reading my reviews, you know that Ive been on the lookout for something that will fit my small head and ears without being too uncomfortable for a while now.
So far, Ive tried the following:
The Plug by Koss
Koss KSC-22 Ear Clips
Sony MDR-Q22LP W.EAR Clip-Ons
I even gave up on headphones and tried the Advent Wireless Speaker instead.
My experiences with all these were a few months ago now, and Im replacing my computer speakers, so I figured the time was ripe for more abuse and disappointment in the headphone arena. I still have the cheap earbuds that came with my Diva MP3 player, but theyre becoming more and more uncomfortable, to the point where they give me pre-migrainous pangs when I put them on, so I had to have something new. Ive totally given up on earbuds and clip style phones, since theyre all too big for my tiny ears, but Ive been reluctant to buy one of those clunky full-size headphone sets, even though they reputedly give the best sound and comfort. I just feel so stupid wearing them, and they get bumped around when I lie down on the bed.
My first try on this go-round was a pair of Audiobahn Noise Cancelling Headphones. I havent written a separate review for these, since theyre not in the database, but suffice it to say theyre the cheapest noise-cancelling phones you can get, and you get what you pay for. Sound reproduction obviously wasnt at the top of their list. They look like a smaller version of the full size cup headphones, so I thought they might work as a compromise. Besides, they came with noise cancellation technology for only $35. You cant beat that, right? Yes, you can. First, the ear cups are quite small-- about the right size for my ears, which means theyre too small for most people. Second, the folding hinge at the top pulled a hair out of my head in the first five minutes, and the headband isnt very well padded. Third, the noise cancellation feature, while it cancels certain frequencies (like the rush of air from the A/C vent above my head) very well, it does nothing for a lot of other noise. Finally, and most importantly for my purposes, the sound was terrible. It was thick with heavy, muddled bass, and I couldnt coax a clear high out of it even after ten minutes of fiddling with the equalizer, maximizing all the high-end output, and minimizing all the low end and turning my treble boost up to max. Id recommend the Audiobahns only for people planning to use them exclusively for travel-- they come with a double-pronged adapter for plane sound systems and would probably do pretty well at cancelling plane, train, or bus cabin noise. But I dont recommend them for home use. So those went back to the store and I traded them in for the current set thats the actual subject of this review... a pair of Koss KTX Pro 1 headphones.
Features & Comfort
These are the silver ones with a blue band across the top-- NOT the same as the black KTX Pros. The speakers are flat-against-the-ear style pads, not cups or buds or clips. I think of these as old-fashioned headphones, because the very first portable radios and cassette players I ever owned as a kid in the early 80s had headphones much like these.
These phones come with an inline volume control (a slider rather than a rotary dial), and a gold-plated small-to-large plug adapter. I found the inline volume essentially useless. I have to keep it at max for decent listening, and I still have to turn the volume on the player up a bit more than usual to get the same sound Im used to, so its really only good as a mute feature. But if Im going to mute it, Im much more likely to simply pause the music, so its really...moot.
The primary problem with this style of headphone, comfort-wise, is that fact that the tension of the headband is what holds the speakers in place, so you get a smashed-ear pain after a while. In this case, I got it after only about 10-15 minutes. Moving the speakers forward onto my temple a little bit helped without compromising sound too much, but they still can give you a fierce headache if youre prone to that sort of thing. The blue rubber band across the top makes discomfort across the top of the head a non-issue, and the speakers swivel on an angle so theyre always flat against your ear even if you have a funky-shaped head.
The adjustable headband is a little too tall for my head even at its shortest setting, and will adjust about an inch longer on either side. I also quickly found that they tend to fall right off if I lean forward, so they're probably not too good for a lot of strenuous activity, although a little chair-jamming didn't knock them loose.
Again, here comes my standard disclaimer: Im no audiophile and my comments are made from the point of view of an average and not particularly finicky listener. If you consider yourself a real audiophile, you may think my comments are way off base.
When I was looking at these, I couldnt help noticing that they seemed to have more impressive specs than a lot of other more expensive sets. For example, the listed frequency response is from 15-25,000 Hz, where most of the ones in the same price range and even some more expensive ones were only rated from 16-20,000 Hz. But considering the volume issues, they must not deliver very much amplification power, and the package doesnt have a wattage listed.
Huge bass is the first thing youll notice. These babies ROCK. Today I had Joe Satriani loaded on my player, and I was jamming all over the place-- Carl was behind me trying to get my attention and he had to yell. However, theyre not as severely over-bassed as the Plugs or the Audiobahns, and sounded clear, not thick and mushy. With my Divas settings on flat, it was way too much bass for me, and the mids and highs were muffled, particularly at low volumes. I fiddled with the equalizer presets and found that the Jazz preset gave me a better balance of bass thats still powerful but toned down just a tad, warm mid range tones, and cleaner highs. Using the Pop preset minimizes the bass even more, but its still very much there. Theres simply no way to cut out the huge bass effect without simply turning the bottom half of your equalizer all the way down. But for a lot of people, thats no bad thing. I dont like my bass to obscure the higher frequencies, and ultimately I wound up adjusting the equalizer to get the sound I wanted. Once I did that, it sounded great, but if you dont have that kind of fine-tuning ability, and you dont like a lot of bass, you wont like these.
(I did most of my sound testing using my Diva, as I did with all the other headphones, since it will be my main use, but I also plugged these directly into my computer and listened to some MP3s for a bit. The bass was not nearly so overpowering, and I didn't have to do nearly as much fiddling to get it the way I wanted it. So then I tried it on my component system downstairs with some CDs, and again found balanced, crisp sound with moderate bass. It was much more balanced overall from both my computer and my component system, so clearly your result depends heavily on your source.)
I found myself listening to the Diva at much higher volumes than I usually do with my earbuds, and Carl said there was noticeable bleed-through noise at higher volumes. They also dont do much to block outside noise, although theyre not advertised as noise-cancelling phones, so I dont know why you would expect them to. In a quick test, theyre about the same as my earbuds-- when I stepped outside and stood next to my running A/C unit in the pounding rain, I could barely hear the music, even when I cranked the volume. But thats a LOT of noise, and the only other phones that performed better in the noise-cancelling area were the Plugs and the Audiobahns, both of which are advertised for their noise-cancelling capability.
I have a totally different attitude than Zac, who wrote the other existing review of these phones. $35 is about the most Im willing to spend on a pair of phones, and I think you ought to be able to get decent-to-pretty-good quality sound for no more than that-- at least by my listening standards. Ive bought plenty of $10 earbuds that I thought sounded fine, its just that theyre so darned uncomfortable. I do agree with Zac about one thing, though-- these are probably the best sound you can get in this price range, and I think theyre an excellent buy, depending on what you want, of course. If you, like Zac, routinely spend $200 on a pair of phones for home use, then you're simply not going to be happy with any $20 headphone, and I cant imagine why you would expect to be happy with one.
The Bottom Line
They score high on sound. So far, these have the best sound Ive found for under $30, and they beat the $35 Audiobahns by a mile. Although theyre much too bassy for me on a flat setting, I was able to get the brighter, clearer sound I wanted using my equalizer settings, and they are capable of providing clean, bright highs if you get the settings right. Bass lovers will adore them, and the bass is clearer than on the Plugs or the Audiobahns.
They dont score so high on comfort-- Im finding the earpads quite uncomfortable, and that may be an inherent problem with all phones of this style. In the end, my ears couldn't take it, and the smashed-ear syndrome was what sent me back to the store once again looking for something better.