Review - Koss KPH30i (sub 50€)

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Also available on YouTube in Spanish: Acho Reviews YouTube 


Intro…

There are no shortage of opinions and reviews of the KPH30i available as this set of ultra-budget headphones were released back in 2017, however, that didn’t stop me from reviewing the Porta Pro and KSC75 that were released decades ago.

The PortaPro and the KSC75 are my most used headphones, not because they are the best headphones I own, it is because they are so easy to grab and sound so good that they are the only headphones I always have sitting within arms reach and connected, ready to go, 24/7. 

In the office, the PortaPro are permanently connected to an Apple dongle DAC, being my default headphones for long conference calls and also see plenty of use for music listening between calls, even though I have other alternatives and a desktop set up at the side of me, I find I use them a lot more than any other headphone or IEM at work.

In my home set up, the KSC75 (on a PortaPro headband) sit at the side of my desk connected to either the 789 or Asgard 3. When I sit down to listen for a period of time, I usually opt for other solutions but because I live in such a dusty place, all of my headphones live in their cases/boxes, meaning that for quick listening to PC content, I end up grabbing the KSC75.

It also helps that they are light and small, avoiding the heat build up that I get from my over ear solutions, avoiding the “wet sponge on head” sensation.

So, seeing that I have got so much enjoyment and use from the two budget options from Koss and the fact that it was on sale for less than 30€, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try out the third highly praised budget option from the brand, the KPH30i. It is not as widely acclaimed as the other two variations but it is still very easy to find praise for it online. 



Presentation…

The typical budget from Koss is present once again with the KPH30i. Arriving in a transparent plastic sleeve, with nothing more than the headphones and the warranty card, there really isn’t anything much to say about the presentation.

Basically the presentation is cheap (of course) and the packaging is just meant to get the headphones from the store to your house, be opened and then (hopefully) recycled.

Build quality and aesthetics…

As with the other models, the build quality of the KPH30i is cheap, using nothing but plastic and a simple silicone comfort strap. I have seen people who prefer this build to the one of the PortaPro but I have also seen many cases of the plastic headband breaking, so my guess is that they won't stand up to much abuse but for less than 30€, it is not going to be heart breaking if they do get damaged.

The adjustment is by means of plastic sliders on both sides of the headband, which are honestly difficult to adjust once on the head but are quite useful when adjusting before putting them on. People complain about the PortaPro headband pulling their hair out, which is something I have not experienced personally (due to short hair and not adjusting them while wearing them), that is something that won't be an issue with the adjustment of the KHP30i but personally I prefer the system of the PP, both for adjustability and due to the fact that they fold, something that the KPH cannot do.

As far as aesthetics, I have seen them referred to as library headphones and I can see the resemblance (for the young ones out there, a library is a place we used to go to borrow or read books before the internet existed ;) ). They are certainly not headphones that look anything other than cheap but I have a soft spot for the “old school” looks that Koss go for with some of their models and the KPH30i are no exception. I opted for the white version and I don’t have an issue with their looks but that is a very personal thing.

As far as comfort, they are very light and I find them just as comfortable as the PortaPro, I just forget I am wearing them.



Sound…

Now, before getting into the sound of the KPH30i, I want to mention pads and the swapping of them. 

There are many reports of swapping the stock pads on the KPH30i to either Grado 1000 type pads or to Yaxi pads. I have installed Yaxi Pads on both my PortaPro and KSC75 and I agree that it does improve the overall sound quality in both cases. WIth the KPH30i, to change the pads it is a little more complicated than on the other two models, with a very high possibility of destroying the pads when removing them, therefore, I have withheld from performing a pad swap until such time as I have completed this review. I will be trying the Grado style pads afterwards but I really don’t think I will opt for them as it goes against one of the things that I most like about the Koss range, the fact that they are not over ear and do not build up heat. I will probably end up installing Yaxi pads but that is something for a later date.

So, on to the sound in their stock form…

First, as is the case with the other two models I keep mentioning, these headphones really shouldn't sound this good for the price they are sold at. I mean, they are not something that competes with hi-end offerings from other manufacturers (at 10, 20 or even 50 times the price) but they have a sound signature that is more than enough to enjoy music without worrying about it, just plug in, sit back and relax.

Starting off with sub bass, this is not the strong point of these kinds of headphones. While it doesn’t feel like it is lacking, there is a clear roll off in the lowest registries due to the nature of these on ear headphones. If you are looking for a bass boost with rumbling lows, then these are not the headphones for you.

In the mid bass and higher bass regions is where the KPH30i makes up for the lack in subbass. There is a bump in this area that gives the impression of good (and clean) bass performance, allowing bass guitars to be nicely presented and come across with a natural tone to them. In “Smooth Operator” by Sade, the low end is nicely balanced and it is easy to follow both the bass lines and drum rhythms without them bleeding into one another too much. I say “too much” because the separation is not excellent, there are many headphones that do this better (obviously at higher prices), but it is more than enough to enjoy and appreciate the instruments. The same can be said of tracks like “Jack Of Speed” by Steely Dan or “Elephants on Ice Skates” by Brian Bromberg. If we focus on electronic tracks, such as “Sun Is Shining” by Robin Schulz feat Bob Marley, then the bass is acceptable but I feel it is a little lacking to really appreciate EDM. The bass hits are there but the roll off of the sub bass makes the bass in these tracks seem a little hollow.

Moving into the lower mids, there is a slight reduction in comparison to the low end, but nothing dramatic, just enough to avoid bleed and keep the lower mids tight and controlled, keeping those bass guitars and the low end of guitars intact. I like the whole presentation of the mids as far as tuning goes, in fact, the general tuning of the bass and mids is one that I find enjoyable. From tracks like “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin, through to “Back It Up” by Caro Emerald, the tuning is well balanced and does not give the sensation of anything being recessed in the mids. It also doesn’t give the sensation of anything being overly upfront or in your face. All in all, the mids are a pleasurable experience that could improve in detail but the tuning is pretty much spot on.

Up in the higher regions, this is where the KPH30i are slightly off target for my preferences. They are not quite up to the treble found in the KSC75 (I will mention more about comparisons in a second) although they are still a pleasurable listen. They do avoid sibilance quite well, as found in my usual test tracks of “Code Cool” by Patricia Barber and “Hope Is A Dangerous Thing” by Lana Del Rey but they don’t quite sound as natural as they should up there. Sometimes I find that brass instruments have a bit of an artificial sound to them and this can reflect negatively on the higher ranges of voices but, again, this is not terrible, just not quite right.



Conclusion…

I have three sets of Koss in front of me right now (well, 4 if we count the set of KSC75 that are still mounted on clips instead of a headband) and I can say without a doubt that all of them are well worth their price. But which one is the best?

Well, the best is obviously subjective and each person will prefer the sound signature of one over another, even if all of them are actually rather similar but with some clear differences. 

In my personal preference list, my favourite would be the KSC75 mounted on the PortaPro headband and sporting Yaxi Pads. The KSC75 have better highs and more definition than the KPH30i. The bass is more present and punchier on the KHP30i which does work better for certain songs and genres but in general I prefer the KSC75 signature and find them more detailed. However, let's consider that, although I like the KSC75 in their stock form, I think they are great in the form that I currently have them which includes 20€ for the earphones, 17€ for the PortaPro headband and 10€ for the Yaxi pads, totalling 47€ . This leaves more than enough to install Yaxi pads on the KPH30i which may improve them enough to be closer to the KSC75, although I feel that the sound signature will still be more to my preference on the KSC75.

In comparison to the PortaPro, I actually find that I prefer the sound signature of the KPH30i. While I like the PortaPro, it is a headphone that is slightly dark. It could even be considered slightly veiled with its stock pads, although I found that the Yaxi pads again improved this. The KPH30i, even with its stock pads, is slightly livelier and clearer than the PortaPro, with more of a defined hit in the upper bass and lower mids, just slightly cleaner overall. My main use for the PortaPro has been calls due to the incorporated microphone which works well (or at least I haven’t received any complaints over the past year or so) and I do enjoy it for relaxed BGM listening but the KSC75 is my preference for real music listening. I would place the KPH30i above the PortaPro due to sound signature being sort of midway between the KSC and the PP, added to the fact that it also has a microphone, so it can replace my PP on my desk, although for travel, the PP will still be my pick due to it folding. I would say that at this moment, the PortaPro are again better defined than the KPH30i but, once more, they are wearing Yaxi Pads, so a fair comparison can only really be made after swapping pads on the KPH30i.

So, after all that, all I can say is that any of the three Koss models mentioned in this review are worth owning, in fact, I am happy to own all three. If we take into consideration my total investment in Koss ultra-budget options, I have probably spent 130€ (including Yaxi pads for all of them and the headband for the KSC) which have brought me more hours of use than any other headphone in my collection, even ones costing 10 times the sum of all three.

If you don’t own a set of Koss and have never given them a try, just grab a set the next time you see one on sale (or even at full retail price) and give them a whirl, I can guarantee it won’t be wasted money because even if they turn out to not be your thing, they will make an awesome gift for someone around you!

SenyorC