By Dan Moren
May 1, 2018 6:00 AM PT
Review: Koss Porta Pro Wireless are the classic headphones plus Bluetooth
The removal of the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 and later have presented a pretty significant change to the way many of us listen to audio on our smartphones. As someone who’s never been happy with Apple’s own earbuds, neither its Lightning-based headphones nor the AirPods have appealed. That left me as one of those hold-outs, using Apple’s Lightning-to-headphone adapter to connect to my venerable Koss Porta Pro headphones.
It wasn’t an ideal state of affairs: the adapter’s small and easy to lose, and every time I wanted to plug my headphones into something else—like my MacBook—I had to pull it off and find somewhere to put it. I’ve gradually switched much of my audio listening to Bluetooth: a cheap pair of Bluetooth behind-the-ear headphones for working out, the high-end Bose QC-35s when traveling, and a small pair of earbuds with a BlueAnt bluetooth adapter for when I can’t fall asleep at night.
But those were specific uses that failed to account for the time when I most used my headphones: walking around town, going to the coffee shop and back, and so on. For those I still turned to the Porta Pros, and I was starting to have a hard time imagining how I’d ever replace them.
The good news: I don’t have to. Mostly. As FCC filings last month suggested, Koss has readied a Bluetooth version of the Porta Pro, the aptly named Porta Pro Wireless, and the company generously sent me a pair to check out.
At first glance, the Porta Pro Wireless look, well, a lot like the set of Porta Pros I’ve been wearing for years now. 1 The only outward differences are a slightly different shade of blue on the earpiece, minor cosmetic changes on the outside of the earphones, and, well, the whole “wireless” part.
“Wireless” is a slight exaggeration here: there is a wire connecting the left and right earphones, a necessity given the metal headband construction. Two black pods on the wire contain between them the battery, Bluetooth hardware, and control unit. The last has switched sides from the Porta Pro, hanging off the right earphone instead the left, and it’s unsurprisingly a bit bigger, since it also contains the micro-USB port for charging the headphones. There have been some other changes to its functionality, which I’ll get to a bit below.
The most impressive thing about the Porta Pro Wireless is the fidelity with which Koss has reproduced the classic Porta Pro look and feel. The construction and fit are virtually identical, from the collapsible design to the adjustable fit on the temples. I’ve long preferred the over-the-head or behind-the-head style of headphone—which probably puts me in the minority in these days of ubiquitous earbuds—and the Porta Pro’s light weight was always a mark in its favor.
The thing I was most worried about was whether the pods on the wires would be uncomfortable, heavy, or get in the way. I was pleased to find that this wasn’t the case. Overall, the Porta Pro Wireless are still lighter than a heavy pair of big over-the-ear headphones like my Bose QC-35s, and I found the pods to be virtually unnoticeable unless I whipped my head to one side. (Personally, I probably wouldn’t wear them while working out, but I don’t wear my wired ones while working out either.) Do they look a little goofy? Sure. I’d obviously love a pair that were simply the headphones, with no wire or pods, but that would probably necessitate bulkier earphones and changing the design.
On the audio quality side, I found the Porta Pro Wireless to be virtually indistinguishable from the Porta Pro. Sound is hugely subjective, and I’ve always liked the Porta Pro’s balance of treble and bass. (This is hardly an exhaustive audio review—if you want that, try The Wirecutter.) I did set up a multi-output audio device on my Mac so I could listen to both simultaneously, switching between which I had on my left and right ears, and to my hearing, it sounded seamless.
The one exception to that is that I have occasionally had brief audio drop-outs when my iPhone X was in my back pocket while walking; moving it to my front jacket pocket seems to have fixed the problem, though, and it’s hard to say whether it’s an issue with the headphones, the iPhone, or iOS. I’ve seen similar issues with other Bluetooth headphones, but it’s hard to reproduce.
Bluetooth pairing was simple and fast and, unless I miss my guess, these use the same module as many of my other Bluetooth audio devices. The Porta Pro Wireless’s battery levels do show up in Batteries widget in iOS, and as with most Bluetooth headphones I found power consumption reasonable. When I got the headphones they were at around 90 percent charge; a few hours of listening only dropped them to about 80 percent. (I didn’t have time for an exhaustive battery test, but I saw no reason to worry.)
The other place that I noticed significant differences in the wireless model was in the control pod. It still has three buttons—volume up, play/pause, and volume down—but they’ve been redesigned with a soft rubberized covering rather than hard plastic, which makes them a little larger and easier to press than the wired model. On the wired model, double-clicking the play/pause button would go to the next track, triple-clicking it would go to the previous, and holding it down would invoke Siri. On the wireless model, long presses of the volume up and down buttons go forward or back a track, respectively. But a long press of the play/pause button is what turns the headphones on and off, so it took me a while to discover that double-clicking the play/pause button would bring up Siri. (The small manual spells out the other functions, but for some reason, not that one.)
The Porta Pro Wireless comes with a couple basic accessories: a micro-USB charging cable and a carrying case. The latter is much nicer than the drawstring pouch that accompanied the wired Porta Pro: it’s a small, round, semi-rigid zippered case. Perhaps a little large for a pocket, but easy enough to throw into a bag without too much in the way of concern.
Overall, it’s not hard for me to recommend the Porta Pro Wireless to fans of the wired version, especially if you’re as tired of managing dongles as I am. For those looking for a pair of light, compact, over-ear wireless headphones, they feel like a win as well. I’d love to see an even smaller set—hey, if Apple can cram wireless functionality into the AirPods, hopefully a smaller set of these are at least feasible. Perhaps somewhere down the road.
One note on support: I’ve had very good luck with Koss’s warranty support, but the Porta Pro Wireless feature a one-year limited warranty rather than the limited lifetime warranty I’ve had on the wired version of the Porta Pro and other Koss headphones. A company spokesperson told me that’s mainly because they can’t guarantee a battery for life—such is the way of these things.
The wired Koss Porta Pro go for $50—and the version with the mic and remote costs $10 more than that—but they’re often available online for cheaper. Wireless does add a premium: the Bluetooth model costs $80, though I imagine you’ll be able to get them for less. You can certainly find cheaper Bluetooth headphones on the market, but you’ll get commensurately less quality—both in terms of audio and build—than you will here.
I’m actually on my second pair, and one of them I got repaired once as well. So you could say I have a lot of history with these. ↩
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