Like many young and broke budding audiophiles, my interactions with Koss headphones back in the early 2000s was my first opportunity to hear what decent headphones sounded like. At that time, the KSC75 ear clip phones were considered to be the gateway drug of the headphone hobby, and after plugging them into my portable CD player (I know I’m dating myself) and hearing the rich layers of sound, I was hooked. To this day, I keep a pair in my desk drawer, mainly for nostalgia since I have moved on to more capable (and more expensive) models.
Over the years I have also sampled some of their other “budget champ” models, like the KTX Pro 1, and the Porta/Sporta Pros, reaping varied enjoyment from all of them. They all sounded very good for very little money, even if the designs were a little outdated. But that makes sense since these models have been kicking around and tickling ears for a very long time.
So that brings me to the new KPH30i. It is a descendant of the aforementioned KTX Pro 1, being a lightweight on-ear plastic headphone with a similar suspension headband that balances the weight of the headphones on your head, even though in this case there isn’t much weight to balance. They only cost $30 bucks and after hearing so much about how they sound so good for the money, I just had to try them.
Even though they list at $30, I actually picked them up for less, paying only $25 bucks. Like I said before, the design is reminiscent of the KTX Pros, albeit a slightly more modern version.
The look is still a little retro like most other Koss products, which is something you may love or hate. However most people don’t buy them for the looks, they buy them for the sound. The model I have is a charcoal grey which I like, they also come in a white and beige model which I don’t like as much.
When you unbox them, you will find nothing but the headphones and a little Koss Lifetime Warranty sheet, which is not surprising since they sell for next to nothing.
The headphones are very light and comfortable on the head, due to the featherweight design and the rubber suspension strap that lines the inside of the headband. If it wasn’t for the scratchy foam earpads, you would probably forget they were even there, and when I first wore them, I got used to the feeling after awhile and I actually did forget they were there.
The KPH30i is an all-plastic affair, no metal to be found. The sliding arms that hold the signature Koss D-shaped ear pads look like they snap into the upper headband, and the junction where two meet looks a little fragile, so I would take care when taking them on and off. It may not be a good idea to do the one-sided tug when pulling them from your head.
The wire is non-removable, which is expected for this price, but it does incorporate a mic and button to control playback and take phone calls. When I took a call on them, the person on the other end heard me clearly with no issues. That’s a nice bonus. The cable is terminated in a 3.5mm plug, which has a nice spring strain relief. That’s a nice touch.
Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. The sound. Let’s just say I’m very impressed. The Koss website describes the sound as “spacious with deep bass” and I think they are right on with that. There is a definite V-Shaped tuning to them that emphasizes the high and the lows while the mids are slightly recessed. That’s a good thing because when done right, it can add a lot of excitement to a headphone’s sound, that’s why so many are tuned that way. Plus that sort of tuning works well with today’s electronic and dance music.
All listening was done directly out of my LG V40 with a combination of local MQA files and Spotify HQ streaming. I felt this would be the best setup for this type of portable headphone.
Now let me temper your expectations a bit, these ‘phones are not the paragon of detail retrieval. As a matter of fact, there is a fair level of grit in the midrange that i’m not too crazy about.
But what they do well, especially for a $30 headphone, is their sense of space and dynamics. Live instrumental recordings sound magical because they play so big and out beyond the earcups. They also convey high and low points in a song with a deftness that you would not expect from a headphone this inexpensive. Along with that, the bass is very deep, articulate and rich, which gives them a nice amount of rhythm and drive. The high-quality bass is matched by the quality treble which allows them to credibly reproduce the emotion of instruments, especially horns. This all adds up to a sound that is very fun and engaging.
One song that really showcased the strengths of these headphones was the MQA recording of “Cantaloupe Island” by Jeff Goldblum and The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. It’s a hard-driving song that really gets your toes tapping, and the KPH30i laid all the instruments across the soundstage beautifully. Their sense of rhythm, drive, and timing was masterful as well. They made me want to play this song over and over.
When comparing them to the Grado SR60i which cost more than double the Koss headphones when I bought them, the 30i’s held their own. While the Grado clearly beat them when it came to overall resolution and detail, the Koss’ superior dynamics and drive just made them more fun to listen to on the song I just mentioned.
Comparing them to Koss’ own KSC75, the sound was actually very similar. The older KSC 75 has a clearer midrange, but they can’t compete with the KPH30i’s deeper bass and openness. I prefer both the 75 and Grados for vocals. But for instrumental tracks, the 30i’s do a better job of drawing you in.
I’m not trying to say that these are the end all be all of on-ear headphones, but their lightweight, comfortable form factor, along with the fun, spacious and engaging sound gives you a whole lot to listen to for not a whole lot of money.
Products Mentioned in this review: