Retro Tech Spotlight: Koss Porta Pros

As a monthly feature of this blog, Audiogon looks at some of the technological marvels of the past that may have preceded your birth, escaped your memory, or come and gone without ever having made an impression. This month, we take a look at Koss Porta Pro On Ear Headphones.

Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

Can something be Retro Tech if it’s still readily available for purchase, used regularly and beloved with almost cult-like fervor by devotees worldwide? Such is the case with Koss Porta Pro On Ear Headphones, introduced in 1984 and largely unchanged 36 years later. 

In an age of wireless earbuds and Beats By Dre, Porta Pros certainly enjoy an element of “hipster chic” for their continued popularity, what with their unapologetically mid-’80s design. But what many Porta Pro lovers will swear to is that they SOUND better than those newer, pricier headphones, offering warm, natural-sounding bass without artificial boosting.

Original 1984 promotional sheet

That’s subjective, of course, but at $50 retail (and usually available for $10-$15 less), you would be hard-pressed to find a better bargain in the low-end headphone segment than the Porta Pro. Even the critics have largely agreed with that assessment, then and now.

  • “The bottom line, as we see it, is that these are excellent phones, suitable for a number of very different and demanding applications.” — Stereo Review, 1984
  • “I absolutely love Koss Porta Pro on-ear headphones, and they’re sold with a lifetime warranty.” — Steve Guttenberg for c|net, 2017
  • “If you want a cheap pair of frills-free headphones that get to the nub of a performance, the Koss Porta Pros are a product we can fully get behind, and have a lot of fun while doing so.” — What Hi-Fi?, 2018

For some objective criteria, there are these specs:

  • Frequency Response: 15-25,000 Hz
  • Impedance: 60 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 101 dB SPL
  • Cord: Straight, Dual Entry, 4 feet, 3.5mm jack

The Porta Pro’s origin story is a rather inauspicious one. Koss already had plenty of headphones for sale, but none that were designed for portable applications, and they were about to unveil the A-3 Music Box, their entry in the portable tape player segment. The Music Box did little to loosen the Sony Walkman’s stranglehold on that market, but with their collapsible design, spring-loaded aluminum headband and longer 4-foot cord, the Porta Pros were a hit.

Koss founder John C. Koss with his newest creation in 1984. Who knew?

From Day One, Koss Porta Pros have come with a lifetime warranty, which means that in theory, you could have bought a pair in 1984 and never bought another pair. Mind you, in 1984, Porta Pros retailed for $60, or about $150 in 2020 dollars, so that warranty meant something. I bought my first pair in 1986 and took loving care of them for a decade until I lost them in a move. 

I’ve bought four more since, only employing the warranty once, when the right speaker failed inside of six months. The most common point of failure is at the “Y” split, where wiring can become exposed over time. Earphone and temporal cushions can get chewed up over time, but replacements are easily obtained.

Koss has, of course, tried to improve upon perfection … with mixed results. Notable efforts have included a wireless version introduced a couple of years ago at twice the price to a resounding “Why?” The newest incarnation is a cooperative effort with Massdrop that is wired, but is smartphone interactive with an inline mic, volume control and track skip, as well as sporting a more robust “Y” split.

But the Porta Pro Classic (as Koss calls its standard model) is still available, just as it was in 1984 (save for some minor acoustic tweaks), a relic from the Walkman age still being used today by a new generation of smartphone owners. The more things change, the more they stay the same.