Why These 1984 Headphones Are Still Amazing

Almost 40 years later, Koss Porta Pros still sound great

Key Takeaways

  • Koss released the Porta Pro headphones in 1984.
  • Koss still manufactures the headphones today. 
  • There’s a vibrant modding scene for these cheap cult headphones.
Someone wearing wireless Koss Porta Pro headphones outdoors.
Koss

In 1984, Koss made the first Porta Pro headphones. Almost 40 years later, you can still buy them, and they’re still some of the best headphones around.

The Porta Pros look a lot like the cheap, wired, foam-padded headphones that came with the first Walkmans and personal stereos in the 1980s, but they’re a lot more than that. Or rather, they’re nothing more than that, only done better than the competition.

Today, Porta Pros are readily available worldwide and come in a range of colors. There’s even a Bluetooth version if you can’t stand the wires.

"I’m on my second purchase of Porta Pros now," software marketing director Caroline Lee told Lifewire via email. "Tiny, lightweight, and comfortable to wear. They would be great for running or in the gym. Plug in the headphones, and you forget you're wearing them. They look great, very retro and cool."

Comfort

Unlike Caroline, I’m on my fifth or sixth pair of Porta Pros. In theory, they have a lifetime warranty, but I’ve found that in Europe, it’s easier just to buy a new pair. The headphones themselves are quite robust. The weak point is where the wires enter the earpieces. One good yank, and you can break a connection.

And yet, despite this (and some other annoyances, as we’ll see later), the Porta Pros are totally worth it. First, they’re comfortable. They’re so light that you can wear them all day long without fatigue, and the foam pads are more than up to the task. You can buy accessory padded ear pads, but when I tried them, they kept falling off.

"Koss Porta Pro sits over your ear and has a nice comfortable headband to reduce the stress on your ears," says Lee. "They stay more comfortably on the head without it slipping and falling."

The only comfort-related problem is that the headphones have a nasty habit of grabbing onto your hair whenever you take them off. And one final note on fit: There are a couple of switches to make the earpieces fit firmer or looser on the head. They make a difference, but reset to firm every time you remove the headphones, so you’ll soon give up. 

Sound

Sound-wise, these little things are fantastic. Lively, clear, with plenty of bass, but never muddy or overwhelming. They have a clear, responsive sound reminiscent of fancy electrostatic speakers.

"Plug in the headphones, and you forget you're wearing them. They look great, very retro and cool."

Somehow, the Porta Pros manage to sound better than most other headphones in their price range, with no fancy processing and 1980s tech.

The other aspect of the sound comes from the open design of the speakers. An open design means that you can hear the outside world, which further combats any ear fatigue.

I like them for working and for wearing around the house, because I don’t feel isolated. This open design makes them useless on the subway, though. You’re better off with some AirPods Pro for that.

The open back also lets sound out, so if you listen to loud, beat-heavy music, anyone else in your space is going to hate you. 

Modding Scene

As befits any cult hardware, there’s a healthy modding scene for the Porta Pros. A popular "mod" is to get thicker foam earpads from Yaxi (the Walkman-orange set looks great), but there are way more in-depth customizations.

The Porta Pro Kramer mod involves drilling holes in the plastic section between the speaker and your ear to increase clarity, but the results may not be worth the effort. Other mods include conversion to removable headphone cables (the MMCX mod) or upgrading to a less tangle-prone cable. 

A modded set of Koss Porta Pro headphones with an older version iPod.
Daniel Näb / Flickr

The headphones are cheap enough that you can afford to mess up, but to be honest, there’s little need to change anything. There’s a reason these simple headphones are still going strong after so long: they’re already great, out of the box.

The only recommendation I would make is to buy some kind of carrying case to keep them in. This prevents tangles in your bag, which are way worse than earbud tangles because the Y section of the cable forms a loop with the headband. The easiest way is to buy the kit with the official Koss case included, but plenty of cheap knockoffs are available on Amazon.

Stylish

The final reason Porta Pros are so cool is that they look great. Or rather, they have a cool retro style. I prefer some of the non-standard colors. The stock black and blue is a little dull. Fortunately, there are plenty of options. The majority of the Porta Pro's style comes from its retro looks, though.It's a genuine piece of vintage 1980s design for under $50.

So, if you do decide to grab a pair, cue up something like Prince’s Sign O’ the Times on your phone this weekend, and take a walk. Just remember to buy a USB-C or Lightning-to-jack adapter, or you won’t be able to use them.

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