First introduced in 1984, the Koss Porta Pro has become a bit of a bargain-basement legend in the audiophile community. The design hasn't been altered in those 24 odd years, giving the Porta Pro a rather dated but lovable look, but it's a case of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.' These are surprisingly comfortable headphones, the overlapping metal bands providing a solid grip on your head while the two foam pads above the ear-cups keep any pressure on your skull and not your ears. You can then use the dual 'comfortzone' adjusters to tailor the fit between your outer ear and the foam earpads to your own requirements.
Combined with the lightweight materials, this makes the Porta Pro the sort of headphones you can just about forget that you're wearing, and when off your head they contract into a shape small enough to fit in the wallet-sized pouch provided. Yet despite the construction and a rather scrawny cable, the Porta Pros feel solid and durable. What's more Koss backs them up with a no quibble lifetime warranty.
Still, it's not the design that made the Porta Pro name, but the sound. Simply put, the Porta Pros sound better than anything available for under £20 has any right to sound. The sound is direct, powerful and meaty with bass to spare, yet there's a surprising amount of detail in the high and mid-range. The Sennheiser PX100s offer a wider soundstage and perhaps a little more finesse, but there's something so gutsy about the Porta Pro output that they're hard to resist. They're a natural fit for the old-school rock of AC/DC's Back in Black or the thickly layered noise of The Smashing Pumpkin's Stand Inside Your Love; beefy riffs, crashing drums and surging basslines are a Porta Pro speciality it seems. Yet they also work well with electronica, hip-hop and pop - basically, anything where a good, solid, tight bass is a must. The iGrados offer a slightly more lifelike performance, with a wider soundstage and a better grasp of detail at the top end, but in straight A/B comparisons, the Porta Pros still come off pretty well.
Having said that, you might expect the performance in other genres to let the side down, but no. You miss a bit of the space the Sennheiser's give to Miles Davis' All Blues, but the rich, warm tone still works brilliantly, and while there's always a sense that the Porta Pro's haven't quite got the fine detail to handle complex classical arrangements, even Ralph Vaughan-William's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis bought a smile to the face. You can't hear everything you might with the iGrados or with a pair of proper Hi-Fi 'phones, but that doesn't make the sound any less rich or lovely.
The iGrados are the best sounding 'phones on test here, but the margin isn't as wide as you might think. Behind them, it's a very close call whether the Porta Pros or the Sennheiser's make the best noise. My personal inclination would be to favour the muscle and warmth of the Porta Pros over the wider soundstage and finer balance of the PX100s. Given the incredible price, it would be criminal not to recommend them.
A great gutsy sound, practical design and unbeatable value.