The past week or two I’ve been revisiting Koss, the legendary makers of headphones. Koss invented stereo headphones (they called the “Stereophones”) in 1958. They’ve mostly be known for headphones, although they have made a few communications headsets over the years.
Koss GMR-540 Series Gaming Headphones
It had been a while since I reviewed a headset suitable for use by interpreters using ZipDX multilingual. Then I stumbled upon the Koss GMR-540 Series. Introduces in the summer of 2017, these are relatively inexpensive headphones targeting gamers. As such, they have a microphone.
More interestingly, the microphone is part of the cable, which can be completely removed from the headphones. The maker provides each headset with two cables;
- A short (4 foot) cable with an inline microphone, suitable for use with a mobile phone, tablet or laptop.
- A long (8 foot) cable with a boom-mounted microphone, suitable for use with a desktop computer or gaming console.
Depending upon which model you choose, the long cable will terminate in dual 3.5mm mini-plugs for mic & headphones, or a USB connector.
All-in-all, the GMR-54x Series sound pretty good for the money. Most importantly, they pass my test for pristine full-duplex audio via USB, which is what our interpreter partners truly require.
I also like the fact that they’re understated. They don’t have a hyper-aggressive industrial design, driven by some imagined gamer philosophy. Most gaming headsets are ugly brutes.
Koss Introduces Porta Pro Wireless
Earlier today I read a headline at The Verge web site: Koss Porta Pro Wireless Review: A Classic Mistake. As it happens, I’m familiar with Koss Porta Pros. I’ve owned a couple of them over the years. They are an example of a product that was so close to perfect that they remained well-regarded literally decades later.
You can still buy Porta Pros for just $39. Of course, that’s the traditional, wired version with a 3.5mm TRS connector. They’re still a good value, even if the design is vintage.
It makes some sense that Koss would want to extend the rein of the Porta Pro, and perhaps adding Bluetooth was one way to do that. However, it seems that what they have offered is a compromise that fails to impress.
The Koss Porta Pro Wireless (pictured below), now $79 on Amazon, marries the classic Porta Pro headband and drivers to a cable with a Bluetooth interface and battery module. It gives up the classic, 3.5mm wired connectivity in favor of a small battery in the BT link that must be charged. To add insult to injury, the BT link has an aggravating, blinking blue status LED.
The approach that Koss took undermined the fundamental greatness of the Porta Pro design. They abandoned analog connectivity altogether, in favor of Bluetooth.
What they should have done is borrow a page from those who make professional in-ear-monitors (IEMs.) Those folks have settled upon the MMCX connector as a standard way to offer removable cables.
IEMs are typically more costly than traditional headphones or ear-buds. People who make such an investment will tend to use them more often, and want to keep them in good working order. Since cables get worn and damaged over time, replaceable cables are a great idea.
If the cable can be replaced, you know that someone is going to step up to offer third-party super special cable upgrades. You know the sort, pure gold conductors shielded by woven unobtainium insulation, hand assembled by virgins and blessed by some presumably-god-of-music. You want the best, right? More importantly, you want something obviously better than your idiot bass player!
In truth, there appears to be a market of 3rd-party options for IEMs. That includes cables, even some with an inline microphone and a Bluetooth interface.
Had Koss simply added MMCX connectors to the Porta Pro they could extended it’s utility, offering a traditional analog cable and a BT cable. Best of both worlds. There’d have been some way to use the headset when the battery in the BT link is dead. They could have bought the cables from a Chinese OEM.
Live and learn, I guess. It’s not too late. These things tend to be produced in batches. When this initial batch sells out they can take the detachable cable route…just like they did so wisely with the GMR series.
Koss is truly a legendary name in American audio. Their web site has a novel history page and a great historical video with founder John Koss. There’s also a great story of how he convinced equipment makers to adopt headphone jacks. It’s well worth your time.