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Koss KPH40 Review: Vintage-Inspired On-Ear Headphones

Koss collaborated with San Francisco-based Drop to develop the KPH40X Utility.

Featuring the unmatched sound quality of the original KPH40 Utility, the Drop x Koss KPH40X Utility features uncompromising connectivity with the ability to connect to USB-C, Lightning and standard 3.5mm ports (USB-C and Lightning Utility Cords sold separate).

Key Features

  • On-ear open-back design with 40mm drivers
  • Vintage-style metal headband with leather cushion
  • Breathable cloth earpads for comfort
  • Inline microphone and remote for phone calls
  • 3.5mm connector with 3ft straight cable

Sound Quality:

With their open-back design, the KPH40 produce a spacious, airy soundstage. The 40mm drivers deliver clean mids, smooth highs, and punchy bass.

Vocals sound natural and instruments have good separation. The openness provides a refreshing listening experience.

Design:

The steel headband and leather cushion offer a retro but durable build. The soft earpads prevent discomfort during prolonged use.

The inline mic and remote allow convenient call and music control when paired with smartphones. Overall, the KPH40 offer an appealing vintage aesthetic.

Customer review

The short answer is yes. Hi-fi headphone enthusiast for 10+ years. Owned Mr. Speakers Aeon, Audeze LCD-2/3/X, EMU Teak, Senn HD600/650, Sony MDR-Z7M2/Z1R, 1000XM4/1000XM5, Focal Elear, Focal Clear, Hifiman Edition X, Beyerdynamic DT-880/770/990 and spent 1000+ hours with other high end headphones. Primarily listened through Sony TA-ZH1ES and vaious other combos/portable units.

Most headphones regardless of price have the 10khz aluminum driver resonance spike of death. Manufacturers try to compensate for this in various ways- dampening, earpads, etc. despite the rest of the frequency response being coherent, 4-10khz just about all headphones regardless of price suffer drastically different colorations as a result. Most high end headphones try to dampen 10hz and push the bump down to the 5-8khz range and tell you its “clarity, detail, refinement” when its really just engineering their way around the physical properties of the driver (usually 40-70mm diameter). The larger the driver, the more problems to mitigate. Some companies use beryllium or a beryllium coating, and some have great success with this, but now you’re gonna pay $1k-4k for these headpones. Add in luxury lamb skin pads, exotic woods etc. If you can drop this kind of cash without thinking about it then more power to you. But you’ll also want an amp/dac to power them adequately. And some headphones (Senn, Audeze, etc.) either have a death vice clamping force or they weigh about as much as a Judd.

Then you have Koss. They’ve been successfully using this small driver design since the 80s. Most people have heard the PortaPro. It’s ok but it’s way overrated. Comfort issues and a veiled, mushy sound have always kept it from being great, despite its cheap price.

Then you have the KPH-40. It is the best implementation of their design philosophy. It is easily the most comfortable headphone in existence. It’s made with a metal frame. It’s durable despite its slight frame. And you can wear it in various positions on your ears without it getting uncomfortable…indefinitely.

This headphone is sonically not dissimilar to the PortaPro, but it is refined in every way. Bass spectrum has impact and depth but is less mushy than the PP. Lower mids still have some fatness and warmth but less so than the PP. Male vocals on the PP are VERY chesty. The problem still exists with the KPH40, but not to the same degree as with the PP. Bass and lower mids make the KPH40 sound very full, almost like a full size headphone, which is incredible for such a small driver. I credit this to the small pads and the short distance from the driver to the ear.

Mids and uppers mids continue to sound even and full. There is no 1-3khz nasal/glare/shout that some other headphones have, though these headphones can sound a bit mid-centric (mid-forward, but not glaring or uncomfortable) However, the depression in FR between 3-6khz can add a bit of sonic haze, and make female vocals sound closer than they should in the mix, and a bit less engaging/textured (softened). But they will never fatigue you. At the same, almost strangely, distorted electric guitars have far more bite than the PP. Siamese Dream, The Bends, Downward is Heavenward all present guitars with bite and edge, but unlike the Senn HD600, guitar distortion on the KPH40 NEVER sounds unnaturally edgy, bright, thin, grating or otherwise overly emphasized (unless you’re listening to some poorly recorded 80s glam metal).

Highs are MUCH improved over the PP. I can hear reverb trails and inhalations between bars in Shaw’s recording of Rachmaninov’s Vespers that were non-existent with the PP. Cymbal hits are a bit recessed in rock music, but they NEVER blister your ear drums. No angry bees here, thank you. Detail is there but it is not overemphasized for “clarity/air/detail” blah blah blah. The 6-20khz range sounds much more true to life (though admittedly not as zingy and vibrant), especially relative to the rest of the frequency range, than MOST other expensive headphones…honestly, most headphones regardless of price.

Sibilance? Really? Hahahahahahahaha. There is none (exagerrated sibilance). Ss, ts, etc sound just as they should (quieter than the actual vocals and not at all distracting). Exagerrated sibilance is why I can’t listen to 90% of headphones (looking at the HD600, Focal line, ANYTHING by Sony 😡).

Natural, full, musical and more focused on instrument and voice timbre than neutrality and detail. It is light and comfortable to wear for hours.

Koss really gets what a headphone should feel and sound like. Would I choose to listen these rather than the Focal Utopia? Everyday, twice on Sunday. Would I hear every key click in Vaughan William’s Oboe Concerto in A Minor with the KPH40? Would the sound stage be as large, holographic and precise in its instrument placement? Nope. Would I enjoy the overall timbral representation of the instruments and the presentation of the music as a whole, for hours on end? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Disbelieve, argue, condescend all you want. For $40 you get a headphone with few shortcomings that are easy to overlook. I can’t overlook shortcomings in Hifiman, Fostex and ZMF headphones for the prices they’re asking (also, no cabinet liners were harmed in the making of the $40 KPH40 🤣).

IMO, the next best thing to the KPH40 (IMO) is the Focal Clear MG and the LCD-3, or maybe the X. But the Audeze feel like anchors and the Focals still have some wonkiness in the 6-10khz range, so much that I couldn’t justify making them my main headphone (maybe if I any listened to classical/jazz with no vocals). With the Koss KHP40, I need no justification. I can listen to anything and everything to the KPH40 and enjoy listening for hours. I can’t ask any from a headphone than exactly that.

Customer questions & answers

Q: Do yaxi pads fit these? Or grado pads? Thanks

A: Yaxi pads fit perfectly, and if you want to use grado pads, put them ontop of the stock pads, or ontop of the grado pads and then they will fit.

Q: Which replacement pads for this model? Thank you.

A: Any pads that also fit the Porta Pro would work for these. You can get official replacements from Koss, or you can order the highly rated Yaxi pads from Japan, or if you’re not too picky, you can order any generic Porta-Pro compatible pads from eBay or Aliexpress.

Q: Koss should make a bluetooth ‘pendant’ for the utility series. that would be the icing. does any know of a bluetooth receiver with 2.5 mm termination?

A: the ksc35’s have a similar driver and clip into the the kph40i’s headband if ur wanting something completely wireless with little modification

Q: Anyone have a carrying case to recommend for the KPH40?

A: I use Desing Wish Headphone Storage Bag Lightweight Headphone Carrying Pouches. (I love these headphones)

Q: Is there a Bluetooth adapter cable for these headphones? I love using them wired but would like to also use them wireless!

A: Maybe a blue tooth DAC like qdelix or if go?

Blending retro design and balanced open-back sound, the affordable Koss KPH40 provide a cool alternative to modern on-ear headphones.

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