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Moldy-Oldie Inexpensive headphone review.

Mighty Favog

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O.k. so I'm on the bus on my way home from work and I see people listening to their iPods, MP3's etc. and I'm thinking how I would just like to listen to AM talk-radio and some occasional Bob and Tom on FM in the morning.

Being low on funds as most of us are after the holidays I take a trip to my parents' house searching through some of my stuff that still hasn't migrated to my house (after 8 years...) looking for my favorite set-up. It was in the Sony Walkman craze (1984) that I bought a Panasonic RX-S35 (am-fm-cassette) unit with a pair of Koss PortaPro headphones. This thing sounded awesome back then!! Wonderful bass that would rival the Celestion 442's in the high-end room of the audio store I worked at.

The fad passed in a few months with me and I stored the set-up in a sock drawer for most of the time. I found the box that had both pieces in it and of course I left the batteries in the Panasonic and they exploded over time (too bad too, that thing had a great tuner) and the headphones' ear cushions would disintegrate by simply exhaling on them.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

I got them home and plugged them into the 2nd audio system in my study (see below). Even with no cushions they still didnt sound half bad. Granted these arent Grado RS-1s or Sennheiser HD650s but for the $50 I paid for them back then they sound damn good.

Not letting things go so easily I scoured my house for other headphones I had lying around. The main system in the living room had a pair of Sennheiser HD540s ($140) tucked away in the cabinet, the system in the study had a seldom used pair of Yamaha YH-1s ($65) and I even went to the basement and scrounged up a pair of Koss Pro-4 AAs ($28yes, $28 NIB from a store I later worked for) I bought in 1982.

Koss PortaPro nice balance overall, moderate detail; bass was just as pronounced as it was 20 years before. Definitely a low-impedance pair. Remember this a low-buck comparison.

Sennheiser HD540 Where did the midrange go?? I remember why I bought these; I would listen to Andreas Vollenweider and Isao Tomita while falling asleep at night. They probably sounded good back then with a ton of reinforcement (dbx 3bx, eq at +6 db, etc.) but with just a simple preamp, amp & CD player they sounded quite subdued. Detail was very muffled. Although with all the reinforcement and a healthy Carver Receiver (150 wpc) it probably accounts for some of the tinnitus in my right ear. I started to get a little disenchanted with 540s after each session I used them. Sennheiser thought it necessary to give my jaws the look of mutton chops from the thin vinyl-leather material the cushions are made of that stuck to my face after taking them off. Still not sure if Im going to order replacements because, by now, all the vinyl is gone.

Yamaha YH-1 These must have higher impedance because even though they sounded more balanced across the frequency spectrum than the HD540s. No great detail to write home about, just a pair to listen to if your attention is on something else like reading the newspaper. Kinda sounds like a nice factory car stereo with the volume turned down so you could talk to the person next to you.

Koss Pro-4 AA And I do mean moldy-oldie!! I had to break out the Lysol before I put them on (in storage in their original box with all paperwork since 1985). This pair didnt suffer the usual fault of one channel going out such as happened with the 3 other pair of this model in my family. The cushions were deflated and it still felt like nails going through my scalp after about 20 minutes due to the top strap. The frequency balance and presentation was more believable than the Yamahas and the Sennheisers. If they only had decent bass!! I will admit that some of it can attributed to the flattened ear cushions along with these being a closed-cup design. I never remember the Pro4s having much in the lower registers and its probably the reason I was convinced to buy the Yamahas to replace them. But I kept them around because of their fame and just to say I have a pair. I hear now they sell for over $100 ($28snicker, snicker).

CD in heavy rotation: Santana "Shaman"

BTW I ordered two more pairs of replacement cushions for the PortaPros for $10 (free shipping) from Koss.

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My son is still using a pair of Sennheiser HD414 open air headphones that I got back in the early '70s. I had others, but the drivers got blown during some recording work. They still sound awesome. They cost way more than I could afford at the time. I always liked that you could replace the cables easily, as they have small plugs on them, where they plug into each driver.


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Thanks for the review. So you found something that will work out on the bus? Interesting stuff finding old gear.

Not yet DD. I found a Sony unit at BB but I keep thinking that with the PortaPro's having so much bass it'll probably run that single AAA battery down in a jiff.

Now that Bruce mentions the drivers, I do remember that koss touted the Pro-4 AA as having a 1" driver in each ear.[:o]

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I have an old pair of the Koss PRO 4AA also suffering from the deflated (deteriorated foam) ear cups, and I don't find them to be bass shy at all. Must be your source. I do not do much headphone listening anymore, but I dug my old headphones and 25ft extension out to try them out again over the holidays, I had to super glue pieces back together and the plastic that covers the metal slider adjustments in the headpiece was gone so I used some foam to cover it.

I listened to Eminem's Curtain Call and they certainly were not shy on the bass reponse. They sound pretty damn good to me for as old as they are. How old are they? Circa mid 80's?

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I had a pair of 414's I bought back in, uh, '77 (?), and then a pair of 424.

They sounded really good (actually, great compared to everything else

I'd heard up to that time!), and were quite comfortable, but there was

one thing they did that no other component I ever found did as well.

The absolute coolest thing about them was the "W[:o]W" factor.

They looked like toys, with the bright colors and the plastic headband

and the foam earpieces. Most of my friends were familiar with

Koss Pro 4aa and other, similar looking headphones - the Sennheisers

looked nothing at all like what they expected headphones to look

like. Then I'd put them on someones head, drop the needle on

Tarkus and their eyes would bug out and their jaw would hit the

floor. "WOW" was always the reaction. Shock and awe.

I loved it. I have never found any kind of component that caused the same reaction. Anyone else?

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My pair of Audio Technica ATH-2's still look pretty much new, this is after spending years in a box in the attic. The leather on the ear-pieces is soft and supple. They sound like I remember them, fairly accurate but lacking a little on the low end. I guess I am lucky with the climate here in north central Texas, no mold on these! Can't remember what I paid, less than $100 I'm sure.

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I recently ordered new earpads for my Koss Pro-4AA's, no problem! Actually, I think they have a lifetime guarantee.

I also spent a fair amount of time looking for headphones my wife could use on her 2-week business trip (started yesterday ;^(). I used info from Headphone.com, as well as reviews at Amazon, etc. The criteria (for my wife) was simply that they be SMALL. I hoped they'd sound good, and be able to block out some of the airplane noise. Cathy also didn't want them to completely isolate her from the sounds around her, though ("Ma'am, another bag of nuts?").

We ended up getting an open-box pair of Sennheiser PXC-250's at Magnolia. They have active noice cancellation, and should work well. Oh, they fold down to about the size of a pair of sunglasses. Big sunglasses ;^).



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