Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Portable Headphones, Earphones and In-Ear Monitors › [Review] The $50 Koss KDX200 - an audiophile detective story...
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

[Review] The $50 Koss KDX200 - an audiophile detective story...

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 

Tagline

Rated as "superb" by a well-known German HiFi magazine, but pretty much ignored on Head-Fi. So what's the deal with the $50 Koss KDX200?

 

kdx200_00.JPG

 

Introduction

I stumbled across the Koss KDX200 purely by chance. German HiFi magazine "STEREO" had rated these budget IEMs as "superb" in their 08/11 edition and one unsuspecting buyer on Amazon ended up being bitterly disappointed, saying he felt cheated and fooled. (Curiously enough he didn't disclose anything about what had actually bothered him.) What's more, these phones seemed to have been available for quite some time and pretty much gone unnoticed on Head-Fi. I was hooked. This was the stuff that "audiophile detective stories" are made of. I set out to go to the bottom of things... wink.gif

 

Technology/Manufacturer specs

Single dynamic driver in aluminum housing

Frequency response: 15Hz to 20kHz

Impedance: 16Ω

Sensitivity: 100dB

Distortion: < 1.0%

Weight: 17g

 

Like all Koss phones, these come with a lifetime warranty.

 

Price paid

€60 from Amazon Italy. (A rip-off compared to the US price, but no hassle with custom duties and easier to claim warranty)


In the Box

You get the phones, a small plastic pouch and the usual 3 sizes of silicone tips. The latter have better quality than a lot of stock tips I've seen and are nicely soft and rubbery.

 

kdx200_02.JPG

 

Design and build quality
The KDX200 seem to be very well built for the price, with sturdy aluminum housings and proper strain reliefs. The cloth cords are rather thin and prone to kinking, but at least the material appears to be of pretty good quality. There's no chin slider, but you can kinda make up for that by twisting the upper cords before you put the earpieces on.

 

Due to the housing design these can be either worn downwards or over the ear. Microphonics are about average when worn downwards and almost non-existent when worn over-ear.

 

These phones include a free eyesight test in the form of microscopic L/R markers on their stems. I ended up marking the cords with a highlighter.

 

kdx200_03a.JPGkdx200_04a.JPG

 

Fit and Isolation

Fit is a breeze, since the earpieces are easily handled by their stem and the stock tips provide sufficient flexibility and friction for a good seal. I can't think of any potential fit issues, except that the strain reliefs might be a bit long for over-ear with very small ears. Once fitted the KDX200 provide decent isolation, not as good as the best isolating armature based IEMs, but better than the vented and open back dynamics I've heard.

 

Two remarks regarding the tips, first they're a bit difficult to slide onto the nozzle, but turning them inside out and putting them on your fingertip makes things much easier. Second, the Koss stock tips have notably shorter stems than most silicon tips I've seen, which make their large openings sit almost flush with the nozzle. This design choice is part of the IEM's tuning and the use of third party tips with longer stems will probably affect the sound more than on other phones.

 

Sound quality:
Disclaimer/words of caution: I don't hear much above 16kHz, so take my comments about highs with a grain of salt.

 

I've had the KDX200 for about a week now and they've been played for roughly 100 hours. I haven't noticed any significant burn-in effects apart from a moderate smoothing out during the first day of use. All music has been auditioned unequalized straight out of my Cowon i9 and Samsung R0.

 

Here are some brief listening notes:

Brasstronaut - Six Toes

Love this track for its highly transparent recording quality ... wow, drums and bass are strong, but well controlled and without the common boominess of that price range. Mids remain clear and seemingly unaffected by bass ... I'm impressed. Very good dynamics!

 

Cassandra Wilson - Closer To You

This song includes deep bass notes that are almost inaudible with some of my armature based IEMs, but not so with the Koss ... these have amazing extension!! Again, bass steers well clear of the midrange. Vocals sound natural and slightly forward, without getting too close. Nicely done, no major complaints.

 

Dave Holland Quintett - Metamorphos

This live recording is great for testing bass quality/detail and soundstage/positioning. The KDX200 pass both tests with flying colors. Even though bass is clearly enhanced over the rest of the frequency range, it doesn't fall far short of the control and detail of much pricier IEMs. Moreover, its punch is fairly well distributed across the whole bass range, so there's no midbass hump or such. Soundstaging is also very good, with realistic dimensions and forward projection and even though they lack the ambience of vented IEMs, there's a nice airiness to the KDX200's presentation that sets them apart from the more boxed-in feel of many other closed IEMs.

 

Diana Krall - Too Marvelous For Words

Well, for a soft and romatic song like this bass presence is a bit too much for my taste. But keep in mind that I'm a fan of the leaner sound signature of an e-Q7 or EX600. Folks who prefer to play those phones from a digiZoid ZO would be pleased with the KDX200, no doubt. That said, there's no mids bleed to speak of and Diana Krall's vocal timbre stays pretty unaffected and realistic. Slightly forward and natural mids convey a nice intimacy with this song and the delicate, laid-back cymbals are exquisitely detailed and refined for a DD based IEM at this price.

 

Gossip - Heavy Cross

A straightforward rock song with edgy guitar and energetic vocals. The Koss sound dynamic and aggressive, but bass levels get too high and the phones start to compress and struggle to maintain control. Voice and percussion are still crisp and quite clear, but the overpowering bass simply ruins the track for me. A quick check with the IE8 shows that bass gain is indeed insane with this track, but the Senns manage to handle that much better.

 

Gustav Mahler - Symphony #2 (Birmingham Sympony Orchestra, S. Rattle)

The acid test with large orchestra, it doesn't get more fulminant than this ... first thing that comes to mind, that's good soundstage for a closed phone. No doubt the airy highs contribute to the presentation ... somehow reminiscent of the Cyclone PR2, but it's been a while since I heard these ... just listen to these flutes and triangles! ... treble is special on the KDX200 and way better than their price tag would suggest. Dynamics are also excellent and lend great depth to the orchestra. Timbre of instruments is surprisingly natural, despite the (too) strong low end of these phones ... I honestly wouldn't have expected for these to sound good with classical, but I was wrong.

 

Markus Schulz - Mainstage / Fly To Colors

Let's see how the KDX200 fare with trance, courtesy of shigzeo (sadly miss his poetic reviews) ... "Mainstage": how much deep bass rumble do you need, lol ... these must reach down to 20Hz without breaking a sweat ... "Fly to Colors": impressive pounding down low, while things stay nicely clear and crisp from the mids upwards, I've rarely heard such impactful bass combined with a crisp and clear upper range that isn't sharp or thin. Speed is about average, these are DDs after all ... even though these fair pretty well, I'd prefer a less bass heavy BA/MA based phone with this track.

 

Origin - The Aftermath

The ultimate speed and separation test, to sort the wheat from the chaff in technical ability, and sure enough here's where the difference between the $50 KDX200 and top tier IEMs shows the most. Their drivers aren't fast enough to keep up with this track's insane pace and the result is rather messy. A short A/B with my IE8 clearly shows that the Senns manage to keep up better, even though they in turn fall short of comparable BAs. Let's face it: the Koss are just not made for this kind of stuff, period.

 

Stacey Kent - Ice Hotel / So Many Stars

This is a borderline sibilant recording, so any phone that hasn't subdued treble will sound sibilant with it. As expected the KDX200 show some slight sibilance, but their treble tuning is on the forgiving side ... still, those brushed cymbals have impressive detail and apart from (once again) slightly too much bass presence the phones sound surprisingly transparent, with pleasant vocals and overall excellent refinement for the price range.

 

Vaughan Williams - A Sea Symphony (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, R. Spano)

Let's conclude with one of my very favorite classical pieces ... the final movement's choral passages are more or less my goosebump benchmark, a test how well the phones can carry atmosphere and emotion. Yes, I know that's highly subjective and unprofessional, but hey, it's my review ... btw, this has proven to be more accurate than anything else in predicting which phones will remain among my favorites after prolonged use. As for the KDX200, they fare pretty well, but fall clearly short of the best. There's nothing glaringly wrong with their presentation, but I think I just happen to prefer a leaner and brighter tuning and the even more spacious soundstage of open/vented IEMs. But to put things into perspective, the Koss perform about on par with my UERMs in the "goosebump test" (though of course not in technical ability).

 

kdx200_05a.JPG

 

Final thoughts / Conclusion

Well, I know I'm probably pretty spoilt by having heard so many top-tier IEMs and being fortunate enough to afford one of the very best customs out there. And I'll freely admit that I'm no more on top of things when it comes to the plethora of current budget phones and the value they represent. But I think I still know good sound for the money when I hear it and these Koss KDX200 may well turn out to be the best bang for buck IEMs I've ever heard.

 

Granted, they don't exactly match my preferred signature that favors a slightly leaner sound and their budget-class dynamic drivers can't quite keep up with much more expensive phones in speed and separation. But hey, don't forget we're talking about a pair of $50 IEMs. For that you get sturdy aluminum housings, great quality stock tips, decent isolation, deep extended and well controlled bass without hump or midrange bleed, natural mids with good presence (but not too much in-your-face), nicely detailed/refined and forgiving treble, realistic timbre and soundstage and last not least a lifetime warranty.

 

I'll keep it short, the Panasonic HJE900 were a great budget phone for about $100 and imo these don't fall far short (if at all) in refinement, plus they're overall better balanced for half the price. Highly recommended, if you're looking for a reasonably neutral monitor-like sound with slightly forward mids and added deep bass boost. Stay clear of the KDX200 if you listen to extremely loud and/or bassy music (cause they may compress and loose control) or to music that requires ultimate speed (cause they may fail to keep up).

 

As for the solution of my "audiophile detective story", that Amazon buyer who felt "cheated and fooled" - I can only suspect that he belonged to one of the mentioned groups that should better stay clear of these phones. For everybody else, the KDX200 should provide nothing less than an excellent listening experience for the money. smile_phones.gif

 

Summary

Pros:

+ good build quality

+ lifetime warranty

+ excellent sound quality for the price

+ monitor-like balance with moderate bass boost

+ decent isolation

+ good soundstage

+ realistic timbre

 

Cons:

- bass may be too much with some music

- lacks speed for extremely fast stuff (e.g. death metal)


Edited by james444 - 12/10/11 at 12:14pm
post #2 of 22
Thread Starter 

reserved for updates.

post #3 of 22
Thanks for the review! I've always wondered how similar these were to the KEB70, of which I posted some brief impressions of here. It was unfortunate how overlooked the KEB70s were even when they were only $20.
post #4 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by kjk1281 View Post

Thanks for the review! I've always wondered how similar these were to the KEB70, of which I posted some brief impressions of here. It was unfortunate how overlooked the KEB70s were even when they were only $20.

 

Interesting impressions, seems like these share some similarities. The KDX200 aren't warm though, despite their rather strong bass. Also, the tips seem to be of better quality with the more expensive model.

 

Paradoxically almost everyone here has had a Koss Porta Pro or KSC35/75 somewhere along the line, but these fine Koss IEMs don't seem to attract much attention. confused.gif

post #5 of 22

Thanks for the review.

 

I wonder if Yamaha EPH-100 uses the same design

 

"KDX200 features a dynamic element that is positioned just outside the ear for extended frequency response and a great sound"

vs.

"The EPH-100 features a 6mm (1/4”) diameter super-compact driver that can be inserted straighter and closer to the eardrum than ordinary earphones."

 

And both have 16 ohms of impedance.

 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/577712/yamaha-eph-100

post #6 of 22

The "burn-in" you felt was your ears getting used to the sound signature. Silly kiddies and their belief in magical things that don't really happen. ;)

post #7 of 22

Nice review and thanks for bringing these to attention. I've never even heard of them before but they sound a good budget IEM. These may just be my cup of tea with the extra bit of bass and good timbre. It even has a lifetime warranty.

post #8 of 22

Thanks for the review James.  So I'm assuming these are micro drivers?  Since these have monitor like presentation, I'm assuming no mid bass hump and the majority of the bass quantity is sub bass?  They do look similar to the Yamaha model someone else mentioned.

 

edit: The Koss site is useless for specs...

post #9 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ulogin View Post

Thanks for the review.

 

I wonder if Yamaha EPH-100 uses the same design

 

"KDX200 features a dynamic element that is positioned just outside the ear for extended frequency response and a great sound"

vs.

"The EPH-100 features a 6mm (1/4”) diameter super-compact driver that can be inserted straighter and closer to the eardrum than ordinary earphones."

 

And both have 16 ohms of impedance.

 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/577712/yamaha-eph-100


Thanks for the link. I'll probably know more about that soon, because someone recommended the EPH-100 for classical and I ordered them at a local store. They're more than double the price of the KDX200 though.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by XanderTJ View Post

The "burn-in" you felt was your ears getting used to the sound signature. Silly kiddies and their belief in magical things that don't really happen. ;)

 

From my own experience, I'm not a big believer in burn-in either. But dynamic drivers may sound slightly harsh out-of-box and smoothen out during the first few hours of play. I've had it with several IEMs, so I had to accept that it's happening. Never heard any change with BAs though.


Quote:
Originally Posted by kckc View Post

Nice review and thanks for bringing these to attention. I've never even heard of them before but they sound a good budget IEM. These may just be my cup of tea with the extra bit of bass and good timbre. It even has a lifetime warranty.


You're welcome. The KDX200's bass is emphasized for sure, but it peaks very low and doesn't add much warmth or affect timbre.

post #10 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by shotgunshane View Post

Thanks for the review James.  So I'm assuming these are micro drivers?  Since these have monitor like presentation, I'm assuming no mid bass hump and the majority of the bass quantity is sub bass?  They do look similar to the Yamaha model someone else mentioned.

 

edit: The Koss site is useless for specs...


I'm not so sure about the suggested similarity to the Yamaha EPH-100. The KDX200's maximum outer diameter is 12mm, which strikes me as a bit large for 6mm drivers. But I'll have the opportunity to compare both soon...

 

As for bass, you're dead on. They sound as if they'd swallowed a baby-ZO, if you know what I mean. wink.gif

 

Listening to Björk - Crystalline right now and they pretty much nail the song. Awesome sub bass and crystal clear mids and highs. Very very impressive for the price.

 

post #11 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by shotgunshane View Post

the majority of the bass quantity is sub bass?


Did a quick A/B with the EX600 and I'd say the Sonys have more pronounced low bass emphasis, whereas the KDX200 is more evenly distributed across the bass range. Both can go equally deep when called for, but the Koss have slightly more impact and sound fuller down there.


Edited by james444 - 12/10/11 at 1:45pm
post #12 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by james444 View Post


I'm not so sure about the suggested similarity to the Yamaha EPH-100. The KDX200's maximum outer diameter is 12mm, which strikes me as a bit large for 6mm drivers. But I'll have the opportunity to compare both soon...

 

Excellent.  I've had my eye on the Yamaha thread. 

post #13 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quoted from ABI:
Originally Posted by james444 View Post
Well, thanks to dfkt's man-of-action attitude I have the E10, E30 and ClarityOnes here side by side with the KDX200...

E10: More mid bass (too much for me) and lower treble resolution than both the E30 and KDX200. Mids are nice, but overall these are not quite on par with the E30 and Koss imo.

E30: Less mid bass than the E10, but still more than the KDX200, which have in turn more deep bass. Similar treble resolution, but E30 have better presence, KDX200 are more laid-back. Mids are about equal, but E30 have slightly more brightness and better clarity. KDX200 are a tad more spacious. Overall I like both very much and think they're technically about equal with slightly different sound signatures.

CarityOnes: Strongest deep bass and least mid bass combined with thin/sharp treble, resulting in best perceived clarity. That said, I just can't stand these phones, they just don't sound natural to my ears. Mendelssohn's violin concerto on these is aural torture ... Alright, I'm sure there are other genres that work much better, but thanks, I've heard enough.

Bottom line, a draw between the E30 and KDX200 and if pressed I'd choose the Soundmagics, cause they suit my signature preference towards brightness better than the Koss. But those who prefer a slightly darker phone with more deep bass and/or factor in the KDX200's better build quality and warranty should probably go for the Koss.

The KDX200 are going to dfkt ASAP, looking forward to your riposte my friend...

 

post #14 of 22

Looking forward to your detailed comparison with EPH100. 

post #15 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ulogin View Post

Looking forward to your detailed comparison with EPH100. 


Not until I get them back, but I think it's safe to say that the Yamahas are a bit better overall. No big surprise, considering the price difference of $40 vs. $150 (EU: €60 vs. €140). But KDX200 are better bang/buck for sure.

New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Portable Headphones, Earphones and In-Ear Monitors › [Review] The $50 Koss KDX200 - an audiophile detective story...