Since the days of the Walkman to the current reign of the iPod and iPhone, small, lightweight and affordable headsets have proliferated for on-the-go listeners. Some models look like miniaturized over-the-ear headphones, while street-style headphones connect around the back of the head, allowing listeners either to wear a hat unencumbered or to preserve their hairdos. Some headset-style headphones have remained unchanged for years. Most importantly, these scaled-down headphones can be had for $50 to $75 or less. Reviewers make it clear that you can't expect the kind of sound quality or isolation you'd get with full-size, more expensive headphones, but some models in this category come close.
Keep in mind that earphones, including earbuds, are covered in a separate ConsumerSearch report. However, not everyone likes wearing earbud headphones, such as those that come with iPods and other portable music players. In that case, the Koss PortaPro (*Est. $35) have a conventional, even retro, on-the-ears style but are lightweight and comfortable and swivel to fold up for travel.
The PortaPro headphones have been around for decades, but they continue to deliver pure, quality sound at a very affordable price, putting them at the top of reviewers' lists even in the past year. Koss hasn't changed the PortaPro's styling much in that time, so if you don't want to look like a transplant from the 1980s, you may want to consider a different model, reviewers note with some amusement. But those people who value good-quality audio over aesthetics will find the PortaPro an excellent buy.
CNET named the PortaPro headphones an Editors' Choice as recently as April 2008; reviewer Justin Yu finds that as far as pure sound quality goes, the Koss headphones outperform newer models. The Koss PortaPros are especially good for sound in bass ranges, reviewers write, and despite their old-school looks are surprisingly comfortable. The metal headband can get caught in hair, however. Koss headphones carry a nice benefit: a lifetime warranty, allowing owners to get repairs years after their initial purchase, which reviewers appreciate.
Reviewers also like the Sennheiser PX 100-II (*$60), which replaces the earlier, beloved PX 100. The Sennheiser PX 100-II have a supra-aural (on-the-ear) folding design, but with some minor tweaks, like a single-sided cord for easier handling (attaches to just one earcup, not both; the older PX 100s have a dual-sided one) and a more durable headband.
In earlier reviews the older PX 100 headphones outperformed other models in their price range, with rich, full audio and accurate sound reproduction across all ranges, even at high volumes. Editors at HeadRoom Audio say that the PX 100-IIs have "even better sound" than the original model, and they also like the new cord and "beefier" headband.
Grado's portable headset, the iGrado (*Est. $50) , also gets solid reviews. Featuring a wraparound design, these smaller headphones retain the slightly clunky look of full-size Grado cans; thankfully critics report that, more importantly, the exceptional performance has been retained as well. According to What Hi-Fi? the iGrado is "open-sounding and clear, with terrific punch and tonal balance." Dan Frakes at Macworld points out that the iGrado headphones have the same drivers as the larger Grado SR60i headphones (discussed in the section on full-size headphones), but they're heavier than Sennheiser's portable headphones. Like the Sennheiser PX 100-II, the open design of the iGrado headphone's earpieces means that they too leak sound and may not be suitable for commuting.
Koss scores another win with the KSC75 (*Est. $15) . These headphones, like the PortaPro, have been around awhile. The Koss KSC75's design is interesting; each of the two earpieces has hooks attached that slip over the outer ears. Reviewers find this configuration comfortable, though users complain that the ear hooks tend to fall off. One advantage, though, is the lifetime no-questions-asked warranty: Should you lose an ear hook, just call customer service and they'll send you two new ones.
Sound quality on the Koss KSC75 headphones is described as airy, rich and detailed. Bass response is strong. Andrew Kliem of the Australian review site Good Gear Guide -- now part of PC World (Australia) -- even finds they benefit from the use of an amplifier, although this seems to defeat the purpose of their portable design. Be aware that the KSC75 leaks sound and thus isn't suitable for libraries or public transportation.