Koss KDX 200 Silver In-Ear Headphones (Playback 42)

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Koss KDX200
Koss KDX 200 Silver In-Ear Headphones (Playback 42)

The KDX family of sound isolating in-ear headphones represents the middle band of Koss’ in-ear line-up, with the KDX 200 Silver ($79.99) in turn standing as the middle model in the KDX family. Though the KDX 200 Silver enjoys “middle of the middle” status in the Koss family pecking order, it appears to be very well made, sporting polished, solid aluminum earpiece housings, each of which is fitted with a single dynamic “micro driver.”

PRODUCT CONCEPT

As near as I can tell, the KDX 200 Silver’s mission profile is blessedly simple and straightforward. According to Koss, it aims to provide a good measure of isolation from external noise sources while delivering “exceptionally rich audio” sound quality that is “crisp and clear”—and to do so for at a reasonable price.

A Koss press release on the KDX works to paint the KDX 200 Silver as a highly differentiated product, though I think the Koss description could hold true for many of the in-ear ‘phones that Playback has tested. Of the KDX series, Koss writes:

“The KDX Series is unique from other in-the-ear style headphones because of a direct coupling technology specifically engineered to partner with the listener’s eardrum. The earbud forms a tight seal with the ear canal becoming acoustically coupled with the eardrum for almost perfect sound translation to the ear. This partnership enhances isolation…”

I think what Koss is getting at is that the KDX 200 is not a conventional (and thus inherently loose fitting) “earbud” of the type typically supplied with iPods or other personal digital music players; it is, by design, something much better than those.

Design highlights and product accessories include the following:

•Computer optimized dynamic (not balanced armature-type) “micro drivers.”
•Solid aluminum earpiece housings said to improve durability, isolation, and overall sound quality.
•Three sizes of silicone eartips (which Koss calls “ear cushions”).
•Signal cables with padded, patterned fabric sheathes that look much like miniature versions of the fabric wraps commonly seen on high-end audio interconnect cables and that are said to be “resistant to kinks and tangles.”
•A leatherette carrying case with spring-clasp closure.
•The KDX 200 Silver ‘phones are, significantly, covered by Koss’ “No Questions Asked Lifetime Warranty.”

EASE OF USE

I found the KDX 200 Silver’s solid aluminum earpieces made the headphone easy to handle and to insert. Two detail features I particularly appreciated were the combination aluminum stems and firm rubber signal cord strain reliefs that Koss provided. Together, these features should help minimize the oh-too-common problem of users inadvertently yanking signal cables right out of their headphone’s earpieces (typically causing irreparable damage)

The silicone eartips provided good, though not class-leading, amounts of sound isolation and were comfortable to wear. While some might wish for more than three eartip sizes, I think others will be grateful that the KDX Silvers do not impose “eartip option overload.”

Contrary to Koss’ claims, I found the fabric wrapped cables, which are very light and thin, actually did seem prone to kinks and tangles (though perhaps that is because the cables had been very tightly coiled when the headphones were still in their packaging box). Even so, I suspect many listeners will regard the cord’s cool appearance and lightweight construction as winning attributes.

One small (and I do mean very small) nit I would pick is that the KDX 200 Silver’s Left/Right earpiece markings are presented in the form of the almost unbelievably small and fine-lined letters “L” and “R” imprinted on the earpieces’ signal cable strain relief sleeves. Depending on the quality of your eyesight, you may need a magnifying glass to see those markings.

SONIC CHARACTER

The KDX 200 Silver offers a taut, well-defined sound that is, in a subtle way, tilted more toward the qualities of crispness and clarity than toward warmth and overall richness. Here’s how that plays out across the bass, midrange, and treble bands of the audio spectrum.

Low end: The Silver’s bass is taut and reasonably well extended, but notable for its tightly controlled presentation that gives more emphasis to textures and pitch definition than to warmth, weight, or perceived bass “slam.” Many listeners, especially those who dislike even trace amounts of bass “boominess” or overhang will find the KDX 200’s bass quality a delight, while others might wish for a bit more foundational mid-bass weight in hopes of achieving a sound with, for want of a better term, a bit more “gravitas.” As a practical example, listen to the deep bass guitar and drum notes at the beginning of Lucinda Williams’ “Rescue”, from West (Lost Highway). Through the KDX 200’s, the bass clarity and extension, especially on the drum “thomps,” is quite good, yet the senses of richness, warmth, and impact are not all that they could or should be, which becomes apparent if you compare the Silvers side-by-side with good competing models (e.g, the NuForce NE-700X) or with Koss’ own KDX 300 Gold ‘phones.

Midrange: The Silver’s mids are clear, crisp, and evocative, though arguably pushed somewhat forward in the mix. This is, to be candid, a quality many listeners prize and that some headphone makers deliberately seek to provide, even though it may not be really accurate in a strict textbook sense. The upside is that the midrange, which is where most of the music really lives, gets a touch of extra emphasis that can subjectively pull you closer to the music (making many instruments and voices seem more intelligible, lucid, and emotionally involving), but the downside is that overall tonal balance is skewed away from neutrality somewhat. To hear what I mean, try listening to “Senia’s Lament”—a track that thrives on midrange subtleties—from Dobro-master Jerry Douglas’ Lookout for Hope (Sugarhill).

“Senia’s Lament” features Douglas performing glorious, soaring melody lines on his Dobro, and the KDX Silver’s generally did a fine job of capturing the distinctive lilt and twang of the Dobro’s voice—showing, in particular, how evocative and expressive it can be when bending notes. My only complaint was that the headphone’s upper midrange prominence made the Dobro occasionally sound a bit thin, hard-edged and “pingy.” The Silver’s had greater difficulty, however, with capturing the overall balance of sounds contributed by other instruments in Douglas’ band. Having heard Douglas perform this piece live, and having heard the recording through many top-tier headphones and loudspeakers, I can tell you that the bass and drums heard on this song are meant to provide a deep, dark, anchoring counterbalance to Douglas’ soaring Dobro lines—a balancing act that the more midrange-centric Silvers never quite managed to pull off.

Highs: The KDX Silver’s treble response is nicely extended and very well defined—especially so for a product in this price range. To appreciate what I mean, here, put on a track with really well recorded and richly detailed treble textures, such as the jazz standard “Everytime We Say Goodbye” from the Jimmy cobb Quartet’s Jazz in the Key of Blue (Chesky). Listen carefully to Cobb’s delicate and at times almost subliminal brushwork on his snare drum and cymbals and you’ll find the Silvers sound absolutely exquisite. When playing up high, these ‘phones sound way more sophisticated than their price would lead you to expect.

BOTTOM LINE

Consider this product if: you want a well-made and affordable in-ear headphone that offers decent sound isolation and whose sound puts more of an emphasis on crispness and clarity than on sonic richness or warmth. In many respects, the KDX 200 Silver offers sonic sophistication that belies their price—especially in the treble region.

Look further if: you prize headphones that offer truly neutral tonal balance and that therefore deliver a good measure of music’s natural warmth and richness. Other phones, including Koss’ own KDX 300 Gold models, do a better job in this respect

Ratings (relative to comparably-priced competition):

•Tonal Balance: 7
•Frequency Extremes: 6 (bass)/9 (treble)
•Clarity: 9
•Dynamics: 8
•Comfort/Fit: 9
•Sensitivity: 7
•Value: 8

Summing Up: Koss’ KDX 200 Silver is well built and reasonably priced. It’s sonic strengths tilt more toward perceived crispness and clarity than toward natural warmth or richness, meaning the Silver will fit some tastes beautifully—but not all. In particular, the Silver will appeal to listeners who find that a dab of midrange forwardness seems to pull them closer to the music in a pleasing way.

SPECS & PRICING

Koss KDX 200 Silver In-Ear Headphones
Accessories: 3 sizes of silicone ear tips, carrying pouch
Frequency response: 15Hz – 20kHz
Weight: 17 grams
Sensitivity: 100 dB SPL/1 mW
Distortion: < 1.0%
Impedance: 16 ohms
Warranty: Limited Lifetime Warranty
Price: $79.99

KOSS CORPORATION
(800) USA-KOSS
www.koss.com

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