The Koss Tony Bennett Special Edition TBSE1 Headphone Page 2

Sound Quality
When I first listened to these headphones straight out of the box, I thought they were going to fail miserably due to a harshness in the treble. So, I left them burning-in for a week to the wonderful sounds of pink noise. When again I listened to them to start my review evaluation, I thought they were better, but I was still somewhat disturbed by the treble. When I listened to pink noise I could clearly hear a peak in the mid-treble, and quite a bit of missing energy around it. Otherwise, the headphones sounded somewhat "old school" with a mid-forward, "n"-shaped frequency response.

When I did some comparative listening, I found the TBSE1 somewhat "papery" sounding --- sort of in the opposite direction from lush or liquid. I felt the Skullcandy Aviators and House of Marley Exodus had significantly better tonal clarity in the upper mid-range/low-treble area. But when I compared them with the Sony MDR-ZX700, which is a somewhat "dry" sounding headphone, I thought they were equally as listenable, and weren't quite as edgy. The low notes fair pretty well with the TBSE1; though slightly overshadowed by the mids, the bass extension was fairly good and the headphones deliver better than average punch.

Here's the funny thing though, after I stopped comparing these with other headphones, and just started listening to get accustom to them while writing, I found myself slowly getting won over. While they are not neutral, they are also not offensive. None of the bloated bass or screeching highs that are commonly found in unworthy headphones. After a while, I found them pretty pleasant; I could easily see a graying AARPer who had purchased these being quite satisfied with the sound. (A rather ironic statement, I think.)


Click on graphs image to download .pdf for closer inspection.

Raw frequency response measurements show a fair amount of variability due to the seal of the headphone. I found it somewhat difficult to get them to seal properly on the measurement head. Compensated and averaged response shows a broad upwardly bowed response from 10Hz to 2kHz, which is characteristic of some of the good old headphones. If you compare the TBSE1 to the Sony MDR-V600, for example, you'll see some striking similarities --- the V600 is one of the few older Sony designs of this type that I liked.

Above 2kHz, the frequency response see-saws up and down quite a bit producing a clear peak at 10kHz. I think this is the peak I heard in pink noise listening, and the jagged see-sawing might be indicating that "papery" sound signature I heard. Fortunately, the peak is not particularly high in amplitude, and coupled with the lack of overshoot in the 300Hz square wave, may be good indicators for the lack of strident harshness even though I heard troubles in the treble.

The 30Hz square wave shape is a little rough and bowed (just like the frequency response, as they are strongly related), but it crosses the zero line on the trailing part of the waveform in only a minor way. This, coupled with the only gently rising THD+noise in the bass, indicate a bass with moderately good control. This is a better than average showing, and I think I heard the bass on these headphones as better than they measured.

Noise on the front end of the 300Hz square wave, and the rather anemic and noisy impulse response speaks toward pretty poor treble clarity, which was heard in listening.

The isolation of these headphones at -12dB broadband is about average for full size sealed headphones. They will isolate adequately for general use, but will not be a good headphone when high isolation (trains and planes) is required.

The impedance and phase plots vary little, and with 50mVrms required to achieve 90dBSPL, the TBSE1 will work fairly well from a portable player.

This was a very difficult headphone for me to review because it was so "average." There's something very important to note about my use of the word "average," however. 80% of headphones out there are junk and few of them ever get any time on my desk. So, when I say average, it's pretty heavily weighted to that top 20% of headphones I do experience. When I say "average" it means something like "average among the headphones that are worth listening to at all."

The Tony Bennett Special Edition delivers a pleasant listening experience with that old school, mids-foward sound. A nice solid bass with good punch is it's strong point, but its somewhat "papery" or dry treble detracts a bit. They will isolate well enough for general purposes, and can be driven well from a portable player.

I'll be asking Koss for a DJ100 to review because if it sounds as identical as it looks, it'll get a pretty strong recommendation at half the price of the TBSE1. I don't think the added value of Tony Bennett's signature embossed on the headphones, the hard-shell case, replaceable cable, and album download create enough additional value to double the price and retain the strong recommendation, however.

At $150 I think the Tony Bennett is about average, and I'll give them a guarded recommendation. If you're getting gray hair and like Tony Bennett, go ahead and buy them, they're a pleasant listen. But if you're looking for something better sounding, take a look at the Skullcandy Aviator or House of Marley Exodus (which is a little weird looking, but sounds amazing).

Head-Fi threads on the Tony Bennett and DJ100
Koss product pages for the TBSE1 and DJ100

And how could I possibly not add this:

Koss Corporation
4129 North Port Washington Road
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53212
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