Review: Going the Other Way: Koss Sparkplug Earphones


Back before I posted my review of the Shure SE210s (which I’m still digging), I asked you all what you used and liked. One of the commenters mentioned the Koss Sparkplug earbuds (Amazon link here). Curious, I went to a local store and picked up a pair for $11 on special!


The first thing to consider is for $11, how do they sound. Not bad. They require (for my ears) heavy eq usage. They have a heavy low-midrange balance that I had to roll off. They don’t have the presence and depth of the Shures, but they cost 1/10 the money.

I found that they sound nice with podcasted vocals and the following eq:


The Koss sound pretty good with most music and the following eq (if a little boomy):


Sound isolation doesn’t even come close to the Shures. The Koss are comfortable, and would definitely do in a pinch, say if you lost your headphones or left your main buds behind. Might be good to leave a pair of these at work and not worry if someone stole them or other situation where you won’t crap a brick if you lost or damaged them. For $11, you can’t really go wrong with these.

NOTE: iPhone users, out of luck without an adapter, which sucks, but I bet the next revision of these will have a modified jack.

  • curious

    Where would one buy these?

  • blurb

    @curious, try here (amazon link):

  • aap

    Blurb – who sells a reasonably prices Iphone headpone jack adapter?


  • Jace

    @aap: depends what you’re wanting. has some good info and links to stores.

    But there’s nothing so irritating as having to listen to good music on those crappy buds. I’ve spent a lot of money on headphones I can’t even use and it’s a bit annoying.

  • blurb

    @aap, the Shure with a mic is great, but if you just want headphones with no microphone, Belkin makes one and Griffin Technology makes one. I bought one at the Apple Store for $10 that is pretty small.

    Also, the Koss are available at Target (cheap!): here.

  • Mark

    I’ve tried them. They’re horrendous. Just a mess of muddy bass. Pay a couple extra dollars for the Koss KSC75s and experience a stellar jump in quality. They’re currently my main headphones (and I’ve tried ones retailing for $300). Although, they don’t do very well if you’re looking for isolation….For that on the cheap, I recommend the JVC Marshmallows, for ~$15.

  • T

    Jon — what is the font that Heather is using for her “My Recent Tweets”, “My Recent Flickr Photos” heads?


  • Hanna Em

    I totally dig these earphones! However, I’ve gone through a few pairs.. the last ones I bought were different the previous ones and had a stupid “mute button” on the cord which messed up and caused them to cut out randomly. I got my money back and haven’t invested in a new pair, right now I have some Sennheiser ear buds for working out (sweat proof, it’s a good thing) that do the job pretty well but they don’t seem to have any bass at all.

  • Kyle

    I have owned both these, and the $20 Jbuds from amazon. I find the jbuds to be superior in both sound and fit. VERY well balanced.

  • curious

    @blurb, thank you! They’re just what I’ve been looking for for working out.

  • Beelzebob

    You still have not posted which buds Chuck prefers. I imagine after a run in the snow he likes to mellow out to some Schumann.

  • leftnose

    Three more to try since I missed your original request:

    Altec Lansing iM716. These have been discontinued but sound great. Look for close outs on these (I got mine for $20). The only problem is that they are, to me, very uncomfortable with the stock tips. Try the black foamies that came with your Shures; they fit. These have very high impedance and can be a little tough to drive with a portable player but my iPod Classic does a good job. In terms of sound, these are kind of a hybrid between the two below.

    Etymotic ER-4P: Very, very accurate with great highs. The bass goes very deep but does not bloom very much so they might sound a little bass weak to some. These are very analytical IEMs and might take some of the fun out of listening to music. Same fit issues as the iM716 but, again, the Shure foam tips fit.

    Ultimate Ears 5 Pro: Not as accurate as the Etymotics but have excellent bass and have a very warm, fun sound. They sacrifice some of the detailed treble. As usual, these have fit issues with the original tips but you can get the Comply branded foam tips and they are excellent. With the Comply tips, you won’t even know you’ve got them in.

    The KSC75s and Marshmallows mentioned above are excellent recommendations as well. I’ve got a pair of KSC75s that I leave in my desk at work.

    I’ve got all three of the above (except I have the ER-4S which needs a dedicated amp) and use them for different types of music depending on my mood.

    You can tell I’m kinda hardcore into headphones. I not going to even mention the headphone amps or home set-up I have. The best advice I can offer is to remain in an ignorant state of bliss. The more you learn and think about your headphones, the more you will spend.

  • leftnose

    I should have mentioned above that there is generally a fairly healthy market for these IEMs used. So you can buy and sell without loosing a lot of money if you don’t like what you hear.

    If you haven’t found it yet, go to to meet all the nuts like me who are into headphones and related accessories.