The Koss Porta Pro — which recently saw its 25th anniversary — has spawned look-a-likes, sound-a-likes, and a slew of pragmatic wannabes which can be as easily stowed and toted. Love it or hate it, the Porta Pro has left a deep imprint on the portable audio community for years and will probably continue to do so. Incidentally, whenever I strap the caboose of my brain into a new headphone, I mentally compare it with my rusty old Koss. Jays’ v-Jays, though dressed in simple plastic and fitted into seen-it-before ear pads, has become a landmark headphone which surpasses many erstwhile favourites, including the stodgy Koss Porta Pro.
Driver Type: 40 mm Mylar Speaker, Open, Dynamic
Sensitivity: 98 dB SPL @ 1 kHz
Impedance: 24 Ohm @ 1 kHz
Frequency Response: 25 Hz – 20 000 Hz
Headphones Weight: 59 grams (2.08 oz)
Cord Type: TPE coated copper wire
Length: 60 cm (24 in) Diameter: 3 mm/2 mm, Plug: Straight, Gold-Plated Stereo Mini-Plug 3.5 mm (1/8 in), Extension Cord 70 cm (27.5 in),
Fit and Package
Over-the-ear headphones are in general, hassle free: no fiddling with seal, losing flanges, and they suffer fewer cable breakages. The downside, of course, is that if you don’t dress like MC Hammer, the headphone will not fit in a pantaloon pocket. Pretty sure most shirt pockets, too, will suffer an ostentatious bulge. Perhaps for this reason, the v-Jays are a decidedly in-between design; neither do they collapse all the way, nor do they come well-dressed in a tote bag or box. But don’t worry, things only look up from here.
Gone are the finger-cutting moulded plastic-package days of the q-Jays, d-Jays, etc.; the v-Jays can be opened without the need for surgical utensils, nor a doctor’s permission. Simply unfold and pull to enjoy. Accessories are limited but commonsensical: extra earpads, and in typical Jays’ fashion, an extension cable. This time however, even when connected, the combined length of both cables isn’t unwieldy. Jays reckon that the 60cm cable is a great length for working out with your iPod pragmatically strapped to a glistening shoulder. Good on them. And, it is obvious that the Swedish company thought about sweat: the sponge earpads can be carefully washed, and if ripped and destroyed, come with identical companions which will gladly suffer the same fate.
While the Ultrasone Zino lacks swivelling earcups, the v-Jays is a perfect match for any shaped head because the earphones gently rotate on their fulcrums. And for both large and small heads, the v-Jays is a good stretcher: the arms extend outward from the headband a long way to accommodate a massive Shrek-sized noggin, or conversely, (and in my case), the pea-brained Donkey. The only fit issue some may have with the v-Jays is what I will deem, headphone pinch. While not a vice-like clamping force, the v-Jays enjoys the head it sits on, enthusiastically grabbing ears, making sure that both they, and it, don’t mistake who is in control.
Build Quality and Cable
Typically, Jays’ headphones are well-built, though they have suffered cable hiccups in the past. I am told however, that those issues are behind the company, and after visiting a few distributors who handle after service repairs, I am almost certain that Jays have indeed overcome their former negligence. As a reviewer and a hopelessly lost headphone geek, I couldn’t be happier with the v-Jays. This time, the Swedes seem to have covered all the bases.
At times, I pull, pry and prod a bit here and there and to my utter satisfaction, the v-Jays are mostly solid. The generally failure-prone hinges can handle pretty gross amounts of pressure, though I would not suggest using them for back exercises. The ear speakers snap in and out with a bit of pressure – just don’t forget which is which, or you may have to learn to read lyrics from right to left. While still on the topic, one of the most admirable touches Jays added is a sweat absorbing layer along the underside of the headband which does a good job of hiding your nastiness. Again, the ear cushions are removable and if you are very careful, washable.
One of the best features of the v-Jays is it s cable which succeeds in almost every scrutable area. It is strong, perfectly relieved along all its connections, resistant to body sweat and oils and while slightly microphonic, doesn’t rip through your music with every wayward brush of fabric. What isn’t publicised is the excellent internal pin arrangement inside the female portion of the extension cable. Unlike most companies, Jays utilise more many pins to ensure the long life of the cable; if one, two, or even three break, the cable will still output sound. Most companies install only one pin per channel.
Without the extension, it is perfect for plugging into an arm-mounted digital audio player, and when attaching the extension, is the perfect length for both pocket and/or purse use. Even the straight plug which is often a liability, has enough flexibility and strength to shield both the plug and jack, but given that users ostensibly will be listening to the v-Jays with with portables, it is unfortunate that the v-Jays do not come with a right-angle plug for protection of both player and headphone investments. Also, the cable lacks external bumpers/anchors from the speaker arms. Still, v-Jays’ construction quality is head and shoulders above any competing headphone and even stands tall against much more expensive headphones.
While naturally a subjective matter, sound is the meat and potatoes of 3rd-party headphones; if they don’t match up to, or exceed their competitors, no manner of excellent engineering is going make them worthwhile. I won’t go on the record saying that the v-Jays is the best sounding headphone on the planet, but it is a fine-sounding product which favours the low end without tossing too much of the other goodies out the window.
One thing to note: like the Ultrasone Zino, the v-Jays is not designed to trap the music inside your scull. Its open design allows music out and other noises in. Thus, if you are looking for an earphone to use on the bus or train, you will have to look elsewhere, unless you like to annoy those around you and break your ears 40 years early.
Let’s get the bump on folks! This headphone kicks out great, volumnous bass which accents everything from electronic to jazz with border-guard authority. And while there are better-sounding headphones out there, few if any can balance the musical and build qualities as well. Jays specify a lower boundary of 25Hz, which the headphone can stoop down to, but not with the fluidity of a 14-year old Chinese acrobat; 50Hz and below is steeply attenuated, almost to the point inaudibility when compared to other low frequencies. For instance, Markus Schultz’ Mainstage, a song whose rumbling intro is a personal benchmark for real-world bass performance, lacks the familiar rumble until the melody picks up with more typical driving trance beats.
However, light portable headphones into which category the v-Jays fall aren’t usually stellar performers; they belt out bass, and in their own sense of balance, either a strong high or mid range, but there is always something lacking. Often, competing headphones sacrifice clarity for brute force. Though the v-Jays doesn’t blaze out sub-bass, it spouts a fibrous, hefty bass which is well-suited to almost any musical genre. Massive Attack is killer, but so too are violins, guitar, and drums: each of which are natural and moving. In general, control is quite good, but decay at around 70-100Hz isn’t superb and with soft music, howl faintly between notes. Rhythm is excellent even in complicated electronic music, and at least at the insistence of the respectable iPod touch 2G, remain clearly defined and smear-free.
Like the Zino, there is no bloom or loss of focus; the v-Jays low frequencies are great, if somewhat anxious. What I mean is that the v-Jays performs up to my expectations, but without the typical steroid-enhanced, glistening duff duff of even the legendary Koss Porta Pro. Bass is a very realistic, pleasing sound with just the right kick in the pants.
In the often graceless ~100$ category of folding headphones, the v-Jays has a touch of reserved midrange class. Full-sounding and powerful, instruments aren’t hot, nor over-poised – they don’t seep into other frequencies and blur the lows and highs. Clear and succinct, yet subtly strong, the v-Jays is a good performer for pop, rock, trance, jazz, etc.. Considering that the box says, ‘Heavy Bass Speaker’, I am surprised by how well the mids stand out in relation to an active bass.
In fact, in this class of headphone, the v-Jays is among the best I have heard and supports a mid-range which suffers only slightly when compared to low frequencies. For reference, the midrange of the v-Jays is more natural sounding than the somewhat thin and reedy Ultrasone Zino midrange. It is also more dynamic, but lacks the same sense of space and detail. Where the v-Jays trump the Ultrasone is vocals – voices are close enough to centre focus that the lusty voices of Madeleine Peyroux and Dianna Krall are great listens. Even when spinning faster, more complicated music into the mix, things don’t go astray in the midrange.
Despite the praise, the mid range is recessed, albeit not distractingly so. Vocal music fans won’t miss out on detail or emotion, but the midrange never rises too far out of the bass, and will compete with the slightly understated high frequencies for space.
It goes without saying that each headphone has sonic weakness and I had expected that highs would be Jays’. I was wrong. The v-Jays is a well-rounded headphone where highs are sharp, clean, and stay within the lines. Fans of crashing cymbals, whiny strings, and clanky industrial effects should find reason to rejoice in the sibilance-free v-Jays. What they won’t find, however, is silky, stray decays.
The v-Jays hit 20 000 Hz, though it shows up late, and nearly empty-handed. Though it is at the utter extreme of its frequency range, this headphone seems to collapse upon reaching the top – it has nothing else left to give. The Zino, on the other hand, not only extends further, but at the same 20 000 klicks, is shoutier. Still, unless you are a bat, you won’t miss much, especially when modern albums have been engineered with more volume, less dynamics, and the ultra-friendly internet phenomenon: compression. Of course, extension is only one part of the equation. In real-world listening, the v-Jays isn’t a dark headphone, but it isn’t overly bright. Its fast attack and decay mean fewer sibilant diversions and nearly no upper stress or smear.
I am a fan of the oft’ maligned BeyerDynamic DT880. That beauty isn’t the analogue of any portable headphone, but its wonderful high frequency goes to Everest and back, and according to some, causes a few avalanches on the way. Despite my love for that headphone’s sometimes splashy highs, the steeply attenuated highs of the v-Jays are in no way annoying. There is nothing dark, veiled, or boring about Jays’ new headphone – it simply doesn’t have the lungs to annoy anyone.
Soundstage and Instrument Separation
This last aspect is perhaps the most difficult to gauge since it relies on a headphone’s dynamics, positioning, and a few other magical items. But nevertheless, I can make personal judgements. The v-Jays has no weak spots in its sound; its dynamic contrast between bass and midrange is very good, and even treble, while slightly understated, is among the top-tier for this style of headphone. However, it isn’t airy, wide, nor linearly extended very far from front to back or from side to side. Music pops into being at your ears, and won’t pretend to go out the back door, nor make a run for it up front. Instruments are clearly defined and well-placed in a tribute to Grado, but just like the legendary American manufacturer, will put you closer to the stage rather than in the crowd. Of course, it is all personal – some people prefer a ‘wider’ sound and others, don’t.
Sound in a Nutshell
On that note, the v-Jays is an interesting headphone which collates the abilities of many different colleagues. It is bassy, but not overpowering; has good instrument separation, but maintains an intimate sound stage; and finally, both its mids and highs are good, but fall slightly out of favour in comparison to the bass. For enjoying music on my bed, or at work, I would reach to the v-Jays more than I would the Ultrasone Zino, but when watching movies, or playing games, the Zino’s uniquely dynamic contrast between bass and treble is simply stunning.
Users of the PortaPro should feel at home with the v-Jays which are in every audible way, an upgrade. For a headphone whose box advertises ‘Heavy Bass Speaker’, the v-Jays do everything so well and even tack on a controlled, dynamic bass and midrange to the mix. Did I expect something so good? No, but that is why I am grinning so widely.
As you can see from the RMAA tests, the v-Jays doesn’t over-stress the iPod touch 2G, though it does load down its ability to separate channels. Still, the results are good for both the iPod’s ability to maintain a good frequency response and other general audio performance specs.
Out and about with the v-Jays
The v-Jays is a not circumaural headphone; it is open and will let music escape out and environmental noise will filter in with ease. Wind, cars, kids, gossip: the whole gamut will join in an unholy uproar which will only cause you to bump up the volume of your iPod or amp. Don’t – it is dangerous to your ears and annoying to your fellow (and murderous) bus passengers. If, however, you are at a gym, or bobbing down a quiet jogging path, the v-Jays is a reasonable companion. It sits firmly on your ears, isn’t prone to sliding down, and can take a half-assed beating. But, it isn’t a the out-doorsy type which wanders in and out of your dreams…
Grab ‘em! The v-Jays is priced attractively enough that it warrants a buy. Is it the best-sounding headphone in the world? No, but for the price, it is certainly among the very best in a competitive class, and considering the market, one of the most balanced hardware releases. If you like bass, the v-Jays will satisfy unless your tastes drop to subwoofer levels, or you prefer less lean and more flab. Mid and high frequencies are also very good and only slightly recessed in comparison; indeed, the v-Jays may be one of the most realistic listens in the sub 100$ market. It is also made better than most of its competitors, giving it an edge or two on offerings from Sennheiser, Koss, and Ultrasone. What it lacks is a carrying case – an item which would make this headphone one of the easiest kisses at TMA. As it is, the v-Jays is too strong a contender to sit happily with its many peers in the Grab category, but it perfect. Good on ya Jays!
Hot damn! Headphones really are a rockin’ way to enjoy music, right? Feel free to explore TMA’s headphone oubliette.
Jerry Harvey JH13Pro in Review — Victor/JVC FX500 in Review — Shure SE530 in Review — Ultrasone Zino Headphones in Review