Published on January 18th, 2015 | by Greg0
Koss BT540i: A Solid Newcomer With Plenty To Like
Wireless headphones are all the rage- but we’ve seen plenty of models that didn’t quite find a home in our hearts or minds. It can simply be a matter of tastes- none of our staff are bass-lovers- but can just as easily be a matter of features, pricing, build quality, or comfort. However, as the bar continues to raise across the board, more brands are finding it impossible to avoid making their mark and entering the category. Today’s company is pretty well-known and respected, but this marks their first foray into wireless headphones. Some companies might have opted for a total departure, something big and unusual, even a new sub-brand.
But not Koss with their BT540i Bluetooth headphones, a fairly safe toe into the pond. For audiophile credibility, it comes packing apt-X compatibility, which is our baseline standard for audio quality. It doesn’t necessarily mean much in the end, but it indicates a level of effort and typically current and up-to-date specs in other ways. For instance, with the newer version of Bluetooth (4.0), we rarely have connectivity problems, drop-outs, or other wireless problems that plagued previous generations. That was true here as well- testing via iPhone, OSX, or Android, we had no troubles pairing and experienced low-lag play from typical distances (anywhere within a room, rarely in between rooms). NFC-enabled, these also include a sophisticated microphone system, pairing two built-in mics for better sound during calls, reducing outside noise. They might, in fact, be some of the best Bluetooth headphones that we’ve tried for placing calls.
We appreciated the onboard controls too- not perfect, but better than many competitors, with easy access to play/pause, volume, but also playback controls for skipping to the next track. Real leather earpads with memory foam set these apart from the crowded field, and go a ways towards explaining their price tag. The rechargeable battery lasts a respectable eight hours or more, and the carrying case is nice, even if the included cable for corded listening feels like a bit of an afterthought. They fold flat for easy carrying, though they’re a bit heavy for throw-in-a-bag, everyday on-the-go use, and lack active noise cancellation. Passive sound isolation is decent, and they aren’t too flashy, but the build quality was oddly mixed- a lot of plastic components, but nice durable metal joints, a hefty and somewhat ugly headband with cozy velour padding. Comfort was similarly uneven- the BT540is are decently adjustable, but small for those with larger heads, and there’s a fair bit of pressure that might make those wearing glasses a little unhappy.
Sound quality was good, but didn’t wow us- the descriptors that came up most were “crisp”, “even”, “forward”, and “punchy”. The Koss BT540is seemed to have a fairly flat frequency response, if a little loose on the bass, and some snappiness that meant these aren’t ideal for hip-hop or pop listeners. There’s just a bit of sibilance, decent detail, but not a ton of depth. Jazz vocals came through loud and clear though, and there’s plenty of power and clarity. Portable and with excellent call quality, there’s plenty to like about the Koss BT540is- they won’t change the world, but if you’re in need of Bluetooth headphones that aren’t a fashion statement or celebrity-marketed, then they’re pretty solid. Available now, online and in stores, for around $199.