Kitsound, a division of British mobile accessories distributor Kondor, mainly seem to rebrand inexpensive Chinese OEM/ODM audio products for portable and home use. They offer portable speakers, iPod speaker docks, USB chargers, and of course headphones.
Their KSDJ headphones – generally aimed at DJs, as the name aptly suggests – are a 100% clone/copy of the Sony MDR-V500DJ housing. I won’t hold that against them, many other phones use prefab housings as well. Foster Japan’s venerable Sennheiser CX300/Creative EP-630/AKG K324P/etc housing comes to mind… Be that as it may, the looks of phones are secondary to the drivers – and the KSDJ certainly use a different driver than the V500, 50mm vs. 40mm diameter.
Noticing quite a lot of favorable amateur/customer reviews, I got curious as to how the KSDJ really perform – especially since they go for a very low price, currently around £23 (ca. €26, $36) on Amazon UK.
Read on to find out what’s the deal with the KSDJ – not only in their price range, but in the grand scheme of things as well.
- Kitsound KSDJ Specs
- Fit: Circum-aural, pleather ear pads, closed back
- Driver: Dynamic, 50mm (measured ca. 48mm)
- Impedance: 60 Ohm +/- 15% (my guesstimate is closer to 32 Ohm)
- Sensitivity: 95dB +/- 3dB
- Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz (sounds like 30Hz +/-3dB to me, which is good enough for bass)
- Cable: 2.2m (2.1m on my pair), single entry, straight 3.5mm plug, screw-on 6.3mm adapter
Disclaimer: Unfortunately the official specs don’t seem to be overly realistic, so take them with a grain of salt.
Build, Looks, Comfort, Modifications
The KSDJ come in a transparent plastic box that’s welded shut. It’s the kind of box that won’t open at all until you cut yourself several times trying to pry it apart. Disclaimer: do not open near your jugular artery.
Looks of the phones sure are ‘professional’. In that price range one usually finds tacky colored Skullcandy-esque ‘fashion’ phones or ones with fake chrome/plastic accents and the like. The KSDJ’s understated all-black design with just the two white dots on the ear cups and the stitched brand logo on the headband is rather classy compared to the majority of offers in the sub-$50 price range.
No accessories come with the KSDJ besides the 6.3mm screw-on adapter. Well, no harm there – one can’t realistically expect a carrying case or replacement ear pads for that low price.
Said screw-on adapter and the 3.5mm plug are the exact same – or a very good clone of – the one on the Audio Technica ATH-M50 and similar phones. It’s a shiny, sturdy chrome plug with gold plated contacts and spring strain relief.
The 2.1m cable is a bit too long for portable use, but that’s no big issue when one has a zip-tie at hand. Diameter of the cable is quite generous; it feels solid and sturdy, yet light enough to be portable. On the inside it however contains only unshielded, very thin painted wires, the same as found in in-ear phones and earbuds. While the thick cable sleeve might protect those ~30AWG wires well enough, I wouldn’t step on the cable too often or yank it out of jacks violently. Measured resistance of the cable from plug to left ear cup is 1.1 Ohm, and further on to the right ear cup it’s 1.6 Ohm. That shouldn’t matter for sound quality, but it shows that it’s probably not the best quality copper used.
There are no pronounced cable noise transmission issues (“microphonics”) with the cable, which is a big bonus. The cable is soft – for now, at least – but it retains the kinks from packaging. The zigzag pattern on it will probably not disappear so fast. Strain relief at the ear cup end appears solid as well, a plastic tube that’s flexible and tightly fitting.
Moving on to the main parts of the phone – the ear cups and headband. Well, it’s all a rather creaky and plasticky affair with rough injection mold ridges, but I’ve seen much worse in that price range. Couldn’t say anything really sticks out as a major flaw in design or manufacturing. I have not had the chance to test the original Sony V500DJ of which the KSDJ’s housing is a clone, but the smaller V300 are of similar build quality. All in all, the KSDJ sure won’t withstand daily (ab)use like the Beyerdynamic DT770 or the Sennheiser HD 25-1, but one can’t expect that for this kind of money anyways. Treated with some care, they might last quite long.
On the outside, the KSDJ’s ear cups appear to be partially covered with thin sheet metal (which scratches easily). These seem to be the only metal parts in the phone’s construction – the rest is plastic, besides the cloth mesh on the inside of the headband and the pleather ear pads. The headband’s size adjustments don’t click in steps but can be moved in and out freely. The headband is generously padded, and very comfortable even for long listening sessions. On the outside the Kitsound logo is stitched into the plastic sleeve, on the inside a cloth mesh takes care of secure fit. The headband padding is not removable.
Ear cups can be bent inwards for easy transport, or they can be folded flat. When folded flat, they however spring back to their normal position, which is a feature I don’t quite understand – why would one make the ear cups spring loaded on this axis? I think it would be better if they stayed folded flat on their own, like most other swiveling phones.
Clamping force of the KSDJ is just about right – not too little (like the Beyerdynamic T50p or AIAIAI TMA-1), not too much (like the HD 25-1). All in all, this still translates to slightly less than average isolation from outside noise. Most other closed phones I tried isolate a bit more than the KSDJ. In general noise rejection should be sufficient for crowded streets and such. I would prefer other phones on a plane or in the subway, though.
Isolation the other way round is slightly below average as well. When wearing the KSDJ on one’s head they still leak a bit of sound to the outside. When taking them off they could almost be used as a pair of portable speakers, driven at higher volume levels. This shouldn’t do any harm for regular use, but I wouldn’t use them in libraries or recording studios.
Ear pads on the KSDJ are of the average pleather variety. They are rather shallow; my ears touch the cloth mesh covering the driver when wearing the phones. This gets uncomfortable in longer listening sessions, but fortunately there is an easy and cheap fix for this issue. Cut about 6cm off a thick-ish cable, such as an old CAT5 network cable or an AC power cord and stuff it under the pleather pads at the backside of the ear cups. This lifts the pads and gives more breathing/wiggling room for the ears.
One could also replace the stock ear pads with thicker ones of the same diameter, such as the classy velours pads that come with the Beyerdynamic DT770 – but of course those replacement pads cost more than the whole KSDJ, so this would be a bit of an excessive modification.
All in all, after stuffing the cable into the pads, the KSDJ are very comfortable. They still give me slightly hot ears after prolonged listening sessions, but so do all other closed circum-aural phones as well.
Other modifications that could be inflicted upon the KSDJ include removing the thick foam circle that covers the driver plate, and/or dampening the hollow spaces beneath the drivers at the backside, inside the housing. I’ve tried both, resulting in… no difference in perceived sound quality at all.
I’ve documented those mods I made – see this forum post for photos of them.
It took me a while digging up some reasonably useful specs of the KSDJ. I found them on Amazon UK, not on Kitsound’s website, so they might not be the real deal. The official website is more about conveying youth culture and lifestyle than providing facts – but one can’t hold it against them, considering the customer demographic they’re targeting. I wanted to make fun of their nonsensical advertising copy, but you better read it yourself on the Kitsound website.
The technical tidbit I saw mentioned the most is the KSDJ’s ability to handle 1000mW of input power – while in other places 50mW were mentioned. So, which one is it? Well, it doesn’t matter much anyways; it’s a similar ‘bragging rights’ spec as found on blingy all-in-one music systems claiming a ‘2000W PMPO’ power rating or similar (which usually translates to something realistic like 20W RMS, if at all). The important part is that the headphones don’t distort at high volume levels, powered by a stronger amp – and the KSDJ perform well in that aspect. Not that one should listen at stupid loud volumes, but while DJing in loud clubs it often cannot be avoided. For MP3 player usage there’s nothing to be afraid of, they won’t distort.
Amazon mentions an impedance of 60 Ohm, but I’d say they’re closer to 32 Ohm, which is pretty much a standard for most phones in this category. Sensitivity should be around 95dB (per mW, I assume). The important part here is that they’re easy to drive from weak sources, and that they don’t have lots of background hiss. Again, the KSDJ perform well. They are not the loudest, most efficient phones, but any average MP3 player can drive them just fine to decent volume levels and above, without background noise.
Frequency response is perfectly acceptable. They go down to around 30Hz (below that it’s more a rumble than a defined tone); at around 50Hz the bass is well formed, SPL-wise. I don’t hear much above 16.5kHz anymore, but the KSDJ go up to my ear’s limits.
While the frequency response is just fine, the matching tolerance of both the left and right drivers is a bit loose, at least on my pair of KSDJs. Doing a sine sweep over the whole audible frequency range shows that some frequencies are more prominent in the left or right ear. Well, it’s a given that one won’t get drivers hand matched by skilled audio technicians in that price range. It shouldn’t matter much for real world usage anyways.
The KSDJ have been in use for about a month before writing this review. No, not 24/7, silly. They didn’t change their sound signature at all in that time. I did perceive neither mental nor mechanical ‘burn-in’ in any way. It’s safe to say they sound the same right out of the box as they will until they are pining for the fjords.
Bass is certainly a main feature on the KSDJ, same as on most other closed headphones in that price range. Fortunately, the KSDJ’s low frequency response is quite good – none of that excessive midbass bloat and uncontrolled one-note wobbling one finds on Skullcandy phones and the like.
The KSDJ should make bassheads happy with their beefy rendition of the lower octaves, yet they shouldn’t frighten people used to a more balanced frequency response either. Their bass doesn’t invade the midrange much; it’s really well behaved for a driver that costs about as much as a pizza (per single driver piece, MSRP). It isn’t the most textured bass with stunning timbre, and it’s somewhat rolled off below ~40Hz, but it’s certainly better and tighter than anything I’ve heard from comparable phones with a ‘fashionable’ housing.
The midrange is where most of the musical magic happens, usually. Except with brickwall-mastered pop music, where audible sound nowadays is mainly defined by clipping and distortion, instead of midrange and treble. Quantity-wise, the relevant middle octaves are just about perfect on the KSDJ. They have a way less scooped out, recessed midrange than even some often recommended quality phones, such as the Beyerdynamic DT770 or the Ultrasone HFI-780. It’s not as forward as the AIAIAI TMA-1’s midrange either – it’s just fine, comparable to the way the HD 25 or T50p handles the quantity.
Quality-wise, there are a few issues, however – clarity, detail, and precision could be a bit better. Especially in and above the vocal range the KSDJ sound somewhat muffled, veiled, and boxy. This is basically irrelevant for Dubstep, Drum’n’Bass, and the like, but for Dancehall or Hip Hop it’s already a bit much veil for my taste in the vocal range. They sure shine with instrumental electronic music, but with genres like Rock, Metal, Soundtracks, and similar I would prefer a bit more clarity. Dense, complex sound is not their forte in general. The KSDJ make Doom Metal, Stoner Rock, and the like sound even worse than most of those albums are already mixed and mastered. Classic and Jazz fans probably need not apply as well, strings and saxophones are not what the KSDJ do best. Oh, before I forget it – they sound awesome with Nintendo DS games, they sure take the edge off the synthetic MIDI sounds.
Again: keep in mind that I wouldn’t normally waste more than a minute on most other phones in that price range. The KSDJ are not perfect, but they provide a better midrange than most anything I’ve heard for 30 bucks. They stomp all over the Sony V300, the AKG K24P/K420, or the Audio Technica ATH-T44 – and don’t get me started on fashion byproducts like Skullcandy, WESC, or Nixon.
On to the treble… which is surprisingly nice for a phone like the KSDJ. It might be a bit grainy and unrefined at times, but it is never sibilant, and it is not recessed or rolled off either. The KSDJ present an honest, natural treble rendition, quantity-wise. While phones like the TMA-1 might have less treble quantity, their precision and detail is noticeably better, though. The KSDJ’s rendition of cymbals, hi-hats, snare decays, and the like doesn’t provide much micro-detail and separation of brush/stick hits, but it never hurts the ears or lacks presence either. The treble has some nice sizzle and sparkle at times, even if it’s a bit artificial. Again, it’s pretty nice for electronic music – and perfectly acceptable for anything else when one isn’t listening overly critically. I wish more inexpensive phones had treble that isn’t either sibilant or veiled, recessed, rolled off.
The biggest surprise with the KSDJ is their stereo imaging, also known as soundstage: their width is just awesome, matching even the spaciousness of some open phones. Ultrasone made a big deal about their ‘S-Logic Technology’, which apparently should provide a veritable Dolby Surround fest for one’s ears – well, despite the bold advertising, it doesn’t do anything at all for my ears. I’ve compared the Ultrasone HFI-780 side by side to the KSDJ – the latter won without even a single doubt when it comes to stereo image width, depth, and height. The KSDJ achieve this soundstage without angled drivers, oversized ear cups, bass reflex, or any other (psycho)acoustic magic. I have no idea how they pulled that one off, but it just works. Exact instrument positioning might be a bit better with other phones (I’m talking HD650 range of phones here, though), but the sheer width of the presented music is very enjoyable with the KSDJ. For a closed phone, I have to say the KSDJ have one of the best soundstages I heard so far.
Dynamics are quite fine as well. The KSDJ aren’t the fastest phones out there, attack/decay/transient-wise – no wonder with an oversized ~50mm driver, that’s a lot of mass to move – but they can convey quite a bit of dynamics and punch to make well mastered music sound engaging. Of course there’s barely any dynamics to be found in most contemporary pop and electronic music, so that feature might be a bit lost on the target audience of these phones.
Another important thing to mention is that the KSDJ sound good at any volume level, even played very quietly. Many phones don’t sound their best at low volume levels, but the KSDJ are quite enjoyable without making one’s ears bleed.
The KSDJ are very nice sounding phones for the price. They’re not too much ‘fun’ which might get annoying over time, nor are they anemic or lacking in any way – they stride a good middle course. Their frequency response should make a lot of people happy. Their clarity and detail is something as expected in that price range – it could be better, but it could be much worse. You’ll get better precision for fifty or a hundred bucks more, for sure – but here, at the bottom of the audio food chain, the KSDJ do provide good value and enjoyment for the money.
The KSDJ are no giant killers. Nothing in that price range is, to the best of my knowledge. There are some other nice sounding phones to be found for a bargain, like the Koss KSC75 or maybe the Coby CV185 – but the majority of products for 30 bucks I heard is simply garbage. The KSDJ however stand their ground very well. Sure, you can get better built, clearer, more resolving phones for twice the price, like the AKG K518 – but double the money in that phone category can be an all-deciding factor for some people’s purchases.
Unfortunately, I haven’t heard the Sony MDR-V500DJ, which the KSDJ’s housing is cloned of – but for more than twice the price they better be really good. However, as said before, I heard the V300, and the KSDJ are much better sounding phones.
If you only have 20 quid (or 30 bucks) to spend, I suggest you take a closer look at the Kitsound KSDJ. They are worth it for that price, unlike many other models I heard. Do not spend your money on Skullcandy, WESC, Nixon, and the like – the KSDJ surpasses them easily. Maybe not in a volatile ‘fashion’ sense, but certainly in audio reproduction, and perhaps in build quality as well.
The KSDJ sound very decent, they fit well and are comfortable. They’re more than I expected them to be – they have my recommendation for a quality low-budget phone.
- Good, natural frequency response not often found in this price range – forward yet fairly tight bass, full midrange, good non-sibilant treble
- Great stereo imaging/soundstage
- Good impedance/sensitivity behavior – loud enough, almost no background hiss
- Comfortable (with a simple ear pad modification)
- Very inexpensive
- Slightly veiled sound, especially in the upper midrange – not the best choice for dense, complex music or vocals
- Not quite as detailed/resolving/precise as more expensive phones
- Not quite as much isolation as comparable closed phones
- Drivers not matched to a narrow tolerance (at least on my pair)
As of now, Kitsound doesn’t seem to have many distributors. At the moment Amazon UK appears to be the best choice for getting a pair of KSDJs.