Koss Sparkplug headphones are unusable thanks to a goofy mute

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I wasn’t expecting much from the Koss Sparkplug earbuds when I picked them up at a Radio Shack for twenty bucks. I’d broken my previous set of earbuds and needed a quick replacement. And they were the only earbuds this particular Radio Shack sold, if you can believe it.

They’re horrible! They’re ugly, for one, with strange little ridges. The sound quality is poor. (Although what can you expect for the price?) But the worst — what takes them from unfortunate low-end item to hilariously unusable — is the unnecessary in-line mute button.

I suppose a mute toggle can be handy, but not when it’s a raised plastic button with such a low physical resistance that it often mutes and unmutes itself — or worse, mutes just one of the two channels — while I’m walking. Every time the mute button bounces against my clothing it activates. The only way I can reliably listen to music with this headphones while walking is to hold my MP3 player in my hand, keeping it above my waist to provide enough slack to keep the mute button away from my body. That works sometimes.

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22 Responses to Koss Sparkplug headphones are unusable thanks to a goofy mute

  1. ROSSINDETROIT says:

    Your set must be defective. I have a pair of those. While they are not attractive or particularly good sounding, mine take a firm push on the button to mute them. They never cut out on their own due to incidental contact with the button. The mute switch must be improperly made. RS will take them back as defective.

  2. Anonymous says:

    yea i got my spark plugs from rs also and the mute button is defective

  3. pupdog says:

    I use a pair of Koss Plugs (not the Sparkplug), and I’m fairly happy with them. No, they’re not extreme high fidelity, but I only paid $12 or so on amazon – they look better than the Sparkplugs, sound better, and no silly mute.

  4. proto says:

    Dude, a dab o’ superglue will disable that mute “feature.” (Whether you want to continue assailing your ears with the things then is up to you.)

  5. futwick says:

    “The sound quality is poor [..] what can you expect for the price?”

    A pair of Creative phones? http://www.amazon.co.uk/Creative-Labs-EP-630-A-Earphones/dp/B0009G6FQI/

  6. strider_mt2k says:

    I stick with Sony stuff from 20 dollars and below.

    Surprisingly good earbuds.

  7. shutz says:

    Since I got a pair bundled with an iRiver flash MP3 player, I’ve only bought Sennheiser earbuds. Up here, in Montréal, I was able to find nice-sounding ones for 30$ at “La Source (by Circuit City)”.

    I’ve gone through a whole bunch of earbud sets, but the only reason my last two sets of Sennheisers had to be replaced was because they’d been stolen (along with the player they were attached to.)

  8. catcubed says:

    The Koss Sparkplugs are just horrible on so many levels.

    For a good inexpensive pair of buds I highly recommend the JVC Marshmallows. Good sound quality with decent bass but not so much that it overpowers the mid-range (I’m looking at you skullcandies with your overkill bass). Also, they’re great for iphone’s because you can easily trim the external soft plastic around the jack (leaving the protective internal plastic) and it fits perfecting in the recessed housing.

  9. boingrandy says:

    OMG…. I have had the exact same experience. I absolutely LOVE my old Koss Sparkplugs but I broke a pair when I stepped on them, so I went to RadioShack to buy a new pair, but these awful substitutes were there.

    After buying them, I HATE THEM! They have good quality sound when they work, but the sound is constantly muted in one ear and not the other and they work as if there is a short in the cord or something because if the button touches anything then it wigs out….. so annoying!

    –Boing Randy

    Check out Tech that exists but you can’t have at: http://www.techwishes.com/

  10. Anonymous says:

    Same problem: I have changed them once and after a few weeks the problem appeared on my new pair. This mute button is totaly stupid…

  11. mdhatter says:

    I paid too much for a set of Bose earbuds, but I’ll never go back.

  12. Andreas says:

    I like the idea of an easily reached mute switch, but that sounds horrible. A firm slider switch would probably be the best thing.

    And yes, the KOSS Sparkplugs (as well as the regular The Plug) are horrible. Or, they are rather low-fidelity, designed to give an impression of heavy bass and appeal to techno kids and similar.

    I’ve been using cheapish (€25-30) Cresyn phones. While I won’t claim they compete with Bose or Shure phones costing three times that much, they sound great without being so expensive that you’d curl up in the fetal position for a good cry on the street if they should snag on something.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been an enthusiastic user of Koss and certain Sony headphones for years. The original Koss Plug has served me weel, especially when I replaced the stock foam with memory-foam earplugs of the drugstore variety.

    I was excited to replace my old Plugs with the SparkPlugs. First time I put them on, I didn’t hear much bass, but then decided to REVERSE the cone-shaped foam plugs and roll/squeeze them tightly before gently placing in my ear canal. Give it a few seconds to expand and fill the gaps.

    The result is VERY deep bass, probably an octave deeper and less muddy/boomy than my old Plugs, and pretty good sound isloation. Could be the foam, but these sound tigher and deeper.

    Too bad the design isn’t good, so that the average user cannot get much of the intended sound quality out of these.

    But if you’ve bought a pair, try the above simple mods and give them a second shot!

    P.S. Try my winamp plugin to synthesize deeper bass (not perfect, but free!):
    http://www.winamp.com/plugins/details/142702

  14. Enochrewt says:

    I use a pair of these regularly, in fact I own two pair because I thought I had lost one. Yeah, the sound quality isn’t stellar, but I can’t find any other “shooter plugs” earphones. Maybe some one could link to some? Because……

    OMG THE MUTE SWITCH BLOWS!!!! (whew) On both pairs I had the same problem as Mr. Johnson: wonky one channel muting. I cut and soldered as #10 suggested because I like how they seal out the sound on the bus commute so much. And yes, I know I could spend a ton of money on noise cancelling headphones but you can’t wrap those around the iPod like earbuds, and well, they cost a lot.

    #11: the problem isn’t with the button itself, it’s with the wires going in and out of the mute button. You can wiggle them around to reproduce the problem.

    I never understood the mute switch anyway, that’s what the pause button is for.

  15. Enochrewt says:

    Oh my bad, I misread that Mr. Johnson’s problem is the mute button itself, on both pairs of mine the my problem is the wire into/from the mute button. Still, I can confirm that the mute button is indeed crap.

  16. umrain says:

    I used these headphones once. I also tried them beause they were the only choice for a “quick replacement” from Radio Shack. What a mistake. What a nightmare. The mute button was indeed terribly flaky. And the purported noise-isolation was non-existent. I think they may have actually made outside sounds louder. I modded them by covering the ring of noise holes on the outside with some hole-punch reinforcement stickers and that made them tolerable, but I replaced them with some real earphones as soon as I was able.

  17. murray says:

    Seems obvious that you have a faulty switch there, Joel. And from the comments above, it sounds like there’s a quality control issue at the factory.

  18. Anonymous says:

    first of all, I love my spark plugs. they offer the best sound for the buck, and when used correctly the bass is way better than any on-ear headphone. plus they’re the most comfortable in-ear that i’ve ever had.

    second, why are you guys buying new pairs of sparkplugs after they break?? you know they have a lifetime warranty?? i got mine for free as part of a promotional giveaway and i was still able to take advantage of the warranty when one wire went bad.

  19. Anonymous says:

    If you want to shut out the world, the Shure isolating earphones are the way to go, IMO. They were originally designed for monitoring and communication at rock concerts and other high-ambient-sound venues.

    Notice how the optional foam inserts resemble the earplugs you buy at the drugstore. I think there’s even a place that will custom-mold inserts to exactly match your ear canal, if you want the very best isolation and bass coupling. This of course is NOT cheap.

    I have the E3G phones (now discontinued). I think I paid about $150 and they were definitely worth it. They beat any noise-cancelling phones by a country mile for the really noisy environments, such as airplanes and lawn mowing, not to mention offices with gabby co-workers. Isolation is quite good, even with the standard silicone ear molds.

    The sound is … well, it’s Shure, meaning it’s not spectacular. No members of the boom and tizzle brigade here, just neutral, accurate reproduction of whatever you feed them. Give them 128kbps mp3, and you’ll know that’s what you’re playing; use FLAC or PCM and you’ll know that too.

    You’ll guffaw, but the silicone tips are most easily inserted into the ear canal after applying a drop of Astroglide or K-Y jelly.

  20. NeonCat says:

    I use Philips earbuds I get at Best Buy for ~$20. The right cord is longer than the left so you can share monaural music with a friend. I am not crazy about this feature, but they do have really good sound.

  21. theophrastus says:

    if thy mute button offend thee, cut it out
    …and then solder the cut ends together

  22. bigfatgreg says:

    i have an older pair (sans mute) and like them quite a bit. good amazon reviews too.

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