Skullcandy is known for making headphones that put fashion first and sound quality second.
You’ve probably seen its krazy-kool neon and graffiti-splattered cans stacked up for sale in mall kiosks, or clamped to the dome of some young’n on a skateboard as he whisks by and spills your latte all over your Haggar slacks.
The company’s demo skews young, and we all know the kids don’t necessarily care if their music sounds good, as long as it’s loud. Needless to say, Skullcandy’s headphones haven’t ever scored high marks among audiophiles. Being one of these snobbish elites, my expectations were not inflated when I received a shipment of Roc Nation Aviators, a set of headphones cross-branded with Jay-Z and LiveNation’s Roc Nation promotions outfit.
Skullcandy is angling the $150 set as its first foray into audiophile territory. It’s a shrewd move. All those tweens who grew up on Skullcandy cans are now graduating to adulthood, collecting their first real paychecks and looking to upgrade all the little things in their lives. And maybe they’ve outgrown the desire to wear bright pink skulls on their ears.
The Aviators’ styling is unique and fashionable, but not garish. True to the name, they’re reminiscent of the iconic aviator sunglasses. They have see-through plastic over-the-ear cups, leather pads, suede headband, nylon cord and chrome accents along the edges. Three colors are available: white, black and brown/gold.
So, they’re not ugly. That’s a plus, I thought. But then I put them on and — wait a minute, these actually sound pretty good. Not amazing, but much better than anything else I’ve heard from Skullcandy thus far.
The Aviators can get a little abrasive at times, especially when you’re listening to modern rock or techno. And the bass isn’t as present as I’d like it to be. Hip-hop sounds oddly tinny. But put on some mellower stuff that hasn’t been amped up to appeal to today’s ADHD standards — Nina Simone, Cat Power, James Blake, singer-songwriter stuff, classic rock — and the Aviators impress. My headphone nerd friends were all curious, so we passed them around and everyone agreed: solid.
They perform particularly well in quieter settings. Walking around on the street or riding on a city bus, I found the thin plastic shell didn’t do the best job of blocking out exterior noise. But indoors, in the park or at my desk, they were comfortable to listen to — and to wear — for long stretches.
There’s a remote with a built-in mic on the cord, so you can talk on the phone, change the volume, pause the song and skip tracks. The connector fits the iPhone (with a bumper, even) and all the Android phones I tried.
There’s also a companion app for the iPhone, iPad and Android. Version 2 of the Skullcandy App was just released earlier this month, so I tried it out. It has a library of streaming music that fits the “brand lifestyle” — lots of great West Coast hip-hop and some atrocious Sublime-wanna-be ska-punk — as well as streaming videos of skaters, surfers and snowboarders getting rad. The design is tidy. One cool feature: a map that shows the locations of local skateparks, ski resorts and surf spots, complete with current conditions.
But back to the Aviators. They’re not bad at all, even if they are a little steep. At $150, you can certainly buy a better set of over-the-ear cans. I won’t be trading these for my ATH-M50s or my Shure SRH750 DJ headphones, both of which are in the same price range and out-perform the Skullcandies. But while those are giant Cadillacs, these Aviators are more like a spry Miata. They fold up for travel, they’re comfortable and extremely light, and they come with a handsome leather case. So if you need a set of over-the-ear headphones that can squeeze into a fanny pack, the Aviators are a good choice.
They might actually turn some heads, too.
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