Park City, UT-based Skullcandy, maker of a very wide range of headphone products, may not yet be familiar to old-school audiophiles, but I think the firm deserves broader recognition and for all the right reasons. Granted, the company works overtime to cultivate its ultra-hip and edgy image, as evidenced by its sponsorship of a wide range of extreme sports teams (everything from snowboarders to wake boarders). But that doesn’t mean the Skull-guys don’t also sweat sonic details with the best of ‘em—because, in fact, they do.
For evidence, look no further than to AVguide’s Playback review of the Skullcandy Titan: it’s an excellent and very affordable in-ear headphone that, purely on the basis of its demonstrated sound quality, has earned a reputation as one of our favorite go-to products in the sub-$50 price range. But for CES 2010, Skullcandy announced three products that mark the firm’s entry into different and somewhat higher-end product categories than it has participated in before.
The Aviator is Skullcandy’s first effort at building a very high-performance, over-the-ear, audiophile-grade headphone, yet one that preserves a good measure of the attitude and style that are part of Skullcandy’s brand image. The Aviator is equipped with drivers that feature large-diameter, 40mm Mylar diaphragms, which are housed in earcups that, by design, resemble the bold, oversized lenses of Bausch & Lomb/Ray-Ban-style “Aviator” sunglasses. Other small but tasteful detail touches, such as the ‘phones leather (or perhaps leather-like?) earcup and headband pads reinforce the upscale image. A brief listen suggested to me that the Aviator is, as advertised, an audiophile-grade headphone that should offer healthy competition for Monster Cable’s almost identically priced Beats by Dre Solo headphones.
The Mix Master is high-end DJ headphone that is named for Mix Master Mike (DJ/turntablist of the Beastie Boys), who is a long-term Skullcandy associate and who had a direct hand in the design of the Mix Master. The Mix Master incorporates drivers that feature very large 50mm Mylar diaphragms housed in large, extremely comfortable, swiveling earcups. One distinctive feature of the Mix Master, which should appeal not only to DJs but to other listeners who sometimes need to focus on external sounds, is a cool, automatic stereo-to-mono switch that activates whenever the wearer swings an earcup aside to listen to the outside world. It may seem a small detail, but it actually makes a big difference because it allows you to continue to hear the whole mix, even with one earcup pulled aside. The Mix Master will also ship with a mic cord. Although I can’t say for sure until review samples become available, I felt the Mix Master might offer even better sound quality that the Aviator, so that it could potentially cultivate a following among audiophiles.
To this point, Skullcandy’s two best in-ear headphones have been the FMJ (Full Metal Jacket, as reviewed by AVguide’s Playback) and its wood-bodied equivalent, the Holua. In its earliest form, the FMJ was offered in two driver sizes (9mm and 11mm), though more recently the FMJ line was pared back to include 11mm models only. With the Heavy Metal, however, Skullcandy has essentially decided to offer a “super-FMJ” that provide beefy, solid metal earpieces (hence, the Heavy Metal name) equipped with very large (by in-ear headphone standards) 13.5mm drivers.
I did not get a chance to hear the new Heavy Metals, but have requested a set (along with samples of the other two new models) for review in Playback, once they are ready for full production release.
For more information, visit: www.skullcandy.com