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Skullcandy Hesh 2 Review
The affordable Skullcandy Hesh 2 headphone pair offers a refined listening experience and is a solid value in its price range.
- Distortion-free, clear audio performance with solid bass response
- Inline remote and microphone for mobile phones
- Removable cable adds value
- Fit is a bit awkward
- Can sound brittle on instrumental and classical music
Skullcandy headphones keep surprising me. The lineup has definitely kept its sporty, skater-esque stylings, but the internals seem to be improving. The recent Skullcandy Navigator is a solid, bass-friendly budget option, and the Hesh 2, starting at $69.95 (direct) for models with the inline remote, offers a refined sound signature that is crisp and relatively balanced. Plus, the audio is delivered distortion-free, with an emphasis on mid-range and high frequency clarity.
No Skullcandy product would be complete without multiple style options, paint jobs, and price tiers. The Hesh 2, with no mic and black-on-black design, sells for $59.95 (direct). Add in the inline mic and phone controls, and the lowest pricing is $69.95. Then, of course, you can buy a pair that has your favorite team’s logo on it, or one that is covered in hemp. Those range from $79.95 and up.
Given all of the above, it’s almost pointless to discuss the overall look of the Hesh 2, since it is basically a chameleon that comes in several styles and flavors. The overall shape doesn’t really change, however—a simple, padded headband meets circular ear cups that also protrude outward, taking the shape of globes sliced in half.
The circumaural (around the ear) design of the Hesh 2 can feel a little rigid and awkward, as if the ear cups are a bit too small to fit an entire ear inside them. It’s not uncomfortable, really, just awkward—the cups would probably be better served if they were either a bit larger, our more appropriately matched to an ear’s shape, and not perfect circles. Regardless, the headphones are quite lightweight and don’t grow uncomfortable during longer listening sessions.
The Hesh 2, as previously mentioned, is available with or without the inline remote and microphone. Call clarity through the mic is not astounding, but your call partner will understand you and you’ll understand them. In other words, you’re dealing with typical low-fi cellular fidelity.
One nice perk: the cable is detachable. This adds value to your purchase; replacing a faulty cable is far cheaper than buying an entire new pair of headphones or sending things in for repair, and cables are the most common culprit when headphones malfunction. Finally, a black drawstring bag is included with the Hesh 2.
The Hesh 2 does not distort on tracks with deep bass, even at high volumes. Its overall response is limited in the sub-bass realm. It does reproduce truly deep frequencies, but not with the same amount of gusto as, say, the Beats by Dr. Dre. The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” which has tremendous sub-bass content, can be played at maximum (and unsafe) volume without distorting, and you will get a good sense of the intensity of the bass, but this is not a deep bass lovers dream. However, bass fiends on a budget won’t feel ripped off. Like some studio monitor-style headphones, the Hesh 2 provides a clear picture without ignoring or overly boosting the lows.
The focus for the Hesh 2 seems to be more on the mids and highs. It’s nice to see a manufacturer focus on this realm when it’s clear the drivers could have been tweaked to push out gobs of heavy, deep sub-bass. The end result here is the bass is dutifully represented—the new Atoms for Peace record, Amok, doesn’t sound brittle in the slightest, and Flea’s bass lines and the deep bass synth parts are delivered with richness and clarity. But the real standout feature of the sound signature is the clarity and crispness of the vocals and the attack of the percussion. Things aren’t overly bright, but vocals are delivered with a nice edge to them, snare drums have a pleasing snap, and there’s no part of the mix you can’t hear. As previously stated, the Hesh 2, whether this was intentional or not, reminds me of a studio monitor pair, like the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro.
Bill Callahan’s vocals on “Drover” have a nice treble presence that helps his voice stand out in a mix featuring some heavy backing percussion. The drumming itself has a subtle bass presence, rather than an overly-boosted thunderous sound, which can often occur on budget pairs that boost the low frequencies too much. The Hesh 2 also tames the intense sub-bass synth hits on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” while highlighting the hi-mid attack of the kick drum loop and helping the vocals take center stage.
On classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” the Hesh 2 fares less well. Here, it does sound a bit tinny and brittle. The lower register strings are nicely represented, but the higher register instruments seem to have a bit too much edge on them, which more or less cancels out the subtle bass response. It doesn’t sound horrible by any stretch of the imagination, especially for this price range, but the Hesh 2 is perhaps better suited for pop, rock, hip hop, and electronic genres, for which it manages to tame the more intense elements of the mix, like throbbing bass, while highlighting aspects that sometimes get lost in busy mixes, like vocal clarity.
The idea of the “bass lover” is a curious thing. I love bass, for instance, when it’s accurate, or slightly boosted. I don’t want insanely-boosted low frequencies to gobble up the whole mix and vibrate my skull, but I do love when sub-bass frequencies jump out in the mix a bit. The Hesh 2 does a great job of allowing sub-bass elements to exist in a sound signature that is otherwise focused on hi-mids and highs. So, bass fiends may or may not love the Hesh 2, but if your looking for a fairly accurate, affordable headphone pair, especially for modern music mixes, it’s a great place to begin your search.
If you have a bit more cash to spend and want to stick with this same overall sound signature, the aforementioned Sennheiser HD 280 Pro is a fantastic option, though it’s a bit bulky and intended for studio use. The Logitech UE 4000 also delivers distortion-free performance with sub-bass presence that isn’t overly-boosted. It’s priced a bit higher, as well, but a worthy step up if you have the budget. If you really do want to hear some seriously boosted bass, of course there are plenty of options, including Skullcandy’s own Navigator, which focuses more on the lower frequencies than does the Hesh 2. For the price, however, the Hesh 2 offers a clear, distortion-free experience. It’s by no means a masterpiece, but definitely a solid value.
By Tim Gideon, PCMag
- Type: Circumaural (over-ear)
- Connection: Stereo 3.5mm
- Phone Controls: Yes
- Active Noise Cancellation: No
- Wireless: No
- Removable Cable: Yes
- Impedance: 35 ohms