Skullcandy have occupied the bottom of the market for many years, offering a wide range of affordable headphones and earphones marketed to those who love to board. Born in the mountains of Utah, the brand has been able to dominate the market below $100 by offering exciting colors, value, and just enough performance to be considered relevant in the entry-level category. The Head-Fi crowd have never been turned on by the products, but that has not stopped Skullcandy from selling millions of pairs of headphones over the past decade. The new Skullcandy Mod might be their first product to change that perception.
Apple and Beats are not isolated from changes in the market, and it is clear from the Mod — Skullcandy understand that they need to offer better sounding headphones that are still affordable or face a less certain future.
Priced rather competitively at $59.95, the Skullcandy Mod are a genuine attempt to offer sound quality that we don’t usually find at that price point in a pair of true wireless earphones.
Did they succeed?
The marketing material highlights the integration of advanced mics and noise cancelling technology to “deliver crystal clear” phone calls and the ability to pair to multiple devices without having to disconnect from the original source.
None of those features make the Mod a game changer, but they are good features to have in a $59.95 pair of wireless earphones if they actually work as advertised.
Battery performance is actually quite acceptable on the Mod; Skullcandy claims 34 hours of battery life from multiple charges and I was able to pull 7 hours out of multiple charges which places them in the middle of the pack. The quick charge option which entails 10 minutes of charging time in the case provided slightly under 2 hours of listening time.
You can also quick charge the case using the supplied USB Type-A to Type-C cable.
There is also a Skullcandy app that provides for a limited number of EQ setting adjustments but it is nice to see this on a $59.95 pair of wireless earphones; the app allows you to access the Stay-Aware Mode, custom button settings and other advanced features. You can also optimize the sound for music, movies, podcasts and calls and access user guides and other useful information.
If you need to stay aware of the the world around you, a microphone in each earbud means you can use either bud by itself in solo mode. If you’d rather not remove an earbud, Stay-Aware Mode lets you hear your surroundings with both buds in.
The Mod is manufactured out of plastic, but it does not feel cheap at all. There is adequate heft to the earbuds and the fit and finish is rather high for the price. It is also a smaller earbud than many in the category and the angle is slightly different as well; it took a few insertions to get used to the feeling of the nozzle in the ear canal because of the curvature.
The rubberized faceplate is quite responsive but you do need to use slightly more force or even hold the earbud when making the changes; on more than a few occasions this resulted in pushing the Mod deeper into the ear which is not ideal.
The texture of the earpiece makes them easy to remove; especially when they are wet after running in the rain or working out.
The build quality is quite acceptable on the Mod and the pairing process proved to be rather painless; once connected, the Mod enters into an auto on/connect mode and always remembers to pair with the last connected device.
The IP55 sweat and water resistance rating allows the Mod to withstand running in the rain and sweat from any form of exercise; which makes them water-resistant as opposed to waterproof. They would not survive our washing machine test.
The Mod supports Bluetooth 5.2 and performed quite well with both an iPhone and Android-based wireless devices. The range is slightly less than 30 feet and it starts to stumble when there are walls between the source and earbuds. The “Find My Mod” feature works really effectively if you accidentally misplace them.
We have only owned one pair of Skullcandy earbuds in our home and my children decided that it was time for an upgrade because they grew tired of the color and wanted something better sonically. That last point is not lost on Skullcandy who are clearly aware that teenagers and young adults have become far more aware of the alternatives and have funds to upgrade.
The Mod has clearly been designed by Skullcandy to appeal to this audience who are clearly considering the Apple AirPods or other options but don’t necessarily want to spend $150 to $200 on a pair of wireless earbuds.
The Skullcandy Mod do a lot of things rather well for $59.95; the goal was clearly to create a balanced sounding pair of wireless earbuds that offer just enough detail to keep your attention and sufficient low end impact to not sound anemic with pop, hip hop, and urban music. The bass response has just enough energy to make classic rock work, but it is certainly not for bass heads who want to rattle their skulls; a very unhealthy practice for a myriad of reasons.
There is some added emphasis in the midrange which gives vocals some additional weight and presence in front of the instrumentation; it never really becomes too much of a good thing or robs recordings of their detail unless you really push the volume too high.
The soundstage height was quite good; listening to Peter Frampton, I felt that the Mods accurately reproduced him on the stage and that the timbre of his guitar was almost spot on. Was it reference quality? Not even remotely, but certainly respectable for the price.
The treble sounds slightly restrained on the Mods; there is a sense that Skullcandy did not want to make these hard or etched sounding and that was probably a wise choice sonically, but I wonder how many potential buyers will find them slightly closed-in as a result. They do not posses the top end sparkle or airiness of their rivals and that is a shortcoming.
The soundstage is rather large and that does help with the overall spaciousness of the sound; the imaging is only average and it is accurate to say that Skullcandy went for a wall of sound versus musicians that are carved rather neatly in their respective spots. If you prefer the “experience” over accuracy — the Mods might work for you.
The 1More PistonBuds Pro are the most obvious competitor in this price range and both companies are clearly marketing to the same group of listeners. The 1More earbuds are smaller, and fit differently inside your ear canal.
The build quality of the PistonBuds Pro is superior and they are easier to use; you need to use the Skullcandy app to operate some of the Mod’s features which is more difficult than using the faceplate of the 1More wireless earbuds.
The 1More delivers a more accurate and detailed presentation that puts more emphasis on clarity, timbre, and speed. The imaging is more precise and the top end has more energy and detail. The bass is tighter, and better defined, but it lacks the visceral impact of the Mods and can feel somewhat anemic.
The Mods are more engaging to a degree and I rather liked the warmer sounding tonal balance. There is more texture and color here for sure and the bass response has far more impact.
Skullcandy isn’t going to burn up and fade away if the Mods don’t become a runway success, but I think they deserve some credit for attempting to move out of their comfort zone and create something that is competitive with other wireless IEMs under $75. They don’t make any outlandish claims about them in the marketing materials and the build quality is quite good for $59.95 USD.
The battery performance is average for the category, but the app is certainly better than what most inexpensive wireless IEMs come with, and I found them quite easy to pair with different types of wireless devices. They do their job and have proven to be reliable.
They are surprisingly quite good with most genres of music and they deliver a relatively balanced sounding presentation that will never have you lowering the volume because one part of the range is far too much. The Apple AirPods crowd might not be seduced by these, but I know a lot of people under 20 who might.