Headphones have become a commodity and it’s very easy to find cheap earbuds and on-ear models for under $80. The category is now measured in the billions of dollars, and it dwarfs the high-end audio industry by a considerable margin. Skullcandy is one of the biggest brands in category and it’s fair to say that you can find their products almost anywhere.
Products like the Skullcandy Push Active Wireless Earbuds are showing up in gas stations, 7-Eleven, airports, and discount retailers which is probably not a good thing for the true wireless category overall in terms of consumers thinking there is little reason to spend more for better quality.
The company is clearly aware that the market is shifting and that they have to introduce better quality headphones and IEMs in order to hold onto their considerable slice of the entry-level market but also entice consumers looking to spend slightly more. From their most recent products, it is clear that they are going to target the $100 to $150 customers as well.
The new Skullcandy Push Active Wireless Earbuds are designed for the gym/exercise market where there are no shortage of options from Sennheiser, Jabra, Beats, and 1More. The $77.99 USD asking price makes them very competitive but can they deliver a combination of robustness, above average sound quality, and comfort to make a dent?
The Skullcandy Push Active offer a rather large and solid build; the large ear hooks help with retention while exercising or running and the IP55 waterproof rating makes them resistant to sweat and some water if running. These are not going to pass the washing machine test but they will survive a brisk run during inclement weather.
These are not small IEMs but the main body sits on the ear rather than inside the ear which makes the fit a bit less daunting for those with smaller ears. The control is on the bottom of the ear shell instead of the face, which surprisingly worked very well and didn’t move the earpiece around when pressed.
Our battery tests confirmed 10 hours of playtime so it is more than likely that they will last through multiple runs or work-out sessions without requiring a recharge; the charging case does add an additional 2 full charges and a partial third charge before it needs to be recharged itself.
The case has a covered USB port on the rear and takes about 3 hours to recharge fully. Four LED charge indicators display the charge status of the case just below the relief cut on the front of the case. Wireless charging is not an option. The ear pieces do support a quick charge feature where 10 to 15 minutes of charge time nets 2 hours of listening time; which is definitely better than most true wireless IEMs in the category.
Skullcandy sent me the classic black and orange color pairing with the inner case lid, USB port cover, and button on the earpieces in orange and the case exterior, docking bay, and body of the ear pieces finished in a flat black.
Additional color combinations are offered as well with navy with mint highlights and gray with light blue accents also available.
Internally, the Skullcandy Push Active use a single dynamic driver; Skullcandy is very tight lipped about the impedance, sensitivity, and other technical details so we don’t know the source of the driver.
The Push Active support Bluetooth 5.2 but do not offer support for aptX or AAC; I attempted to force both AAC and aptX based on the Bluetooth 5.2 spec but did not get a successful connection in either test.
I was able to pair with both an iPhone 13 and a Samsung S21 but it should be noted that you’ll need to install the Skullcandy app to successfully use the Push Active with either Android or iOS devices.
What is clear is that Skullcandy have expended a lot of time and effort on the control app and that it offers a number of features that you will not find on competing products regardless of price; that includes Sony and Apple.
All of these features are referred to as the “Skull-IQ,” and it should be noted that not every Skullcandy model supports all of the available functionality; the custom tuning options that are available on the Grind Fuel have not found their way to the Push Active at this point.
There are the common EQ presets and custom settings, Spotify Tap, “Hey Skullcandy” (digital assistant), Share Audio, and the “take a photo” option.
It is rather interesting that Skullcandy chose to develop their own digital assistant just to control the earpieces. The “Hey Skullcandy” feature won’t tell you a joke or update your calendar; although you can use it to turn on another digital assistant to do those things.
It is all about controlling the earbuds. You can use the touch sensor to accomplish the same functions but it’s clearly for people who can never remember if it takes two or three clicks, or the hold and left/right button press sequences.
In my case, I can blame it on reviewing 4-5 new pairs of wireless IEMs each month and not being able to remember everything, so it’s not uncommon for people to forget how to use these devices. The voice assistant is a very nice feature on a pair of wireless earbuds this affordable.
Spotify Tap allows you to turn Spotify on/off by tapping an ear piece which is a smart feature considering the audience. The audio sharing feature allows two pairs of Skullcandy earbuds that are Skull-IQ enabled to listen to the same source device simultaneously. You can also set your own volume level for the specific pair using the app.
The feature actually works quite well if both pairs of earphones and the source are kept within 15-20 feet of one another in an open space. Introducing walls starts to impact the range and signal strength quite quickly.
The “Take a Photo” feature is quite handy, but may not work with all devices so test yours before you go out in the field with it. The idea is to use one of your earpieces as a Bluetooth remote for your phone or tablet camera. It’s a great way to put the phone down and take a group shot without leaving someone out or to take a selfie without the odd angle normally seen when you stretch out your arm to take the shot.
Tile is another great feature that is included on the app; Skullcandy partnered with Tile to add find my Skullcandy to the earpieces. There is a setup routine and you do need the Tile app installed, in addition to the Skullcandy app to take advantage of this feature.
If you drop an earbud, you can make it chirp through the Tile app to help you find it again. The sound isn’t loud enough to hear from 20 yards away, but if you know the approximate spot you dropped the ear piece, it is enough to help find one in mulch or tall grass if working outdoors, and certainly enough to find one hiding between sofa cushions.
Skullcandy is slightly addicted to the “V” signature and the Push Active keep that streak alive; the low end and treble are both emphasized and there is a definite dip in the midrange. This type of turning provides for a very impactful bottom end that delivers a lot of impact and definition; the mid bass is also quite defined and strong which is great if you want to experience a steady beat when exercising.
Listening to “Burning Down the House” from Speaking in Tongues, one can clearly hear David Byrne’s vocals through the rather emphasized mid bass and lower midrange — but make no mistake. The bass is the star of the show with these wireless IEMs.
Vocals are generally rather clean and guitar notes have very good clarity and growl; the bass can be quite strong but it never dominates to the point that it negatively impacts either.
The treble is certainly emphasized but to a lesser degree than the low end; that tuning decision keeps the Skullcandy Push Active from feeling too closed in but there is no question that the treble can be somewhat etched or hard sounding on some music depending on the recording quality.
The Skullcandy Push Active are most certainly a mixed bag; the lack of support for Bluetooth aptX or AAC is certainly disappointing even with the strong level of connectivity.
The battery life is quite respectable and I think those who exercise a lot might love that level of performance; they just can’t be charged wirelessly in the car which is a feature that is showing up far more often now.
The Skull-IQ app offer some tuning options which is a good feature considering the tonal balance and how music is presented.
Overall, they do make a compelling argument for outdoor enthusiasts or younger listeners who may need the extra durability and Tile feature which works really well if you lose one of the ear pieces. My children would have certainly benefitted from this and it would have been a selling point for me when they were younger.
The durability, control app, battery life, and comfort make the Skullcandy Push Active a respectable option below $80 — but they are not the best you can buy in terms of sound quality at that price point.
In this very competitive market segment, the Push Active are certainly a move in the right direction for the brand.