SkullCandy RocNation Aviator Headphones: Not to be confused with your kidís ear buds

Jul 22, 2012 (Updated Jul 23, 2012)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Extreme comfort, sophisticated adult styling, well-articulated music reproduction, virtually no leakage, iPhone compatible-controls

Cons:No Android-compatible controls, no long-term track record, awkward remote-control placement

The Bottom Line: If $149 is your budget for headphones, I certainly wouldn’t dissuade you from purchasing SkullCandy RocNation Aviator Headphones.  They're stylish, comfortable and produce great sound.  I really like them.

Mention the name SkullCandy and if we’re playing Word Association, two words might pop into my head:  garish, or broken.  I’ve purchased several pair of SkullCandy ear buds over the years, both for my teenage daughter as well as for myself.  Admittedly, I have seldom paid any serious money for their more expensive buds, but even when I did they’ve never really impressed me much.  Even their slightly more expensive buds never offered me a sound that I could easily distinguish from any low-end brand.  In my mind it occurred to me that the circuitry was probably mass market generic dressed up and styled to appeal to a youthful and largely unknowing market.  And, when it came to styling I found I was much more comfortable wearing them indoors or in my car than I was in public.

While they might look cool or even appropriate for a teen, SkullCandy headphones tend to look conspicuously out of place on a middle-aged man.  Or, perhaps it’s the middle-aged man who looks out of place.  But, I’m sure you’re  getting the idea.

In terms of durability, my daughter has never owned a pair of their buds that saw their 3-month birthday.  Invariably, one bud or another would start screeching and then die.

So, when my middle daughter was visiting from NY and noticed me wearing my Beats by Dr. Dre ear buds that came with my HTC Rezound she had a little laugh.  “Here Daddy, try my SkullCandy Headphones.”  And before I could demur politely rather than to bloviate on her taste in headphones she pulled out a pair of SkullCandy RocNation Aviator Headphones.  My eyes were drawn to them like bearings to a magnet.

I guess at this part of the review I should tell the reader that this Xeno daughter is in the entertainment industry.  Hardly a month goes by when one company or another isn’t trying to curry favor with her with their newest and improved whatever.  What I’m saying is; she gets a bunch of cool stuff free.

SkullCandy RocNation Aviator Headphones
Undoubtably the first thing that strikes you about the SkullCandy RocNation Aviator Headphones is their stunning good looks.  Sure, if you look carefully you’ll notice the SkullCandy half skull logo, but it is tastefully subdued to the extent that you can subdue a half skull.  Jay-Z’s RocNation branding is also subdued.  You’re more likely to focus on the earpieces themselves that resemble the shape of RayBan’s iconic Aviator sunglass lenses executed in lightweight polycarbonate.  Then you might notice the gleaming stainless steel wires upon which they travel.  On each earpiece there’s a lush, leather memory foam-filled cushion that just begs to be put up against your ear.  Who am I to argue?  I put them on and plugged them into my Rezound.  Turning on the HTC Music Player, the Beats Audio feature kicked in.  It takes only seconds wearing the Aviators to appreciate that SkullCandy has grown up some.  The sound being pumped into my brain was truly impressive.  The bass was full and satisfying (both with Beats turned on or off).  Mids and highs were also very pleasing and also very well articulated.  Since trying the Aviators out I’ve read at least one professional review that found mids and highs to be too artificially boosted.  I can’t say that I share that opininion.  But let’s get back to the bass.  When listening to the drums I was amazed to notice not only the driving beat of the drums; I could actually hear the drummer’s sticks.  Maybe I pay close attention to the drums because my brother is a drummer, but I tell you, you can hear the sticks.  That takes quality audio circuitry.

My taste in musical genres is very broad.  It runs from Big Band Swing from the 30’s & 40’s, through the doo-wop days of the 50’s and early 60’s.  The British Invasion during the 60’s gave me the Beatles, Stones and Animals to name a few.  I often unwind by first listening to some classic rock, heavy metal, or hard rock before settling into some Blood, Sweat and Tears or some Simon & Garfunkel or Sting or maybe even some R&B.  I like some of the newer pop and alternative sounds as well.

What impressed me about the SkullCandy RocNation Aviator Headphones is that they did justice to all genres of music.  I even got out my collection of Steeleye Span, an English Country/Folk group with whom I fell in love during the early 1970s.  These headphones performed.  When listening to my favorite reference album, Blood, Sweat & Tears, 1970, arguably one of the finest produced albums of all time, the  SkullCandy RocNation Aviator Headphones rendered the tracks of this collection flawlessly (at least to my taste).

I was really surprised that I could crank up the volume on these phones to potentially dangerous levels without experiencing much if any distortion.  But I was even more impressed that I didn’t once get a harsh look from the easily distracted Mrs. Xeno.  She did later confess that on occasion she could hear a faint sound of a particular passage, but it wasn’t persistent.  Since I generally listen to music at less than maximum volume I’m going to say that leakage isn’t going to be anyone’s problem.

Although the SkullCandy RocNation Aviator Headphones feature no active noise cancelling circuitry, isolation from all but very loud speech or similar sounds is pretty effective.  With the lush earpieces caressing and sealing my ears I find myself immersed in the music.  And, unlike with most ear buds I don’t experience the music, however well rendered, separately in each of my ears, but rather somewhere in the center of my head.

I generally don’t wear phones or buds for more than an hour or two at any one time.  But, I am going to say that I could probably wear these for a considerably longer period of time without any discomfort. On more than one occasion I found a playlist had completed reasonably long before I realized I was still wearing the Aviators.  SkullCandy has to get two thumbs up for the comfort of this design.

iPhone Compatibilty
The SkullCandy RocNation Aviator Headphones have a remote control/mic a few inches under the earpiece.  The iPhone/iPod Player can be controlled from this remote.  Some will find that since a mic is included in the remote that the remote is located a little too close to the earpiece to be visible and easily used, although with practice a user may get the hang of it.  Although I still use my iPod Touch from time to time, I’m a Droid guy.  This is merely a distraction to me.

Build Quality/Durability
The earpieces ride the two stainless steel wires dependably.  Hinges and connections feel substantial, particularly when compared to anything previously branded SkullCandy.  Wires are substantial and encased in a nylon mesh.   How important is this encasement?  Only time will tell.  I was happy to see that this new iteration of Aviators comes with a detachable cable, definitely a step in the right direction.  Replacement of a damaged or missing cable is an inexpensive fix.

Although I have read at least one review that found the build quality wanting for phones priced at $149, I haven’t been disappointed by them yet.  Maybe I’ll speak differently in time, but even given my pre-disposition to dislike the SkullCandy brand, so far I’m impressed with their construction.  I like how they fold inwards making them easily and safely transportable in the small included carrying case.

Closing Thoughts
When my daughter saw how much I was enjoying the SkullCandy RocNation Aviator Headphones she BBM’d her office and asked them to send me a pair.  She asked my color preference.  The Aviators come in Black, White and Brown/Gold.  I thought the black that I was holding was pretty nice and said so. “What other colors would you like?”  Did we raise this girl right or what?  “Surprise me” I said, silently smiling and thinking how distant that Road to Hana episode now seemed.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t spend $149 on headphones these days.  Are they worth the price?  That’s a tough call.  I will say that several years ago when I seemed to be swimming in money, I probably wouldn’t have flinched before ordering them even without adjusting for inflation.  That’s how much I like the combination of their styling, comfort and performance.  While I’m aware of competitive headphones that match or exceed the performance of the Aviators, I’m unaware of any that can also compete in styling and comfort at this price point.  If $149 is your budget for headphones, I certainly wouldn’t dissuade you from purchasing SkullCandy RocNation Aviator Headphones.  I really like them.  I’m going to give them 4-stars for now, but if they continue to perform (remain unbroken); I probably could be convinced to give them a 5th.

Late breaking news:  Just as I was finishing up this review, my daughter, on her way to a meeting in Miami, dropped off a pair of Monster Beats Studio Headphones in black.  When it rains it pours, but in a good way!  Give me a few days with these uber expensive bad boys and I’ll tell you all about them


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