Surprisingly good earbuds for the price
Jan 26, 2013
Review by dtv_engineer
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Decent sound, isolates surrounding noise, comfortable, inexpensive
Cons:No volume control, stiff cord, exaggerated bass
The Bottom Line: A good value. Generally pleasing sound and far more comfortable than stock Apple earbuds.
Until my employer changed my company phone to an iPhone 4 several years ago, I had never really given much attention to portable music devices: if I was going to seriously listen to music, it would be at home on a pair of JBL monitor speakers, or on a trusty pair of Koss headphones if I needed to keep the noise down. But suddenly music was as close as my pocket, and so began my love/hate relationship with earbuds.
Recommend this product?
Immediately I discovered that while Apple's design aesthetics might appeal to the eye, they bring pain to my ears. The stock earbuds don't just sound poor, they hurt after a few minutes – that is, if they haven't fallen out by then. So the earbuds got relegated to the car as a necessary evil for brief hands-free phone calls. For a while I used a newer pair of Koss over-the-ear phones that feel great and sound terrific, but are utterly unportable. Finally my wife got tired of my complaining and bought me a set of Skullcandy Ink'd earbuds.
I have read a lot of reviews about the Ink'd, but still wasn't sure what to expect. I'm way past the target age that Skullcandy seems to market toward, and my tastes in music are probably a bit different than their typical customer. Still, these earbuds are in improvement in many ways... but are disappointing in others.
The Ink'd, unlike the Apple earbuds, is designed to seal in the ear with a silicone piece; a medium pair comes attached, and a smaller pair is in the package. The Ink'd weighs about the same as the Apple earbuds, and has a combination switch and microphone on the wire leading to the left earpiece. Compared to Apple's flexible thin round cable, the Ink'd uses a flat cable that is considerably less flexible -- it bends in one direction and is quite rigid in the other.
There's no contest here: the Ink'd are far more comfortable. I can wear them indefinitely without discomfort, and they don't spontaneously pop out of my ears. Full marks on this score.
The Apple earbuds allow the user to change volume, as well as the usual stop/start/skip ahead/skip back button. The Ink'd lacks the volume control, which I immediately missed. Also, the control button is rather touchy: while starting and stopping is pretty easy -- a single click -- skipping ahead (two clicks) is harder and skipping back (three clicks) is nearly impossible. I finally had to use two hands to skip back: one hand to hold the switch steady and the other to do the clicking. For a convenience button, it isn't very convenient.
Sound Quality: Isolation
A main selling point for this sort of earbud is reducing the surrounding noise, a very useful thing in a place like an airplane. By comparing the Ink'd against several noise-reducing earplugs of different values, I would estimate that the Ink'd earbuds reduce surrounding noise by something around 10 to 15 decibels -- not as much as many sealed around-the-ear headphones, but a lot more than the iPhone 4's earbuds. I wouldn't wear them while driving, but they are about right for situations where safety isn't an issue.
One form of noise that the Ink'd does not reduce: handling sounds from moving the cable. Just about anything that moves or pulls on the cord gets translated into very noticeable low-frequency thumping. To some extent this is probably inescapable since the earbuds are sealed in the ears, but a somewhat less rigid cord like the Apple's might have helped.
Sound Quality: Music
The very first impression one gets listening to the Ink'd after using the Apple earbuds is that there is lot more bass! In fact, depending on the sort of music I am playing, it borders on being excessive. One of my apps happens to be a tone generator (I am an engineer, after all!), and my pair really accentuates the area between 40 and 50 Hertz. The first time I played the BBC Orchestra's version of Sing, Sing, Sing, I thought my eyes were going to pop out -- evidently one of their toms hits right in the middle of that sweet spot. Aside from that, the overall response is pleasing and fairly smooth. My sense is that they are fairly quick to distort at higher levels of midrange, but I don't generally listen to earphones that loud. Rated against headphones in general, these would be middling; compared to other earbuds, these are quite good.
Sound Quality: Phone Conversation
The tone quality of the earpieces is well suited to speech: easy to understand, and not fatiguing. The microphone seems to work similarly well. A disconcerting side effect of the Ink'd sound isolation is that you hear much less of your own voice when you speak than with Apple's non-isolating earbuds. Traditional phones mix a bit of your microphone back into the earpiece to give you a sense of how loud you are; this is called "sidetone". It turns out that the iPhone 4 and 4S do not mix sidetone, so when you use a sound cancelling earbud like the Ink'd, it feels like your own voice isn't getting through. It's a rather unsettling experience, and I realized that I was getting tricked into speaking far louder than normal.
Overall, the Skullcandy Ink'd provides remarkably good sound. It has its quirks and takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you use it for phone calls. It is certainly comfortable, far more than anything I have used short of professionally molded earpieces. I don't have much of a basis to judge durability -- I'm not terribly hard on equipment -- but these are inexpensive enough to be painlessly replaceable. All in all, this is a very good value for someone who does not demand audiophile quality.
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