Skullcandy, Eye Candy

by Kiko Matsing

Skullcandy

I’m lovin’ my new iPod nano and Skullcandy headphones. I got the silver and black Lowrider last Sunday, but the cord snagged on the doorknob as I was rushing out, and the wires got pulled apart where it split in two. I was sooo pissed. I dug up the trash for that warranty card I never bother to read, and found (in fine print, with French translation) that I was covered not just for manufacturer defect, but, damage due to

sliding a rail, sliding down the emergency ramp of your aircraft, slammed in your locker, slammed in your car door, run over by a car, running into a wall, getting run out of town, mountain biking, road biking, sky diving, beating your boyfriend unmercifully, getting beat down by the man, blown up in an accidental experimentation with flammable substances…

This is what they call “aggressive music listening” (“d’écouter de la musique de façon abusive”) and adds that damage due to above “means you are living your life the way we want our product used!”. The warranty card comes with a detachable stencil to spray-paint their logo with on your skateboard, your cat, or your old man’s balding head. (The G.I. model comes with it’s own beer bottle opener.) These guys from Utah may have a street (or, rather, snowboarding) sense of humor, but also a wicked marketing sensibility. They know how to flip an unpleasant situation into something positive in their favor that also reinforces the identity of their product. Who would not want to be that aggressive music listener who obliterates his Skullcandy on the ski slopes? (In my line of work, it would probably be due to “accidental experimentation with flammable substances”. Ha!)

Lowrider G.I.

I really tried hard to like those Bose noise canceling headphones that cost an arm and a leg. I had been ogling at a pair of QuietComfort® 2 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® headphones for some time, while saving precious graduate student wages towards the I-wanna-get-me-those-damn-things fund. When it came time to buy, I did a little bit of cold feet research before forking out that $300, and was surprised that it only got about 3.3/5.0 stars from 260 Amazon.com reviewers. Consensus on the negative reviews singled-out the quality and strength of materials:

[The] headphones fell apart after 8 months. The cheap plastic used to connect the ear pieces to the head piece cracked and eventually broke…

3-4 years after purchasing my QuiteComfort headphones I noticed that the rubber earpiece material is flaking away like mad.

The product has some big design flaws and made with cheap plastic. One of the head cups broke on my head set and I had to exchange for another for additional 100 dollars though it was a design flaw.

The sound quality is great, but the earpiece rotator that holds it together is cheap plastic that breaks easily. Granted, Bose replaces them for a year without question, but I’ve gone through four pair.

However the plastic used in manufacturing is not durable. The headsets repeatedly break. Using the TriPort, I had to exchange the headsets (under warranty) five or six times. Finally I told Bose I did not want to have any more replacement TriPort units…. they offered a “deal” at $99 for upgrading to the QuietComfort2 headset. Ten months later I discover the QuietComfort2 alslo has weak plastic parts and break apart in essentially the same location.

I bought my Bose noise-canceling headphones about three years ago. They rate four-and-one half-stars for noise-canceling. However, they’re now held together with library tape. The headphone quality:cheap plastic […]. Maybe Bose should give a free roll of duct tape, instead of a free CD player, with these ‘phones.

Bose QuetComfort 2 AKG K 701

I did not want to put that much money on something that will not last more than a year–no matter how good the sound quality or ambient noise cancellation. Some more discriminating reviewers, however, also noted that the sound quality of Bose is actually not at par with what is available out there; the noise cancellation technology also gives off a low hissing sound when it is quiet.

Noise cancellation causes a hiss, effectively raising the noise floor of the signal (i.e. music being played in the system), reducing the ability to hear details and music quality.

However, the noise cancelling feature produces a noticeable hiss, particularly during absolute silence between music tracks and even during quieter moments of a classical piece. Somewhat annoying.

Few magazines are now willing to give honest reviews of Bose products due to a Consumer Reports review a few years back that gave the AM-15 embarrassingly bad ratings (score of 62 out of 100). Consumer Reports allegedly used a double-blind comparison test, which is in fact the ideal way to compare speakers. That particular review ended up in a lawsuit over “unscientific testing methods”. Thankfully, Bose lost that lawsuit, but since then, Consumer Reports and various other magazines give neutral-to-rave reviews that tip-toe around the actual sound quality and focus more on ergonomics and style. More prestigious publications like Fi and What HiFi? ignore Bose products completely. (From a review of the Bose car sound system, not headphones, at www.intellexual.net.)

The Bose demo headsets do look flimsy when I tried them out; the plastic material of the cups seem ready to crack apart. I eventually decided to buy a $40 pair of Skullcandy headphones that I can afford to throw a way in a year or two, and get a new iPod nano instead. It looked even slicker with a matching Skullcandy iPod rubber case. When the cord did come apart, and had to be sent back for replacement, it was not such a pain in the pocket to just get another one (Hesh, and no, it does not come with a beer bottle opener).

Noise cancellation and sound quality are actually not the same thing. People who buy the noise canceling headset do so to keep noise out (e.g., airplane engines) and remain in the silence; it does not make a lot of difference when you amp up the volume of your techno or hip-hop music. On a quick survey of other brands in the market (Sennheiser, Koss, Sony, AKG), I stumbled upon another eye candy that looks far superior to Bose in workmanship and sound quality, at a slightly lower price–AKG’s K 701. Delicious!

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