Review: Skullcandy Hesh makes ANC and Tile tracking affordable
Utah's Skullcandy has come up with a set of affordable Bluetooth wireless headphones with active noise cancellation, a monster of a battery, and a built-in "where's my headphones" feature that makes them very hard to lose. Here's our review.
There's no reason why active noise cancellation (ANC) should add a meaty premium to the price of headphones any more; the technology is well-established, it's been around for decades now and it doesn't necessitate anything special in terms of componentry.
Indeed, the most expensive single part of many premium ANC headphones these days may be the logo on the side – headphones are seen by some folk as the head-mounted equivalent of a Gucci bag: a fashion accessory and a "look what I can afford" flex, which presumably helps them attract potential mating partners operating on similar levels of materialistic ostentation.
That's Skullcandy's contention, anyway, and it's laying down a challenge in the form of a US$129 (AU$249) set of wireless ANC cans that it says do the job as well as the fancy, expensive ones at a fraction of the price, for people who care more for great sound than strutting about with big logos plastered all over them.
There's certainly nothing ostentatious about the new Hesh ANC over-ears. The look is basic, black and minimal. They're lightweight and mainly plastic, eschewing expensive material choices and staying relatively anonymous bar a small skull on each side of the headband. It's all business; no automatic power switch, no finnicky touch controls, just four small buttons that work very predictably in a way that some of the newer stuff seems to struggle with. There's a USB-C port for charging, and a 3.5-mm jack for direct wired connection.
Pairing up is simple enough, everything works as expected with one caveat: they'll auto-connect to my phone, but not my iMac. When I leave them connected to the iMac and turn them off and on, they connect and then disconnect, and I have to manually connect them again. This would be less annoying if the voice prompt lady didn't sound so haughty about things.
The connection is strong; I haven't had any jumps or skips in the weeks I've been using them, and the signal is strong enough to take me from one end of my house to the other, only cracking up when I'm right at the other end of the house with a few solid walls between me and the iMac. It's impressive, and so's the battery life. Skullcandy claims 22 hours, even with ANC on; I don't have enough fingers and toes to verify that claim all scientifical like, but the way I use them, intermittently through the work day, they last more than a week.
As to the noise cancelling, I think it's terrific. The true test, of course, is a plane trip, but those have been hard to come by lately, so I've had to content myself with traffic noise and two small children. They do a wonderful job of sucking noise out of a room and replacing it with a gentle white hiss, particularly given that the design of the cans themselves don't offer a ton of passive isolation. A double-tap ambient mode lets you rejoin the conversation in the office, although it'd be better if it stopped the music instead of requiring a third button press.
In terms of voice call performance, I'd have to rank them as the best headset I've used that doesn't have a boom mic attached. With ANC running, I found myself able to have conversations speaking very quietly walking down a fairly busy street on a windy day, and the people on the other end had no idea until I told them. They're no good for Zoom calls, but then I've never tried a headset that my colleagues didn't complain about on Zoom, so the problem's likely with Zoom, and we're not deducting any marks there!
There's one last neat little trick Skullcandy has squeezed into the new Hesh ANC headphones: a built-in Tile tracker that makes these things very hard to lose. Whether they're turned off or not, you can hit a button in the Tile app that makes them chirp loudly so you can easily locate them in the house. If they're not in the house, the Tile will give you their last updated location, and will connect to the phones of other Tile app users if you mark them as totally lost to help pinpoint them on a map. It works well, and even if I wouldn't consider it critical, it's a pretty sweet inclusion in such an affordable set of headphones.
The sound of any headset is completely a matter of personal taste; indeed, even a matter of personal physiology. No two ears are the same, let alone two pairs of them, and unless you've got an automated personalization capability like the groundbreaking Nuraphones do, the fact is we're hearing these things differently; you should take my opinion with a grain of salt, as well as anyone else's.
With that said, my very personal impression on the sound of the Hesh ANC is that of a fairly full and warm bass spectrum with well-controlled mids and a clear if not brilliant top end. The low frequencies do give you a nice thump; they are not lacking in low end. Having said that, I'd personally be pushing a little at the sub bass end and the very top of the treble spectrum for a little more crispness and air in the high frequencies.
This is a great workhorse headset. Spectacular even, for the money. I wouldn't call it an audiophile experience matched to my own set of ears, but the Hesh ANC nails most of the basics with a strong Bluetooth connection, huge battery life, excellent noise cancellation and some of the best phone call handling I've found at any price. At US$130 (or AU$249.95 in Australia), I'd have them in a heartbeat for the commute, the office and plenty else besides.