Review: Skullcandy Dime earbuds throw down a 25-buck challenge
Skullcandy has sent us a set of its ridiculously cheap Dime true wireless earbuds. At US$24.99 a pair, you can buy six sets of Dimes for the price of a set of Apple AirPods, and have enough change for a couple coffees. So how well do they do the job?
At such an aggressive price, you'd expect the experience to be basic and no-frills. But honestly, most frills in the wireless earbuds I've tested haven't exactly blown my skirt up. Most people's needs are basic: something that's not a pain to carry around, with useful battery life, decent sound that blocks out the noise of the masses on the train or in the office, the ability to make phone calls, and something that doesn't fall out of your ear.
And after a week with the Dimes, I can't see how you could possibly be disappointed in these things for the price. They come with about the most portable charging case I think I've ever used, a super-lightweight plastic jigger not much bigger than a car key fob. I forget I've got them in my pocket. The battery life is about 3.5 hours for the buds, with about 12 total hours in the charge case, and that'll work for most folk who don't need to be plugged in all day long.
The earbuds themselves are also compact and lightweight in plastic, a low-profile design that protrudes quite a bit less than some other designs. Ear tips are silicone, and you get three sizes. I found them instantly comfortable with a good solid seal that isolates a fair bit of outside sound. Each has a little skull on it, so hey, bonus heavy metal points – and those skulls are buttons.
The buttons are a little fiddly, but they work fine. I am yet to encounter an earbud with a control scheme that isn't at least slightly annoying to learn, and these are no exception. But you've got access to play/pause, track forward and back, Google/Siri voice assistants, volume controls and more. The only one I'd nitpick here is the volume controls, which make you press a button twice and then wait for each small step adjustment, so larger volume changes are a pain.
They automatically power on and connect to a paired device when you pull 'em out of the case, and while this process takes a second or two longer than some earbuds, they're still barely in my ears before they're ready to go. Likewise, they'll auto-shutdown when you put them in the case, but refreshingly there's also a manual shutdown option so you can switch them off if you don't have the case handy too.
One thing that the $159 AirPods and $179 Pixel Buds are designed to do really nicely is the pairing process... Well, woop de doo. How often do you need to do that? The Dimes might not hold your hand quite as much, but frankly if you can pair a Bluetooth device, you'll get these done. The connection seems perfectly strong and reliable to me, I haven't suffered any dropouts or glitching in normal use, and I can walk to the other end of the house before I lose the signal – on par with most of the earbuds I've tested.
As to how they sound, well, I'm a broken record at this point, but here we go again: there's no such thing as good sounding earbuds, just ones that fit your own personal hearing physiology and preferences, which can be staggeringly different when you compare them to what other people prefer. Nobody's opinions but your own matter in this regard, because your ears are unique.
Still, here are my impressions through the lens of my own physiology and preferences: the Dimes sound better to me than I'd expect from something so ludicrously cheap. The bass is not as full or as warm as my personal daily drivers, the Soundpeats H1 dual-driver hybrid set I've been using since last year, but there's an acceptable amount of chest thump there when you push the volume up. Likewise I wouldn't call the top-end crystalline, the trebles can be overpowered by high mids that I'd describe as a little harsh and aggressive for my tastes.
But within minutes, my ears adjust and they sound better than OK. The sound does not bathe your ears in the tears of angels, or open up interdimensional wormholes through which you can commune with the ghost of Hendrix, but it's fine. You're not getting an audiophile experience here for your 25 bucks, but there's plenty of excitement in the sound at higher volumes, and they go loud enough that I haven't felt the need to push them past 80 percent or so other than to make sure they don't crack up at full blast. Which they don't. For audiobooks or phone conversations, they're beaut.
As for their performance as microphones when making phone calls, they're less beaut. The sound is a bit muffled, in the reports of people I've spoken to, car noises on the street can come through pretty loud and there's a general perception that you're on a low quality microphone. But here's the thing: even the fancy earbuds with beamforming microphones and all sorts of noise cancellation seem to do a poor job here. At the end of the day, if the microphone's not next to your mouth, physics dictates that the signal-to-noise ratio will be out of whack, and I'm yet to test a set of earbuds that sound amazing as phone call microphones. If you wanna sound good, pop one out and hold it up to your lips.
If I was to nitpick, I'd say the case, with its little holes in the top, is probably going to let pocket lint, sand and general crud into its cavities, which will scratch up both the case and the earbuds. These holes are there to keep the case super-slim, though, and I definitely appreciate the dimensions of that case.
So all in all, I reckon these are every bit the steal they seem for $25. In direct comparison, I prefer the the sound and vastly extended battery life of the Soundpeats H1s, but I like the compact size, the fit and the light weight of the Dimes. At US$79, the H1s are a little over three times the price of the Dimes, and they certainly don't do three times the job.
Depending on your sonic preferences, you may well have every bit as good an experience with the Skullcandy Dimes as you could with anything else on the market. And even if the sound doesn't tickle your proverbials, the price makes them incredibly accessible as a backup set, or something you can chuck in a pocket without worrying about losing.
I should add though, we're reviewing these in Australia, and here, the price picture is not so rosy. At AU$69.95 (US$54) through the Australian website, these are still affordable for earbuds, but the ol' Australia tax stops them from being the outrageous bargain they are in the USA, and that may well change the equation for some buyers.