Skullcrushers. The name sounds more like a medieval torture device or a fantasy-game clan than it does a desirable headphone system, and the first half of that equation is probably true. Folks in the Middle Ages likely weren’t big fans of bass, opting instead for lutes and harps rather than drums and rhythm, so to slip on a headphone system that absolutely glorifies every ounce of bass in a song would probably send serfs into a drumline-induced coma.
But here we are, in the year 2008, a decade and century seemingly defined by big beats and even bigger subwoofers, talking about a personal headphone system that amplifies bass to such a degree that the headphones themselves shake. Our first impression of the Skullcrushers was “man, these things are tight.” Unfortunately, we meant that literally; the headphones were uncomfortably tight on three of the four people who tried them on, only one of whom (this editor) has an unusually gargantuan noggin. However, whether because our heads lost feeling or because the headphones loosened up, by the time we finished running the Skullcrushers through their paces, our initial impression turned out to be right on the money. These things are tight. And this time, we mean that figuratively.
It’s not out of the question to say no self-respecting hip-hop fan should be without the Skullcrushers. The subwoofer amplification on these headphones is absolutely amazing. On a personal note, I live in an area of town that many people would call “the ‘hood,” so I know what bass is supposed to sound like. Believe me, I’ve watched kitchen and living room windows jiggle when Cadillacs and Chevys drive by with their subwoofers thumping, so I know what I’m talking about. Never in my wildest imagination did I think a subwoofer setup this powerful would be included in a headset, let alone seem to compete with an in-car woofer. Now if only some of those drivers would get the Skullcrushers so they’d stop committing noise pollution outside my house…
The Skullcrushers are clearly aimed at hip-hop music, which thrives on bass tracks, although there are certain rock and country applications as well. We tested the Skullcrushers with a variety of hip-hop artists, and the headphones generally amplified beats to a degree that would make even the most trunk-rattling audiophiles grin. The level of bass amplification is controlled using a AA-battery-powered dongle in the middle of the cord that includes a minimum/maximum dial much like a standard volume control. The amplification can also be turned on and off at any time, although we have to wonder why someone would buy a bass-amplifying subwoofer headphone set and not use the amp.
Cranking the bass as high as possible resulted at times in some distortion, but more often than not, the problems sounded more like speaker rattling than actual audio distortion. In some respects, this is similar to what people experience when cranking the bass in the car (the classic trunk-thumping jiggle), so distortion of this nature will likely be forgiven by the Skullcrushers’ target hip-hop demographic.
Knowing that not everyone listens to hip-hop, we also tested the Skullcrushers on some 1940s jazz, the type of music heard in the Xbox 360 game BioShock. This era’s music generally didn’t treat bass as anything more than a rhythmic guide, so it served as a good baseline guide for the Skullcrushers’ “everyday” performance. In these older songs, the Skullcrushers generally didn’t have much discernible impact, simply because there isn’t much bass in the songs to begin with. Some songs, though, do have bass, such as Bobby Darrin’s “Somewhere Beyond the Sea,” Rosemary Clooney’s “You’re the Top” and Ella Fitzgerald’s version of “Night and Day,” all of which make great use of a bass/cello. In these songs, the Skullcrushers either accentuated the music very well by picking up even the most nuanced beats, or they flat-out overpowered the vocals by cranking the bass to the maximum setting.
However, where the Skullcrushers’ max-setting distortion was forgivable in the hip-hop music, the same effect was a bit more disturbing with these older songs, as Darrin’s, Clooney’s and Fitzgerald’s vocal tracks often sounded distant while the bass absolutely dominated the song.
The Skullcrusher headphones also seem to deliver audio more clearly on iPods and MP3 players than they do on PCs, although some of the output quality depends on your PC sound card. Ironically, Skullcandy (the manufacturers of the Skullcrushers) also include in the box an adapter for airline headphone jacks, which is nice for convenience’s sake but aren’t exactly a bastion of high-quality audio. Plus, airline passengers more often than not take their iPod or MP3 player along for the ride, and with in-flight entertainment like Perfect Strangers and Sleepless in Seattle, how much bass does one really need?
Aside from the standard headphone jack and airline jack, the Skullcrushers also come with a 6.3mm jack adapter for use with home stereo systems, as well as a silky carrying case. The headphones also collapse and fold into a surprisingly small “ball” about four inches in diameter, making them easy to fit into the case and then into a coat or cargo-pants pocket when not in use.
Despite their off-putting name, the Skullcrushers are an impressive set of headphones. When playing non-bass-amplified music, they do a commendable job combining noise-canceling qualities with stereo sound, and when the amplifier is really going, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more thumping setup this side of sitting on a subwoofer. Older music suffers from a bit more distortion than modern tunes when the bass is turned to its maximum level, but in the mid-ranges the bass amplification actually draws nice attention to instruments that might otherwise have been overlooked. Plus, it’s a safe bet that most people buying Skullcrushers aren’t going to be playing The Ink Spots or Ella Fitzgerald. The headphones are still a little tight, but hey, they’re also “tight.” Take that as you will.
- Score: 8.6
- Turning the amplifier on for the first time actually made me jump. If you like deep bass in your music, you’ve got to check out these headphones.
— Jonas Allen