Top critical review
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Decent for the price range
on December 7, 2011
### Updated 2 December 2013 ###
There are absolutely better headphones available to enjoy music on, that should be obvious. But someone with a budget, who can't spend more that a few bucks, isn't going to consider a $300 pair of cans when shopping around. I'm going to be as objective as I can be and only review the Hesh based on its price range. (even though reviews like these are very subjective)
MY EXPERIENCE: I've listened to music avidly since I was old enough to walk. Oldies, soul, RnB, classic rock, funk, alternative, metal, hip-hop, punk, even classical on formats such as vinyl, cassette tape, CD, MP3 and telepathy based music (word). I'm only 29, but I think I have a fair opinion on how each genre should sound when you hear it reproduced on audio equipment. Professionally, I've been in a career for 7 years now that involves serious critical listening skills (transcription of foreign languages). I won't bore you with the details, but almost every day I wear a high-end 2 lb headset for about 12 hours. I also dabble in amateur home studio music production, and have learned much in the past years about mixing and mastering tracks on reference monitors and headphones (shouldn't mix on headphones though). I hope that you will trust me with at least the technical aspects of this review.
THE BUILD TYPE: The Hesh is a pair of Closed Back Circumaural (around the ears) 50mm driver headphones. The two main types of circumaural headphones are closed back and open (or semi-open). Most likely, you won't be able to find a set of open-back headphones for under $50. That shouldn't bother you though, since open-back headphones have an airy sound (a drier, tinny sound). Most people who want to 'enjoy' their music will prefer a closed-back set, this allows for a typically deeper sound, with more natural bass. The soundstage may become more cramped (because of the physical properties of the headset), but I would say people who are going for the Skullcandy are looking for a more exciting extraction of the music they listen to. This is to say that the main demographic of Skullcandy consumers is probably those folks who want 'Beats by Dre' type sound but can't afford it. You want bass, you want it in your face, and no less (whether its good for the music or not). I get that, and hopefully Skullcandy gets that enough to include some quality in their production.
THE BUILD QUALITY (4 out of 10): I've already seen a fair share of negative reviews criticizing the build quality of these cans. Know one thing, something made of thin plastic is easier to break than something made of metal or wood. It shouldn't take a genius to realize that its more affordable to build something out of plastic than other nicer materials. The Hesh is made of cheap plastic, so it can be sold cheap. Increase the material quality = increase the price, duh. That being said, there are a few things to be realized. I am a responsible adult when it comes to taking care of my electronics. When I buy something that lacks durability, I treat it as such, and am careful with it. Most Skullcandy users are probably the young crowd, teens or whatever. A younger person can't be expected to be as responsible with their possessions, especially since their parents probably paid for it. Parents, if you're complaining this headset falls apart after a short period of normal use, you should probably re-evaluate YOUR definition of 'normal use'. A kid will probably break this headset before an adult does, this is just the nature of responsibility (in my opinion). Continuing, here's what I think of the quality. The worst offense, I'd say, is the ear-cushions. They are very stiff right out of the box. The first few hours/days of wear time will be somewhat uncomfortable until the stiffness loosens up. I hope in time they will soften up, because I'm use to gel-filled pads with my work headphones, and soft leather ones with my studio reference cans. The earcups are also somewhat on the small side. I have a larger head, with medium size ears so I was a little surprised how small the earcups were when putting it on for the first time. The head band is also cheaply made, with minimal cushioning against the head, but not completely awful. Wear times longer than an hour or 2 could get pretty uncomfortable, and perhaps sweaty. I don't think these headphones were made for very large heads either (like I was saying, more for teens) as the compression on my head is fairly tight. The cable is shorter than would like it to be, its about the same length as my earbuds cable. I would prefer at least 6 feet for circumaural cans, a cable as short as this one just makes the headphones feel more like a toy. The build quality of the cable is also pretty cheap, and will probably be damaged by accidental crimping, tangles, tie-ups, etc. To avoid this I just have to treat with care, like I plan to. To summarize the build quality, I will just say two things you should expect: cheap plastic, stiff cushioning.
(((UPDATE: The stiff earcushions are still a bother, and the smaller size of the earcups still lead to quick discomfort after listening for more than 30 minutes. Nothing has broken or been damaged yet, but the uncomfortable build is still a major issue for me.)))
THE LOOK (6 out of 10): This brand (and market) of headphones is usually more about style than substance anyways. Quality costs more, but looks cost almost nothing. These are larger headphones, so wearing them may make you look goofy; but only as much as any pair of larger headphones you put on. They look okay, and there are several flashy styles/colors to choose from. If looks is more your thing, get Skullcandy.
SOUND QUALITY (2 categories)
1. BURN IN- 10 minutes (5 out of 10): Right out of the box they sound like expected. Unrefined across the
entire spectrum (w/IPOD). But know that almost all headphones need a break in period (called the burn-in).
The burn-in period could be 24 hours of play-time or it could be 200 hours of play time. It really depends.
At the time of only 10-30 minutes of play time, I find it to be too strong in the low-mids and also
high-mids. The bass at first seems to be attractive, but I realized after a few minutes that it was
actually the pumped up low-mids that sound like bass frequencies (they are just above the bass frequencies).
The chief problem with boosted low mids (or any part of the mid frequencies) is the problem of listening
fatigue. Some headphones are so well balanced in sound that you could listen all day and your ears won't
be tired or worn out. I already listen to headphones all day professionally, so listening fatigue is extra
irritating to me. The last thing I want while listening to my music is a headache from boosted dB in any
part of the frequency spectrum. It just shouldn't be there, but at $50 or this kind of deficiency should
be anticipated. You should also know that at this point I've only tried these on an IPOD, which I'll go
over soon. My opinion at 10 minutes of burn-in: Almost poor. It needs more time to break in, then I'll
24 hours (combined playtime): Not much difference...
3 months : Unless the source of music is EQ'd before reaching the headphones, the sound is going to be less than satisfying. Plugging them into a non-EQ'd source (even a high end one), you hear the sound flaws of the headphones. I don't think these headphones have aged very well after break in.
2. FORMATS: IPOD (6 out of 10)- Most customers of the Hesh will probably use it primarily for the IPOD.
EVERYONE should realize the problem with listening to an IPOD with any kind of headphones: The audio source
quality is just as important as the headphones thru which you listen to it. If you plug a set of $300
headphones into an IPOD, do NOT be surprised if it sounds just as crappy as a $20 pair of headphones.
The IPOD, while it is a great readily available media for playing music on the go, is not made for the
HI-FI and audiophiles market. You MUST expect a lower quality of audio when plugged into it, and should NOT
be surprised when your music sounds like junk listening to it thru any set of cans. This problem is
exacerbated when you listen to a lossy compressed audio file (usually an issue only with MP3). To truly
evaluate the headphones, without unfocused or unknowledgable bias, I have to check the IPOD against other
formats. As a tip, if you're going to listen to music on the IPOD with these, select R & B or Classical as
the EQ setting. I find either one of those settings covers most music genres nicely, and makes them more
pleasant to listen to. Bottom line, the IPOD is far from the most ideal listening source, when it comes to
(((UPDATE: While I don't think the IPOD is a Hi-Fi level source, listening to music with the EQ setting on R&B
seems to sound pretty good. I switched out between listening to a un-EQ'd vinyl record thru a Marantz receiver
and the IPOD, and the IPOD sounded better. I think it was because of the EQ setting.))
Laptop (6 out of 10) - Not much better than the IPOD, with one exception: I can control a 10
band eq with most audio programs I use. The key to using the EQ is you want to subtract the right
frequencies rather than boost anything. This will help to avoid listening fatigue, which if you don't
know by now I HATE. If in any program (such as ITUNES) try these settings: Boost 32hz and 64hz 3 dB,
cut 125hz and 1khz by 3 dB, boost 250hz and 500hz by 1 and 2 dB, respectively. Boost 2khz and
4khz by 1-2 dB. Boost 8khz by 2-3 decibels and leave 16khz alone. This might help bring better
sound out of the headphones even if only marginally.
DAC - ((updated)) My recording interface is a USB Roland Octacapture. Essentially it is a digital to
analogue converter. I only listened to a few things thru this with the Hesh, so I can't properly evaluate
it. But it seems like it would sound okay thru this, but just for listening to music or playing video
games. It'd be horrible for doing any audio work (like mastering a track).
Headphone Amp - ((updated)) I didn't end up getting one, but I still highly recommend it, especially a
tube headphone amp. It helps balance out impedance problems in the signal chain. I'm sure the impedance
is low on these though, I haven't checked in a while. Low impedance headphones are easier for amps to
Stereo system - ((updated)) I have a Marantz SR7005 surround sound A/V reciever system at home. When I
tried the headphone output while listening to a vinyl record player thru a high-end preamp, it sounded
pretty terrible. It lacked clarity, the bass sounded really muddy, and I couldn't believe the mess being
made in the mids.
Thanks for reading folks, this is the final draft of this review. I sold the Hesh at a garage sale late last year. I'm very happy to be rid of it, but that's ONLY because I can afford better headphones. I've owned Denon AH-D5000 headphones this whole time as well, so consider my bias for expensive gear into this review. I know the Skullcandy Hesh is a cheap piece of plastic to most, especially me. But its not made for HI-FI snobs, its made for the affordable crowd who want a flashy pair of cans with pumped up bass, even if the listening spectrum is badly unfocused. If $50 or less is your budget, I say go ahead and try them out. But be prepared to give them time to adjust to being played, treat them with care, and plug them into a good audio source ((or use R&B eq setting on IPOD)). But I would look at other brands/models first before getting these. And stay FAR away from Beats By Dre or any other similar knockoffs (Ludacris makes some). They are truly the epitome of overcharging for garbage quality. There is too much snake oil in the audio equipment world, don't be the one to buy in to it.