We doubt that the Skullcandy Aviator headphones are for the retiring type. The large earpiece shells and the wire frames were finished in shiny chrome, the ear pads and the leather-look headband in black. The company's promotional literature talks about "a crossbreed of street-level swagger and sophisticated class".
But you can perhaps turn down the swagger by a notch by choosing the red, brown/gold or white versions. More encouragingly, the literature also talks about "focus on performance", and as we'll see shortly they do not disappoint on that front.
At a bit over 200 grams, these are relatively heavy units, but also amongst the most comfortable headphones we've ever used. They gripped reasonably tightly, but the soft ear pads took the sting out of it, and the underside of the headband felt like a soft kid leather, although it was probably something synthetic. The ear pads were fairly large, and rather than sitting on top of our ears, they tended to surround them so that our head — skull, rather — took all of the pressure.
And while they looked rather gaudy from a distance, up close the attention to detail is impressive, with fine stitching around the headband ear pads and stylised skull logos that look surprisingly tasteful.
The headphones adjust by means of the earpieces sliding up and down the wire frame. The range of movement seemed shorter than some other brands, so it might be a good idea to check for fit before purchasing. We had no difficulty in that regard. They don't fold up very compactly, but can be toted in the soft leatherette carry bag that's included.
The cable is detachable, with a standard 3.5mm stereo connection at the headphone end (it plugs in to the left-hand can). The plug at the other end is straight, rather than 90 degrees, so you should be careful that your portable player is in your pocket with the plug at the top. About 12 centimetres from the headphone end is a standard iPod/iPhone/iPad remote control and microphone with three buttons. These were styled in such a way that our fingers learned to use them reliably within minutes. In addition to volume, they allow pause, play, call answer, call hang-up, skipping forwards and reverse and fast-forwarding forwards and reverse.
The cable itself was a little more substantial than most: slightly thicker, and with the outer insulation in old-fashioned woven nylon. However, a 3.5mm to 6.5mm plug adapter is not provided.
It's unclear precisely what the "association" is, but Skullcandy has at least drawn the endorsement of Jay-Z and Roc Nation. Which, we will confess, filled us with some trepidation, since some rappers seem to have a predilection for limitless bass at the expense, sound wise, of pretty much everything else.
We needn't have worried. These headphones certainly have plenty of bass, but, rather than overdoing it, they have just the right amount. In fact, above all, they sounded like high-quality, high-fidelity headphones. In particular, the mid-range was balanced with both bass and treble. It seemed a touch forward after some of the other headphones we've been using lately, but that was a reflection of their defects, not of a defect with the Skullcandy headphones. Nick Cave, for instance, sounded bright and clean, but without even the slightest hint of sibilance that some headphones can create.
The bass was well controlled and extended, easily revealing all content in the mid 20s of hertz, and probably lower. But do be warned: this is high-fidelity bass balance. If you want a truly throbbing, dominating bass, then you'd best look elsewhere.
If there was any limitation to the headphones, it was perhaps that they weren't quite so "dynamic" as the best headphones; constraining fast, pulsing peaks just a little, so that drums didn't rise as much above the mix as would be ideal.
Despite what seemed to be a closed earpiece design, the isolation from outside noise was limited. Walking along suburban streets, we found that we had to advance the volume level quite high to avoid the sound being washed out by the noise of the passing cars.
The headphones were quite sensitive (104dB per milliwatts, according to the online specs). The manual states that the "nominal input power" — whatever that is — is 40mW, and the maximum power is 100 milliwatts. With their 33-ohm impedance, a typical iPod will deliver about 30 milliwatts maximum, so those specifications aren't particularly useful. Theoretically, with 30mW output, the headphones should go close to 119dB.
They may look gaudy, but they sound like you're in the studio. The Skullcandy Aviator headphones are fine units indeed.