Skullcandy Hesh headphones review: An everyday overachiever
Skullcandy's Hesh ANC and Evo headphones offer solid sound at prices that won't make you smash your skull in the wall.
The Skullcandy website really lays on hyperbole when it comes to its headphones. “Better than 98% of fancy-a** noise-canceling headphones out there” screams a promoted user review of the Skullcandy Hesh ANC headphones that’s as bold as it is, well, bolded. “Best headphone under $100. Period.” says another prominent purchaser’s seal of approval, this time for the Skullcandy Hesh Evo. Judging based solely on sound quality, both the Skullcandy wireless headphones fall short of the hype compared to elite competition. Judging these Bluetooth headphones by performance for the price more than premium precision, however, the Skullcandy Hesh line definitely doesn’t disappoint. We tested both the Hesh ANC and the Hesh Evo and found them to be over-the-ear headphones that won’t work for audiophiles and power users, but will definitely take care of business for everyday listeners. Let’s look past the caps-lock-style statements and see what these Skullcandy headphones actually offer.
What are the Skullcandy Hesh headphones?
Skullcandy isn’t new to affordable audio. This is the company behind the unapologetically cheap Dime earbuds (reviewed here), which deliver a way more than acceptable sound for an exceptional sub-$25 price. Selling for almost $200 less than many active noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones—such as the “fancy-a**” Sony WH-1000XM4 (reviewed here)—the Skullcandy Hesh ANC and Evo aim to be an equivalent to the Dime (and its big big brother the Indy ANC) by punching well above their price point. But even Skullcandy’s own Crusher ANC wireless headphones are substantially more expensive, so what do the Hesh ANC and Hesh Evo bring to the table and leave at the door?
The Skullcandy Hesh headphones’ design
The primary place the Skullcandy Hesh line falls short of the exclamations is that superior sound. Yes, the Hesh ANC features the same 40mm drivers and 20 Hz-20 kHz frequency range as its older Crusher cousin. But size isn’t everything. The Sony WH-1000XM4 also has 40mm drivers but can reproduce tones up to 40 kHz (and extensively tailor its response through an extensive app). The Hesh ANC offers a sensitivity of only 99.63dB, compared to the Crusher’s—and Sony’s—105dB. The Hesh Evo offers just 91.3dB. Plus, the Crusher limits the total harmonic distortion to less than 1 percent, while the Skullcandy Hesh ANC expands that to 3 percent. Press that volume and you’re quicker to reach distortion (not that you should attempt to reach anywhere near max sound pressure levels). In addition, the Crusher headphones are compatible with the Skullcandy app’s customizable sound features, including the ability to create an individual EQ blend. Spending more gets you a pair of wireless headphones with expansive sound and personalization options that better replicate the original recording and/or how you want to hear it.
Still, the Skullcandy Hesh are well-designed headphones with a lot to like. Weighing 226 grams for the ANC and 213 grams for the Evo, the Skullcandy Hesh headphones are lightweight and feature a noise-isolating fit thanks to comfortable—albeit thin—padding around the ears and on top of the head. (Compare the weight to 254 grams for the Sony and more than 308 grams for the Crusher set.) The Hesh headphones feature a flat-folding, collapsible design, but only a travel bag (no hard storage case). The Hesh ANC is available in “Mod White,” True Black,” and “Chill Grey,” while the Hesh Evo is in grey, black, and a blue with red and gold accents. The wireless headphones charge via an included USB-C cable, and they also come with a 3.5mm aux cord, in case you want to listen to devices that don’t support Bluetooth 5.0.
The bottom line on these wireless headphones is that if you have an acutely tuned ear, the Skullcandy Hesh line probably won’t topple top-of-the-line models. But if you’re looking for an affordable, lightweight pair of Bluetooth over-ear headphones that are easy to use, the Skullcandy Hesh headphones are way above the mean.
Setting up Skullcandy Hesh headphones
Four buttons on the right earcup give you complete control over tracks, calls, and volume without ever touching your phone. To start the pairing process, press the top “O” button for one second. Then open the Bluetooth settings on your phone, click on the now-discoverable Skullcandy Hesh headphones and start listening. As Skullcandy’s instructions point out, it’s as easy as one, two, three.
The controls themselves are similarly simple to use. However, because all four buttons are oriented in one line, I accidentally hit the wrong one enough times to consciously feel from the top down until I became more oriented to the layout. The plus sign turns the volume up with one push and advances tracks by pressing and holding. The negative sign does the opposite with the same actions. Meanwhile, the middle button is your power button, pause button, and the connection to your virtual assistant or to answer a call. And on the Hesh ANC that top “O” button not only lets you pair a new device, but it switches between ANC and Ambient Mode.
Key features of the Skullcandy Hesh headphones
So Skullcandy Hesh headphones aren’t giant killers, but they more than deliver in the $100-$150 category.
A sound investment
Overall, the Skullcandy Hesh headphones produce solid sound. The ANC does offer increased isolation and a more immersive experience than the Evo, but I couldn’t otherwise detect a huge sonic distinction, despite the slight difference in decibel output. The sound profile skewed toward a brighter treble than equivalent headsets I’ve tested. So while there was enjoyable bass, the sound was nicely balanced and detailed. For instance, the tambourine chimed crisply in the Counting Crows’ “Mr. Jones” and the piano struck the right notes for me in Dave Matthews Band’s “Mercy.” When watching video wirelessly, lag was undetectable. While watching a baseball game, I found the ball clapped against the catcher’s mitt and cracked off the bat satisfying as I saw the action on my screen.
Don’t sweat the fit …
I wore the Skullcandy Hesh headphones during a three-hour project staining the deck in 90-degree heat. If that wasn’t enough to prove their comfort, I don’t know what would be. Yes, I switched back and forth between the pairs because I wanted to compare the sound quality, but outside of a few seconds between pairs I was wearing the headphones for the duration and never felt the desire to take them off or adjust them. Of course, the foam ear covers had pooled sweat around them each time I changed sets, but days later they were no worse for the wear. The plastic arc connecting the two headphones can extend by an inch on both sides, and the foam on the underside of the arch holds the headphones in place and provides nice padding on your head.
Time to play
The Skullcandy Hesh models have enough battery life to watch movies or to game all day. The Hesh ANC can last 22 hours with noise cancellation active, while the Evo can last up to 36 hours. For comparison, the Skullcandy Crusher lasts up to 24 hours (and the Sony WH-1000XM4 can run for 30 hours with noise canceling on). The Skullcandy Hesh headphones also offer rapid charging, which provides three hours of listening with just 10 minutes of USB-C plug-in time.
I wanna be like mic
Onboard in-line microphones in the Skullcandy Hesh Bluetooth headphones let you answer calls or talk to your virtual assistant. Siri correctly reported the temperature and the NY Jets’ upcoming preseason opponent—though she did take a while to answer. I’d blame my wireless speed, but I haven’t experienced a similar delay with other headsets I’ve tested, including the Skullcandy Indy ANC earbuds.
While staining the deck, I spent about 20 minutes on the phone with my best friend. I never told him I was using headphones and he never seemed to have trouble hearing what I was saying, laughing at all the appropriate times. We might as well have been in the same place, though then I would have had help with the deck. Who’s laughing now, sigh…
The Hesh ANC’s four mics are also used to pick up external noise so that the cancellation algorithm can analyze and negate it. And it was effective, letting me do some work in the same room where my 3.5-year-old daughter watched a “Chip and Potato” cartoon. And when I wore the ANC set while staining that deck I switched over to Ambient Mode, which mixes environmental sound in with your audio playback, and had no problem hearing when my neighbor called to me from over the fence. Honestly, unless you find that feature handy, or know that you’ll be in a particularly noisy commuting/work environment, save money and go for the Evo. You get nearly identical sound quality and both models feature a noise-isolating fit that does a nice job of passively muting your surroundings.
So, who should buy the Skullcandy Hesh headphones?
If you want the best wireless headphones for your dollar, but not top dollar, you should consider the Skullcandies. The very best Bluetooth headphones will offer superior sound with personalized options. At a similar price point to the Skullcandy Hesh line, the Soundcore Q30 Hybrid Active Noise Cancelling Headphones offer some of the personalization features found in the Crusher, etc. But the bendable, dependable Skullcandy Hesh headphones delivered on the promise of energetic sound at an inclusive price. They may not be “fancy-a**” but I fancied them.