Skullcandy Indy ANC earbuds review: A lot of features for little money
The flagship Skullcandy Indy earbuds are surprisingly customizable, affordable.
Skullcandy Indy ANC earbuds firmly in place and Katy Perry queued up, I prepared for a run around the neighborhood. I planned to test the customizable sound and active noise-cancelling of these true wireless earbuds—everything I could use to get in the zone—when I saw my wife waving. Tapping twice on the Skullcandy earbuds to pause the music, I heard my 3.5-year-old daughter Ria yell, “I want to come!” as she sprinted toward me, scrambling to slip on her pink Crocs. Just like that, the plan changed, the running stroller and one earbud came out, Ambient Mode replaced ANC, and I set out on a very different outing. Katy’s fireworks in one ear, my daughter’s conversation in the other, I pushed the Skullcandy Indy ANC’s versatility to its limit and it proved capable.
The primary selling point of the Skullcandy Indy ANC is an affordable pair of true wireless earbuds just as equipped at tuning out the world and turning up a workout’s intensity as they are at delivering the hushed tones of NPR podcasts during a commute. The versatility comes in part from the Skullcandy app, which lets you customize the sound mix at the touch of a button—a feature that rivals some of the best earbuds out there. While the Skullcandy Indy ANC earbuds can’t quite match the sound quality of truly top-of-the-line ANC earbuds, they also won’t match top-tier prices, either. So if you’re looking for a solid middle-of-the-road set of ’buds that’s ready whether you plan to push hard or decompress, these Skullcandy earbuds may be the perfect fit. Let’s take a closer look …
Come Out And Play
The Skullcandy Indy ANC wants to stand out in the true wireless earbuds field. Andrew Waite
What are the Skullcandy Indy ANC earbuds?
Selling for $129, the Skullcandy Indy ANC earbuds sit at the top of the Park City, Utah, company’s lineup of wireless earbuds. You can drop the active noise cancellation and save $30 with the Indy Fuel, or drop another $20 (and the wireless charging case) with the Indy Evo. The less expensive Indy models lower cost and battery life—to a total of six hours (30 hours with charging case) versus the nine hours (32 with case) you get from the Indy ANC. The Fuel and the Evo do actually add water and dust protection, though—featuring an IP55 rating versus the Indy ANC’s suitable but hardly swimsuit-worthy IPX4 (which means the ’buds are not tested against dust and will only guard against sweat and brief splashes of water).
With ANC and impressive sound customization, it’s clear these flagship Skullcandy wireless earbuds hope to challenge high-end noise-cancelling earbuds such as the Jaybird Vista 2, the Apple AirPods Pro, and the Sony WF-1000XM4. And from a customization standpoint, the Skullcandy earbuds definitely came to play, with the app letting you set your own personalized EQ mix and offering presets optimized for music, podcasts, and movies. The EQ offerings aren’t as boundless as those you get in the Jaybird Vista 2, and the Skullcandy ’buds don’t automatically adapt the EQ mix to match your surroundings—a feature found in the Apple AirPods Pro—but the customization from Skullcandy is more than functional. It surpasses the sliding adjustors you get from the similarly priced Sennheiser CX True Wireless. Plus, isn’t a customized mix and the option to switch between music and speaking modes might be all most people really need.
Sound quality is where the Skullcandy Indy ANC levels off. The bass is exquisite to be sure, but the level of detail doesn’t match what you get in the very best earbuds. Using 12mm drivers, the Skullcandy Indy ANC delivers a frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz and a sound pressure level of 98-103dB. For comparison, the Sony WF-1000XMF only uses 6mm drivers but can drive the frequency range to 40 kHz (when connected via the high-resolution LDAC 96 kHz sampling, 990 kbps Bluetooth codec).
Size and weight is another place where Skullcandy cut corners—or, more accurately, didn’t trim as much—in order to keep the cost down. The charging case, with the earbuds inside, weighs 76 grams. That’s much heftier than the sub-50 gram package of the Sennheiser CX True Wireless. Plus, at 2 inches tall, the case itself is twice as tall as other charging cases of earbuds I’ve tested (the Dime charging case is 1 inch tall). However, the width and length of the Indy charging case compares to other cases, measuring less than 2.5 inches long and less than an inch deep.
Despite the case and earbuds being a little bulkier than other pairs, they fit comfortably in my ear thanks to noise-isolating silicone ear gels with a helpful extension that notches into the ear’s concha for stability. (The earbuds come with three additional silicone ear gels, half of which don’t feature the top extension.) Meanwhile, the earbuds’ long narrow stem extended just past my earlobe for a balanced, snug fit that assured they stayed in place even as I jogged, rollerbladed, and did jumping jacks.
Setting up the Skullcandy Indy ANC earbuds
The Skullcandy Indy ANC practically set up themselves. I removed them from their charging case, which automatically started the pairing process. They synced to each other and then I synced them to my iPhone by clicking “Indy ANC” in my list of available Bluetooth devices (they support Bluetooth 5.0 SBC for stable connectivity).
Next, I downloaded the Skullcandy app—though this step was entirely for sound customization since you can use the Skullcandy earbuds without the app. In the app, I set up my personal EQ mix (more below) and toggled between ANC and Ambient Mode, as well as between sound mixes designed for music, spoken word, and movies.
Key features of the Skullcandy Indy ANC earbuds
The Skullcandy Indy ANC earbuds are packed with features, especially when you consider the price point. From ANC to EQ customization, there’s plenty to like.
Skullcandy allows you to control pretty much everything from the earbuds themselves. To change tracks, hold one of the earbud’s buttons for two seconds. To adjust the volume, tap once. The pause, tap twice. To talk to Siri (or your virtual assistant) tap three times. All of that worked fairly seamlessly (though I prefer a press-and-hold volume control that works more like a dial). But using the earbuds to change the EQ mode or switch out of ANC was more frustrating. Those controls rely on a combination of tapping and holding and more often than not I found the earbuds responding to the taps (adjusting the volume, pausing) rather than switching sound modes. However, switching sound modes in the app was no trouble at all.
If the Skullcandy Indy ANC ’buds are your first pair of true wireless earbuds, you may be perfectly content. Overall the sound is fairly rich, especially at the lower end. But I couldn’t help but compare them to two different pairs of earbuds. I was most curious to see how they fared against the $25 Skullcandy Dime, Indy ANC’s littlest brother (reviewed here). To create a fair test, I set the Indy ANC to music mode and turned off ANC and my personal EQ. Then I put on John Mayer’s “In the Blood,” which has a repetitive structure, and switched between the Dime earbuds and the Indy ANC earbuds. To my ears, the distinction was imperceptible. To be fair, that test compared a neutered version of the Indy ANC that didn’t utilize the four-mic digital ANC and sound EQ customization.
Next, I wanted to compare the Indy ANC to the Jaybird Vista 2 (reviewed here), which, on paper, offer many of the same features as the Indy ANC ’buds but sell for about $70 more. It turns out that extra money pays off if you care about crispness across all frequencies. Whether it was Chadwick’s cleaner vocals on Dispatch’s “The General,” the fiddle bowing or the banjo plucks in “Wagon Wheel,” or the thumping percussion in Katy Perry’s “It Takes 2,” the Jaybird Vista 2 consistently offered a cleaner, more complete sound that made me feel closer to the music.
Sound’s right to you
Flat, the Skullcandy Indy ANC earbuds didn’t stand out. But part of the earbuds’ allure is they offer amazing sound customization. Select “Personal Sound” in the Skullcandy app and then click whether you can hear various tones—the test measures your hearing capacity in both ears and across frequencies. You can also choose between Music, Podcast, and Movie modes, while still keeping your personal mix active. Music is the standard mode, the podcast mode reduces the bass and sharpens human dialogue, and the movie mode pumps the bass for those booming action scenes while still presenting crisp dialogue.
You can also customize what you hear around you. In ANC mode, four microphones power a system of sound-neutralizing tones that effectively mute the world. Almost too effectively, actually. I was listening to an episode of “Fresh Air”—and Terry Gross’s voice doesn’t exactly boom—and I couldn’t at all hear that my daughter was trying to get my attention.
If the ANC did exactly what it was supposed to, Ambient Mode was unfortunately the opposite. While in Ambient Mode, I had trouble hearing cars coming behind me on jogs or my wife calling to me in the house. The noise-isolating ear gels simply eliminated too much sound on their own. If I wanted to safely jog on busier streets, I had to utilize the Solo mode—which just means using one earbud instead of two (not a feature all earbuds offer, and a welcome one at times). That worked well for hearing sounds around me, but it also felt like I was only getting half of what the earbuds are capable of offering.
Lasts all day—and then some.
The Skullcandy Indy ANC earbuds’ battery life more than met my needs. The earbuds supply up to nine hours of runtime with ANC off and an ample five hours with ANC on. The case boosts the supply by either 14 hours or 23 hours, depending on whether ANC is activated (giving you a total of up to 32 hours between charges). Plus, the rapid charging feature generates two hours (with ANC off) in just 10 minutes.
I also appreciated that red LED lights signify whether each earbud is properly connected to the magnetic charging ports in the case. A few times, I’ve been disappointed to find the Jaybird Vista 2 earbuds out of battery because I’d neglected to make sure they were properly resting against the case’s magnetic dots.
Can you hear me now?
The Indy ANC earbuds feature 2-mic noise reduction that makes for clear calls. My accountant had no trouble hearing me, even when I interrupted her to supply different numbers. And Siri was able to correctly hear and respond to my question about the weather, the Mets score—not that I really wanted to know, given their recent spiral—and the name of the president.
So, who should buy the Skullcandy Indy ANC?
Anyone looking for an affordable set of true wireless earbuds that’ll work as well for podcasts on the train as they will for pumping tunes on the treadmill should consider the Skullcandy Indy ANC earbuds. For $130, you get active noise cancellation and personalized sound customization that competes with the best earbuds out there. Plus, the ’buds fit snugly and comfortably in the ear, even during rigorous workouts (though the IPX4 rating means you’d be wise to wipe them off before putting them back in the charging case).
You can spend more for better sound from earbuds like the Sony WF-1000XM4 or the Apple AirPods Pro. Or you can spend $200 for the Jaybird Vista 2 and get more durability; the Jaybird earbuds’ IP68 protection rating means you can drop them in the sand or even in the waves crashing along the shore, and they’ll still be fine (plus the Vista 2’s stereo sound topped the Skullcandy). For a similar price to the Indy ANC ’buds, the Sennheiser CX True Wireless earbuds offer a more evocative audiophile sound but a less comfortable fit and no ANC. Meanwhile, the Beats Studio Buds (reviewed here) offer ANC and solid sound but feature no sound customization.
You could also go the other direction, price-wise, and sacrifice ANC, customization, durability, and battery life for the ultracheap but effective Skullcandy Dime earbuds. Still, if you’re looking for one-pair-fits-all-uses Skullcandy Bluetooth earbuds that’ll crank the bass but not jack up the cost, the Indy ANC earbuds are a sound choice.