So finally Skullcandy and I meet face to face – cans at dawn! One mild mannered audiophile facing the wrath of the extreme sports icon of low-fi headphones and right in the middle is this headphone called the Aviator. Do I turn my nose up, fire from both hi-fi guns and walk away or do I sit down and make peace with the Skullcandy bandido? Yes I make peace with the bandido and the Aviator headphone is all to blame for it!
I will admit I have never been a fan of what Skullcandy have offered to date for various reasons but when I saw the initial promotional poster and video’s of the Aviator I blinked and paused. I really digged the design and loved the color scheme, in particular the brown version. It howls of retro mixed with bling and by golly it manages to be extreme yet graceful enough for even us older generation not to feel like an ass with it on our head. It’s kind of cool actually.
But of course all those pretty looks won’t mean a thing unless it sounds good right? Well honestly I have to admit it sounds way better than I expected. That’s 2-0 already to Skullcandy and I have only had it for a few days.
Skullcandy do interesting packaging and in the Aviator this is no different. Whilst by no means boutique or high end the sold plastic casing is durable, well presented and the accessories and manuals are well thought out. The package includes a really nice wash bag style leather case with subtle ‘Rocnation’ branding. The bag is arched to match the folding nature of the Aviator and everything fits in quite well (after a few tries first time round). It is not really designed to protect so don’t be too rough with the bag but it does tidy everything up considerably and is nicely color coded. In this case mine is brown but the others are black and white to match the other product color variations in the Aviator range.
First up they are unique, bold and hard to forget without being cheesy or outlandish. I think full marks here to Skullcandy for trying something new out and actually making it work in the closed headphone segment. They look just as good in real life as they do in the pictures. They are a tad smaller and lighter than I had imagined and are not as sturdy as a HD25-1 II or Aiaiai TMA-1 so handle with a bit more care. The cups are made of really nice translucent plastic that look like they could scratch a bit easy and can be a dust or fingerprint magnet. Of course the cups when close together do indeed look very much like a pair of aviator sunglasses!
They have a fold action for a small carry footprint and the rather interesting reverse triangle shape of the cups (that sunglasses look) are quite comfy for me. One thing to note the cable could have been a bit beefier for my tastes and I am not sure if they can be recabled without some level of nerve and expertise. On the head there is a decent amount of clamp and give in the bands to fit most heads without too much difficulty and they are very comfy also. The usual skull motif on the sides are actually better than I expected. The whole design just works for me. For those into stealth or Apple I suggest you go black or white mode as all the accessories are made to match.
For this I used portable gear only assuming the interested buyer will be a mobile orientated DAP wielding dude or dudette. I paired them with an Ipod 5.5g and ran it across as range of amps from the expensive – Ibasso PB2, to the mid, the C&C X02 and the budget friendly but stellar FiiO E17 and the evil darker twin – the FiiO E11.
With the IBasso Pb2
When I was burning in the Aviators my initial impressions where a bit muted to say the least. They felt congested and squeezed and a bit recessed. I think overall I gave it another 25 hours on the grill before trying them again and this time I started with the powerful iBasso PB2. The Pb2 is a neutral to bright headphone amp known for outstanding clarity and can drive even the HE6 to satisfying levels. Overkill on the Aviator? Actually no, not at all. In fact the Aviator and the Pb2 was my favorite match up of all the amps I tested. What I noticed immediately about the Aviator was its rather balanced tonality and presentation with a tinge of warmth and slightly rolled highs. I felt right away that the amp match had to ensure none of that smoothness was lost and it didn’t tip the headphone into a very dark place and sure enough the Pb2 did a wonderful job. The bass was punchy and the clarity was very good in the uppers without any hint of spikes or nasty edges. Overall the Pb2 for me was a great match sonically. What struck me using the Pb2 was the ability for the Aviator to sound equally at home with dance, acoustic and rock.
With the C&C X02
The X02 is a clever little amp shaped like a hip flask and known for its powerful warm tones and a high degree of hardware EQ tweaking. A house favorite among our local forum members. But would it match the already warm tones of the Aviator? Sadly not as good a match as the PB2, its just too warm and muffled – like a veil has come right across the sound from the get go compared to the cleaner and more visceral PB2. Yes its gone analogue and very tube-like but for an already smooth headphone the end result is too extreme, even with all the hard eq effects turned off. Of course it is super non fatiguing but simply too muted in the highs for my own tastes. The C&C X02 really does mesh better with colder headphones with a bigger sound stage. That being said if you like your sound analog, warm and very rolled off then by all means get this match up.
With the FiiO E17
FiiO’s latest entry into the mobile market and I have high hopes for this paring. In short, this is a great match up also. The software eq mode on the FiiO was the tipping point. Upping the treble to 4, the gain to 6 and the bass to 2 gave me exactly what I wanted – more sparkle in the top end, a little bass oomph and smooth mids with great vocals. Not quite as forward sounding as the powerful PB2 nevertheless the E17 amp did a great job with nice separation, better than average sound stage and a very high degree of musicality. On a price and performance, this is the match for me but the Pb2 just edges out for me if you happen to have that in your collection.
With the FiiO E11
The dark one, the Sith Lord of budget quality mobile audio, the E11. Quite possibly the most powerful amp under $100 on the market today. How did the Aviator react to it? Volume wise as expected no issues and actually it did not have the same extreme tube warmth of the X02 which was a relief. With the bass boost set to 0 the aviator had a pleasant tonality though the sound stage was smaller and more congested than the e17 or the PB2. Throwing up the bass boost to 2 and 3 really was overkill unless you are a complete basshead. Compared to the Pb2 the presentation was slightly more aggressive and forward sounding but with a bigger loss of finesse and nimbleness in the upper range.
Ok, I am very surprised and happy Skullcandy has released this headphone. Whilst it still looses out to some of the more established players in the market such as the ATH M50 and the HD25-1 II, its nevertheless a warm and balanced sounding headphone with unique looks, good packing and with the right amp and source I could listen to this and easily enjoy it. Don’t buy this thinking bass monsters though because they are technically a bit bass light but can respond with nice impact if needed. I did have some concerns about the durability of the cabling and the cups and band look like they need to be handled with a bit of care but overall a big step up from the lower end Skullycandy units and step in the right direction for me.
Currently, they retail for around $150 in the States and Php8,900 locally.