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Skullcandy Ink'd Review (yes, I'm serious)

post #1 of 68
Thread Starter 
I got my hands on a set of Skullcandy Ink’d buds a few weeks ago purely by chance: they came with a used iPod that I bought for a friend. If I were a sane and reasonable person, I would have passed them on along with the player and not given them a passing glance. Being a head-fier, however, I gave my friend some stock earbuds instead and kept the Ink’ds, at least temporarily.

I’ve actually been curious to try these for a while. The only other Skullcandy product I’ve encountered in the past were a friend’s GIs, which were downright bad for the money. They were hugely bested by my cheaper JVC HA-RX700 is every single way except comfort (the awful camo cloth pads really do wear well). Regardless of my sentiments for Skullcandy, I decided to give the Ink’d buds a fighting chance. For comparison’s sake I dug up my Kramer-modded marshmallows, which I will refer to only occasionally since there are already plenty of impressions of them on the forum. Just to be perfectly clear on this: I do not particularly like marshmallows and have never recommended them for anyone other than people who cannot spend over $9 on earphones. However, they are the closest earphone I own to the Skullcandys in both street price and MSRP.

I will go through my experience with the Ink’d buds at length and then sum it up for the tl;dr types. All on-the-go listening was done straight out of a Sansa Fuze and at home I used an iBasso D10.

Skullcandy Ink’d Specs:
MSRP: $21.99
Street Price: ~$15
Impedance: 16 ohms
Sensitivity: 100dB at 1kHz +/-3dB
Response: 20Hz-20kHz
Cord: 4.3 ft (1.3m), straight plug, gold-plated

Obligatory Close-up



Build Quality:

Well, my Ink’d buds are black and may be the least gaudy skullcandy product in existence. I don’t mind the way these look at all – the black and grey plastics are plain and simple. However, skullcandy did manage to cram six instances of their logo on these IEMs, which comes out to about 3 logos per square inch (quite an accomplishment in my book).

These are also very light and feel quite cheap to the touch. Given my experience with the GIs (which are about 30% skullcandy and 70% superglue at this point), the thin plastics don’t inspire much confidence. They are, however, well-fabricated, with metal filters and no visible seams on the plastics (unlike the marshmallows).

The cable is actually pretty nice – rubberized to prevent tangling and not particularly thin, ending in a straight plug, with strain reliefs on both ends. It definitely bests some far more upmarket IEMs.

Comfort:

Before inserting these, the first thing you will notice is the lack of L/R identifiers. Bad sign, I thought, - skullcandy obviously didn’t think highly enough of the way these sound to think Left/Right positioning mattered. 30 seconds with a familiar track and a bit of electrical tape solved this problem, but it was one that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

The stock tips are soft but I could not get a good seal with them (I only got one set and they are too small). Comply T400s will fit these fine, but I decided not to use Comply tips since three sets cost more than the ink’d buds themselves and probably wouldn’t be worth it too most people. The nozzle is the same exact size as that on the Soundmagic PL30s, so I just used a set of cheap silicone biflanges from the Soundmagics.

First impression upon getting a good seal: holy crap that is some *massive* driver flex. Very unpleasant, but not a problem once they are in. The fit is pretty standard – they fit like most other straight-barrel IEMs and can be easily worn up as well as down. The fact that they are also very light makes them comfortable and microphonics are nearly non-existent. Very easy IEMs to wear if you can find tips that seal and are not bothered by driver flex, and easier to insert than the Marshmallows as well due to the longer, more “grippy” barrel.

Isolation:

These are ported and they don’t isolate too much even with the biflanges I was using. I don’t expect the stock tips to isolate any more – the Marshmallows are the winners here, though neither offers massive amounts of isolation. Still, listeners coming from regular earbuds will be impressed – I only found myself cranking up the volume by 2-3 notches in loud environments.

Sound:

So, the important question: how do these do once you get them in and pump some tunes through?

Initially, not very well. The few days before getting my hands on these I was using the Radiopaq Jazz, and the Ink’d buds certainly don’t compete with them on any level. They sound incredibly flat and harsh compared to the silky-smooth Radiopaqs. So, to give them a level playing field, I decided to use the Ink’ds and the Marshmallows as my only IEMs for several days. With my ears re-tuned to sub-$20 IEMs, I gave the candies another shot.

And this time, I was impressed. They are still slightly flat and lifeless, but perfectly tolerable for the price. The harshness is also less prominent when they are compared to something closer to their level. The soundstage is narrow and they don’t extend very far into the upper end. The bass, however, is the strong suit of these. It is not as voluminous as that on the Marshmallows, but it is better defined and much more controlled. Considering the relative flatness of the rest of their sound signature, the bass is on a different level quite literally – it feels layered over the music as if on a separate track.

The Ink’d buds also have better clarity overall and better high-end extension (though still nothing to brag about). The Marshmallows have much more bass, but it is of poorer quality – less defined and less refined. The Marshmallows are definitely warmer and smoother overall - the Ink’ds have a good amount of harshness and are very bright at the upper end.

A point to note: the skullcandies are much easier to drive than the marshmallows. While this means that they don’t drain battery life as quickly, it also means that they hiss a good amount with low- and mid-level portable amps, but neither benefits significantly from amping to begin with.

Overall, the Skullcandy Ink’d can definitely be enjoyable earphones for the price and are often more to my liking than the Marshmallows. It certainly does come down to personal preference though. The defining question to ask is: what do you value more in a budget IEM: smoothness, warmth, and bass quantity or clarity, neutrality, and bass quality? The first set of qualities belongs to the marshmallows. The second - to the ink’d buds. I think the Skullcandies work better with rap/hip-hop, electronica, pop, and soft rock. Their inherent harshness makes them unsuitable for hard rock and metal. The marshmallows work better for jazz, blues, hard rock, and metal.


Quick Summary: The skullcandy ink’d buds sport a better cable and nicer-looking plastics than the JVC Marshmallows, but feel less solid. They are reasonably comfortable, very low on microphonics, and offer some isolation from outside noise. They sound good for the price, too, offering a clear and reasonably balanced sound. The bass is what really stands out – it is on a different level than the rest of the sound characteristics. They do suffer from harshness in the upper mids and highs, and are thus unsuitable for hard rock and metal. The soundstage is expectedly narrow and the sound is not “full” or “lively” by any means.

The Bottom Line: If you can only spend $15 on earphones and listen mainly to soft rock, pop, and/or rap/hip-hop, the Skullcandy Ink’d buds should be a contender for their sound quality and ease of use. As an added bonus, they are quite easy to obtain, especially for those without the luxury of buying online. Don’t expect miracles, however, as $15 earphones is exactly what you are getting: neither these nor the Marshmallows are giant killers in any way. If you can stretch to $20 and purchase online, the budget heavyweights by Soundmagic and Meelectronics will easily blow these out of the water.
post #2 of 68
Dude... you just lost a lot of credibility. Got to admit though, you have intestinal fortitude to post a review such as this.
post #3 of 68
You didn't lose any cred with me. Well written, thoughtful review, with useful comparisons. Good on you for not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The world of retail-available $15 canalphones is a small one, and every decent review should be respected. Well done, Joker.
post #4 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by slowpickr View Post
Dude... you just lost a lot of credibility. Got to admit though, you have intestinal fortitude to post a review such as this.
lol
post #5 of 68
My favorite quote: "If you can stretch to $20..."

That 5 bucks was the straw that broke the camel's back.
post #6 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by slowpickr View Post
Dude... you just lost a lot of credibility. Got to admit though, you have intestinal fortitude to post a review such as this.
I don't think he lost any credibility with anyone. He set out to review a pair of headphones objectively, and I think for the most part he succeeded.

Kudos to the review, very thorough and detailed.
post #7 of 68
very good review and as mentioned, you did go out on a limb especially at this website. as for availability, i have rarely seen skull candy outside of usa/canada. for instance, there are no real major dealers outside of those two countries, so... they are probably much more expensive than in the usa.

very good review.
post #8 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sherwood View Post
You didn't lose any cred with me. Well written, thoughtful review, with useful comparisons. Good on you for not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The world of retail-available $15 canalphones is a small one, and every decent review should be respected. Well done, Joker.
X2
post #9 of 68
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by slowpickr View Post
Dude... you just lost a lot of credibility. Got to admit though, you have intestinal fortitude to post a review such as this.
Lol. I was going for testicular fortitude, but that works too. As for the credibility, you can't lose what you never had .

I really did stumble on these by accident and was this || close to dismissing them. Glad I gave them a shot though as they left me pleasantly surprised.

Edit: thanks for all the comments, guys. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. As for lack of availability outside the states, I guess I should put my location as a disclaimer. I know Skullcandy earphones are available in Russia and parts of the former soviet block, albeit with massive markups (same as most other foreign electronics).

Edit2:

Quote:
Originally Posted by logwed View Post
My favorite quote: "If you can stretch to $20..."

That 5 bucks was the straw that broke the camel's back.
Lol. Not an option for some people (esp. those in their teens), but I agree that in the context of head-fi it sounds a bit odd.
post #10 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by ljokerl View Post
Lol. I was going for testicular fortitude, but that works too. As for the credibility, you can't lose what you never had .
I almost used the term "testicular fortitude" or even "gonads". However, I was unsure of the OP'ers gender so I decided to go with a neutral phrase.

ljokerl,

You still have as much credibility with me as any internet forum stranger who I will never meet, see, or actually talk to in my entire life (ROFL).
post #11 of 68
Nice one joker

I really liked the part of not having L or R indicators. That shows that teens nowadays don't give a crap about their music. That also explains why I could see some guys at the underground with some ibuds wearing the right on left ear and the other way around.
post #12 of 68
It's pretty hillarious that they don't come with L/R markers. I really don't know of any other headphone that does that.
post #13 of 68
Joker, you did say you wanted to start writing your own full reviews. And everybody's gotta start somewhere, right?

I've tried them as well, and also felt that your typical Walmart shopper could probably do worse. But the business of not marking L or R certainly escapes me...
post #14 of 68
I had the skullcandy titan in the past before I stumbled into headfi but seriously they were great for their price and I agree with Joker that their strongest thing in them is the bass.if you think that the ie8 bass is strong,wait till you hear the skullcandie's bass,its so big and a little bit uncontrolled or boomy and can lurk or mix with other frequencies,but it wad very good.as for the build quality,one word TERRI BLE!the cord is ruberry but so damn thin that if someone pulled it it will snap.After two month of heavy use,the right piece stopped working and the cord from the jack cracked.but I had good times with them despite their build quality.
post #15 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by ljokerl View Post
I decided to use the Ink’ds and the Marshmallows as my only IEMs for several days.
Props for coping with just these IEMs for days.
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