With the increasing focus on immersive experiences, these vibrating headphones are ideal for enhancing Virtual Reality content.
Skullcandy’s background is in extreme sports, so it’s hardly surprising that its audio offerings pack a punch and go for a “take no prisoners” type of approach. Their headphones tend to be loud, bassy and brash, the sort of product that caters for an audience that enjoys grind, carve, backside, fakie, mute grab and freestyle. The Skullcandy Crusher, however, takes that one step further, as I experienced first-hand at their trendy Shoreditch pop-up store last week.
The actual demo in London hosted a collaborative AV installation by Alex Smoke & Knox Om Pax, mixing music and animation that immersed you in 180 degrees of swirling sound and colour. Synching via Bluetooth the Crusher Wireless analyses the sound signal and effortlessly feeds the bass back to you as both sound and haptic feedback and really does add a new dimension to the experience.
The key differentiating factor with these headphones is what Skullcandy calls “Stereo Haptic Bass”, which basically means that they vibrate! Yes vibrate, you read me right, they actually vibrate. The goal is to create a sense of full immersion into the music, video and VR content being consumed, and after testing them for the last two days I have to say my initial reticence has turned into enthusiasm, these headphones rock, and jiggle!
Sturdily made and very comfortable the Crusher Wireless look the business in matt black and I was able to wear them without the usual pressure pains for several hours at a time. They were a little tight out of the box but loosened up quickly and remained glued to my head no matter how much I moshed to Iron Maiden, nor did they loosen their firm grip while I ran to catch the Liverpool Street Tube back home. Like all passive, noise-cancelling headphones they can grow a little warm in use due to the padding required to dampen exterior noise but it does not get to the point of becoming uncomfortable, and was worth it for the calming effect of screening out the noise of the London commute.
The Haptic Bass feature is easily activated via a slider, a nice touch which means you can really personalize your experience according to the media you’re using it with. The tech works by analyzing the audio signal input, boosting the bass at the same time as providing haptic feedback, and the effect feels like a pretty neat trick which I can see other brands catching onto in the near future, specially with the growing popularity of immersive VR experiences.
The Crusher advertises an impressive 40-hour battery life, and after charging it via a micro USB I can attest to the fact it was still going strong after over 27 hours of constant use. As this is a serious weakness of other wireless headphones I’ve tested in the past it was a major tick in the box for me.
The only frustration I experienced was when shifting Bluetooth pairing from my Mac to my Android phone. Initial pairing had been effortless with the Mac but when I tried to connect them to my mobile phone they simply would not be recognised and it took some exhaustive Googling to find the solution was simple, pressing and holding down the plus and minus volume buttons on the right can for a few seconds resets the headphones and they were then quickly recognised by my Galaxy S7 and performed flawlessly. Holding down either the volume plus or minus buttons for three seconds will skip a track or go back and the circular power switch also acts as a play and pause button, if double-tapped it also activates Siri or Google Assistant on Apple and Android phones, a rather nice touch, I thought.
I take my audio consumption very seriously so tested the Crusher Wireless with a range of music from Jazz through Metal and on to some Baroque Choral and was pleased with the overall performance. With the bass slider set to zero it provides solid, easy listen with no hard trebles or booming low frequencies to distract you from enjoying the music. They would be a pleasure to listen to for long periods and do not stress the ear while reproducing a variety of musical genres well. I generally prefer a more lively sound stage with more definition in the mids and trebles than was on show here, but that can also lead to fatigue, something I didn’t suffer with the Crusher Wireless.
As I said, the real kicker here is the groundbreaking ‘Haptic Bass’ technology and in spite of my initial misgivings it turned out to be much more than a gimmick, and really added to certain kinds of experiences, specially since it is fully and easily adjustable so you can customize it to both the content and your preferences. I was most keen to test it with movies and WOW, was this a revelation!
With the eyes and ears busy watching ‘Iron Man 3’ the ‘Haptic Bass’ (set to half) brought a new dimension to every explosion and punch. It really was a huge boost to the experience and I was genuinely impressed at how much more immersed in the movie I instantly felt. Demoing the headphones in the Alex Smoke & Knox Om Pax AV installation was similarly mind-bending, with the vibration complementing the sound and visuals to make a greater experience than I have enjoyed before. I personally thought it worked best when set to low or medium, as pushing the feature beyond that became a bit distracting as the bass boomed and blurred out the music.
However, the tech really came into its own when paired up with Virtual Reality content. With the ‘Haptic Bass’ slider at max and watching the ‘Kong: Skull Island 360 Experience’ while the chopper’s thumping blades rattled my skull and the bone shaking roar of Kong thundered through my body, the headsets instantly brought up the level of immersiveness of the experience. There’s no question that these are now my go-to mobile VR audio headset of choice, period.
Overall these wireless headphones are both well-designed and solid-sounding. Plus, while not exactly cheap at £129.99 ($199.99) they are certainly not at the most prohibitive end of the audio market, and the Haptic Bass feature really adds value, specially for gaming, movies and — specially — VR content. So if predictions of a booming market for such content continues to materialize, it’s easy to see how they might well become a market-leader in that space.