Skullcandy Mix Masters – A Triumphant Return?

As I noted in a recent review, I’ve had a long and rocky relationship with Skullcandy’s products. From the flagship GIs to the FMJ ear buds, I’ve owned quite a few pairs – especially if you count the many RMA replacements I’ve received due to products breaking prematurely… but I digress.

Today I want to share with you my experience with the most expensive pair of cans that Skullcandy has to offer you, and those are none other than the lofty, and newly returned Skullcandy Mix Masters.

Just a bit of historical background before we dive into the juicy parts…

I imagine ‘Intergalactic’ playing when I put these headphones on

These high priced DJ style headphones were designed in collaboration with Mix Master Mike, and are Skullcandy’s most credible foray into the world of QUALITY headphones, with few, if any, of their other products mustering enough quality to catch the ears of a more critical market. Originally released and sold in the fall/winter of 2010, they quickly took a year long hiatus, either due to shortage or QA issues; I don’t know that they have said one way or another.

Regardless, I got a pair for Christmas that year, and thoroughly enjoyed them (I’ll touch on the high notes soon), until they broke in half… while sitting at my desk… after only having ever used them at my desk… and never rage quit on them… Needless to say I was no longer so pleased with the product.

Despite Skullcandy’s liberal return policy, I never did get them replaced; they had been unavailable for quite some time, and the returned pair turned into $300 forgotten credits (and no interest accrued either). Seeing as I had no interest in buying headphones for a whole family with all those credits, I sat on them.

So here we are, over a year later, and Skullcandy has revived the Mix Master line, and I’m now here to bring you the good word, as only t3chniq can (+1 to arrogance).

Features:

The Mix Masters are a really feature rich set of over-ear DJ headphones, and they should be for $300. The set comes in a beautiful box that appears to have gone through as much scrutiny as the headphones themselves (would elaborate more, but I’m not an unboxing whore), inside which you will find your Mix Masters tucked into a stylish leather carry case. The headphones themselves look amazing, with sleek curves tastefully giving way to sharp edges that clip the ear cups your head.

Pulling out the Mix Masters and you’ll notice there’s no cords attached – there are headphone jacks on both ear cups, allowing you to plug in on whichever side is more convenient for you. This is a feature I really love, as my headphone ports at my home desk are all to my right, but I like to run my wire on the left when out and about, and the jacks at work are on my left.

Digging deeper, you’ll find a 1/8″-1/4″ adapter and two cords included; a short control cord with inline mic, volume and track controls, and a longer retractable cord. I love the retractable cord; it’s robust, long, forgiving, and most of all, it securely screws into the jack in the ear cups. No worries about it falling out or wiggling loose. It is a bit cumbersome for use while walking about, but I don’t often use my over-ears while I’m out on the town (I think I look like a douche when I do…) so it’s no issue for me.

On the other hand, I don’t particularly like the control cord (that’s what I’m calling it). The control pod is a bit chintzy and rather than a volume wheel they throw an up/down volume button pair at you. The track control is handled a bit odd as well, with one button controlling pause (one click), next track (double click), and previous track (triple click). To make matters worse, the track control is placed in between the volume buttons. Half the time that I try to change track with a double click, I end up pausing and changing the volume instead (and triple click gets even zanier results…). I usually only use inline volume controls to quickly silence my tunes to hear someone, but the button approach makes it impractical.

Mitigating the volume control issue somewhat, a mute button is included on the Mix Masters right ear cup, which is a great way to quickly shut down your audio if you need to.

Like most of Skullcandy’s over ears, the cups fold in for storage and features 90 degree ‘DJ articulation’, but with an added bonus; when an ear cup is swiveled, the audio is switched over from stereo to mono. This way you’ll be listening to both tracks and won’t miss half your audio using only the one can.

The drivers have also seen some serious considerations, with a proprietary 50mm mylar drivers tuned to the good graces of Mix Master Mike’s ears, and a range of 20-20k Hz..

Lastly, the ear cups are a bit of an upgrade from the standard crushed-velvet-esque material Skullcandy uses in most of their other over ears, using instead faux leather over a memory foam core (more on how well it works below).

Build Quality:

This is an area than Skullcandy needs to make huge progress in if they want to cut it in any market other than skaters and teenagers who are more interested in their style than bang for their parent’s buck. As I said above, my first pair of these headphones broke in half; the headband snapped in two as I spread the cups to put the headphones on my head, and after only about a month or so of desk use. That’s just unforgivable, especially for a product selling for $300.

It doesn’t appear that anything has changed about these headphones. The band  that the cans sit on doesn’t go all the way through the headband. All of the internal support stops right about at the end of the plastic frames that hold the thinner of the headband pads. In the very center of the headband, the majority of the support comes from the outer plastic shell you can see in the pictures and the adhesive backed pad. That is exactly where my first pair broke, and perusing the internets I have found others have had the same issue. It is possible they have ribbed the plastic internally, but the pad covering the very center of the headband is stuck in place with adhesive and I wasn’t interested in tearing it off to check. I did notice that the center doesn’t warp when spreading the cups apart like I remembered, so perhaps they have addressed it. I cant really tell.

On a more positive note, I really like the ear cup hinges/articulation. They have gone to metal hardware, in contrast to the plastic joints used in Skullcandy’s other over ears, provide a sturdy hinge and swivel that doesn’t leave me petrified of folding or articulating the cans. There is also no ear cup yolk to muck around with and break, just a protected swivel joint imbedded in the end of the head band.

In short, I’ve been using my new set, under identical circumstances to the original pair, for about 2 weeks now, and they appear to be holding up, but without any obvious reinforcement of the head band, I’m still not certain about their longevity.  At this point, I’m just being VERY careful about taking them on and off.

Audio Quality:

Shock and Awe – Quality Audio from the Skull

This is probably where these headphones shine the most. The Mix Masters sport the best sound quality of any of Skullcandy’s headphones by a large margin. Make no mistake, these aren’t going to be impressing any Audiophiles, but if you’ve never donned anything but low grade ear buds, Sony headphones or some of Skullcandy’s other offerings, you may be blown away.

Bass has a solid weight to it and is pleasingly punchy, but not over emphasized or ‘boomy’. I always find low frequencies to be the bane of headphones, especially cheap pairs. Mid-range is also rewarding with these cans, sounding full with voices ringing clear and strong. I didn’t notice any issue with treble, except maybe that it was a bit distant up in the higher frequencies. Where most of my tunes live, though, it was crisp and distortion-free.

The closed-back drivers on the Mix Masters, coupled with an excellent seal around your ear from the fancy ear pads, do a fantastic job of both isolating sound and preventing leakage of your tunes. Even at low volumes, you will rarely notice background noise interfering with your sound. Also, as a quick leakage test, I threw the cans around my leg (to provide a seal on the cups) and threw on some tunes. Even at full volume, not a beat could be heard.

I’m thoroughly impressed with the quality (AUDIO quality…) Skullcandy has managed with these cans. They really put some enjoyment back into music during the daily grind, no longer relinquishing it to mere white noise to drown out the hum of office life.

Comfort:

As far as comfort goes, I can say that this isn’t the worst set of headphones I have worn. The swiveling joints that attach the cups to the head band allow the angle of the cups to be adjusted in all directions, giving you a nearly perfect fit with no pressure points, provided you adjust the headband properly. The swivel joint also goes a long way to getting you that tight seal around your ears I discussed in the previous section.

The padding in the headband also helps prevent any pressure points on the top of your head during long hauls, and it does a great job of it.

Unfortunately though, the cups do not do so great over long periods of use. While they make a fantastic seal and feel cushy and comfy when you first slide them on, they will slowly deflate over the course of an hour or more, and eventually start putting pressure on your ear. It’s not unbearable, but its not exactly comfortable either. They do recover fairly quickly though, so a 5-10 minute break when they start to make you hurt should clear the issue up for a bit and get you back in the cans for a while longer.

Summary:

These headphones are a feature rich product with amazing sound quality, so don’t let the skull fool you. Skullcandy has really brought their audio quality to a new level with the Mix Masters. And for $300 dollars, I would expect no less.

But, BUT, the build quality is still suspect. No, they haven’t broke on me yet, but I see no change to what I see as a fatal design flaw… no real support at the center of the headband to take the brunt of all the flexing while taking the headphones on and off. To be fair, I did note above that the headband does not appear to warp as much as I remembered. All the same, if you have a tendency to pull your cans off your head by just pulling up on one cup and bringing it over your head, I would be concerned. I cant say definitively, though.

To sum it up,  I’m enjoying these headphones, A LOT. But what will really matter is how long I can enjoy them, and for 3 bills, it better be a good long time.

The Hype:

Product Specifications:

  • Propriety Mylar Drivers approved by Mix Master Mike
  • Mute Button
  • Cue Control/Articulated Cup
  • Ambidextrous Cable Inputs
  • Interchangeable Cables with Mic
  • Encore Ear Pads
  • Stashable: Case Included
  • Polycarbonate, ABS, stainless steel, aluminum

Technical Specifications:

Speaker Diameter: 50mm
Driver Type: Mylar
Magnet Type: Neodymium
Frequency Response: 20-20K Hz
Impedance: 19 ohms
Cable Type: PU Coil, TPE
Cable Length: 0.8m Relaxed
Plug Type: 3.5mm Gold Plated

t3chniq’s final verdict: If you have money laying around in piles, give them a shot – especially if you’re were thinking about getting Dr. Dre’s Beats (DON’T DO IT). If you can be careful with them they will be well worth it.

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