How much should one pay for true wireless earbuds? If under $20 is your answer, then Skullcandy has good news for you. The company’s new Smokin’ Buds are priced at a mere $19.99 (around £16 / AU$30), which strikes us as a smokin’ good deal – as long as the buds live up to the hype.
The best wireless earbuds can be expensive, with models like the Sony WF-1000XM4 and AirPods Pro 2 priced at $200, and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 at $300. But those buds all offer top-shelf noise canceling, which is a key feature Skullcandy’s new buds lack.
Noise-canceling aside, this Skullcandy offering is fairly feature-packed for under-$20 buds. Bluetooth 5.2 is used for a wireless connection, and there’s a microphone in each bud, which lets you use just one and still be able to take calls. Capacitive touch controls let you play/pause streaming and accept calls, while auto-on and auto-connect features automatically power up and pair the buds with your phone when you remove them from their case.
Skullcandy says its IPX4 sweat and water resistant buds are made from 50% certified recycled plastics and the packaging from 100% recyclable materials. It also says the use of smaller, more efficient batteries gives the new Smokin’ Buds a reduced overall carbon footprint compared to previous versions.
As for the battery life, Skullcandy rates it at 20 hours, with 8 hours from the buds and another 12 hours in the case. That’s higher than what you get with pricier budget buds like the Sony WF-C700N. A rapid charge feature gives you an extra 2 hours of playback time from 10 minutes charge time, which should be plenty to tide you over during a gym visit or commute.
With buds this cheap, you may reasonably worry about sound quality, but Skullcandy boasts of expertly tuned drivers in the Smokin’ Buds, along with Music, Movie, and Podcast EQ modes that have also been tuned by experts. The end result, according to Skullcandy: “clear, full range sound backed by impressive bass depth.”
Analysis: In a disposable world, earbuds made from recycled materials are better
There is no shortage of cheap, disposable earbuds, mainly because earbuds, whether wired or wireless, are easy to break. You throw them out and buy another pair, and then repeat the cycle ad infinitum.
Using recycled materials for both the construction of electronics and for packaging makes great sense, and Skullcandy is to be commended for making that effort with its Smokin’ Buds. As for a reduced carbon footprint due to the use of smaller and more efficient batteries (Skullcandy specs it at “just 2.67kg”), that’s something harder to quantify, so we’ll have to just take the company’s word for it.
We’ll also for now have to take the company’s word about the Smokin’ Buds’ sound quality. The performance aspect of wireless earbuds can vary greatly, and even expensive models can have less than stellar sound. On the other hand, some inexpensive offerings can be surprisingly good, as we discovered when we reviewed the JLab Go Air Pop, another set of wireless earbuds in the $20 range.
Will Skullcandy’s Smokin’ Buds be the cheap wireless earbuds to beat, potentially displacing the JLab Go Air Pop from its budget buds throne? The JLab model has mostly similar specs to Skullcandy’s buds, though its 32-hour total battery life with buds and case puts it ahead in that respect. But the Smokin’ Buds are the more environmentally friendly option, so let’s hope they sound good when we soon take them for a spin!