Headphones have become a commodity and it’s very easy to find cheap earbuds and on-ear models for under $80. The category is now measured in the billions of dollars, and it dwarfs the high-end audio industry by a considerable margin. Skullcandy is one of the biggest brands in category and it’s fair to say that you can find their products almost anywhere.
Products like the Skullcandy Push Active Wireless Earbuds are showing up in gas stations, 7-Eleven, airports, and discount retailers which is probably not a good thing for true wireless category overall in terms of consumers thinking there is little reason to spend more for better quality.
Skullcandy recently sent their latest gym model in-ear aptly named the Push Active for review. Skullcandy has been around since the mid-2010s and has had a focus on budget models for the teen market and the athletic market starting first with over-ear models and more recently adding in-ears to their catalog.
The Push Active is aimed firmly at the Gym/sports market with large ear-hooks to help with retention, a large solid build, and an IP55 rating so a little water shouldn’t be a problem. These are not small in-ears but the main body sits on the ear rather than in the ear which makes fit a bit less daunting for those with small ears. The button for control is on the bottom side instead of the face which surprisingly worked very well and didn’t move the earpiece around like I had thought it might. With a nearly 10 hour battery life, the earpieces will likely outlast your workout anyway, but the case does add another two full charges and a partial third charge before needing to be plugged in. The case has a covered USB port on the rear and takes about 3 hours to recharge fully. Four LED charge indicators show charge status of the case just below the relief cut on the front of the case. Wireless charging is not an option. The Earpieces do support a quick charge feature where 10 to 15 minutes of charge time nets 2 hours of listening time. My particular pair are the Skullcandy classic black and orange color pairing with the inner case lid, USB port cover, and button on the earpieces in orange and the case exterior, docking bay, and body of the earpieces in flat black. Additional color combinations are offered as well with navy with mint highlights and gray with light blue accents also available.
Internally, the Push Active uses a single dynamic driver but Skullcandy chooses not to release a lot of details about impedance, sensitivity and such. Skullcandy lists Bluetooth version 5.2 in the ad-copy for the Push Active but not AptX or AAC support. I attempted to force both AAC and AptX based on the Bluetooth 5.2 spec but did not get a successful connection in either test. I was able to pair with both an iPhone 13 and a Samsung S21 but it should be noted that you’ll need to install the Skullcandy app to successfully use the Push Active from either Android or iOS devices.
The App, is the place Skullcandy has obviously expended a lot of effort and it incorporates a lot of features you won’t find in competitors offerings regardless of price. Together, these are referred to as “Skull-IQ”. It should be noted that not all devices support all functions of Skull-IQ as the custom tuning options available on the Grind Fuel have not found their way to the Push Active (yet?). There are the common EQ presets and custom settings, Spotify Tap, “Hey Skullcandy (digital assistant), Share Audio, and a “take a photo” option.
To me the most interesting is that Skullcandy chose to develop their own digital assistant just to control the earpieces. No, “Hey Skullcandy” won’t tell you a joke or update your calendar although you can use it to turn on another digital assistant to do those things. It is all about controlling the earphones. Yes the same functions can be done by touch but if you are like me, you never remember if its two or three clicks or if that is press and hold the left or right. I blame having reviewed too many different models but, fact is, I wouldn’t remember even if I’d had only one, so the voice activation is a nice feature.
Spotify tap is exactly what it sounds like, the ability to turn Spotify on and off by tapping an earpiece. And Audio sharing lets two sets of Skull-IQ-enabled earbuds listen to the same device simultaneously. To use it, the sharer sets up the source and turns on the sharing feature. The share-e then pairs their earbuds to the source and has independent volume control. I found it worked well if both pairs of earphones and the source were kept within about 15-20 feet of each other in open space.
The take a photo is also a neat feature but may not work with all devices so test yours before you go out the field with it. The idea is to use one of your earpieces as a Bluetooth remote for your phone or tablet camera. It’s a great way to put the phone down and take a group shot without leaving someone out or to take a selfie without the odd angle normally seen with holding a phone at arm’s reach.
And finally, Skullcandy partnered with Tile to add find my Skullcandy to the earpieces. There is a setup routine and you do need the Tile app installed in addition to the Skullcandy app to take advantage of this feature. If you drop an earbud, you can make it chirp through the tile app to help you find it again. The sound isn’t loud enough to hear from 20 yards away, but if you know the approximate spot you dropped the earpiece it is enough to help find one in mulch or tall grass if working outdoors and certainly enough to find one hiding between couch cushions.
The Push Active retains Skullcandy’s typical V signature with big bass and nearly as large a treble peak and a dip in the middle between the two. Bass hits are big with good sub-bass depth and quantity and kick drum hits shows off the mid-bass power which is a good tuning for gym users where a steady beat and a bit of bass elevation help keep the user moving. Tunes like “Burning down the house”, Talking Heads have enough clarity that the vocals cut through well while the lows remain the star of the show.
Guitar centric tracks like Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Joe Bonamassa have good clarity and growl and bass doesn’t overshadow the guitar like it can a bit on the Talking Head’s track. The upper range is accentuated to a lesser degree than the lows, and keeps the Push Active from feeling too closed in but can be a touch harsh on some tracks.
So, the Push Active has some high points and some low ones. Lack of aptX and AAC is a bit of a disappointment but connectivity was solid none the less. They have good battery life although they lack wireless charging that is showing up on many new models. They have a popular V signature and offer some tuning options to alter it to the users preference and they benefit from the myriad features in the new Skullcandy Skull-IQ App.
They make a compelling argument for outdoor enthusiasts and younger users who may need the extra durability these offer and the Tile feature to find a lost earpiece. My children would have certainly benefitted from this and it would have been a selling point for me when they were younger. Bottom line, Skullcandy is getting better in both sound and features and will soon be challenging much bigger names if they continue at this pace. For now, there is a lot of competition out there at this price point and the Push Active is likely only a top choice for those where the build quality, durability, and waterproofing are top priorities.
Where to buy: $77.99 at Amazon