Skullcandy was founded in 2003 and is based in Utah, US. Their principal areas of manufacture have been in earphones and headphones. They have worked specifically in the ‘active’ sports market but also produce products for the usual usage.
Skullcandy headphones are considered a budget range of headphones and are often known to be rather bass-heavy. That is a style they have recently tried to move away from with certain newer headphones designs. We are going to take a look at the Skullcandy Bluetooth headphones known as The Riff.
Headphones have been one of the major product lines for Skullcandy for the last ten years. They have become a very popular brand for a number of reasons, and the price is one. Their products are always very affordable and cost-effective. Secondly, they have quite a following because they like to produce their products with some interesting color schemes.
In the past, this has definitely appealed to young active sportspeople who want to make a statement on the ski slopes.
There are two versions of the Riff, one wired and the other Bluetooth. We are going to take a look at the more expensive Bluetooth version. They are not going to be high-end phones; we know that, are not expecting them to challenge the big boys. But we are expecting them to be comfortable, affordable, and to look good.
Let’s have a closer look…
The Build & Design
They are an on-ear headphone. That means that they sit on your ears and do not cover them completely. They are made completely of what is a rather thin looking plastic. That includes the ear cup hinges and the headband. We have to say it makes you use them rather carefully.
The headband especially feels weak and like it could snap if extended outwards too far. It does have a kind of creaking noise when you put them on, which is a bit worrying?
The hinges on the cups have a swivel action. This allows you to move them outwards so you can wear them while not using them — a nice design idea. The only problem with that is the joints are also made of plastic. That indicates to us they could be vulnerable to breakages. They are rubbing together every time they are used, which means at some point they might give out. They also tend to rattle a little bit.
That all might seem a little unfair to make that judgment. After putting them on and taking them off a dozen times, they are still working fine.
The ear cup design, though, is fine with a very low profile fit, meaning they do not stick out too far when worn. The ear cup padding is excellent, and they feel as comfortable on the ear as headphones far more expensive. The same unfortunately cannot be said of the headband, which has no padding at all. But, more on this later.
The rechargeable battery level is very good with a twelve-hour life. There is a quick charge facility giving you two hours for a ten-minute charge.
The design is quite nice, but the build quality a little below what we expected. The absence of any metal in the construction makes you totally dependent on plastic joints and fittings. Not always a good idea for something that may be used regularly.
The build quality might have been rather disappointing, but some aspects of the comfort of these headphones are not. You will have to spend a lot of money to get ear pads as comfortable as these. They are soft and easy on the ear. They are quite large and sit on the ear rather than covering it and are not made of memory foam, but they are so soft they fit easily and gently.
Now we are not in any way experts at headphone design, far from it, but we are confused. Why create such a great fitting set of ear cups with super soft padding and then leave the headband without any. Nothing at all. Just a piece of plastic that actually feels very flimsy.
When compared with the ear cups, they feel like they are from a different set of headphones. Even the most basic of padding would have pushed these headphones to a higher level comfort-wise. We understand a few corners have to be cut to ensure affordability, but this we do not understand.
When you are wearing them, you don’t notice it much at first. After a time, though, you do. Actually, putting them on is not a comforting experience either. We think the problem is highlighted because of the extreme comfort of the ear cups.
They are very lightweight at just five and a half ounces.
The Controls & Communications
The controls are all situated on the right earcup. There is also a charging port for the MIcro USB. The control buttons are set in a small strip of rubber. Basic functions are included for playing music, adjusting the volume, and pause. The buttons are a little multi-functional, so you will just need to work out what is going on.
For instance, pressing the volume button makes you skip a track. There is a virtual assistant contact accessed by holding down the play button. Holding down the play button also performs other functions like pairing with Bluetooth. In that case, you hold down the button until the LED flashes. It will flash in red and blue when it is paired with the device.
The LED also gives you the battery level status. As we say, it is just a matter of familiarisation with the controls. They all work perfectly well.
The Riff does not operate with high-resolution codecs for audio streaming. AAC and aptX are not available in this headset. The default is SBC. The Riff will also only connect to one other device at any time.
There is an in-line microphone. It might not be the best quality and sounds a little thin in the ear. But at the price point, you are not going to get high-level results with some aspects. It works, you can answer calls and speak and hear. That is what it does, and that is why it is there.
We think the controls are basic but efficient. They are not the highest quality nor possibly the easiest to use, but they all do their job. That is all you can ask of a set of budget headphones.
The sound is one area where the familiar Skullcandy approach is evident. If you have listened through a set of their phones before, you will know they can be rather bass-heavy. Nothing wrong with that if that is what you want.
Skullcandy does its EQ setup quite well compared to some budget competitors. We have heard headphones where the bass is so heavy it just sucks the mids right out of the sound altogether. The mid-range just about holds its own with the Riff. It is where a lot of the important stuff is, after all.
But Skullcandy does like their heavyweight bass, and it has its effect on the other frequencies. The mids are a bit muddy, and they have a soundstage that is quite narrow. The mids are where the vocals usually sit. With these, the vocals do lack clarity and are prone to be buried by other sounds, especially the bass.
The sound is very much a ‘V’ shape, or ‘smiley face’ as some people call it, with high bass and treble and lower mids. The bass is warm sounding and natural and doesn’t boom at you. The highs are a little sharp at times. We would imagine a lengthy session with them might incur some fatigue if the volume levels were a little too high.
What you won’t find are smooth, easy sounds that are balanced perfectly, but nevertheless, for the price point, they are ok.
Each ear cup has a 40mm driver, and they have a frequency range of 20Hz to 20,000Hz.
If you’re not convinced about these Skullcandy headphones, don’t worry, there are plenty of other excellent options. So please check out our reviews of the Best Waterproof Bluetooth Headphones, the Best Headphones under 100 dollars, the Best Studio Headphones for Home Recording, the Most Comfortable Headphones, and the Best Headphones and Earbuds for Sleeping currently available.
Skullcandy Riff Pros & Cons
- Good for bass-driven music.
- Bluetooth works well.
- Very comfortable earpads.
- Quality, clear in-built microphone.
- Quick recharging times.
- Non-padding on the headband
- Low build quality using cheap plastics.
- The scooped out mids lack clarity.
- No passive noise cancelation.
It is quite difficult to put an opinion into general terms. It’s not easy to say we like them or we don’t. They have some good points, but then they have some bad points. That, of course, applies to most things.
They haven’t got too much in the way of accessories. There is no headphone jack or cable should you want to use it for ‘wired’ listening. And the audio reproduction leaves quite a bit to be desired. It might suit some and has the feeling of the ‘active’ sports about it.
People who use headphones in the gym like the bass-heavy sound. These have that appeal in their DNA, but they aren’t designed for that. With such a ‘V’ in the audio reproduction, they aren’t going to win too many fans from the sound purists.
The all-plastic design is not uncommon with headphones. Plastic is used for the very-high level phones as well. The difference is that on those phones, the plastic is tougher and certainly more flexible. They also have a certain amount of metal involved in the construction for strength and flexibility. There is none of that here.
The plastic feels stiff and a bit weak and vulnerable. And without any metal in support, anywhere does not feel secure. The headband, especially, is an area of concern. It has no padding for comfort no metallic support.
Heads come in different sizes, and while it is adjustable, it might not suit someone with a larger head size. The rotating ear cups are a good design idea, but again, these are made purely of plastic. Will they last a decent amount of time with constant use?
For those that like their low and high frequencies boosted, they produce a decent sound. The design is quite nice and appealing, and they have a nice feel about them. They score heavily with earpad comfort, which would be one of the big reasons for buying them. They certainly cannot be faulted in that area, and the swivel ear cup design is a good idea.
Controls are conveniently placed, and once you have got them worked out are easy to use. Bluetooth pairing is simple and quick. Call answering is efficient, and the audio at an acceptable level if a little quiet. They are lightweight to wear and so are not going to be obtrusive in use.
So, while going through this Skullcandy Riff Review, we have seen some good and some not so good things. But at the end of the day, I think we have to ignore most of the negatives. They are a budget pair of Bluetooth headphones. There are going to be cutbacks to achieve a budget price. The build quality is concerning, but it just means being very careful when using them.
As long as you don’t expect great quality in build or sound, then the price point means the Skullcandy Bluetooth headphones are a good buy.