Skullcandy Roc Nation Aviator
I was at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year for my first face-to-face meetings with my new boss and his boss from Source Interlink Media about the InnerFidelity start-up, when out of the blue the boss's boss says, "Say, I've got a meeting with Skullcandy this afternoon, you should come."
We high-end headphone geeks don't take too kindly to headphones painted up with pink kitties and cartoon monkeys, so I try to opt out gracefully, "Aw, geez, I dunno, they're not really my thing. They're pretty and all, and Skullcandy is a very popular maker, but I think I'm more interested in the more serious and sound quality oriented brands."
"You should come."
The Other Monster in the Room
I don't think you can have ears on the side of your head and not have heard of Skullcandy, heck my local bike store has them on the counter where the sunglasses used to be. Currently in the midst of an IPO, Skullcandy's SEC filing states, "We increased our net sales from $9.1 million in 2006 to $118.3 million in 2009, representing a compound annual growth rate of approximately 135%," and, "According to The NPD Group's Retail Tracking Service, we held the #2 position domestically in headphones based on unit and dollar sales in 2010, behind only Sony." Impressive. You can read the rest of their SEC filing here.
Anyway, my bosses start telling me about these new, cool-lookin', high-end headphones that Skullcandy just came out with and I should give them a try. I nearly pulled an eyeball muscle preventing the roll. I had my iRiver iHP-140's (no longer available)optical digital output wired to a HeadRoom Portable MicroAmp w/DAC ($549) and a pair of Audez'e LCD-2 planar-magnetic headphones ($945) with me, so I had a pretty nice rig with which to audition the Aviators.
"Sure, I'm in, let's do this thing."
There's a huge crowd outside the booth, and a DJ up on a platform scratching on two Technics turntables with speakers blaring at about 100dB. Great ... I'm not going to be able to hear anything. We walk up to the velvet rope barring access to the inner shake-down sanctum reserved for big shots and are promptly ushered in. (I wasn't the big shot.)
Hands were shaken, pleasantries exchanged, and I was soon pointed to the Skullcandy Roc Nation Aviators ($149.99). Wow! It's a very stylish headphone designed to evoke the classic look of Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses as worn and popularized by the likes of Douglas MacArthur, Michael Jackson, and many, many others. Let's see if they sound any good.
I break out my gear, put it on the table, and fire up my reference tracks. I put on my LCD-2s and have a quick listen --- the DJ is still pretty loud, but I can hear how good they sound. I pull the plug and switch to the Aviators. Oh! My! Goodness! They sound great. I really couldn't tell the difference from my reference cans on the first quick listen. Damn DJ.
Track after track, I switch back and forth. I'm listening hard now, and the differences start to appear --- the Aviators fell short in resolution, tight dynamics, and bass slam, but not far short. The tonal balance seemed excellent, and they were quick and articulate without harshness. Had a fair share of dynamic punch, too. Man, what's not to like. Seriously, that DJ must be louder than I think, or these headphones are surprisingly good. Surprisingly good!
I talked with the Skullcandy folks in the booth for quite a while, and I told them I was impressed but would have to listen in a quieter environment to get a real feel for the cans. I also told them I very much wanted to get a better feel for them 'cuz what I heard was shockingly good and I wanted more. I left with the promise of headphones and couple of T-shirts in a box and on the way soon.
Usually, I've got no problem waiting for a box of headphones, but I have to tell you I was really looking forward to getting those Aviators. I don't like the feeling of not being certain of what I heard, especially when it certainly sounded like Skullcandy had just made a great sounding headphone.
Then the box shows up....