Skullcandy has made quite a name for itself in the headphone world, thanks largely to its focus on funky fashion and durable designs aimed at extreme-sports enthusiasts. Indeed, the company is known for a variety of things, and we seriously doubt you'll find subtlety among them. If ever a product could illustrate this point, it's the Skullcandy Smokin' Buds earphones ($30), with an in-your-face name worthy of their loud design. As we've come to expect from the company's earbuds, these 'phones aren't terribly impressive in terms of sound quality, but they do offer a solid array of compelling features for the price. Teens and tweens will no doubt be more than satisfied with this set.
To be frank, the Smokin' Buds wouldn't be Skullcandy earphones if they didn't come in a plethora of crazy color combos. Here, you can choose from 22 varieties, including a relatively mild all-black version, a Jamaican flag-worthy Rasta configuration, and an ever-so-slightly marked-up ($32) Paul Frank model with a dual-toned cable. It's worth noting that the cords are cloth-coated and exceptionally thick, earning the earphones points in the durability arena. A short way down the left cable, you'll find an integrated mic with a call answer/end button for use with the iPhone or other music phones. Skullcandy also includes a volume slider farther down the cord, which is another nice offering at this price point. There's also a drawstring pouch in the package for storing the earphones.
The earpieces of the Smokin' Buds are fairly typical: rather small and made of cheap plastic, with a "C" hook that attaches the 'buds to the arm. One 'bud features a skull logo, while the other spells out the brand name in its entirety. Skullcandy includes three silicone ear sleeves in a variety of sizes to help with fit, but we had some problems there. The smallest size didn't form enough of a seal with our ear to produce the desired low-end response, and the medium size was too large and didn't fit comfortably.
As for audio quality in general, the Smokin' Buds aren't going to blow you away. Clarity and high-end detail suffer the most, and while the midrange has reasonable warmth to it, it's far from the rich response we really crave. The standout is the bass, and even that is mostly underwhelming, at times suffering from distortion. Still, these earphones are only $30, and they do sound better than stock earbuds. Plus, they offer a durable, funky design that's suitable for their teen audience, specifically those who are constantly active. And we applaud Skullcandy for offering a built-in mic at this price range.