Headphones with an integrated MP3 player aren't a new concept by any means, but they've failed to gain much ground in the market. It's a bit of a shame, really, as the all-in-one design allows users to do away with wires. Perhaps Skullcandy can inspire the market with its affordable Double Agent headphones ($99.95). These heavily stylized cans, which are clearly aimed at active teens and twentysomethings, feature a versatile design that allows the wearer to use them as either an MP3 player/headphone combo or as headphones to be used with a separate audio device. It's definitely a cool concept; we just wish they were a bit more comfortable and dealt with audio files better.
If there's one thing Skullcandy headphones are not, it's boring. Bright colors and funky accents are a bit of a trademark for the company, and the Double Agent headphones are no exception. They come in three color variations: brown (with orange and white accents), green (lime and white), and all black (with some very minor gray accents). Our test unit was of the brown variety and, frankly, we think this set is for Cleveland Browns fans only. Still, no denying the green or brown version will make you stand out from the crowd, and the black model provides an option for those who prefer a more classic look. Other accents are fairly mellow by Skullcandy standards. The trademark skull logos adorn the earcups, band, and joints, and there's some perforation along the leatherette band. The earcups slide along a thin, looped metal band, which sticks up on either side.
Style aside, the Skullcandy Double Agent's design is fairly standard for compact, earcup headphones. The band, which is designed to be worn farther back on the head, terminates in two oblong earcups measuring 3.3 inches by 2.2 inches. They're trimmed in leatherette padding, but it's fairly firm and the cups fit tightly, so the headphones aren't the most comfortable we've worn. Also, the bottom of the earcups may not rest flush with the head. Try before you buy if you can, as fit will be different for everyone. The right earcup features an SD card slot for loading music, a micro USB jack, and basic playback controls for the MP3 player (play/pause/power, volume, and track shuttle). Skullcandy includes a cable for charging and syncing as well as a 5-foot cable terminating in a 3.5mm straight plug for connecting to a separate MP3 player or other audio source.
Listening to music from the Skullcandy Double Agent's internal MP3 player is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it's freeing to enjoy tunes without the hassle of wires. Unfortunately, audio quality is not the greatest; it sounds distinctly muffled. Also, navigation can be a bit of a hassle because of the lack of a screen, and the fact that the tracks only play in folder or alphanumerical order may not appeal to everyone (no shuffle feature here). Hooking the headphones up to an external MP3 player obviates the navigation issues, but it doesn't do much for the sound quality. Music sounds like it is coming from underwater, and high-end detail is muddled and lost. Bass is big, but fairly mushy. On the plus side, mids sound nice, although these, too, can get a bit lost in the lows. All-in-all, the Skullcandy Double Agent headphones are unimpressive on the audio front.