Skullcandy continues to pursue its youthful listening-device niche with the Aviators, a collaborative effort with Roc Nation, a music publishing and entertainment company founded by hip-hop mogul Jay-Z. The $150 on-ear headphones are among the priciest cans the company offers and we have doubts about the price considering the younger demographic, but an attractive retro design, an in-line remote control that doubles as a microphone, and impressive sound quality merit a high score and our recommendation to anyone shopping for a new set of headphones.
Design and features
The Roc Nation Aviator headphones are the first we've seen from Skullcandy that carry a subtle aesthetic--the rest of the company's offerings redefine the meaning of words like "bulky" and "overbuilt," but the Roc Nation Aviators bring an elegant flavor to the product lineup with three color choices (Black, Brown Gold, and White) that all feature a pliable leather headband and light branding on the silver connection points and inside the earcups as well.
The two earpieces build on a classic egg shape that invokes the spirit of the aviator sunglasses famously worn by Erik Estrada's character in the '70s TV show "CHiPs." Skullcandy modernizes the classic headphone shape with a translucent outer earcup shell that lets you check out the 40mm speakers and Mylar drivers inside.
Like all over-ear headphones, you can make size adjustments to the Aviators by pulling up and down on the polished silver slide rail that forms the curved shape of the headband. The frame also bends at the top of the both earcups, allowing you to fold them into the headband for safe storage, although we're worried that the continued joint strain from folding and unfolding could damage the structural integrity over the long run.
That said, the rest of the build quality is top-notch; Skullcandy goes the extra mile to reinforce the cable connection that's notorious for headphone hardware failure, and the tough polycarbonate frame forms a protective skeleton for the vinyl-lined headband. We're also assured that the Aviators will withstand a beating thanks to the nylon-braided cable that extends 1.3 meters past the left earcup, but we hope Skullcandy will push its durability further and allow detachable cables in future versions.
The single-sided cable design minimizes annoying tangles and the wire also has a light plastic remote several inches down that you can use to navigate music playback on your Android or iPhone-powered smartphone. Finally, the cord terminates in a straight and narrow plug to fit a universe of existing devices and cases.
We used the Skullcandy Roc Nation Aviators intermittently for over a week and have few complaints about the fit and shape of the headphones. The plush leather ear protectors create a loose seal that lets you hear ambient noise while also keeping your music between your ears with adequate sound isolation. The headphones are surprisingly light considering the stainless steel accents, and you also get plenty of room within the wide pyramidal-shape earcups to accommodate a range of ear sizes.
The majority of Skullcandy headphones appeal to the younger market that values bass response over all other instruments, but the Roc Nation Aviators have a sound signature that sways more toward the midrange, with a balanced treble sparkle comparable to the Klipsch Image One headphones.
After spending a week listening to all types of music through the headphones, we get the impression that the Skullcandys' open soundstage is better suited for genres driven by string instruments like rock and country, whereas the Image Ones boast a fuller and richer tonal balance that lends itself well to hip-hop and techno.
That's not to say that the Roc Nation Aviators can't handle tracks laden with drum machines and synthesizers--tracks from Nicki Minaj's "Pink Friday" album sound more defined with the Aviators. It's easier to pick out the individual harmonies and focus on the clear vocals without an obtrusive bass peak throwing off the other frequencies.
However, if you prefer the booming nature of extended bass in your headphones, we recommend the Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Studio that border on excessively low-end-heavy thanks to an extra boost from a digital amplifier. Prepare to pay a premium, however, as the Dr. Dre Studios will set you back $300, double the cost of the Skullcandy Roc Nation Aviators.
The Skullcandy Roc Nation Aviators are compelling headphones for anyone who values a natural sound over artificially enhanced bass. The in-line remote is handy for use with portable devices, and the relative sound isolation makes the Aviators appropriate for offices and other environments where you still need to hear noises around you. You can certainly invest more for audiophile-quality headphones or spend less on a basic model without the aesthetic appeal, but if you're not on a tight budget and a balanced set of headphones is on your wish list, the Roc Nation Aviators are a worthwhile investment.