Archive for December, 2013


If Skullcandy has got a bad rep, the firm alone is to blame for putting out way too many poorly voiced earbuds with tacky construction. But Skullcandy had also shown it can come up with products like the Roc Nation Aviators that have earned good reviews.

I picked up the Skullcandy 50/50 during my search to replace the stock earbuds that came with my Samsung Galaxy S3, which sounded pretty crappy in real world situations like my daily commute on the Metro.

Even in a noisy shop, the 50/50 sounded the best of all the earbuds available for audition and I quite liked the price too – about Rs 2,700 (about $43) after a discount meant I could pick them up without burning a home in my pocket.

Though the 50/50, like all other Skullcandy earbuds, is available in a wide array of colours ranging from red to gray-and-hot lime (!), I chose the navy-and-gold because it looked the classiest of the lot. The inclusion of a mic meant the earbuds wouldn’t have to be removed to take phone calls. Image

The 50/50 features 11mm drivers, has an impedance of 16 ohms and comes with a nice metal carrying case (which I don’t think will survive very long in the real world as it uses very thin metal). Though they are easier to drive than the S3’s stock earbuds, the 50/50’s bass sounded a tad muddy in the first few days and I almost began to think I’d made a mistake by buying them. However, I decided to stick with them and burn them in over the next few days.

And what a change that made. After being played for several hours for just a few days, the sound settled down and the bass became much more rounded and articulate. Lively and dynamic were two words that repeatedly came to mind whenever I used the 50/50, so named because they are, according to Skullcandy, “half mic, half bud and all boom”. (BTW, Skullcandy, you’re doing these buds a disservice with such a description.)

The 50/50 excels with vocals, presenting them clearly without any colouration. But that it isn’t the only thing these earphones do well. Their balanced sound made it a joy to listen to everything from rock to jazz to world music. One night, after returning home from a long day at work at 11 pm, I sat on my favourite chair and extended my listening session with the 50/50 by almost 30 minutes simply because I was having so much fun.

I have to push the volume control on the Poweramp music player on my Galaxy S3 phone (playing only MP3s ripped at 320 kbps) to about the 2 o’clock position to drive most earbuds but with the 50/50, I had to dial down things a little as they sounded rock solid and clear even at the 12 o’clock position.

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None of the three pairs of ear plugs supplied with the 50/50 were a good fit and I finally decided to stick with the plugs from the S3’s earbuds, which fit me perfectly. Isolation was very good and the 50/50 was terrific in real world situations, shutting off enough of the ambient noise in Metro trains to make sure the music came through loud and clear, with just enough lows and airy highs.

I don’t usually use earbuds for listening on my main rig at home comprising a laptop running foobar and jRiver hooked up via a Micromega MyDAC to a Denon PMA-717 amplifier, but even here the 50/50 sounded rather decent.

If I have quibbles about the 50/50, one would be the slightly recessed and rolled off highs, which comes across especially when listening to jazz. But then these are just moderately priced earbuds and maybe I’m expecting too much. The plating used on the metal parts of the earbuds isn’t very good and began peeling off after a few days while the flat cables get tangled easily if you have a habit of stuffing your earphones into a pocket. And the control on the mic for changing and pausing tracks works just fine but the control for adjusting volume produced no response on my Android phone.

But all minor cons – given the sound of these earbuds, I can easily live with these problems.

When you crack open the package holding the Smile Jamaica in-ear headphones from the House of Marley, it’s hard not to like the earbuds. I mean at this price point (Rs 1999 or about $30), I have seen few earphones that look as good as these ones. Image

A nice earpiece made of beech wood (with 8mm moving coil drivers), colourful ear-tips and a fabric-covered cable in the Rasta colours of red, gold and green – if nothing else, these earphones are gorgeous.

The sound, however, is another matter. More on that later in this review.

The earphones were burnt in over a period of about three weeks by playing a wide range of music before I got down to some serious listening.

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The earphones were mainly tested with my Samsung Galaxy S3 with a bunch of MP3s, all ripped at 320 kbps and playing through the Poweramp music player, and with my main music system that has FLACs and high-res files played by a HP ProBook 4530s laptop through a Micromega MyDAC to a Denon PMA 717 amplifier.

And this is where everything seemed to go south. Every musician, from Tony Bennett to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, seemed to be afflicted by a chest cold on these earphones. The music seemed to be behind a veil, overpowered by too much muddy bass, gasping for air and life.

During critical listening late at night on my main rig, I struggled hard to find something redeeming about the Smile Jamaica and usually gave up in frustration.

Even a hi-res FLAC of Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” at 24 bit/192 kHz, played back on the laptop through Foobar with WASAPI came across as dull and lifeless.

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Just about the only time the Smile Jamaica sounded good was during my daily commute on Delhi’s Metro, when its strange sound signature helped overcome all ambient noises and the earbuds managed to sound decent. But even then, the highs sounded recessed.

On the plus side, the sound isolation with the ear plugs supplied with the earphones was rather good.

I truly wanted to like the Smile Jamaica – it has its heart in the right place, what with its use of recyclable aluminium and plastic and it has one of the most tangle-free cords I’ve ever come across – but it’s let down by its sound. For about Rs 2,000, there are far too many other better options.

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