Review: Skullcandy Navigator, smart on-ear headphones with microphone and special controls for Apple devices

Skullcandy has released the Navigator on-ear headphones, using some of the same technology found in the over-ear Aviator though simplified and at a lower price. An inline microphone is included, with buttons to control call answer, play, pause and volume on iOS devices.

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The Navigator is a stylish device, with the glossy black finish on the outside of the ear cups nicely offset by sliver chrome trim and sliders. The cups fold inwards for storage and a silky drawstring bag is supplied. The cable is detachable, which is always a good thing since if you are are lucky the cable will detach when you trip over it rather than breaking internally, and if you are unlucky you can replace it.

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In the box you get a a guide to the “MIC3” button controls and a leaflet showing how to attach the cable, along with the headphones, bag and cable itself.

The soft inside of the ear pieces has a cutaway section showing the Skullcandy logo.

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While the designers no doubt thought this a nice touch, it looks like there is potential for the edges to lift or tear here, but only time will show whether this is a real concern.

Sound

The sound is decent but falls short of greatness, no more or less than you would expect at this price point. First impressions are good, with a smooth sound and adequate bass, but close listening revealed some compromises. The sound is a little recessed, with accentuated bass and slightly dulled treble, with the result that handclaps, for example, sound less real and natural than they should.

Listening to Sade’s By Your Side, with its strong rhythmic bass lines, is always revealing; it is on my list of difficult tracks. On an iPad this was disappointing, with the bass turning to mush and the treble detail getting lost too. Switching to a desktop PC and a dedicated headphone amplifier made a substantial improvement and the music became enjoyable, though still some distance from how it can sound with the best equipment.

Mirror in the Bathroom by the Beat (or English Beat) is a punchy and demanding track that is also good for revealing gear differences. The Navigators are claimed to have “punchy and powerful bass” but on this track they sounded too polite, losing too much of the rhythmic drive in the song, and again recessing the treble too much.

Adele’s Daydreamer sounded reasonable with forward vocals, though the Navigator loses some of the delicacy of the guitar picking and the sound is a little closed-in compared to better units.

The sound is unexceptional then; but good enough for casual use.

Having a microphone built in is great though. Plugged into Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet, this set made a great job of a Skype call with clear, solid sound at both ends of the call.

Controls

The Navigator’s inline microphone includes controls for use with iOS.

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The plus and minus buttons control the volume, while the central clicker is multi-function. One click is for play/pause, or to take a call if ringing. Two clicks in quick succession moves to the next track, and three clicks the previous track.

On the Surface RT the microphone worked fine, but the controls did nothing.

Comfort

Headphones are personal things and ideally you will try these before you buy. In general the design is good, with plenty of travel on the rails to which the ear pieces attach so that you can fit these headphones to the size of your head.

Unfortunately I found the clamping pressure too tight, though over time this may reduce a little. The result for me was that I could not wear these headphones comfortably for an extended period. This might not be the case for you; but I cannot agree with the “insanely comfortable” claim in the press release.

Conclusion

The design is beautiful, the inline microphone useful, and the sound is not too bad. Overall I rate these a reasonable but unexceptional purchase, but only if you can wear them without discomfort. If you prefer a slightly looser fit, these will not be for you.

The Skullcandy Navigator comes in three colours: Black, White or Royal Blue. It costs £84.99.

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