For the last year, my in-ear headphones have been stuck at the bottom of a cupboard. With no gym and no commute, I’ve had no need for them, but with lockdown restrictions easing soon then we can start looking forward to noisy commutes and people grunting like distressed oxen at the gym. Handily, Skullcandy have sent us a pair of their Indy ANC True Wireless wireless earbuds to review and luckily, they’re rather good.
They are completely cable-free, each bud has its own individual power supply built-in with a Bluetooth link to your phone. Set up is remarkably easy – no faffing about holding buttons down and counting to five here – the first time you take the earbuds out of the pleasingly curvy case they are in pair mode ready to be linked to the device of your choice. Each earbud has a selection of earbud tips and a stability fin to help you insert them into your ears and at around 130 grams they weigh barely anything, making them very comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. I did use them on a morning run – because that’s a thing I do now and it’s horrible – and despite my lumbering gait which sets off earthquake alerts over in California, they remained in place the entire time.
The Skullcandy app, which is available on both iOS and Android, includes Audiodo, a system that gives you a personal calibration for each earbud, and you can also download Tile, another handy app that allows you to track your headphones if you’ve lost them. Both of these take just minutes to set up and are recommended but obligatory.
The earbuds are clearly aimed at dance music fans as the bass accuracy is superb but heavily overemphasised, kick drums and basslines thunder along and mid-range sounds such as vocals and synths are also very clear. You can’t have everything so the treble suffers a little, hi-hats and other percussion sounds a little muted but you can tweak everything with an equaliser if needs be. They are also pleasingly loud – I’m sure some EU thinktank will try and ban them – but for me the punchy sound was just like being back in a nightclub. Ah, happy days. Due to the bass-heavy audio they also work well with mobile games, explosions or gunfire really pop and even Candy Crush sounds epic.
Each earpiece has a button right in the centre and by pressing it for certain lengths of time you can change volume, move to the next track in your playlist, answer a call with the built-in mic, change the EQ mode, activate a voice assistant, and probably summon The Avengers as well. Personally, I found this all to be way too fiddly, but I do have sausage fingers, and it’s much easier just to pull out your phone and control everything from there.
The earbuds will last for around five hours with ANC turned on, and nine hours with it off, and the pleasingly chunky storage case also doubles as a charger with up to three extra charges. Unless you are spending all day with headphones in that seems more than enough to me, and while it’s slightly less than similar offerings like the Airpods Pro, the Indy ANC is a good chunk cheaper.
The big selling point of the Indy is the Active Noise Cancellation which mutes external sounds so whatever you are listening to sounds clearer. It’s here I hit a problem, thanks to Covid, even the noisiest city in the world is peaceful; London’s traffic has significantly reduced, there’s no commuting, and the jet planes that used to roar across the sky every two minutes have been replaced by the sound of tweeting songbirds. Despite these limitations, I devised three tests.
Test 1: The London Underground. This was the noisiest place I could think of so just for you dear readers I risked my life and got up at 6AM on a Sunday and headed down to the Tube, the first time I had done so in almost a year. As expected there was no one else around so I had an entire train to myself and popped in the Skullcandy headphones to see how well they could block out the grinding, screeching racket known as the Victoria Line. They performed remarkably well, lower hums and rumbles were non-existent and the piercing, high pitched scream of the train rounding a corner was significantly reduced. Arriving at Oxford Circus I stepped out into central London and found that I was the only person there and walked down the middle of Regent Street with the headphones still on and discovered the ANC even cut out the sound of my footsteps, an incredibly odd experience.
Test 2: Chit-chat. There’s a lady at my gym with a personal trainer who is clearly a reincarnated saint as he has to listen to her talk about every minor detail of her life as she “works out”. Lady, if you are gossiping about your sister’s new boyfriend you ain’t lifting heavy enough things. Anyway, she’s very annoying and if the Skullcandy Indy ANC could block her out then I would be in heaven, but obviously, I could not test this in situ. Instead, I spent a morning wandering around the parks of London trying to find couples and discretely tailing them to see if I could catch any of their mundane chatter. It’s not a like-for-like test but the Indy ANC’s passed admirably, mouths were flapping but I couldn’t hear a word.
Test 3. The Flat Below. My downstairs neighbour is a lovely old lady who is always very quiet and as there’s no soundproofing between the floor of my bedroom and the ceiling of her kitchen, this is a godsend. However, she’s a bit of a Cougar and spends six months of the year, basically all of winter, over in Thailand, partying with the gentlemen of the region. You know what I mean, what a minx she is, I want to be like her when I am seventy.
Anyway, due to Covid, she’s been stuck in Thailand since last February so has rented out her flat to a delightful couple who have an equally delightful child. And by ‘equally delightful’ I mean he’s the hellspawn of Satan who has no volume level and shouts and screams at everything. This was the ultimate test, I know the hellspawn has his breakfast at 7AM every day so just before then I popped on the headphones and loaded up the Myths & Legends podcast, which is what I listen to when going to sleep. Utter bliss! Apart from the very occasional scream, the child was silenced and I snoozed for another hour. Excellent!