Skullcandy Roc Nation Aviator

Oh Nooooos!
I was at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year for my first face-to-face meetings with my new boss and his boss from Source Interlink Media about the InnerFidelity start-up, when out of the blue the boss's boss says, "Say, I've got a meeting with Skullcandy this afternoon, you should come."

Ruh roh.

We high-end headphone geeks don't take too kindly to headphones painted up with pink kitties and cartoon monkeys, so I try to opt out gracefully, "Aw, geez, I dunno, they're not really my thing. They're pretty and all, and Skullcandy is a very popular maker, but I think I'm more interested in the more serious and sound quality oriented brands."


"You should come."

"Yes, boss..."

The Other Monster in the Room
I don't think you can have ears on the side of your head and not have heard of Skullcandy, heck my local bike store has them on the counter where the sunglasses used to be. Currently in the midst of an IPO, Skullcandy's SEC filing states, "We increased our net sales from $9.1 million in 2006 to $118.3 million in 2009, representing a compound annual growth rate of approximately 135%," and, "According to The NPD Group's Retail Tracking Service, we held the #2 position domestically in headphones based on unit and dollar sales in 2010, behind only Sony." Impressive. You can read the rest of their SEC filing here.

Anyway, my bosses start telling me about these new, cool-lookin', high-end headphones that Skullcandy just came out with and I should give them a try. I nearly pulled an eyeball muscle preventing the roll. I had my iRiver iHP-140's (no longer available)optical digital output wired to a HeadRoom Portable MicroAmp w/DAC ($549) and a pair of Audez'e LCD-2 planar-magnetic headphones ($945) with me, so I had a pretty nice rig with which to audition the Aviators.

"Sure, I'm in, let's do this thing."

There's a huge crowd outside the booth, and a DJ up on a platform scratching on two Technics turntables with speakers blaring at about 100dB. Great ... I'm not going to be able to hear anything. We walk up to the velvet rope barring access to the inner shake-down sanctum reserved for big shots and are promptly ushered in. (I wasn't the big shot.)

Hands were shaken, pleasantries exchanged, and I was soon pointed to the Skullcandy Roc Nation Aviators ($149.99). Wow! It's a very stylish headphone designed to evoke the classic look of Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses as worn and popularized by the likes of Douglas MacArthur, Michael Jackson, and many, many others. Let's see if they sound any good.

I break out my gear, put it on the table, and fire up my reference tracks. I put on my LCD-2s and have a quick listen --- the DJ is still pretty loud, but I can hear how good they sound. I pull the plug and switch to the Aviators. Oh! My! Goodness! They sound great. I really couldn't tell the difference from my reference cans on the first quick listen. Damn DJ.

Track after track, I switch back and forth. I'm listening hard now, and the differences start to appear --- the Aviators fell short in resolution, tight dynamics, and bass slam, but not far short. The tonal balance seemed excellent, and they were quick and articulate without harshness. Had a fair share of dynamic punch, too. Man, what's not to like. Seriously, that DJ must be louder than I think, or these headphones are surprisingly good. Surprisingly good!

I talked with the Skullcandy folks in the booth for quite a while, and I told them I was impressed but would have to listen in a quieter environment to get a real feel for the cans. I also told them I very much wanted to get a better feel for them 'cuz what I heard was shockingly good and I wanted more. I left with the promise of headphones and couple of T-shirts in a box and on the way soon.

Usually, I've got no problem waiting for a box of headphones, but I have to tell you I was really looking forward to getting those Aviators. I don't like the feeling of not being certain of what I heard, especially when it certainly sounded like Skullcandy had just made a great sounding headphone.

Then the box shows up....

1441 W Ute Blvd. Suite 250
Park City, UT 84098

CarlSeibert's picture

Hmmm. Quality and rebellion. Or maybe quality = rebellion. There may be hope for the youth of America yet.

You've given me a pretty clear idea of what these cans sound like. That's the name of the game. InnerFidelity is off to a great start. Welcome!

dalethorn's picture

Funny - when I was at Kent State rebellion had a different meaning. It's good to not be corporate-stuffy, but how long could that be expected to last when they become *really* successful? Hmmmmm.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
... is pretty darned successful, if you ask me.

Taking a bite outta Sony is pretty revolutionary. Okay, not in a Kent State way ... that's for sure.

I dunno man, they seemed pretty real to me.

I guess I have to say that my impression of them was fundamentally of folks excited to be on about their mission. I sensed a good bit of snowboarder/ski-bum vibe, but mostly it was excitement about getting out there and making their mark.

I think they sincerely want to make bitchin' products. Bitchin' by their own definition, but that definition seems to include sound quality from what I can tell.

Time ... and listening ... will tell.

Gregor Samsa's picture

I hate to quibble with you, especially on your home territory, but if you're using the optical out of your iRiver, you must be using the HeadRoom portable DAC/Amp ($549)instead of the amp-only unit. This is my road rig, and I like it a great deal. They'll get my Rockboxed IHP-120 when they pry it from my cold, clammy hands. Unlike an iPod, it does not require heroic measures to get a digital signal out.

Did these Skullcandy cans really sound as good as the Audez'e?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
You're so right, thanks for pointing it out. Fxt!

"They'll get my Rockboxed IHP-120 when they pry it from my cold, clammy hands."


"Did these Skullcandy cans really sound as good as the Audez'e?"

At first with the DJ blaring away and I was just doing a quick listen, yes. Once I started listening more carefully I could hear the differences, but it was still difficult do to the friggen blaring DJ.

Here at home it's no contest ...

Kool Bubba Ice's picture

Love the look & style, but felt fragile in my hands.. I really wanted to hear them. I heard the Monster pro's & was really impressed with the full, deep, & extended bass..They do excel with rap.. Then again, every headphone I currently own are 'bass shy.'

immag00k's picture

I'm fairly new to headphones, so how would these compare with the beats pros and the AKG Q701s?

Analogue-Lunatic's picture

...compared to the RocNation Aviator. In fact, the Beats Pro is in a separate class from the Q701. Both the Q701 and the Beats Pro cost more than double that of the RocNation Aviator. And the Q701 is not very suitable for use with portable equipment because it's the same friggin' headphone as the K701 (which IMHO requires an amp due to its fairly low impedance and relatively low sensitivity.

Analogue-Lunatic's picture

...Newer shipping versions of the Aviators now come in a cardboard box with fold-out flaps. In addition to the change in packaging from a clear plastic canister to a cardboard box, the cable on the newer Aviators is now detachable (the one on the original Aviators was fixed and nonremovable). Otherwise, the innards of the two revisions of the Aviator are identical.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Thanks for the excellent content!
Nakaroxx's picture

the most impressive part is that skullcandy finally made something good

messiach21's picture

I have just recently gotten a chance to listen to these - snagged a pair on eBay for practically nothing ($26 including shipping). I am astonished at how good these sound. I have a pair of NAD Viso HP50s and comparing them directly, the NADs have a bit more kick to the bass, but the even response and neutral sound is almost the same. Only initial impressions though, so I'll have to do some more comparing, but just really amazing headphones for the price.