Sometimes, you’re killing thirty minutes in your local Kroger/Fred Meyer, and you notice that Skullcandy has a new cheap Bluetooth headphone out, so you excitedly buy it without having heard of it before.
No? Just me? Ahem.
Skullcandy started life as a budget lifestyle/sports audio brand, but over the last few years, they’ve made massive strides in sound quality, and pushed their way into higher price points.
About five years ago, the $49 Skullcandy Grind changed their default sound profile from “Bass all the time” to “Pleasant bass without sacrificing the rest,” and delivered it alongside a big jump in build quality.
Since then, I’ve been calmly waiting for a true Grind successor.
The Riff seemed like a cheaper version of the same concept, losing the metal build for softer ear pads. Now, just like the Grind and Grind Wireless before it, the Riff has begun its slow descent into market oblivion
With little fanfare, Skullcandy launched the Cassette Wireless as their new entry level product. Is it the next generation sub-$50 champion I’ve been anticipating since the Grind? Or is it a middling headphone I’m happy to stop listening to and hurl in my closet once I finish this?
The Cassette Wireless is a closed-back, on-ear headphone that sells for about $30. It’s available in black, blue, and purple, only with fancier branded names invented by Skullcandy.
It has an impressive features package for the low price. The Cassette Wireless features both Bluetooth and wired connectivity, with a standard 3.5mm jack and an included color-matched aux cable. This is great, both for a cheap headphone and in general! The Riff broke these two types of connection into two different models at different prices. It’s nice to see an all-in-one headphone at such a cheap price from a major brand.
The charging port is micro-USB, bad for those that are in love with USB-C but otherwise just fine. It features fast charge functionality to give you a little over two hours of playtime out of a 10-minute charge, and it’s rated at up to 22 hours of battery life depending on your preferred volume.
The Cassette branding was used once before about 7 or 8 years ago by Skullcandy for an entirely different headphone. That one had a break-apart design with a modular headband, and you could use the ear pieces by themselves under your skiing hat or a helmet. This new model shares almost nothing in common with the older one outside the name.
A “cassette tape” was a plastic cartridge a little bigger than a credit card, with magnetic tape wound up inside it. You could buy them at the store and they contained music you could listen to at home using a special machine.
The Skullcandy Cassette is here to bring you all the booming, slightly muddy bass they just know you’re craving. Yay?
These sound like old Skullcandy headphones. Every product I’ve heard of theirs post-Grind has balanced their trademark bass with reasonably nuanced midrange and treble, for a mainstream product. Not so here.
Thumping, bloomy, sluggish bass is the order of the day. It asserts itself from moment one and never stops, and it’s imprecise and sloppy. This is fun for bass-heavy and bass-focused music, but stomps all over the detail of every other type of sound.
The bass bleeds deeply into the midrange, covering it in an unfortunate proverbial blanket. Female vocals sound thick and laid back, and instrumental detail is clouded and reduced.
Skullcandy tries to win back a little precision in the treble, but it sounds brittle, sharp, and tinny.
It seems like I really hate the sound of these, and that’s not entirely right. They’re…listenable. You’ll notice the bloated bass response immediately, and the rest of the range doesn’t sound completely awful. With a few days of adjustment, you’ll get used to it. But they’re planted firmly in “fun” territory and don’t offer an accurate representation of the source audio to any significant degree.
Listening wired doesn’t really improve the sound quality, so the tuning here seems to be acoustic and not digital. It’s a boomy “delight” regardless of connection method.
That can be fun sometimes, and the bass level helps increase the isolation here if you’re using them in a loud place. I often enjoy powerful bass, but not at the expense of the rest of the signature.
I usually listen to a headphone for several hours-long sessions before writing about their sound, and if I like them I keep listening after the review is posted. I’m not sure I’ll ever need to go back to these.
At this price point, the Koss KPH30i sounds miles better. But it’s also a wired open-back headphone. Still, it proves that accurate, thrilling sound quality is possible to buy for $30.
I don’t usually love the fit of on-ear headphones, but these almost make my personal comfort threshold cut.
The pads are really big, a little bit larger than 2 inches or 5 centimeters across. They’re similar in size to the famous Grado ear pads. The foam inside the ear pads is standard, cheap foam. It’s ample in amount, but has almost no resistance to it, rebounding instantly and offering little softness to the ears.
In contrast, the small headband pad is made of what seems to be a great slow-rebound memory foam, or maybe a high density air pocket. If the ear pads were made from the same foam as this little pad, comfort would take a big step up.
Adjustment range is good. I have a couple of extra clicks on my big head.
Unfortunately, the clamping force is rather tight. When combined with the ho-hum ear padding, these are a bit of a pinch monster if you don’t get them positioned just so.
I understand that wireless headphones need a higher clamping force so they don’t fall off of your head, but I think Skullcandy went a little far here, at least for my personal tastes.
I thought about bending out their metal-core headband, but that metal piece is surrounded by light plastic that I’m pretty sure would snap if I tried to bend it. These will hold their clamp for a long time unless you’re very careful about your break-in/bending procedure.
The Cassette has a purposefully throwback-style design to go with the name, and I think they look just fine from a design perspective. They seem like they’re going to stick out from your head more than they do, and the branding isn’t obnoxious even on the bright color I selected.
Build-wise, they’re one step up from the all-plastic Riff, but only barely. The headband has a thin strip of metal inside of it, but otherwise the frame is made of lightweight thin plastic. That’s good for portability, but bad for everything else.
The ear cups are attached to the frame with a grommet, sort of like the one used on the KPH30i but without the range of flexible adjustment of that patented Koss design. A little more play here would help with the comfort issues. The right cup piece on my pair developed a clicking/creaking sound within minutes of taking them out of the box.
You can fold the headphones down into a compact form, but the folding hinges are mostly plastic and don’t lock into place or have any real friction. The core of the hinge is a thin metal pin. They do stay open when in an upright position, but otherwise the two arms swing freely.
The wire that connects the two ear cups to each other is slotted neatly into a small seam in the front of the headband. Unfortunately, it’s held in there with a huge pile of shiny glue. The glue is obvious, and thickly slathered all over the headband.
Bluetooth range is great for a cheap thing. With line of sight I was able to walk 40 feet away and didn’t experience any connection problems. Battery life also seems accurate to their estimates.
I normally test that out by cranking the volume a little and monitoring battery depletion over several hours, but connected to my iPhone I couldn’t stand the Cassette turned up much past 30 percent. The internal amplifier in these headphones is powerfully loud, so be careful to start your listening with the volume low.
A standard set of control buttons lives on the right ear cup, which also houses a microphone of middling performance for calls. The buttons are stiff and rubbery, and too hard to press. I have to shove the headphones into my head if I’m trying to press them with one finger, or brace the ear cup with my hand. They’re squishy and stiff, and lumped close enough together that you’ll have to paw at them a bit to tell which one you’re about to hit.
Skullcandy traditionally uses differently-shaped buttons with a lighter resistance, so it’s weird to see such heavy buttons used here.
The Skullcandy Cassette is a mediocre headphone that I find a bit disappointing , in part due to its own merits and in part due to the company’s recent solid track record.
The sound is thick and boomy, and while it’s not entirely bad, Skullcandy can and has done so much better. The Grind and the Riff are both way more enjoyable to listen to. I was hoping some of that tuning experience would have trickled into this cheaper pair.
You can do better as a consumer at this price point too. If you’re looking for a wired pair, the KPH30i is great. And while wireless options are harder to come by for thirty bucks, for about fifteen dollars more you can get the OneOdio A10 I reviewed recently which has a larger feature set to go along with its bass boom.
The old Grind had a much better build, more comfort, and a classier design to go along with only a slight price premium. I’ve waited years for that design ethos to show up again in a sub $50 headphone from Skullcandy, and it looks like that day might never come.
The Cassette does offer a compelling features list for its price, but its failings in sound, comfort, and build mean you’re probably better off skipping this one unless you’re devilishly curious like I was.