Headphones with an integrated MP3 player aren't a new concept by any means, but they've failed to gain much ground in the market. It's a shame, as the all-in-one design allows users to do away with wires. Perhaps Skullcandy can inspire the market with its affordable Double Agent headphones, available for around £60.
These heavily stylised cans, which are clearly aimed at active teens and those in their twenties, feature a versatile design that allows the wearer to use them as either an MP3 player and headphone combo or as headphones to be used with a separate audio device. It's definitely a good concept -- we just wish they were more comfortable and dealt with audio files better.
If there's one thing Skullcandy headphones aren't, it's boring. Bright colours and funky accents are a hallmark of the company, and the Double Agent headphones are no exception. They come in three colour variations: brown (with orange and white accents), green (with lime and white accents) and all black (with some very minor grey accents). The green or brown version will certainly make you stand out from the crowd, and the black model will suit those who prefer a more classic look.
The trademark skull logos adorn the earcups, band and joints, and there's some perforation along the leatherette band. The earcups slide along a thin, looped metal band, which sticks up on either side.
Styling aside, the Double Agent's design is fairly standard for compact, earcup headphones. The band, which is designed to be worn further back on the head, terminates in two oblong earcups measuring 8.4cm by 5.6cm. They're trimmed in leatherette padding, but it's fairly firm and the cups fit tightly, so the headphones aren't the most comfortable we've worn. Also, the bottom of the earcups may not rest flush with your head. Try before you buy, if you can, as the fit will be different for everyone.
The right earcup features an SD card slot for loading music, a micro USB jack, and basic playback controls for the MP3 player (play, pause, power, volume and track shuttle). Skullcandy includes a cable for charging and syncing, as well as a 1.5m cable terminating in a 3.5mm straight plug for connecting to a separate MP3 player or other audio source.
Listening to music from the Double Agent's internal MP3 player is a mixed bag. It's liberating to enjoy music without the hassle of wires. Unfortunately, audio quality isn't the greatest, sounding distinctly muffled. Also, navigation can be problematic because of the lack of a screen, and the fact that the tracks only play in folder or alphanumerical order may not appeal to everyone -- there's no shuffle feature here.
Hooking the headphones up to an external MP3 player obviates the navigation issues, but it doesn't do much for the sound quality. Music sounds like it is coming from underwater, and high-end detail is muddled and lost. Bass is big, but fairly mushy. On the plus side, mids sound good, although these, too, can get lost in the lows.
If you want to stand out from the crowd, the unique, highly stylised design of the Skullcandy Double Agent headphones will certainly do the job. But they're unimpressive on the audio front and not particularly comfortable. There are better options out there.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet