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Skullcandy's Incredibly Cheap Wire-Free Earbuds Sound a Lot Better Than You'd Expect

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Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

Released to coincide with the news that the iPhone 12 line would no longer ship with headphones, Apple’s new $50 Beats Flex are the cheapest wireless earbuds the company sells—but they’re not completely wireless, and they’re not that cheap. Skullcandy’s new Jib True wireless earbuds easily best Beats with a truly wireless design, a $30 price tag, and sound quality that belies their affordability.

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Since Apple’s AirPods debuted back in late 2016, other companies have followed suit with countless alternatives, but despite stiff competition in the still-growing market, wireless earbuds have remained an expensive accessory. With Beats Flex, Apple made its wireless earbuds available to a larger consumer base, and started what will undoubtedly be a fierce price battle in the coming months. Skullcandy is the first to beat Apple on price and design (arguably), but if you’re looking for a cheap alternative to Apple’s AirPods or offerings from Jabra or Sony, be prepared to make some compromises.

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Let’s get the $1 million question out of the way: No, Skullcandy’s Jib True Wireless earbuds do not sound as good as Apple’s $160 AirPods, $250 AirPods Pro, Jabra’s $180 Elite 75t, or Sennheiser’s $300 Momentum wireless earbuds. But, they also don’t sound how I thought $30 wireless earbuds would. The audio is surprisingly decent—not mind-blowing, but a lot better than the emergency wired earbuds you buy at the airport when you lose the pair you were traveling with. Their sound profile could use a little more balance. Compared to the AirPods, the bass performance sounds a little overly boosted, at the cost of the highs which sound like they’ve been dialed back a bit.

The best way I can describe it is that the AirPods sound more crisp and balanced and deliver slightly more frequency range than the Jib True do, and unfortunately there’s no accompanying mobile app allowing you to change the Jib True’s sound profile, or make tweaks to a graphical equalizer. But at the same time, for $30 the sound performance is totally passable, and that’s what it’s going to keep coming back to with these wireless earbuds.

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The Jib True’s charging case feels like it’s made from a cheaper plastic and is nothing like the polished white cases the AirPods call home. But the lid opens and closes with a satisfying clunk, and the wireless earbuds are held in place with magnets to ensure they’re always touching the electrical contacts while stored inside. Charging the case is done through a microUSB port on the back—there’s no wireless charging here—but Skullcandy promises a decent six hours of music playback on a full charge, which can be stretched to 22 hours when repeatedly topped off using the case. That’s just three hours shy of the battery life Apple promises with its $160 AirPods.

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The Jib True’s charging case isn’t that much larger than the AirPods and AirPods Pro cases, and is very easy to slide into a pocket.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski /Gizmodo

The Jib True wireless earbuds’ charging case isn’t as compact as the AirPods or AirPods Pro cases, but it’s still one of the smaller charging cases I’ve used, and is very easy to stash in a pocket. It’s not going to win anyone over with its sleek design, but functionally there’s really not much to complain about.

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Three different sizes of silicone ear tips are included, but at this point even cheap earbuds should start including more size options.
Three different sizes of silicone ear tips are included, but at this point even cheap earbuds should start including more size options.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

Further driving home the fact that these are $30 wireless earbuds and that Skullcandy has done away with as many frivolities as possible to hit that price point, accompanying the buds in the packaging is a small plastic bag containing a printed user guide, a short microUSB charging cable, and two additional pairs of silicone ear tips floating loosely around inside. That gives you three sizes of tips in total to choose from, which, as many users will attest, just isn’t enough to accommodate every shape and size of ear out there. You’ll probably find one that fits well enough, but do yourself (and your ears) a favor and upgrade these with a pair of memory foam tips instead.

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Given the battery life, it’s impressive the Skullcandy True Jib wireless earbuds are as small as they are.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

One of the unspoken rules of buying cheap electronics is that you’re going to end up with something chunkier than pricier alternatives, but Skullcandy’s Jib True wireless earbuds are definitely some of the smaller earbuds I’ve tested. Part of the reason they’re so small is that, unlike offerings from Apple, Sony, and Jabra, there’s no noise-cancelling technology built into them, but it’s far from a dealbreaker, because earbud-style headphones tend to already be effective at blocking a lot of noise by the nature of their in-ear design.

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The Jib True wireless earbuds do stick out of your ears, but they’re not the worst offenders.
The Jib True wireless earbuds do stick out of your ears, but they’re not the worst offenders.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

But foregoing the stem design that Apple (and others) use to reposition the battery and wireless antenna leaves the Jib True wireless earbuds with a shape that does stick out of your ear, but I’ve definitely seen worse. They’re light enough to not feel like they’re going to fall out assuming you’re using a proper-sized silicone tip to hold them securely in your ear, but I wouldn’t wear them for running or more physical activities.

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You like skull motifs, right? On each earbud is a button for activating various functions, but it’s hard to press without accidentally dislodging the bud.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

Skullcandy’s Jib True wireless earbuds aren’t perfect, but for $30 you’ll be able to forgive most of their faults—most of them. Each earbud has a button that can be pressed, double-pressed, and held down to trigger various functions, including playback and volume controls, answering incoming calls, activating smart assistants, and even putting the buds into their pairing mode when switching between devices.

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It’s a feature that’s common in most wireless earbuds, but on the Jib True it’s executed as a clickable button hidden beneath a rubber membrane that’s almost impossible to press with the earbuds actually in your ears. It requires so much force to get the little button to click that you end up either uncomfortably jamming the earbuds farther into your ear, or dislodging them. A touch button was presumably skipped to help hit the $30 price tag here, but actually using the shortcut buttons on the Jib True is awkward as it requires you to securely hold the bud while pressing the button. You’ll find yourself just reaching for your smartphone instead most of the time.

Are these the best wireless earbuds for everyone? No, absolutely not. If you’re really picky about sound quality, you’ll definitely want to spring for something a little pricier. Sony’s WF-XB700 wireless earbuds, for example, would be a better alternative to these and at $130 are still much cheaper than Apple’s AirPods Pro—but they still aren’t cheap. If you’re on a tight budget, are curious if wireless earbuds will work for you, or are notoriously skilled at losing your buds, for $30 these won’t blow you away, but they also won’t disappoint.

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README

  • At $30, they’re the cheapest wireless earbuds you can buy that don’t sound like complete garbage. The sound isn’t quite as full as what you’d get from Apple’s AirPods Pro—bass frequencies tend to be overboosted at the cost of the high-end ones—but that’s a fair compromise for a pair of truly wireless earbuds that only cost $30.
  • Functionality is bare bones; you don’t get noise cancellation or wireless charging.
  • Battery life is promised to be a decent 22 hours when using the charging case to top off the earbuds, which itself charges using a microUSB cable.
  • Three sizes of silicone earbud tips are included, but at this point headphone makers should be including more.
  • Each earbud includes a shortcut button for accessing various functions, but it’s very tricky to press with the bud actually inserted in your ear.
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DISCUSSION

Please stop. I don’t care how much they paid you. When people walk into the store and ask for $30 true wireless earbuds you cause salespeople physical pain.