Now, before I go any further, let me say I do not condone racing with headphones, particularly when it's explicitly spelled out in the race rules as either forbidden or discouraged. It's disrespectful to the race organizers, to volunteers that you can't hear, and to other competitors whom you're more likely to obstruct. And honestly, I don't want to hear the "I keep it low so I can hear" argument. If the race declares itself headphone-friendly, then fine, bring your iPod and rock out. However, if headphones are forbidden or discouraged, keep in mind that you signed a contract stating that you would follow the rules and leave the headphones at home. If you absolutely can't run without headphones, wait until the race is finished and go run the course by yourself.
Alright, enough with the lecturing, and on to the review! The Skullcandy Ink'd is an in-ear monitor, or IEM, meaning that it is actually inserted into your ear canal. This style of headphone is sometimes referred to as an earbud, but it should not be confused with the buds that are made in the style of the stock Apple earphones that come with iPods and that sit outside your ear canal. The Ink'd comes with three different size silicone gel tips, and the user can install the tip that best fits his or her ear. Comply foam tips can be purchased separately for those who prefer the fit of foam, which better conforms to the ear (though foam tips do not last as long). This also acts as passive noise cancellation, making them an isolation earphone, since little sound is able to penetrate the barrier that the tip forms. This makes these headphones unsuitable for running outside, but great for use on the treadmill or the gym, where it will block out unwanted noise, whether that noise is treadmills, bad gym music, or grunting weightlifters.
|Skullcandy Ink'd action shot on the bike trainer (cropped...you don't want to see the face I'm making)|
A lot of audiophiles complain about Skullcandy headphones' sound quality. And to be truthful, right now, as I'm typing this and listening to Metallica, I'm using my Ultimate Ears, because they sound a whole heck of a lot better. However, I'm not bringing $200+ headphones that I know don't stand up well to moisture to the gym. Not. Happening. For $20, the Ink'd doesn't sound half bad. It's a little bass heavy, but if you like your music colored that way (as I do), they're a pretty good choice. There are better choices if you like a flat, accurate tone or if you're a big fan of midranges (which tend to get drowned out with this headphone), but for bassheads looking for a cheap workout can, this is your headphone. There are some microphonics (unwanted sound when the cables rub against your clothes), but I've definitely heard much worse, often from more expensive headphones. Also, as a note, the Ink'd does not label its speakers as right or left specific, and either bud seems to fit in either ear without reduced sound quality. The only issue with this is that some songs will take advantage of stereo sound and only play certain parts of the song out of one speaker, but that's pretty nitpicky, and for most people, isn't an issue, especially for a workout headphone.
Since the Ink'd comes with different size silicone gel tips, they do a pretty good job of staying in your ears. They'll pop out if the cable gets snagged on something, but they don't just fall out randomly like some non-IEM buds do. This is, of course, somewhat personal depending on the shape of your ears, though most people should be able to find a gel tip that fits their ears (and if not, there's always Comply foamies). You can also try wearing them upside down and looping the cable behind your ears, though I've found the Ink'd doesn't seem to stay in quite as well as some other headphones worn this way. They're also a relatively comfortable earphone, since they're light, and while they are IEMs, do not insert extremely far into your ear, like some of the dual and triple flange tips do.
The cable is thin and light, and measures in at a relatively short 1.3m, which is good for not having a bunch of extra cord to constantly get caught on workout machines or flapping around while you try to run. It has a straight plug rather than a L-shaped plug, if that matters to you, and the plug is 3.5mm, meaning it will fit just about any portable music player (but not full-size speaker systems or the phones that use those really little plugs). It's also a Y-cable as opposed to the awkward J-cable, meaning that both buds are attached to cables of equal length, rather than one being longer than the other (I hate J-cables). A version of the Ink'd, cleverly named the Mic'd, is also available with a microphone, in case you use your phone as your music player. I cannot speak for the quality of the microphone on the Mic'd, since I do not own that model.
Are there better sounding headphones out there? Of course. But can they be found for a cheap enough price that I wouldn't mind destroying them at the gym, and can they put up with sweat and a cracked case? Probably not, which is why I continue to use the Ink'd for my lifting and bike trainer workouts, and will probably replace them with another pair of the same headphones if and when they ever break. The Skullcandy Ink'd is available from Skullcandy's website in a variety of colors for $19.99, though some colors can be found on closeout for $14.99. The Mic'd version retails for $24.99.
Full disclosure: Not much to disclose, since I bought these. The opinions expressed in this review are mine and based on my experience, and do not reflect the opinions of Skullcandy.