Skullcandy Push Active review: Revenge of the shredded nerds
- Ear hooks are great for exercise
- Excellent battery
- Huge charging case
- No active noise-cancellation
- No wireless charging option
The Skullcandy Push Active earbuds are unapologetically targeted at gym rats. They're sturdy, sweat-resistant and have an eye-bulging amount of battery life. And this is perhaps why I can't help but laugh every time I grace my ear canals with these bad boys. Because for something aimed at jacked-up fitness fanatics who know what macros are, they are deliciously dorky.
Skullcandy Push Active review: Design
Okay, maybe I'm being a little harsh. But I say it out of love! The Skullcandy Push Active's design employs my favourite aspect of the Powerbeats Pro from a few years back – ear loops.
Rather than simply sliding into your ears, the Push Active includes a rubber hook that wraps around your ear to keep them in place.
This makes them look deeply uncool, but I absolutely don't care. This feature is what I loved so much about the Powerbeats Pro and why they were my workout earbuds of choice. So I'm thrilled to see them again here and at a lower price point. At least they don't look as bad as those "wireless" earbuds that have a cord that wraps around the back of your head. No, thank you.
But the loops do present a problem other than preventing you from picking up at the gym. The larger physical real estate of the buds means they need a larger charging case. And again, like the Powerbeats Pro, the Skullcandy Push Active case is comically larger.
Here's the Skullcandy case compared to the Amazon Echo Buds 2 and Apple AirPods Pro:
While big true wireless earbud cases were the norm just a couple of years back, they've become far more compact. So this makes the Push Active case feel a little outdated. But hey, it's a price I'm willing to pay for that loop action. And on the plus side, the case is at least quite light.
Regarding comfort, the Push Active are up there as some of my favourite of the past year. In addition to the stability offered by loop, they're just super snug and comfy. This is also helped by 3 eartip options, though this is par for the course for modern wireless earbuds.
And on workouts, the Skullcandy Push Active buds are IPX4-rated, making them splash resistant. Personally, I've sweated on these pretty hardcore and they've held up like a champ.
Skullcandy Push Active review: Audio Performance
Being workout headphones, I set my audio expectations about as low as a barbell. But I was delighted to be proven wrong.
Under the tiny hoods, you'll find 6mm dynamic drivers with a 20Hz to 20kHz frequency range. And there's quite a pleasing balance between the lows, mids and highs but with some exceptions. While you don't get the kind of complexity afforded by the Sony WF-1000XM4 or Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, there's also a several hundred dollar price difference here.
If anything, I'd say that the Skullcandy Push Active is bass-forward. Fortunately, it doesn't push this sound signature too far, which my eardrums thank it for.
For example, the bass is certainly the main character in 3005 by Childish Gambino, but not uncomfortably so. The electronic melody also sits firmly in the middle without being drowned out by the bass. My only real complaint here is some slight distortion on the high vocals, which was common on the buds across the board.
Switching gears, Witchcraft by Thyra delivers quintessential knee-slapping country goodness through the Push Active buds. I'm happy to report a distinct difference between the steel-string guitar plucks and banjo twangs. The kick drum also sits solidly in the lows, adding a noticeable punch without overwhelming the rest of the track. The vocals coo beautifully in the mids, with the buds allowing for the slight harmonies to peak through.
The Skullcandy app also lets you mess with the EQ slightly. There are a few pre-made options, including music, movie and podcast modes. There's definitely a noticeable difference in richness when swapping to podcast mode while listening to music. It renders the tracks dull and dampened, which means we know it works.
Alternatively, the custom EQ mode lets you play with the audio spectrum on the lows, mids and highs so you can find your particular brand of bliss.
Skullcandy Push Active review: Performance
The big new feature that Skullcandy is pushing in the Push Active is the Skull-iQ hands-free voice control. In the grand tradition of assistants before them, you activate it by saying "Hey Skullcandy". From there you can instruct it to toggle Spotify, control your music or answer a call. And if you're in the Siri or Google Assistant ecosystem, never fear. You can still access these through the buds for a more robust experience.
I'm not the biggest assistant user, but in my testing I found it to work fine. I also found myself defaulting to it because the bud buttons need quite a firm push to activate. In my experience, this is better than super sensitive touch controls, but like Goldilocks I would prefer something just right in the middle.
The major thing worth calling out here is that the Skullcandy Push Active doesn't have active noise cancellation (ANC). While this may be a negative for some, it makes sense for the price point. I also found that they naturally blocked out quite a bit of environmental noise. Unlike the Apple AirPods 3, they did just fine blocking out noise at my particularly chaotic bodybuilding gym.
In fact, the app still includes a "stay-aware" mode to let in more noise if you don't like the idea of someone being able to sneak up on you.
Overall, I found the non-audio performance elements of the Push Active to be fine. Nothing super special to write home about, but no glaring omissions either.
Skullcandy Push Active review: Battery
One of the things I personally value most in earbuds is battery life. I'd rank it above sound quality, which seems weird but hear me out. I just don't care that much. Sure, I don't want them to sound terrible, but you're unlikely to have that happen with anything over $120 in Australia.
Earbuds are not my go-to for high-quality audio. That's what my over-ears are for. My earbuds are daily drivers that I use for commuting, walks and the gym. Not exactly the most hectic of audio tasks. So what I require most is comfort and, of course, decent battery life.
And the Skullcandy Push Active has that in spades with 10 hours of playback and additional 34 from the charging case. They have the most juice of any wireless earbuds I've used in the past year. They even outpace the most expensive high-end buds, such as the Sony XM4s, Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 and Apple AirPods Pro.
But there are a couple of things to keep in mind here. First, they're big bois so they have room to bake a larger battery in.
They also don't have ANC, unlike the above buds. And that makes a difference. ANC is known to drain battery life, so the Push Active automatically has an advantage in this area.
Should you buy it?
- Buy it if you’re in the market for some solid sports headphones.
- Don't buy it if you want active noise cancellation.
The competition is getting increasingly fierce in the $150 – $200 wireless earbuds space. Jabra, Sony, Sennheiser and Amazon all have great options in these space, and that's just to name a few.
While the Skullcandy Push Active doesn't have ANC or best-in-class audio, it does at least have something to help it stand out amongst the crowd – its sports focus.
For me, the ear loops are the game changer I have been looking for in this price bracket. It makes workouts supremely comfortable and allows me to focus, without worrying about losing a bud or having them get wrecked with sweat.
So if you are looking for something primarily for working out as well as other casual daily use, they're definitely worth considering.
Skullcandy Push Active review: Pricing and availability
The RRP of the Skullcandy Push Active is $179.95, but I've seen it online for around $140. This certainly improves the value proposition.
How we tested
The Skullcandy Push Active was used extensively over a 1-week period. The author has been testing and reviewing headphones for over 5 years and won best reviewer at the 2021 IT Journalism awards.
Images: Tegan Jones
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