As deep bass becomes increasingly easier to produce in relatively affordable headphones, companies are adding new tricks to the equation to win your interest. Beyerdynamic and Skullcandy both recently released headphones with adjustable bass sliders—but Skullcandy’s Crusher, at $99.95 (direct), is both much more affordable and far more brazen in its approach, allowing you to raise the bass to insane levels. Used with a subtle touch, the bass slider still brings plenty of deep bass—and a nice balance in the high-mids and highs. Combine that with the removable cable, which has an inline remote and microphone for mobile devices, and the Crusher is a winner. But make no mistake, it’s very easy to make these headphones sound horrifyingly bass-heavy and very bad—it’s up to you to find the right balance.
The Crusher’s glossy plastic contour comes in three color options—white, red, or black. The earcups are well-padded with plush black pads, and the underside of the headband has a sufficient amount of cushion, though it’s not quite as plush as the ear pads. Because of the massive amount of bass response the Crusher is capable of producing, the headphones require ports on either ear cup to help the drivers operate with ease.
Behind the right ear cushion is a battery compartment for one AA battery, which is included. I found it a bit annoying to remove a battery from the compartment, but you’ll only have to do that roughly every 40 hours of playback time, according to Skullcandy—and that rating is based on playback with the bass at the maximum, ridiculously pumped-up level.
The bass slider on the right ear cup effectively acts as an on/off switch, as well. When you see the red dot on the slider appear, you’re no longer pulling power from the battery. It’s a bit disconcerting, because there’s no reassuring click you feel or hear with a typical power switch, but it turns the internal amp off nonetheless. If music is paused or the headphones are disconnected from an audio source, this also shuts off the internal amp and saves battery life.
You can listen to music passively (with the slider in the off position) or without any battery in the compartment whatsoever—you just lose the ability to adjust the bass.
The included cable is removable and features an inline remote control and microphone for mobile devices. This increases the value of the Crusher, as it’s far less expensive to buy a new cable than it is to replace the whole headphone pair if the cable malfunctions over time. The remote is of the single button variety, which means no volume controls, but it has greater compatibility across most of the popular mobile device platforms.
A black nylon drawstring pouch is also included with the Crusher, which the headphones easily fold down into.
With the bass slider in the off position, the Crusher already produces a substantial amount of bass response. Tracks with intense sub-bass content, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” are delivered with a respectable thump. At top volumes, with the slider off, tracks like this sound like they are teetering on the edge of distortion, but never quite give in. With the slider up all the way…whoa. We have some actual driver distortion, combined with serious vibration of the headphone frame itself, which also sounds a bit like distortion, but isn’t. The headphones feel like they’re one of those massage chairs at the airport, but burrowing into your skull—it doesn’t hurt, but it’s not exactly a relaxing feeling. Good thing no sane person will be using these headphones with both the volume and the bass slider maxed out!
Once we put the slider at mid-way, and lower the volume from our sound source (in this case, an iPhone 4S), things get a little less intense, though a track with this much deep bass is still going to be a distortion threat until you dip well below the halfway point for the bass slider. This track hardly needs more bass response to begin with, so we’ll take the intense vibrations and distorted lows with a grain of salt.
At a mid-level bass setting on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the Crusher blends the low frequencies in nicely with what is a fairly crisp response. There’s no distortion at top-bass volume, but even though this track has less in-your-face sub-bass in the mix, the Crusher still sounds ridiculous. Oddly, the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the drum loop only catch the power of the bass slider when the synth hits the higher notes in its short progression—the lowest note, which it hits most often, gets lost in the mix and the other slightly higher notes boom with gusto. So even with this much boosted bass, it doesn’t reach all the way down into the lowest depths of subwoofer thunder.
I found that, at about 25-percent bass level, this track sounded intense in the lows and still crisp and clear in the highs. And with the slider off, the track sounds a lot thinner, and seems to have almost no low-end presence. For me, the sweet spot is at about one-quarter bass level.
This bass level seemed to work pretty well with other genres, too—Bill Callahan’s “Drover” gets the right amount of crisp high-mid presence so that his voice can handle the extra richness it gets from the low-end. At maximum or even mid-bass level, the balance is tipped way off and the song sounds comically bass-heavy. Even classical tracks can sound ridiculously bass-heavy, which is not really desirable, so your best bet is to keep the slider at very moderate settings.
It seems silly to knock a pair of headphones that has the capability of sounding quite balanced and powerful just because it allows the user to adjust things so far out of whack that it sounds awful or the drivers could (perhaps) blow. So, we’re not knocking the Crusher, because used normally, it sounds great. It does seem odd that the bass slider allows for such a whopping, unnecessarily high bass level, but just because a Ferrari can cruise at 110MPH doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a leisurely 50MPH drive.
If you love the idea of adjustable sound signatures, and have a bit more money available, the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro is an excellent, refined version of the boom-tastic Crusher. Perhaps solid bass response is appealing to you, but not so much the user adjustable controls—if so, consider the Sennheiser HD 429s, which offers a nice balance, but still plenty of low-end. And if all of the options listed here are too much for your budget, the affordable Skullcandy Hesh 2 and Jays v-Jays both offer reasonable bass response without going over the top. For $100, however, the Crusher is a well-designed, user-customizable curiosity, capable of bringing out the beauty and fury of your favorite music, or making it sound like the bass is starting a war against all other frequencies ranges, and that war is taking place inside your skull.
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