The new top-of-the-range Venue headphone has understated style, not the garish look of previous offerings.
The Venues are wireless Bluetooth headphones. They sit right at the top of the Skullcandy range and offer the kind of features that could give Sony, Bose and others a bit of a fright: 40mm drivers, active noise cancellation (ANC), voice assistant compatibility, quick charge and a 24-hour battery life. They even have Tile’s clever Bluetooth location technology built right in, letting you find them even when they’re switched off.
In terms of design, the Venue headphones are pretty hard to fault. Gone are the bright colours that typically identify a Skullcandy wearer, to be replaced by a stylish all-matte-black design. The only thing that identifies these as Skullcandy cans is a small embossed skull on the headband above each cup and if anybody is close enough to spot a 1cm black skull on a black background then you’re definitely within your rights to tell them to get out of your personal space.
Raised, rubber strips on the back edge of each earcup provides the controls: on the left are the power button, ANC controls and four tiny LEDs so you can see your battery level without switching the headphones on; on the right are volume and pairing controls. You’ll also find a micro-USB charging port and 3.5mm headphone jack housed in a cut-out section at the base of the right earcup, while on each is a small ‘X’ shape housing the noise cancellation microphones.
These are extremely comfortable headphones. They’re not as light as the Bose QC35s, but the synthetic leather cups sit snugly on the ears without pressing too hard and the clamp force of the headband feels firm but comfortable. They might be a bit much on a sweltering summer day but most of the time they’re lovely and snug.
As for features, the Venue headphones offer everything you’d expect and more. There’s ANC, for a start, and a clever “monitor” mode where you can hear the world outside at the touch of a button, support for Google Assistant or Siri, depending on your phone, and a massive 24-hour battery life. Fast charging delivers five hours of battery life in a matter of ten minutes and, should you run out of battery you can listen passively via the supplied 3.5mm cable. The Venue headphones also come with a semi-hard case to protect them when you’re not listening.
But, I’ve left the best feature until last: the Skullcandy Venue headphones have Tile’s clever Bluetooth tracking technology built in. Tile, for those that don’t know, creates small Bluetooth tracker tags that can be attached to things, allowing your phone to track them down when you lose them. If you’re not in range, you can put a Tile into ‘lost’ mode, at which point the millions-strong Tile community becomes a search party, pinging you an alert whenever another Tile tag owner walks past your missing item.
This is built into the Venue headphones and, brilliantly, you don’t need them to be switched on for this to work. If you can’t find your headphones, boot up the Tile app and the phone will tell you if they’re nearby. If they’re in range and you can’t see them, tap Find and the headphones will play a jingle loud enough for you to be able to track them down.
Chances are that you take good enough care of your headphones not to need such a feature but, as insurance policies go, it’s brilliant and extremely well implemented. If you already have several Tiles on your account, adding your headphones to the mix is a very appealing selling point.
So far, so good, but how do they sound? Well, they won’t keep Bose awake at night, unfortunately. The typical Skullcandy sound profile is very much in evidence here with loads of bass, and not particularly controlled bass at that, dominating the music.
That’s not too much of a problem if your listening diet consists mainly of fairly dry, live classical recordings or light jazz guitar. It’s positively enjoyable if you’re into music that specialises in delivering a continuous throb of pulsing, eardrum-bashing bassline. And if you listen to a lot of audiobooks and podcasts, a bass-heavy presentation like can actually be quite beneficial, taking the edge off sibilant recordings and adding a radio-like tone to the spoken voice.
As soon as any natural low notes kick in, though, form a double bass or the bass drum on a rock track kick in you’ll notice how overpoweringly warm and thumpy these headphones are. That’s a shame because, otherwise, the sound quality is very good. The headphones pick up the restaurant chatter on the first few seconds of Mike Masse’s live cover of Blackbird remarkably clearly and, as long as there’s not too much going on at the low end, vocals come through clearly without sounding pushed back.
The noise cancellation is effective, too. It’s not nearly as good as the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, which are a cut above everything else in this regard, and in a quiet room with no music playing through the headphones, you can clearly hear the hiss of the cancellation. However, they do the job, cutting enough of the ambient clash and clatter of everyday life so you don’t have to push the volume levels up to ear-damaging levels.
All in all, £150 is pretty reasonable for the Skullcandy Venue headphones. Features wise, they have pretty much everything you could look for in a set of wireless headphones. They look the part, have solid noise cancellation, strong battery life and the Tile technology provides way more peace of mind than you usually get with headphones.
The sound quality is a slight letdown but it’s far from terrible. Still, if you value sound quality above all else, then you might be better off looking towards the Sennheiser Momentum, if you can find a pair at a decent price.
Otherwise, the Skullcandy Venue is an appealing product at a decent price. With a boost to the sound quality, it would be a nailed-on five-star product. As it is, it’ll have to settle for four.
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