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Skullcandy’s very first pair of noise-cancelling earbuds aren’t without their flaws – but they’re priced wisely against costly competitors.
Things change fast in the tech world, and Skullcandy has been working hard of late to survive in a hugely competitive audio marketplace. The U.S. brand rose to prominence in the early Noughties with bright, funky-looking headphones, but its star declined somewhat in the post-iPod years as substance seemed to give out to style.
Skullcandy is now enjoying a resurgence in popularity, and one that we’d say is largely down to a wise price positioning. Rather than competing with Apple, Samsung, Bose and Sennheiser's high-end efforts, it has kept its recently released audio products fun and affordable. After all, not everybody needs (or can afford) aficionado-level sound in their ears. For many people, earbuds are simply a light, convenient addition to their work or gym bag.
So it comes as little surprise that Skullcandy’s first-ever pair of noise-cancelling earbuds are also one of the very cheapest on the market. Of course, this can go one of two ways – but for the most part, the Indy ANC do their brand proud. Read on for our in-depth review of these noise-cancelling earbuds, and for a look at another recent release from the same company, don’t miss our Skullcandy Dime review. You may also want to compare these earbuds against other affordable options in our best budget wireless earbuds article.
The Indy ANC earbuds are beset with a few issues but hold their own in the form of a snug fit, appealing design and realistic price tag. If you manage to get to grips with the button sensors, you’ll likely find these a solid companion on your commute, run or gym session – but the limited noise-cancellation might not hold up in office spaces where you can’t get away with the volume at full blast. But we loved the Personal Profile customizability, which palpably improved the audio clarity.
The Indy ANC mark Skullcandy’s first foray into noise-cancelling earbuds. They’re not the first earbuds from Skullcandy to sport the Indy name, though: you’ll find the Skullcandy Indy True are still available, minus the ANC and with a short battery life.
The Indy ANC offer the following features:
The Skullcandy Indy ANC have an RRP of £99.99, though we are currently seeing minor reductions from some retailers. You’ll find the cheapest prices below.
Yes – Skullcandy has priced them strategically in an ever-expanding marketplace. The closest competitors to the Indy ANC are the Panasonic RZ-S500WE-W and the Sony WF-1000XM3. However, these are still noticeably more expensive and will deter people who are keen to stay out of triple-figure spending. We’ll dive into the Indy ANC’s strengths and weaknesses – and they definitely have both – in the following sections.
In looks, the Indy ANC are a real winner. We actually tested them alongside the Dime, Skullcandy’s budget-friendly option – and while we were fond of those cheap and cheerful earbuds, these are definitely the classier options. They also weigh more at 76g (in the case), but that’s undoubtedly what offers the superior battery life.
The long, spindly design of the Indy ANC will likely divide opinion. At 4cm in length, they certainly aren’t discreet, but they have a streamlined appeal. Interestingly, while Skullcandy has historically stocked brightly coloured headphones and earphones, these are only available in True Black.
While nestled in their case, the Dime’s lights glow red, while a series of white glowing dots on the outer case. We liked the two-component design of the eargels – alongside the typical parts that go directly into your ears, there’s also an outer part that features little hooks that you can pinch to remove the earbuds from their case. It’s thoughtful little touches like this that remind you of Skullcandy’s pedigree.
Like the Dime, all it took was a switch of eargels to the larger size (included in the pack, along with a second standard size) for them to provide us with a super-comfortable fit and one that survived our evening run.
Skullcandy has a reputation to live up to, and luckily the Indy ANC delivers in terms of sound quality. We were pleased to find the bass levels heavy, and the sound didn’t distort too heavily when we turned it up to the max. Audiophiles may be disappointed to find that there aren’t any advanced EQ settings to adjust, however.
The noise-cancelling feature comes in the form of a low-level hiss that’s designed to cancel out the audio clutter of your immediate surroundings. We found that ANC tech offered by these earbuds is more limited than pricier equivalents – but it was still enough to drown out the sound of our doorbell from the adjoining hallway and (unlike lots of ANC audio tech) isn't intrusive.
You can toggle between noise-cancelling and ambient modes via the earbuds sensor buttons (more on those in a bit), as well as the three pre-set audio modes: Music, Podcast and Film. But you’ll definitely want to download the Skullcandy app to your phone and set up your audio ‘Personal Profile’.
This takes a couple of minutes: essentially, you’re played a series of beeping sounds at various pitches and volumes; you answer yes or no to those you can hear and those you can’t. We thought it sounded a little gimmicky, but we were pleased to discover that it did indeed improve the clarity of the audio – the sonic equivalent of sliding a photograph into focus.
It’s with the button sensors that we ran into problems with the Indy ANC. These earbuds are reliant on what feels like an over-elaborate tapping system that isn’t at all intuitive. While a double-tap to either earbud to play and pause isn’t so difficult, it’s easy to accidentally do this while single-tapping each one to adjust the volume (left takes you up, right takes you down). Toggling between the ANC and ambient modes (three taps) proved very difficult, and in the end, it was simpler to go to the app on our smartphone.
These UI issues also plagued the Skullcandy Dime earbuds – and while we totally acknowledge that such things can become a habit, we still hadn't got to grips with the button system after 60 hours of use. Our feeling is that these earbuds would have benefitted with an extra button, whatever the minimalist appeal of having just the one.
The Indy ANC has a maximum battery life of 19 hours: five from the earbuds themselves and another 14 from the case. We noticed that the case did a swift job of charging the earbuds: they went from 9% to 73% in a matter of minutes.
Setup was straightforward, and there was enough power in the earbuds for us to try them out straight away. Including downloading the Skullcandy app and going through the Personal Profile test took about five minutes to get the Indy ANC up and running.
The Indy ANC are packaged with some pomp and circumstance: you lift the black inner packaging like a drawer from the outer box. Inside, you’ll find the earbuds presented separately from the case. There’s a foldout instruction booklet included – the fact that one entire side of the instructions is given over to the various button-tap combinations should tell you how complex they are. There's also a QR code displayed on the inside boxes, which will take you to a set of similar instructions on the Skullcandy website.
Also included is a very short USB charging cable – as is pretty standard these days, you'll need to find your own wall adaptor.
While noise-cancelling headphones are growing steadily affordable, our feeling is that you should be prepared to spend more if you plan to rely on them on a day-to-day basis in environments with a constant level of background noise (perhaps you’re thinking of that return to a busy office after a year of working remotely).
But at a sub-£100 price, the Indy ANC win on their solid sound quality, comfortable fit and a quietly assured design. Since these are some of the priciest earbuds in Skullcandy’s largely affordable portfolio, we were concerned style would win out over substance – but this isn’t the case. Ultimately, our 3.5-star verdict boils down to that pesky sensor-tapping system, which might prove an annoyance on runs, at the gym or in other situations where you don’t want to be reaching for your phone.
Overall star rating: 3.5/5
The Skullcandy Indy ANC are available from a handful of online retailers:
Seeking out new home audio too? Don’t miss our best smart speaker list.