A Unique Bass Sensation: The Skullcandy Crusher Page 2


Sensation55 Driver
Skullcandy is very careful not to call this a sub-woofer as it does not directly create sound. Rather, in their marketing materials, they rightly focus on this drive giving you the tactile "sensation" of the low notes. From thier website:

The Sensation55 is our patent-pending bass extension driver. Through this driver, the Crusher delivers a powerful and realistic bass experience that transforms your audio into bass you can feel.

Basically this driver uses a voice coil similar to that found on regular dynamic drivers, but rather than being attached to a diaphragm, it magnetically drives a metal slug to create mechanical vibration. The metal slug is suspended in position around the voice coil by a thin metal plate that has what seems to be laser cutouts allowing it to act like a spring and letting the mass move freely up and down. The downside of this design is that the combined mass and springiness of the metal have a very strong resonant frequency (about 60Hz), which makes the action of this driver fairly narrowband around that frequency.


The Sensation55 driver is powered by a small amplifier circuit in the left ear capsule; the battery is on the right side. This amp has no on/off switch; when a battery is installed the amplifier will automatically turn on when it senses an incoming signal; it will automatically turn off in ten seconds when no signal is present. Claimed battery life of one AA battery is about 40 hours.


Raw frequency response measurements with Sensation55 driver at various levels.

I remember Skullcandy's previous effort with a similar headphone, the Skullcrusher. It's sound was an abomination; I fully expected a similar experience with the Crusher...not so! Quite surprisingly and interestingly, the Crusher actually delivered an enjoyable listening experience...when the Sensation55 driver level was carefully adjusted. Maybe it's because the driver is so narrowband and may or may not be excited efficiently by the particular program material depending upon the frequencies present, but the level adjustment of the Sensation55 driver seemed quite sensitive. In my listening sessions I tended to find a good Sensation55 level at about mid-range on the slider, but I also found that I'd have to slightly alter the setting on each song with very little room between "too much" and "not enough". This setting is surprisingly sensitive, but once you've got it set well the impression of a punchy bass is pretty cool.

The headphones will run without the Sensation55 when the battery dies or is removed from the right earpiece. One weird thing about these cans is that when you tap them on the outside of the housing, the moving mass on a spring design of the Sensation55 allows it to vibrate resulting in a clearly audible low-frequency "boing". I didn't hear this under normal listening circumstances, however.

Sound Quality
The sound quality of the Crusher with Sensation55 driver inactive is fairly good for a headphone at this price—quite a bit better than average, I would say. From mid-bass to mid-treble the performance, while a tad uneven, is quite good. Bass is slightly emphasized and moderately well extended, missing out some only on the lowest octave. Bass notes lack some tightness and punch. The big problem with these cans is the treble region between 4kHz and 8kHz has a deep notch and is virtually missing in listening. My guess is that the engineers design a notch here to reduce the possibility of the headphones to sound glaring and strident at loud listening levels. Unfortunately, this notch makes the headphones sound somewhat boring and veiled; the good news is that they definitely don't sound glaring and are easy on the ears.

Slowly run up the Sensation55 driver level until you just begin to clearly notice the tactile impressions and stop before it becomes overwhelming and you get quite a unique listening experience. Bass notes really do take on a sense of impact I've not experienced before on headphones. Sure, I can put my audiophile hat on and say the bass isn't very even in response, but if I take my audiophile hat off and imagine myself as a 20 year old, it's all good fun. I let my 17 year old daughter have a listen—she's heard plenty of headphones and usually responds with a yawn—and the first words out of her mouth was, "You gonna get to keep these, daddy? Can I have them!?" I told her she might be able to borrow them for around the house, but I'd have to keep them available for future listening as I thought they were pretty cool as well.

So, from an audiophile perspective these can't really be anything more than an interesting gimmick showing off what a vibration transduce might do for the headphone listening experience. For that reason alone I think they're worth a little attention from audiophiles as this certainly does seem like an interesting add-on to the headphone experience, and from what I'm hearing may indeed be an avenue for further exploration for high end headphone manufacturers. We all know headphones pale when compared with speakers for visceral impact; this could be a legitimate way to close the gap a bit.

I know a lot of audiophiles will think me silly for saying so, but I like the Skullcandy Crusher. Young folks want bass and cool, new stuff, and at $99 the Crusher does a great job of delivering fun and cool without breaking the bank. The sound quality of the Crusher without Sensation55 driver engaged is surprisingly good for a headphone at this price, though lack of mid-treble information, while ensuring these cans don't get glaring or biting, does make them somewhat plain-Jane sounding. With the Sensation55 driver engaged and set properly the Crushers deliver a uniquely satisfying and visceral listening experience.

It seems to me young folks will get a big kick out of this headphone, and their ability to interact with the fairly sensitive Sensation55 driver level setting may give them their first enthusiastic experience with an audio product, hopefully leading them to explore better headphones as they mature. I think these cans are good for audio enthusiasm.

You bet, these will get a strong recommendation from me for 20-somethings looking for a bit more kick in their tunes, but I'll quickly add that headphones like the Onkyo ES-FC300 ($149), NAD VISO HP50 ($299), and other headphones on the InnerFidelity "Wall of Fame" will likely provide better listening experiences once the novelty of the Crusher wears off. I also think the price of entry is small enough, and the Sensation55 driver experience interesting enough, the many headphone enthusiast might find this headphone a worthy headphone to add to the collection. Nothing wrong with a bit of simple fun now and then. Enjoy!


Skullcandy home page and Crusher product page.
Head-Fi impressions here, here, here, and here.
Other reviews here, here, and here.

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Park City, UT 84098