Looking for an over-ear style of noise cancelling headphones that won’t break the bank? The Skullcandy Hesh ANC could suit, though they remind us of an older model.
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Design and features
It’s been a few years since we saw how Skullcandy makes a bigger breed of noise cancelling headphones, and back in 2019, it was in the Skullcandy Venue, a pair that was actually quite similar to this one, with flat can on each side, rubberised controls, and some leatherette pads for those ears to slip into.
A few years later, not much has changed.
The design is a little different, but the concept is still largely the same, offering leatherette pads that hugs the ears and don’t give them much room to breathe, a basic design, rubberised controls, and a case. The ANC mode is set up as just “ANC”, but it has another option along for the ride, with a transparency mode. Press the circular button to trigger and your noise cancellation will jump into an ambient mode, trickling this technology down to another pair.
Using the Hesh is about the same as any pair of headphones, too, with a button to jump between noise cancelling modes, a rubberised volume rocker, and a design that lets you fold them flat when they’re not in use.
Connect them to your phone or tablet and you’ll find the Bluetooth connection lets you control your music, be it Spotify or Apple Music or whatever, and there’s also support for the Tile app if you’re concerned about getting them lost.
Skullcandy also makes an app to let you connect to its headphones, but the less we say about that, the better. We spent far too long trying to make it play nicely with the Hesh ANC headphones, and found it invariably didn’t want to work. You might get lucky, but this is one app that isn’t as thought out as the rest of the package.
At least not as much as the part that really matters for headphones: the sound.
So here we are again for another headphone review, and as usual, we’re testing it with the Pickr Sound Test, which you can listen to for yourself.
That starts with electronic in Tycho and Daft Punk, which give us a surprisingly large bass response, with highs and mids just other it. There’s a nice sound through both, though bass-led, with the sound coming through comfortably but also lacking in depth.
It’s a similar feeling with Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Cut To The Feeling”, which punches hard on the bass but lacks complexity, coming across compressed in the process.
We found that across most of the pop and modern tracks we ran through the Hesh ANC, and then found it a little strange that the deep guttural bass of FKA Twigs’ “Two Weeks” felt almost deliberately impact-less. It’s a sign that while the Hesh ANC delivers a decent bass response, its sub-bass might be less than rewarding.
In short, you should get a comfortable sound with a decent punch, but it lacks the nuance found on other better headphones. These are good enough for many, but clearly not the best.
There’s also a reasonable amount of battery life to work with in the Hesh ANC, supporting as much as 22 hours, though we found 20-ish was roughly where you’d be.
A rapid charge feature means if you’re running low, you can find a ten minute charge over its Type C USB port gets you three hours (if you need it), but 20-ish hours isn’t terrible. There are clearly more expensive headphones with more life, but this isn’t a bad outcome.
The price is clearly where Skullcandy comes to play, and given its market is typically youth, we can see what the Hesh’s $249.95 RRP is going for.
A few years ago, $250 would have seemed downright compelling for a pair of decent over-ear noise cancelling headphones, but these days, there’s more competition, so do they add up?
In the Hesh, the answer is kinda sorta. Anker’s Soundcore brand is the obvious target we can think of, and even Sony has non-flagship noise cancelling models competing here, but the point is the space is a lot more crowded.
You can find noise cancelling in-ear models for much less, while over-ears are typically more expensive. The starting price for this category is often the $200 mark, and while the Hesh ANC offer a $249.95 RRP, the street price is closer to $200, so overall, the value isn’t bad comparatively. On other side, there’s also the CH710N from Sony for just under $200, the Anker Soundcore Q45 for just over it, while Sony’s XB910N can be found for a little more again.
Simply put, there’s competition in this category of budget-friendly noise cancelling over-ear headphones, and while Skullcandy is offering something, you should also look around, because it’s not alone this year.
What needs work?
While Skullcandy has tightened up the controls slightly, its support for an app is abysmally bad, so much that after trying to connect it on two sets of mobile operating systems for half an hour, we gave up. The Skullcandy app just seems to be a disaster, able to see the Hesh headphones but not always easy to connect, though we’re not sure it would necessarily grant a whole heap more.
We’d love for it to be able to control the in-headphone system voice, which is just so much louder than everything else, it can seem as if she’s shouting that you’re connected, rather than simply mentioning it.
Our other issue is that in three years, it seems as though the Hesh is more just a recycled take on the Venue. Back when we reviewed in 2019, we found the Skullcandy Venue headphones were a nice pair of noise cancelling cans made cheap, and here it’s much the same. The buttons have changed slightly and there’s no longer a cross motif on the side, but the Hesh are otherwise the same.
The Hesh feels like a recycled pair, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s also not thoroughly exciting.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
Of course, headphones don’t need to be exciting. They can just be good value, and the Skullcandy Hesh ANC headphones are certainly not bad. Three years on, they are basically an updated design of something older, and noise cancelling headphones are far more competitive now than before, so the argument for value mightn’t be as impressive as before.
However, if you can find the Hesh ANC for its rough $200 street price, you’ll find a pair of decent sound noise cancelling headphones without a lot of complexity, and that might be fine.
There are clearly much better headphones out there, and they’ll do a better job of separating you from the outside world. But if you want to keep costs down, there’s something in the Hesh. It’s a minor update, sure, but not an unwanted one.