Skullcandy has conjured up a very different, decidedly edgier vision for its new Rail ANC noise-canceling wireless earbuds than the one created by Apple for the AirPods Pro 2 – and it’s a vision that’s only reinforced by a black-only color and a skull-shaped on-bud control.
While the AirPods Pro 2 currently rank high on our best wireless earbuds list, these new buds from Skullcandy offer many of the same features, but at a substantially lower $99 / £79 / AU$146 price. Should Apple be worried?
According to Skullcandy, the Rail ANC were designed using tech that leverages “virtual reality to create a universally ergonomic fit.” They offer multipoint pairing, and their capacitive touch controls (that skull!) can be customized using Skullcandy’s Skull-iQ app. Hands-free voice commands can also be used to control playback, with five language options and the “ability to become smarter over time when upgraded features are released.”
The Rail ANC have four mics for noise cancellation, a feature that’s adjustable in the app. Another feature is Personal Sound, which can be used to optimize the buds’ audio output based on a custom hearing profile, something that’s also done via the Skull-iQ app.
The IP55 sweat-, water-, and dust-resistant Rail ANC provide up to 27 hours of battery life with ANC on, with seven hours from the buds and an additional 20 from the case. Switching ANC off bumps battery life up to 38 hours. You can locate a misplaced earbud by 'ringing' it from the Tile app, and there are preset EQ modes, along with the ability to create your own custom ones.
Analysis: Cheaper AirPods Pro 2 competitors are a welcome development
There’s no denying that the AirPods Pro 2 are great earbuds. They have excellent noise canceling, a great transparency mode, very good overall sound quality, and plenty of useful features such as Find My, Siri voice control, and spatial audio with head tracking.
But there’s a problem with the AirPods Pro 2: they're expensive. Yes, there are other even higher-priced wireless earbuds, such as the Sony Sony WF-1000XM4 and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, but the AirPods Pro 2 have a basic, humdrum design that in some ways makes them seem not worth the price.
The value proposition gets even murkier when you get into the sub-$100 wireless earbuds realm. Some models, like the JLab Go Air Pop, have a good look and decent sound, but you're definitely taking a hit when it comes to audio quality, and there’s a budget element to the design.
At $99, or half the cost of the AirPods Pro 2, Skullcandy’s Rail ANC appear to strike an excellent balance between pricing, features, and design. For the money, you're getting active noise cancellation, a transparency mode, sound personalization, and a Find My type feature – basically all the things that make the AirPods Pro 2 appealing.
Along with the Rail ANC, Skullcandy also announced the Rail, $79 / £63 / AU$117 wireless earbuds that have many of the same features as the Rail ANC but lack active noise cancellation. The Rail share the same sleek black looks as the Rail ANC, and have a specified battery life of 42 hours, with eight from the buds and 34 from the case.
Can the new Skullcandy Rail ANC de-rail the AirPods Pro 2? There's only one way for us to find out, and that’s to give them an on-ears test to evaluate their features, sound quality, and comfort level. The Rail and the Rail ANC are available globally now from the company’s website, and we hope to subject them to that test in the near future.
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Al Griffin has been writing about and reviewing A/V tech since the days LaserDiscs roamed the earth, and was previously the editor of Sound & Vision magazine.
When not reviewing the latest and greatest gear or watching movies at home, he can usually be found out and about on a bike.