Skullcandy Riff Wireless headphones: Good sound on the cheap

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Make the move from earbuds to comfortable on-ear headphones for less than you'd expect.

Anyone who wears headphones for hours a day is going to want to upgrade from earbuds to on-ear or over-ear headphones. The improvement in comfort alone is worth the switch, and then you get the benefits of dramatically better audio quality and often longer battery life. But despite the benefits, many people steer away from large wireless headphones for their cost: the going rate for popular over-ear bluetooth headphones is about $350.

Skullcandy operates in a completely different part of the market. Its Riff Wireless on-ear headphones come in at just $50, which is as much as you'll pay for an inexpensive pair of wireless neckbuds. Of course, they aren't toe-to-toe competitors with the Bose QC35s, but that's not the goal. Instead, the Riff Wireless headphones aim to give you solid quality and comfort for a very affordable price: just $50.

Tough elegance

Skullcandy Riff Wireless headphones




$50 at Amazon


Unassuming design and solid sound with a great price tag

The Riff Wireless get all of the basics right. Audio quality is good, battery life is long, and they're light and comfortable on the ears. The design and materials are nothing to write home about, and there are no advanced features, but for $50 they offer solid value and do everything you expect from a pair of basic on-ear headphones..

The Good

  • Lightweight
  • Super-soft ear cushions
  • Solid audio quality
  • Strong Bluetooth
The Bad

  • Zero passive noise cancellation
  • Feel cheap and flimsy
  • Micro-USB charging
  • No option for wired audio

When you're building a pair of on-ear headphones that are going to retail for just $50, you spend money where it matters: comfort and audio quality. For on-ear headphones, which put more pressure on your lobes than over-ear headphones that cup the ears, the Riff Wireless are supremely comfortable. The foam is incredibly soft, and it's covered in perforated leatherette material that gives way and rests gently on your ears. I could wear the Riff Wireless for hours with little ear discomfort, which isn't something I can say about most on-ear headphones I've used that have stiffer padding. What this means for longterm durability of the pads, I'm not sure, but you can at least enjoy them while they last.


Skullcandy got the basics right: comfort, battery life, and audio quality.

The audio quality, too, was surprisingly good. I noticed a solid amount of bass and highs that weren't too tinny, though the entire register felt a bit hollow — something that wasn't helped by the fact that there is zero noise isolation in these headphones, which lets in considerable ambient noise. But in quieter environs, I enjoyed the Riff Wireless audio for both spoken word and music. They're easily good enough to get the most out of your streaming music which is then also sent over Bluetooth — and I'd guess most people buying these headphones will be experiencing such audio.

The Riff Wireless don't offer a wired connection option, so you're going all Bluetooth here. But the connection was rock solid. I didn't experience any cutouts or random disconnections. And there's nothing noteworthy to report on the controls — a simple three-button setup lets you control volume and play/pause/power, plus track skipping with a 3-second press of either volume button. I would prefer if the buttons were physically separated rather than all under one rubberized cap, but it's manageable. Battery life was great — without noise cancellation to contend with, the Riff Wireless was good for multiple days of casual listening without getting a low battery warning. Skullcandy quotes 12 hours, and I don't doubt it; plus, charging is incredibly quick, with 10 minutes offering 2 hours of listening.


Now, for the downside of $50 headphones. The Riff Wireless feel cheap. Incredibly so. Folding the earcups in and out doesn't fill you with confidence that they'll hold up to repeated use or bouncing around in a bag. The headband has no cushioning, and the entire body of the headphones outside of the ear pads is made of chintzy feeling plastic. They're incredibly light, which is great for comfort but not for durability. The design is rather basic, so it won't attract any attention, which I'm completely fine with — but again I question longterm reliability of these seemingly basic components.


These aren't going to replace headphones that cost twice as much, but they're a great value at $50.

But that's all to be expected with headphones that cost just $50 — again, less than you'd expect to pay for a pair of good on-ear Bluetooth headphones. Understanding the price constraints, Skullcandy made the right decisions with the Riff Wireless: focus on the comfort, audio quality, battery life and Bluetooth connection, and let the rest fall into place to fit the price point. There are probably competitive headphones that have better design and higher-quality materials, but they may give up on some of the basics that really matter in a pair of headphones.


4 out of 5

The Riff Wireless are a fine choice for anyone who wants the increased comfort of on-ear headphones but doesn't have a need (or budget) for anything approaching $100. For just $50, you get a solid pair of headphones that nails all of the basics: they're comfortable, have good sound and long battery life. Sure they don't feel expensive, and they don't have any advanced features or capabilities, but you'll still feel you're getting great value in the Riff Wireless headphones.

$50 at Amazon



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