Free and easy.
If you're getting out there to exercise, despite the dropping temperatures and darker nights, you'll need some musical motivation. While looking for a pair of wireless headphones that will actually stay in your ears as you run, we stumbled upon the Skullcandy Xtfree. Here's what we made of 'em.
The Skullcandy Xtfree are as light and as mobile as Bluetooth headphones can physically get, without being separate buds. They are in-ear headphones, linked by a short length of cable, designed to connect around the back of your neck. The battery, Bluetooth receiver, and charging port are all located in either of the buds themselves, so there is no extra weight pulling on the cable.
The most striking thing about them, straight out of the box, is the sticky-up bit. What we first thought was a pull-tab to yank them out of your ears, is actually the thing that bends to lock them in there. It takes a bit of practice, but once you master placing the tips into your ears and then twisting the whole unit so the tab catches behind the curve of your shell-like, it's an easy installation after that.
And that locking system really does work, being one of the better ways to ensure earbuds stay in your ears as you get physical. Once in, they stayed put during a rigorous run, and in several different people's ears as well. As you have to twist them in to make them fit, they should fit most sizes of ear quite well. We were sent the male version, but Skullcandy also make a female set which we assume are slightly smaller.
And hey, they're water resistant, meaning you can wear them out in the rain and not have to worry when you head is drenched in sweat. Note they say 'resistant' which is usually a way of saying 'don't go mental and wear them in the shower'. Because why would ya? Oh, and while you're dashing through a sudden downpour, you'll be able to keep going for up to six hours, because that is how long the battery lasts – pretty impressive considering the headphone's tiny size.
Right, enough about the looks and uses... how do they sound? Skullcandy say that the earbuds intentionally don't block out all the ambient sound for safety reasons, which we have to agree with. Despite feeling like they are snugly wedged in there, it is still possible to (quite) clearly hear your surroundings, and certainly traffic as it passes you on the street. However, that does effect the sound quality while listening outside, as just a bit too much sound crept in, forcing us to up the volume. And when you do that, distortion creeps in.
Still, in quieter situations, like a run around the park, increasing the sound levels wasn't necessary and we found them to be clear and smooth. There was a decent amount of bass reproduced on most tracks, and all vocals and highs sounded nice and crisp. The Skullcandy Xtfree also features a built-in mic and control buttons on the left side cable, so you can take and make calls – which all sound clean and clear as well.
If you only ever exercise near to excessive ambient noise, these might not be for you. However, for quieter situations, and even just as a pair of stable commuting headphones, the Skullcandy Xtfree do the job very nicely.