By September 2, 2009

Skullcandy TiTAN and Asym earphones review (from a motorcyclist’s perspective)

Listening to music while motorcycling is a sensitive subject. Riding requires a lot more attention than driving a car, and some people are understandably nervous about giving up some of their concentration and sensory input to tunes. However, the longer I ride, the more I’ve determined listening to music is an acceptable choice for me. My commute puts me in the saddle for about an hour every day. I take a few 1000 – 1500 mile trips a year, and boy can the monotony and thrum of the interstate numb your senses.

The trick then is finding earphones that successfully satisfy the following:

  • Are comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
  • Do not move much (or at all) when putting a helmet on.
  • Block “enough” noise to partially qualify as earplugs.
  • Provide decent enough response so that I can keep my music volume as low as possible.
  • Not cost a hojillion dollars.

I had tried the Etymotic Research ER6i earphones based on reviews from, Ars Technica’s Lounge forum, and a few other places. While they sounded great, they were very uncomfortable and I couldn’t figure out how anyone could wear them on a motorcycle. They didn’t block much wind noise, either. I gladly sold them.

It was with hope and some reluctance that I tried out the Skullcandy Asym earphones as suggested on an FJR forum I frequent. The Asym was designed for dynamic activities like snowboarding, skating, and perhaps even motorcycling. Sporting a design that was “helmet friendly,” the Asyms seemed to be what I was looking for. Best of all, they were available at Target for $40 — half the price as the ER6i earphones.

The Skullcandy Asym

I have to hand it to Skullcandy. Their packaging and attention to detail is bad ass. The Skullcandy icon is pretty sweet, and like any good marketing team, the Skullcandy gear is well branded.

Check out the logo on the Asyms, for example:

I think they look great, and the Skullcandy line is available in a variety of colors.

The Asym earphones might look great, but how did they fit and sound?

In the office, they fit pretty damn good. Insertion was much easier than the ER6i. The Asym comes with three sizes of ear tips. I wound up being somewhere in between the smallest one and the standard one. The tip material was soft and comfortable. I wore them for almost five hours at work after lunch, with the longest duration being over two straight hours. They felt fine, and I was anxious to try them on the bike.
The Skullcandy Asym inserted, profile view. Notice how flush they sit inside the ear.
Full frontal, baby. The Asym is inserted deep enough to satisfy my usual neurotic desire to stuff my ear plugs into my brain.

I was happy to discover that the Asyms stayed in place when I put on my helmet. No poking and prodding like the ER6i. I hopped on Apollo and thumbed the starter.

Which is when the honeymoon started to end.

I heard way too much engine noise and I knew immediately they wouldn’t block out enough sound. I rode home, thinking about how much wind was getting past the Asym and trying to remember if it was better or worse than the ER6i. Regardless, they weren’t good enough for me.

The Skullcandy TiTAN

I had read about the Skullcandy TiTAN earphones at the same time I researched the Asym. I passed on them originally because of the Asym’s reputation as being comfortable under a helmet. I was pretty gunshy after my ER6i experience of not being able to turn my head without pain. I was willing to risk it again, because I liked the Asym a lot and just wanted something that blocked a little more sound. Luckily, Target also stocked the TiTANs, to the tune of $50. I picked them up at lunch the next day. They came with two sets of “Comply” foam ear tips and the stock rubbery/silicon-y tips (emblazoned with the Skullcandy logo to boot).
The attention to branding, fit and finish was evident on the TiTANs.

I put them in after work. My Bell Star slid over my ears without dislodging the TiTANs. I did bump them on the way down, but they still felt in place — and comfortable.
The TiTANs at full insertion, profile view. They were super easy to put in — no screwing or cramming like the ER6i
I wish I could get as deep as the TiTANs.

So far so good. I hesitantly fired up Apollo. I was afraid my hopes were drowning out some of the engine noise, but things seemed quieter. I hit the highway, and by the time I had hit the onramp at 85MPH I was laughing with a joyous heart. The TiTANs were comfortable, sounded great, and seemed to block a lot more noise than the ER6i or the Asym. I want to do some sort of pseudo-scientific test, but for now I have to trust my “ear dyno.” They don’t block as much sound as my Howard Leight ear plugs, but they will do.

Not everything about the TiTANs is stellar, however. There is a volume adjuster on the cord. This in itself is a good thing. However, the slider is very small and is difficult to manipulate, especially with gloves on. The volume adjuster is symmetrical and I can’t tell which side has the slider on it. They at least did the smart thing ergonomically speaking by orienting the slider for when the earphones are inserted. Meaning, to raise the volume you raise the slider up to your ears. You slide the volume down to lower the volume. Seems straightforward, but this is the kind of detail others may miss. I wish the slider was a little more raised, and that the adjuster housing was shaped differently so I knew which side was “up” by feel. However knowing me if the slider was any larger I would bitch about it being too easy to bump. 😉
The TiTANs have an on-cord volume control. This is a great feature to have on motorcycling earphones … too bad it is a little hard to use.

Conclusion and recommendations

All in all, I strongly recommend the Skullcandy TiTANs for motorcycling use. As much as I liked the Asym, I don’t feel like they block as much sound as I’d like. However, if you do another active sport like snowboarding or mountain biking, they will be awesome and are strongly recommended for those purposes.

The Skullcandy Asym and TiTANs are available at Target. They are also available, for quite a bit less sometimes, at Amazon. The TiTANs are $28 before shipping (you currently have to add them to your cart first), compared to $49.99 at the brick and mortar Target. Amazon also offers a wider range of colors and models, as do other e-tailers.

Posted in: motorcycling, music, review

7 Comments on "Skullcandy TiTAN and Asym earphones review (from a motorcyclist’s perspective)"

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  1. Ed says:

    Choice quotes from review –
    ‘Full frontal, baby. The Asym is inserted deep enough to satisfy”

    “I wish I could get as deep as the TiTANs.”

    “I wish the slider was a little more raised, and that the adjuster housing was shaped differently so I knew which side was “up” by feel. However knowing me if the slider was any larger I would bitch about it being too easy to bump”

  2. Gremlin says:

    Always loop the cord over the top of your ears. It’s more important than how deep they sit in the ear for keeping them in place under a moto helmet.

  3. Cap'n says:

    I bought a pair of these $30 sony’s 3 years ago, and have had very good luck using them on the bike. With the right size cups on, they block a lot of noise, they sound fine, and they fit suitably deep into my ears.

    My only problem was the rubber cups coming loose and immediately getting lost. So I superglued them on, and while it can make unexpected quick removals a little suction-cuppy, it doesn’t damage your ears if they get yanked out somehow, and they haven’t gotten lost again in 2+ years.

  4. Entropy512 says:

    I just bought a pair of Titans, and was considering the Asyms. Glad I didn’t, as isolation was one of my primary requirements (Any time I fly on travel, my first leg is on a turboprop.)

    The Titans I bought at Target were $12 cheaper, but did not come with the Comply foam tips. This wasn’t much of a problem, as I was already planning on taking a different approach.

    If you want to try increasing the isolation of the Titans, check out – The original mod was done by the author on some JVC Marshamallows, but it works great with the Titans too.

    It should also make them EXTREMELY difficult to bump out – with the modified earplug-based foam tips, they’re in there quite solid. I agree with the other poster, aim the wire up and forward and loop it up and back around your ear, it makes it harder to yank the headphones and also dampens any noises generated by bumping the cables.

  5. Zimm says:

    Thanks so much for the review. I’ve bought 4 pair of earbuds over the past few years and none of them work under my helmet. I looked all around the web for reviews like this one – detailed about the things that matter! 1) Fit 2) Isolation 3) Sound. Much Appreciated!

  6. cd says:

    Hey Doc,

    I am curious which ear tip you chose to use with the TiTAN as my experience leads me to believe that the Comply tip would make a huge difference. I’m curious if the Asym might work just as well if I were to put some Comply tips on it?

  7. Chris says:

    Thanks for the review! I love the amount of detail you put into it.