You Can Finally Buy Decent-Sounding True Wireless Earbuds for $33

You Can Finally Buy Decent-Sounding True Wireless Earbuds for $33
Photo: Andrew Liszewski - Gizmodo

Anyone who’s ever had to buy a replacement set of earbuds at the airport after losing their good ones during a trip already knows what a $US25 ($33) pair of earbuds sounds like: disappointment and regret. And yet somehow Skullcandy’s new $US25 ($33) Dime truly wireless earbuds sound surprisingly decent given the price — just don’t expect more than a convenient cord-free way to enjoy your music.

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for local Australian pricing and availability.

If you’re looking for the full wireless earbuds experience, the new Skullcandy Dime will not deliver that. If money’s no object, grab yourself a pair of Master & Dynamic’s $US300 ($393) MW08s instead and your ears will thank you. If you want to be somewhat fiscally responsible, both the $US230 ($301) Jabra Elite 77 T and $399 AirPods Pro offer excellent noise cancellation and sound quality, too. There are also lots of great options for less than $250 if you don’t care about ANC and are happy to live without premium features. But no matter the cost, there’s one feature that all wireless earbuds share: They’re incredibly easy to lose. If it feels like you’re having to replace your buds every month, the Skullcandy Dime might be worth considering as your I’m-leaving-the-house-and-I-don’t-really-care-what-happens-to-them set.

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art

The Skullcandy Dime charging case is very compact and includes a lanyard and a lid that snaps securely shut so it can be work outside a pocket.

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art

The use of microUSB for charging isn’t surprising for a pair of $US25 ($33) wireless earbuds, nor is the lack of wireless charging.

The Skullcandy Dime comes with one of the smallest charging cases I’ve ever tested, and it gives the original AirPods some stiff competition in terms of pocketability. I also like that Skullcandy has included a lanyard loop and a magnetic lid that also securely snaps shut, so you can leave these hanging off a backpack shoulder strap for easy access.

But it doesn’t take long to discover why these will set you back $US25 ($33) and the AirPods cost $399. The charging case is made from a lightweight plastic that doesn’t feel like it could survive much of a drop. It also uses microUSB, which is less than ideal given most gadgets have graduated to USB-C.

Battery life for each Skullcandy Dime bud manages to outperform the Apple AirPods (3.5 hours vs. 3 hours) but that's expanded to just 12 hours in total with the Dime's charging case, compared to 24 hours with the AirPods case. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo) Battery life for each Skullcandy Dime bud manages to outperform the Apple AirPods (3.5 hours vs. 3 hours) but that’s expanded to just 12 hours in total with the Dime’s charging case, compared to 24 hours with the AirPods case. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo)

There’s also the issue of battery life. The Master & Dynamic MW08 wireless earbuds boast 12 hours of playback on a charge and up to 42 hours with the charging case, while Apple’s AirPods deliver three hours and up to 24 hours with their case. The Skullcandy Dime earbuds do slightly better on their own, promising 3.5 hours of playback per charge, but that’s extended to just 12 hours in total with the charging case.

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Colour-changing status LEDs on the Skullcandy Dime buds is

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art

For some reason the Dime’s charging case has two cut-outs in the lid that allow the earbuds to show through.

I do like that Skullcandy has included colour-changing charging and mode status LEDs on the Dime earbuds themselves, which makes it a lot easier to know when you’ve successfully put them into pairing mode (there are audible mode prompts too when worn). However, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why Skullcandy designed the lid of the charging case with a pair of cut-outs where the earbuds show through. The case is by no means waterproof — there’s no rubber gasket sealing the lid when it’s closed — but this design choice makes it feel like the case couldn’t even shrug off the occasional splash.

The earbuds themselves are IPX4 sweat- and water-resistant, so if liquid does seep into the case it’s not a game-over situation, but I’m still left scratching my head over those cut-outs.

Each earbud has a physical button (you press on the tiny Skullcandy skull logo) that can be pressed in various ways to access shortcuts, but be prepared to study the included manual, or just keep your phone in hand all the time. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo) Each earbud has a physical button (you press on the tiny Skullcandy skull logo) that can be pressed in various ways to access shortcuts, but be prepared to study the included manual, or just keep your phone in hand all the time. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo)

Functionality is basic, but Skullcandy has included a physical shortcut button on each bud (you press on the tiny skull and can feel a definite click). The shortcuts include playback, volume control, answering calls, and even activating a voice assistant. It’s nice to have, but you’re going to have to take some time to memorise how to access the various shortcuts, which can require single taps, double taps, triple taps, long presses of various lengths, and even combinations of the two. As someone who still has nightmares about college exams and forgetting to study, I’m more inclined to keep my phone in hand for these.

As for that answering calls part, with a microphone in each earbud you can use the Dimes as a hands-free alternative to your phone, but really only for telemarketers or people you really hate. The mic quality is unfortunately not great, and while it doesn’t quite sound like you’re talking to someone through a tin can attached to a string, your voice will come across muffled, over compressed, and with lots of static to whomever you’re speaking to.

The design of the Skullcandy Dime allows them to nestle into your ear, and because they're lightweight, they're also very comfortable to wear. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo) The design of the Skullcandy Dime allows them to nestle into your ear, and because they’re lightweight, they’re also very comfortable to wear. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo)

Without active noise cancellation you’re going to have to rely on deciding which of the three sets of silicone tips provide the best seal in your ear to physically block unwanted sounds, and it works about as well as in-ear buds always have: not that great. So with feature compromises left and right in order to hit a $US25 ($33) price point, you’d assume that the Skullcandy Dime earbuds would be torture for your ears — but they’re not.

They’re by no stretch of the imagination an amazing sounding set of wireless earbuds, but I’ve had far worse-sounding buds in my ears with $200+ price tags. The audio quality is comparable to last year’s $40 Skullcandy Jib True: The highs are crisp with good separation, while the bass has a satisfying thump, although depending on the track you’re listening to, it can come across a little strong and occasionally has a tendency to muffle some of the highs.

I’d prefer a little more balance and the bass dialed back just a touch (there’s no adjustable EQ through an app to do that yourself), but if I was staring down a 10-hour flight home from an exotic locale with my favourite set of wireless earbuds MIA, I’d be quite happy with the Skullcandy Dimes as my emergency backup. They’ll never be my favourites, but I’m genuinely impressed that after five years you can already get a decent-sounding set of wireless earbuds for just $US25 ($33).