In the Mix: What Makes a DJ Headphone? Page 3

Skullcandy Mix Master


The design of the Mix Master Mike signature 'phone is about as far from the norm as you can imagine getting within the constraints of the form. The aim here seems to have been to supply the contemporary spinner with all mod cons: the Mix Master is equipped with swiveling earcups with an automatic mix-to-mono function and a mute switch, and ambidextrous cable attachment; it ships with a heavy-duty coiled cable and a smartphone-friendly mic-and-remote-equipped unit, and it lives in a compact collapsible case.

This is a fairly low-impedance headphone at 19 Ohms, and while that'll be fine when used with the low-output-impedance amps onboard most portable devices; you may run into some mismatches with higher-output-impedance desktop headphone amps. That's no fault of the Mix Master, of course.

The angular, Darth Vader looks (we tried the basic black model, it's also available in a number of other color combos) might promise an aggressive, bass-heavy character, but while there's just a bit of apparent low-end bump, overall the Mix Master is surprisingly neutral, mannered, and versatile, and sounds dounright good with a wide range of material.

Phil preferred the Mix Master to the Shure on most everything we listened to. Checking back in with the Talking Heads, he enjoyed the Skullcandy's "darker sound and tight bass," finding that it delivered the track "with tons of low-end oomph." Switching over to the McCoy Tyner recording, he remarked that "this is the kind of bassy headphone that gives acoustic tracks a nice atmosphere - there's maybe a little too much enveloping bloom, but with a touch of EQ this'd be a really nice listening headphone." I also felt that the acoustic quartet - perhaps not something Skullcandy had in mind when voicing the MixMaster - did seem peculiarly well-suited to the headphone's rather neutral overall response. Phil noted that instruments were well represented: the acoustic bass "sounded like a real bass should"; the snare had plenty of body and snap, and piano tone came through nicely. He felt that the mids were slightly accentuated, but that saxophone benefited from that.

The design didn't score many points with Brett, who found the sharpish plastic frame both confidence-uninspiring (it does feel a bit fragile, though plastic can certainly be surprisingly strong, and we didn't manage to break our test sample) and uncomfortable ("the tilting cups would be cool. . . if they didn't hurt!" he observed) when we tried to use the collapse-to-mono function (triggered by turning an earcup away from the monitoring position.

While I really enjoyed the Mix Master's sound, I found it fairly uncomfortable as an everyday headphone - the pads walk the line between an on- and over-the-ear fit, and given the rather high clamping pressure (which, admittedly, makes it pretty secure for single-eared listening), they put a lot of pressure on my pinnae. I could take an hour or so, but no more, at least if I wanted to avoid sore ears. As with any headphone, of course, you mileage may vary dependent on the shape of your ears and noggin, so try before you buy (or decide not to).

The other features on this loaded headset seemed redundant to Brett given the features on most DJ mixers these days. "I don't think I'd use this mono feature. And would I ever use this mute switch? I can't think of a situation where I would. The only time I could imagine using it - maybe - if you wanted to go to your bag and look for a record and give yourself a break. But all of this stuff is going to be on the mixer anyway. You just go to the cue switch and deselect the headphones. This seems more meant for out-of-the-club listening, like if you want to hear an announcement on the subway on the way home."

While Brett didn't think the Mix Master had sufficient bass extension (especially by comparison with the Beats Pro) for the kind of tracks he tends to spin, he did feel that they offered a "good balance of weight against sound," and on that alone certainly might be worthy of consideration, even ignoring the majority of the feature set. It's just a good sounding headphone in general, so if the styling's your cup of tea and it's comfy on your ears, it's worth a listen even for non-DJs.

Test Results

I measured the Mix Master headphones using a G.R.A.S. Type 43AG ear/cheek simulator, a Clio FW audio analyzer, and a Musical Fidelity V-Can headphone amplifier. I experimented with slight differences in position of the ear cups to get the best seal of the headphone on the cheek plate and the most representative frequency response curves.

The frequency response measurement of the Mix Master is a little unusual in that it's almost flat through the bass and midrange, yet this curve will probably make it sound a little accentuated in the midrange because of the way headphones react with the human ear. A little spike at 4 kHz might add a touch of perceived detail, but the rapidly rolling-off treble above that will probably make this headphone sound a little dull to most listeners. Adding 70 ohms output impedance to the V-Can's 5-ohm output impedance to simulate the effects of using a low-quality headphone amp boosts bass only very slightly and has absolutely no effect at other frequencies.

Distortion is very low, maxing out at 3.1% total harmonic distortion (THD) at 20 Hz at 100 dB (level measured with pink noise, A-weighting). Distortion at 80 dBA is negligible.

Impedance is fairly flat, averaging about 19 ohms in the bass and peaking out at 23 ohms at 50 Hz. Isolation is excellent for a closed-back over-ear model, better than -10 dB at all frequencies above 1.3 kHz and dropping as low as -40 dB. Isolation results will vary with the shape of your ear and head.

Average sensitivity from 300 Hz to 10 kHz with a 0.179 volts RMS signal is very high at 105.2 dB. - Brent Butterworth