Back in July, I took the Skullcandy Indy Fuel earbuds for a spin and came away very impressed. These are now my most recommended ‘buds in the sub-$100 price range. My focus then shifted to Skullcandy’s newest workout earbuds, the Push Ultra. They have a pretty unique design for a set of earbuds, which works very well while working out—but perhaps not as much in everyday use.
Most earbuds have a pretty standard design: some sort of tip that gets stuffed into your ear canal and pumps sound straight to your amazingly huge human brain. That’s where the Push Ultra differs. Instead of going directly into your ear, the tip more or less sits just at the edge of the ear canal. That leaves the ear at least party open for one main reason: so you can hear what’s going on around you.
That really puts these into a position somewhere directly between a traditional workout earbud like the PowerBeats Pro, and bone-conduction headphones like the Aftershokz Air. It’s a pretty solid idea that works well in many situations, but it’s especially nice for outdoor workouts where situational awareness is crucial. But as I already said, you might not want to use these as your one-and-done ‘buds.
Bulky Case, Solid Build
The first thing I noticed about the Push Ultra when popping them out of the box is the case. Most true wireless earbud cases use magnets or a clasp for a secure closure, but not these. Skullcandy went with a zipper on the case. At first, I thought it was a strange choice, but it has since grown on me.
I think it’s cool now because there’s basically no chance that the case can pop open when you toss it into your bag. So go ahead—throw it across the room into your gym bag. It’ll be fine. (Disclaimer: Please don’t do this.)
Because these are workout buds with ear hooks, the case is on the bulkier side. It’s on par with the PowerBeats Pro case, which is among the biggest I’ve seen for true wireless buds. On the upside, you get wireless charging in the Push Ultra case, which is something I felt was missing with the PowerBeats Pro.
The case itself is hard plastic, but it’s also covered in a nice soft-touch rubber, which should add some extra grip when your hands are covered in sweat after a killer workout. Another thoughtful touch here by Skullcandy.
Out of the case, the buds feel robust and solid. The ear hooks are fully adjustable for a secure fit; the buds themselves are small and lightweight. They use more of a vertical design compared to the horizontal form factor of the PowerBeats, which is neither more nor less comfortable. Just different.
Skullcandy claims about 6 hours of playtime from the buds themselves, with the case adding an additional 34 for a total of 40. That’s pretty much on par with my use, but I’ve noticed that the case drains quickly when idle. Unlike the Indy Fuel, which can sit on my desk for weeks between charges (with light use), the Push Ultra have to hit the outlet about once a week—even if I don’t touch them.
And once the case dies, the buds immediately start to discharge. That means if you don’t keep a pretty close eye on the charge level, you could easily grab dead buds from your bag. Big woof.
Also, the issue I had with the Indy Fuel not working with high-powered USB-C chargers is present with the Push Ultra, too. Not a huge issue once you know about it, but something to consider nonetheless.
Excellent Fit and All the Features You Need
Because these are designed for use while working out, they’re made to be secure no matter what you’re doing. And in that, they’re excellent. Even when I’m dripping with sweat, the moldable ear hooks keep everything in place.
The main component of each bud features a main button in the center and additional controls along the back. The big button can be used to play/pause music with a single press, or call up your device’s virtual assistant with a triple-press. A long-press can turn the buds off, put them in pairing mode, or reset them depending on the duration.
The buttons on the back of each unit are primarily for volume up and down, but long-pressing each will move forward or back through the tracklist, respectively. The biggest issue with all three buttons is that they don’t offer a lot of tactile feedback, so it’s hard to know if you’re actually pressing it (especially with gloves on). And when you do get it right, the buttons take more pressure than I’d like in order to activate.
Either bud can be used individually, which is a nice touch—especially if you need to leave one ear open while running or cycling. The open design makes it easy to hear what’s going on around you, but it’s not open enough that I feel comfortable recommending these to runners or cyclists who have to share a path with motorists—unless they’re only going single-sided, of course. If that’s how you want to roll, then these are a good choice.
As far as features are concerned, you get a good spread for the price: IP67 sweat- and waterproofing, wireless charging on the case, full controls on each bud, and built-in Tile tracking. Not a bad deal for under a Benji!
There’s also a companion app (Android, iOS), but it’s not a must-have by any means. Once paired up, you can use it to switch the various modes (music, movies, podcasts)—which can also be done with a two-second long-press of the main button on either bud—but not much else. Really, there’s not a ton of reason to even install it.
Sound Quality Is Fine for What These Are
I want to make something very clear here: You don’t buy earbuds like these for superior sound quality. Any headphone or earbud that doesn’t create a good seal in (or around) your ear just … isn’t going to sound amazing. Noise isolation is required in order to get superb audio.
But that’s not what these are going for, and all things considered, they still manage to sound pretty good. I normally wear bone-conduction headphones on the bike for full situational awareness, which simply don’t sound great. By comparison, the Push Ultra sounds a lot better.
Because they sit just outside the edge of your ear canal and don’t create any sort of seal, you’ll get limited bass response from these headphones. That doesn’t mean it’s not present at all, just that you shouldn’t expect a clear defined bass range.
Ultimately, simply by design, you get a very midrange set of headspeakers from the Push Ultra. Again, this is by the very nature of how they’re worn—the “not directly in your ear” style makes for a very “round” listening experience. That means there’s a defined hump in the midrange, with both highs and lows dipping on either side.
While this generally doesn’t make for the best listening experience, it works here. Because these are made to give you music when you’re working out and still let you hear what’s going on around you. Because those two things are mutually exclusive, the Push Ultra offers a very usable happy medium.
Conclusion: Solid Workout ‘Buds with a Few Quirks
Overall, I’m a fan of the Push Ultra. They’re different than any other buds I’ve reviewed—workout or otherwise. As something that sits in between a set of “regular” earbuds and bone-conduction headphones, the concept is interesting and I appreciate the open design that enhances situational awareness.
If you’re not into bone conduction and want a set of buds that still let you hear what’s happening around you, these are a great alternative.
Here’s What We Like
- Open "stay aware" design that encourages situational awareness
- Comfortable during extended wearing
- Secure fit even when dripping with sweat
And What We Don't
- The case battery drains quickly, even when not in use
- Stiff buttons