Forget AirPods Pro — at half the price, Skullcandy's Rail ANC buds are a no-brainer alternative

Skullcandy Rail ANC with Skull-IQ app
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

In the eyes of many, Apple's AirPods Pro are up there with the best wireless earbuds you can buy. Not only do they provide excellent audio quality, but they offer impressive noise canceling and transparency, too.

But while the Cupertino company's premium buds are undoubtedly great, they're also quite expensive, with the 2nd generation AirPods Pro currently priced at $249 / £229 / AU$399.

Thankfully, it is possible to find quality noise-canceling buds at a more reasonable cost — and from a name brand at that.

Recently, I was sent a pair of Skullcandy's Rail ANC earbuds for testing purposes, and I was surprised by how well they stood up to Apple's buds despite being less than half the price at $99 / £99 / AU$189.

Skullcandy Rail ANC Wireless Earbuds: was $99 now $79 @ Amazon

Skullcandy Rail ANC Wireless Earbuds: was $99 now $79 @ Amazon
Skullcandy Rail ANC Wireless Earbuds are an excellent AirPods Pro rival that cost a fraction of the price of Apple's premium buds. These slick wireless earbuds offer excellent ANC, impressive customization, strong audio, and up to 27 hours of battery with the supplied charging case. If you're looking for an AirPods alternative in an affordable bracket, your search is over! 

Like the AirPods Pro, Skullcandy's in-ear Rail ANC sports downward-pointing stems, though that's where the design similarities end. 

In contrast to Apple's classic white aesthetic, the Rail ANC buds feature a black outer shell (which carries a subtle Skullcandy logo) that joins up to a transparent inner section, allowing you to see their internals — think of them like an inverted take on the Nothing Ear (2) buds.

Skullcandy Rail ANC

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

That same design aesthetic carries over to the Rail ANC's charging case, which has a matte and glossy two-tone finish on the outside, and a transparent section on the inside, with blue LEDs shining through to let you know it's juiced up.

Given Rail ANC's approachable price point, it's surprising to see that the aforementioned case offers wireless charging and rapid-charge functionality, which gets you two hours of listening time from a ten-minute charge. 

With the case and buds combined, the Rail ANC gives you a total of 38 hours of playback — that's eight hours longer than Apple's AirPods Pro (2nd-gen) buds.

Skullcandy Rail ANC

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

As the name would suggest, the Rail ANC also offers active noise cancelation, which is another feature it shares with Apple's AirPods Pro, along with its own version of Transparency Mode called 'Stay Aware'.

While Apple's buds may have a slight edge over the Rail ANC when it comes to filtering out unwanted noise, Skullcandy's buds still do a good job of blocking out low-pitch sounds, so long as you've got a good seal in your ears. 

High pitched sounds are are also decently minimized, though you will find that medium pitch sounds will get through. Still, that's better than what most earbuds within this price range can manage.

As for Stay Aware mode, this works surprisingly well. There's even an 'Intensity' slider in the Skull-IQ app which lets you decide how much environmental audio you allow in, which is much appreciated.

Skullcandy Rail ANC

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

In terms of sound quality, I'd argue that Skullcandy's Rail ANC buds are fairly well balanced, with a slight emphasis towards the low-end. 

Of course, the fact that these earbuds work with Skullcandy's Skull-IQ app means you have the ability to tailor their sound profile to your liking.

Although the number of equalizer presets is rather limited (you only get 'Music', 'Bass Boost' and 'Podcast' to choose from), you can create your own 'Custom' preset, with access to various sliders which let you dial up or dial down levels for Low, Low-mid, Mid, High-mid and High sounds. 

This works fairly well, though we found that the Bass Boost setting does result in distortion at higher volumes. Thankfully, the Skullcandy Rail ANC already provides a decent amount of bass with its default Music preset.

On top of this, the Skull-IQ app also offers MIMI sound personalization, which essentially gives you a hearing test to create a sound profile that's based on what you can actually hear.

Add to this the inclusion of Multipoint Pairing for seamless switching between two devices, built-in Tile functionality to help you track the buds down when misplaced, voice control and voice assistant support, and the Skullcandy Rail ANC true wireless earbuds are easy to recommend to those in the market for a cheaper AirPods Pro alternative.

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Stephen Lambrechts

Stephen Lambrechts is the Managing Editor of Tom's Guide AU and has written professionally across the categories of tech, film, television and gaming for the last 15 years. Before Tom's Guide, he spent several years as a Senior Journalist at TechRadar, had a brief stint as Editor in Chief at Official Xbox Magazine Australia, and has written for such publications as APC, TechLife Australia, T3, FilmInk, AskMen, Daily Telegraph and IGN. He's an expert when it comes to smartphones, TVs, gaming and streaming. In his spare time, he enjoys watching obscure horror movies on physical media, keeping an eye on the latest retro sneaker releases and listening to vinyl. Occasionally, he also indulges in other non-hipster stuff, like hiking.