Tom's Guide Verdict
The feature-laden Skullcandy Fuel Grind lays the foundation for future brand releases, but it also loses focus on the basics.
Wide, customizable sound
Companion app with awesome features
Impressive voice controls
Long battery life
Google Assistant is buggy
Lacks motion detection and touch controls
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
Battery life (rated): 9 hours, 40 hours (with charging case)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5
Processor: Not stated
Size: 0.98 x 0.94 x 0.94 inches (per bud), 2.7 x 2.02 x 1.14 (charging case)
Weight: 0.35 ounces (earbud), 1.85 ounces (charging case)
The Skullcandy Grind Fuel is the company’s latest attempt at creating cheap, yet credible, wireless earbuds with high-end features. Upgrades in sound and battery life are strong selling points. However, it’s the all-new Skull-IQ platform that has critics talking, welcoming a host of special features that enhance functionality, from audio performance to useability.
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While there is much to praise here, the Grind Fuel also has its fair share of flaws that need to be addressed. By that I mean the unpolished execution of standard categories (e.g., connectivity, controls, fit), which keep these buds from inclusion on our best cheap wireless headphones list.
Keep reading our full Skullcandy Grind Fuel review to see whether it’s still worth the investment.
Skullcandy Grind Fuel review: Price and availability
You can purchase the Skullcandy Grind Fuel in Black/Orange for $99 at major online retailers, including Amazon and Costco, or directly from Skullcandy. Bundled with the purchase are a wireless charging case, USB-C charging cable, three pairs of different sized ear tips, user manual, and warranty.
These buds have a lower MSRP than many of the market’s popular offerings, including newer releases like the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 ($150) and OnePlus Buds Pro ($150). It is also less expensive than category leaders such as the AirPods Pro ($249) and Sony WF-1000XM4 ($279). If you’re interested in other feature-heavy wireless earbuds that are equally priced, we recommend checking out the sporty JLab Epic Air Sport ANC.
For all of the latest wireless earbuds sales, bookmark our best Black Friday headphones deals page.
Skullcandy Grind Fuel review: Design and comfort
The Skullcandy Grind Fuel take on an flat oval shape that covers up most of your ear, similar to the brand’s Sesh collection and other relatively affordable rivals like the Sennheiser CX True Wireless. It's not the most discrete pair of wireless earbuds out there, but definitely one of the more durable, thanks to its hard plastic casing and IP55 sweat and water resistance. Skullcandy’s signature logo is also plastered front and center.
The charging case is one thick block of plastic with the logo debossed on top and a USB-C charging port placed in the back. Both buds are presented nicely when docked in their respective slots. Furthermore, the inside has a two-tone color scheme that gives the case some pop when opened, along with the bright LEDs for battery level indication.
Comfort is 50/50. While the buds rest pleasantly on the concha for about 2 hours before any soreness occurs, the multifunctional buttons interfere with wearability, something I’ll explain further in the review.
Fit can feel a bit loose in the beginning. Installing the proper set of ear tips and adjusting the buds properly will keep them stable. Don’t expect the same secure fit as its workout counterpart, the ear-hook-designed Skullcandy Push Active, but what you get is sufficient for moving freely in open spaces without them slipping out. The angular sound port also makes insertion a breeze.
Skullcandy Grind Fuel review: Controls and digital assistant
Touch sensors would have made for the more viable input method considering the buds’ large real estate. Skullcandy didn’t think so, settling for MF buttons that accept single/multi-press and press-and-hold gestures. The one positive is that the buttons produce solid tactility to ensure users of commands being met with every press.
There is one caveat. Pressing the button digs the bud further into the canal, which becomes fatiguing after a while. This even makes manual pairing a nightmare. The process requires pressing the button once, releasing, then pressing again and holding down to enable the mode. That was painful to perform, but not as painful as my iOS/macOS devices failing to recognize the buds after several attempts.
Skullcandy equipped these buds with a full suite of media controls. These include playback, call management, volume, digital assistance, pairing, share/join audio, and Stay-Aware and Spotify Tap activation. The “Hey Skullcandy…” voice control platform is also introduced and enables all the same functions as the buttons. To my surprise, it worked incredibly well, especially for playback and listening modes. I wish it accepted more commands, but Skullcandy will likely add more over the coming months via firmware updates.
The Grind Fuel is compatible with Google Assistant, Siri, and Bixby, but only two out of the three operate well. Google’s AI bot turns out to be the troublemaker. During testing, Google Assistant would either acknowledge voice commands and not act on them, or simply ignore requests. Bixby and Siri ran more smoothly and registered verbal inquiries without a hitch.
On-ear detection for auto-pause/play is not available on the Grind Fuel.
Skullcandy Grind Fuel review: Sound quality
Audio is not Skullcandy’s forte, but their engineers have managed to improve sound quality with every new release (check out the $20 Skullcandy Dime). The Grind Fuel follows suit and has several personalized settings that enhance the listening experience.
Skullcandy’s companion app comes with three different EQ presents — Music, Movies, and Podcast — the first serving as the default. There’s also a custom setting to create your own sound profile by manually adjusting the bass, mids, and highs. Most of my time was spent listening to contemporary music, which I felt the Music preset complemented most.
The grinding bass on 2Pac’s “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” wasn’t muddy (you don’t hear that much when discussing Skullcandy headphones), plus it had enough kick to stimulate rhythmic head nods. If there were two sonic elements that caught my attention most, they were the crisp vocals and impactful claps, which showcased the Grind Fuel’s great midrange.
Stepping into a different genre, hard rock classics like AC/DC’s “Back in Black” sounded tamer on these buds compared to other bass-emphasized wireless earbuds. The iconic opening guitar riff and snares were reproduced well. On the other hand, the concussive force of these instruments lacked oomph.
To see if my taste for punchier bass could be met, I enabled the Personal Sound feature. It’s basically a real-time audio test that creates a personalized sound profile for optimized audio levels. My profile did present slight improvements in clarity and treble.
Interestingly, the Music preset works just as well for other media content, and in some cases, it worked better than the others. Listening to the Drink Champs podcast, Music produced sharp clarity, though Podcast made vocals on The Joe Budden Podcast more pronounced. Watching some of the action sequences in Black Widow was underwhelming; the soundtrack and sound effects lacked detailing on all presets.
Like the Apple AirPods 3, the Grind Fuel also comes with a Share Audio feature that connects two Skullcandy Skull-IQ devices to the same audio source for tandem listening. I don’t have any feedback to report, since I was only sent one testing unit.
Skullcandy Grind Fuel review: App and special features
The Skullcandy app is the hub for all functionality and offers way more than you would expect for sub-$100 wireless earbuds. Big features like Audio Share, EQ, “Hey Skullcandy…” voice controls, Personal Sound, and Spotify Tap have already been mentioned. Let’s get to the rest.
Stay-Aware Mode is Skullcandy’s version of transparency mode. It’s OK for piping in external sounds and increasing your awareness of surroundings. There is a Take a Photo setting that transforms the buds into a remote for your smartphone’s camera; press the MF Button to snap photos. Built-in Tile technology also comes part of the package to find misplaced buds through the Tile app.
Other notables include a volume slider, battery level indicators, firmware updates, toggle controls for several settings, and a visual user guide.
Skullcandy Grind Fuel review: Battery life and charging case
The Grind Fuel is rated at 9 hours on a full charge. Be mindful that high volume and special features decrease playtime by about 2 to 3 hours. What matters most is that these buds surpass the average 4.5 to 5 hours industry time set by the AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro, and even the 6 hours offered by the new AirPods 3. I was happy with the 4 days of moderate use (2 hours daily) provided before recharging.
The charging case is just as generous, with up to 40 hours of listening time. This equates to 4 and a half extra charges. More importantly, the case holds more juice than any AirPods case (24 hours for AirPods 2/Pro, 30 hours for AirPods 3). A quick charge nets you 2 hours of listening time in 10 minutes and wireless charging was installed to power up the buds when placed on a Qi-enabled wireless charger.
Skullcandy Grind Fuel review: Call quality and connectivity
As a calling headset, the Grind Fuel isn’t anything to rave about. Several people complained about my voice sounding tinny and about ambient noise entering our conversations when answering their calls outside. Indoors was slightly better, with the missus stating that I sounded clearer — though granted, there was still some muffling. The Grind Fuel can also be used in stereo or mono mode.
Connectivity was very inconsistent. Bluetooth 5.2 produced decent wireless range (up to 35 feet), though teetering around the max range resulted in lots of stuttering. I already discussed the Grind Fuel’s pairing issues, and its auto on/off function is just as bad. Reconnecting to recognized devices often required manually enabling pairing mode.
Skullcandy Grind Fuel review: Verdict
The Skullcandy Grind Fuel is a promising look at where the brand plans to take its audio lineup next. It’s all about extended functionality and tying that into an ecosystem, which the Grind Fuel does well.
A lot of people will find the Skull-IQ platform to be surprisingly intuitive. The number of features available is both great and serviceable for the price. Yes, the platform can benefit from more voice commands, but to expect Alexa or even Siri-level voice assistance is foolish. The wide soundstage and long battery life deserve recognition as well.
However, it’s obvious that the development team spent most of its time focusing on the future and not refining the present, because the Grind Fuel feels somewhat like an unfinished product. Comfort and fit weren’t given much attention, the Google Assistant is horrible, and the unreliable connectivity can be frustrating to deal with.
If you’re a huge Skullcandy fan and have waited for them to launch cheap wireless earbuds with fun features, then the Grind Fuel is right up your alley. Just know there are other high-performance models like the Anker Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro and Nothing Ear (1) that offer more at a similar price point, while also getting the basics down pat.
A lifestyle journalist with an affinity for consumer products, Alex has over a decade of experience and has worked with popular publications such as Complex, Thrillist, Men’s Health, Gear Patrol, AskMen, and Hoop Magazine. He currently focuses on audio, reviewing the most coveted headphones in the market for both Tom’s Guide and Laptop Magazine.