It’s hard to believe that it’s even possible to buy a set of cheap true wireless earbuds for less than the price of two movie tickets, but thanks to Skullcandy and JLab, that’s where we are. What’s even more amazing is that their ultra-affordable products (the $25 Skullcandy Dime and $20 JLab Go Air Pop) don’t suck. They both offer decent sound, good build quality, and even some modest protection from water. But is one of these products better than the other? And should we assume that if the answer is yes, that it’s the more expensive set of buds that are the best?
There’s only one way to find out, so we put them head-to-head.
This one’s a no-brainer. Skullcandy charges $25 for the Dime, which seemed insanely cheap when they debuted earlier in 2021, but then JLab introduced the Go Air Pop at just $20. Now, in the grand scheme of things, a $5 difference isn’t going to be make-or-break for most folks, but when you consider that that $5 represents a 20% savings, there’s no denying that JLab has achieved a remarkably low price for its Go Air Pop.
Winner: JLab Go Air Pop
While the price difference doesn’t seem hugely substantial, the design difference is immediately apparent. Skullcandy opted for an AirPods-esque shape for the Dime, with a small stem that protrudes down from the main earbud. This houses the microphones as well as the Dime’s physical push-button controls. The Go Air Pop use a slightly more compact, stemless shape, with touch controls.
On the one hand, push-button controls are usually superior for accuracy and feedback, which gives the Dime an edge in terms of usability, but the Go Air Pop can be inserted more deeply into your ears because they don’t have stems (which act as a kind of stopper). We’ll talk about how that affects sound quality and noise isolation later.
Then there are the charging cases. The Dime’s case is a study in compact minimalism. The top lid even has cutouts for the earbud stems to keep its profile as small as possible. The lid doesn’t just magnetically close, it snaps shut, guaranteeing it won’t open by accident, even if you hang it off a backpack zipper using the included lanyard loop. It uses a MicroUSB connection (Skullcandy includes a matching cable) which some may find out of place in our increasingly USB-C world.
The Go Air Pop’s case uses a more conventional shape. It’s fractionally larger than the Dime’s case, but you won’t notice the difference at all. The lid closes securely with a magnet but doesn’t have the Dime’s locked-vault snap-closure. Where it excels is its built-in, universal fit USB-A cable. At just two inches it’s incredibly short, but it tucks seamlessly into the bottom of the case and it means you’ll never end up accidentally without a way to charge your buds. On the other hand, if that cable gets damaged, you won’t be able to charge them at all.
The Dime come in four color options for the buds (the case is always black), while the Go Air Pop come in five colors, with matching charging cases.
Both products come with three sizes of silicone ear tips to help you get a good fit.
With the exception of the Go Air Pop’s built-in cable, most of the design differences will come down to personal preference, so JLab takes this one by a hair.
Winner: JLab Go Air Pop
Neither of these budget buds will win a sound quality competition, but both offer surprisingly decent audio. There are, however, two major differences.
The Dime’s sound signature is very nicely balanced, but with a slight emphasis on higher frequencies. There’s plenty of clarity on tap, and overall, it’s a bright and energetic performance. I found that even though the bass response was good, it wasn’t as full or deep as I’ve experienced with Skullcandy’s other earbuds like the Indy ANC. That might be in part related to the way they fit.
I mentioned above that their stems provide a hard stop when inserting the buds, which, for me, meant that even with the largest ear tips installed, I couldn’t get quite as good a seal in my ear canal as I would have liked. And given that a good seal is the key to sound isolation and bass response, that probably explains the sound I heard.
The Go Air Pop don’t suffer from this problem — you can wedge them into your ears as deeply as your pain threshold will allow. This helps them offer excellent noise isolation — much better than the Dimes — and better bass too. They also present a slightly wider and deeper soundstage for a better sense of overall immersion in the music, something that can be appreciated on moody tracks like Hans Zimmer’s Time.
However none of the three built-in EQ modes (balanced, bass boost, and JLab Signature) possesses the Dime’s clarity, which helps bring out the best in vocal-forward performances like Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett’s nostalgic duet I Get A Kick Out Of You.
Once again, personal preference will be key — if you listen primarily to hip-hop, rap, or EDM, you may prefer the deeper bass of the Go Air Pop, while other genres will benefit from the Dimes’ superior clarity and energy.
Another no-brainer: The Skullcandy Dime get a claimed 3.5 hours per charge, with another 8.5 hours in their case, for a total of 12 hours. That’s adequate for basic use, but it pales in comparison to most true wireless earbuds and can’t even begin to compete with the JLab’s claimed eight hours per charge and 32 hours total when you include their case. It’s not even close.
Winner: JLab Go Air Pop
At these prices, it’s probably not reasonable to expect miracles in terms of call quality. Even much more expensive true wireless earbuds have been known to struggle in this department. Still, we have a clear winner. The Skullcandy Dime, despite having microphones located a little closer to your mouth, are not the earbuds you want to use for any calls longer than a “Did you say you wanted me to pick up milk on my way home?” Your voice will be highly compressed, verging on muffled at times.
The JLab Go Air Pop may not offer stunning clarity, but they’re perfectly serviceable. They deal well with background noise (most of the time) but most importantly, your voice will be relatively clear and intelligible, something I can’t say about the Dimes.
Winner: JLab Go Air Pop
Both earbuds offer an almost identical set of control functions: Play/pause, volume up/down, track skip forward/back, call answer/end, and voice assistant access. The Go Air Pop also add EQ Mode selection. Neither model lets you customize how these functions are accessed, so you’ll need to decide if you like the choices made by the designers.
With the Dimes, play/pause is done with a single press, while volume changes are accomplished via double-presses. The Go Air Pop take the opposite approach: Single-tap for volume, double for play/pause.
However, I think the biggest difference comes down to the type of control. The Dimes use a physical button that is precise, but a bit tricky to press until you get the hang of it, and the Go Air Pop use touch controls that are easy to use, but also easy to accidentally trigger.
I’m giving the Skullcandy the slight edge here, mostly because I think physical buttons are still better than touch controls.
Winner: Skullcandy Dime
It’s hard to know how long any set of true wireless earbuds will last without thrashing them until they die, but there are plenty of clues we can use to guess.
Both the Dimes and the Go Air Pop are IPX4 rated for water resistance, so that’s, ahem, a wash. Both look to be well-made from durable plastics, but the Dimes strike me as a bit more robust. That’s certainly true of their charging case.
However, the Dimes use a rubber membrane to cover their physical control buttons and, just like the silicone ear tips, this will wear down with time.
Then there’s battery life. As batteries age, their effective capacity drops — sometimes by as much as 50% within the first two years. If the Dimes suffer from this, you’ll be left with as little as 1.5 hours of play time on a single charge, whereas the Go Air Pop will still give you four hours.
And, it must be noted that Skullcandy offers an industry-standard 12-month warranty on the Dimes, while JLab doubles that to 24 months — all the more impressive when you consider the price. I think this pushes the Go Air Pop into the winner’s circle even though I acknowledge that their charging case’s built-in cable could end up being their Achilles heel.
Winner: JLab Go Air Pop
A quick glance at the winners above should give you a pretty good idea of where we stand. The JLab Go Air Pop come out on top in five out of seven categories. Overall, I think they’re the better choice, and they cost less too.
However, given that we’re talking about earbuds, and that sound quality should probably be weighted a little more than other concerns, your preference for low-end bass (versus high-end clarity and energy) could very well tip the scales in favor of the Dimes. If that’s the case, just make sure you’re OK with their other qualities, some of which are definitely not as good as the JLabs.
- JLab’s new skin tone earbuds go beyond black and white
- Amazfit PowerBuds Pro just upstaged Apple’s next AirPods
- Skullcandy Dime hands-on review: Cheap and cheerful
- Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro go toe-to-toe with AirPods Pro, for $130
- Last chance to save on Apple AirPods, Samsung Galaxy Buds for Prime Day