While Dr. Dre’s BeatsAudio has been making billion-dollar deals with Apple, 50 Cent's headphone line has yet to see close to the same level of success. It's not for lack of trying, as the rapper/actor/mogul and SMS Audio have launched more products with 50's name on them than I can count. (Stay tuned for my review of the Sync by 50 Wireless Sport, peddled by Carmelo Anthony!) But sometimes star power just isn't enough.
In the case of the SMS Audio Sync by 50 Cent On-Ear Wireless headphones, it all comes down to the audio quality. Despite some tweaks to the driver, these on-ear cans still deliver a muddy, unrefined performance, using exaggerated bass to try to cover its flaws. Even though they cost as little as $146 on Amazon, these cans are not the best-sounding option for music lovers looking to ditch the wires.
I'm more of a leather-and-brushed-aluminum girl myself, but I have to admit, the glossy plastic Syncs are a nice-looking pair of cans. The majority of the frame is composed of shiny light gray the company has dubbed Cool Silver. If Silver's not your thing — or you're just not that cool — you can purchase the headphones in Shadow Black. The foam headband is wrapped in soft white leather with blue stitching. The top of the Syncs is tagged with the SMS Audio logo, as is each gray earplate.
On the outer ring of the right earplate are controls for volume and skipping tracks. The power/Bluetooth button is located on the top of the earcup, with a bottom-mounted 3.5-mm audio port if you decide to hook up the cord. The left earcup has only a single microUSB port at the bottom. Built-in hinges along the lower portion of the headphone fold upward, creating a compact shape that's perfect for the bundled black fabric hard case with bright blue accents.
For those moments when the Syncs' lithium-ion battery has died, SMS Audio ships the headphones with a bright blue audio cable. The cord has a small black remote control that features a built-in mic for phone calls.
Using what it calls OvalFit technology, the egg-shaped earcups look like modish chairs from the 60s. Usually I'm not a fan of on-ear headphones, due to the constant pressure exerted on my freakishly small ears, but I found the Syncs to be snug in a good way. The billowy ovular earcups were surprisingly comfortable, even after a three-and-a-half-hour trip from New York City to Maryland. In fact, I fell asleep several times throughout the journey and awoke to the headphones resting comfortably in place.
The headphones weigh a barely-there 5.6 ounces, much lighter than the 8-ounce Jabra Revo Wireless headphones. Despite their extra bulk though, the Revos had a better fit and didn't press down on my ears.
SMS’ original wireless headphones used Kleer technology, which was supposed to offer better fidelity than Bluetooth. Apparently, the latter technology has improved enough for the company to switch, which means listeners no longer have to deal with a clunky dongle. You do lose the ability to have four Sync headphones connected to one audio source, but I doubt many people are chomping at the bit to have a four-person silent dance party.
Pairing the headphones was a quick and straightforward process. Sliding the power button into the downward position and holding it for 3 seconds caused the status light to flash rapidly, signaling the device was in pair mode. From there, we went to the Bluetooth setting on our phone, hit pair, and were ready to jam.
As easy as the pairing process was, the Jabra’s Revo's NFC one-touch pairing syncs devices in an even faster 1 to 2 seconds.
Once the Syncs were paired, the control panel on the right earplate was easy to use. In addition to the volume and track change buttons, the large S functions as a play/pause button. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the controls worked beautifully with my Nokia Lumia 928, as well as my Samsung Galaxy S4 and the office iPhone 5s. All it took to switch Selena Gomez's "Love You Like A Love Song" (don't judge me) to Sade's "Sweetest Taboo" was a quick touch of a button.
As with the original Syncs, watch out for the volume. Since the headphones have their own volume controls, if you crank both them and your device to 11, you could do a serious number on your hearing. When I did dare to turn up the volume, most songs immediately distorted, which is even more of an incentive to keep the music down.
The 40-mm custom-tuned drivers have injected more definition than the previous over-ear model. But even at an acceptable listening level, the low end is as overwhelming as SMS’ over-ear headphones, even for a bass junky such as myself.
As I listened to 50's "P.I.M.P. (Remix)," the Syncs swamped the song in bass; by comparison, the steel drum driving the track sounded brighter on the Jabra Revo. I also had trouble making out the finer points of the track, such as the background voices on Snoop Dogg's verse.
The Syncs fared somewhat better with less bass-heavy songs, delivering a respectable performance of Anita Baker's rendition of "Lately." The piano was relatively clear and warm, as were the snares and accompanying percussion. However, the vocals were a little flat and submerged. I preferred the Jabra on this track, which had a wider soundstage that allowed each element of the track the proper room to breathe. The result: much cleaner and brighter sound.
It keeps going and going and going. According to SMS Audio, the Sync by 50 headphones can last up to 12 hours on a charge, matching the claim of the Jabra Revos. I used the Syncs pretty extensively on my trip from NYC to Maryland, and found that the headphones were still going strong after 3.5 hours of consistent use. The cans come with an included audio cable for when the lithium-ion battery finally runs down.
In a quiet setting, the Syncs' passive noise cancelling effectively shut out ambient noise, allowing me to have a quick chat with my boyfriend. However, the call sounded underwater on my end while the bf complained of a noticeable reverb every time he spoke.
The situation only deteriorated once I stepped out into the hustle and bustle of New York City. Our previously submerged audio now had to contend with sirens, construction work and wind resistance. Needless to say, the Syncs were not up to the task, forcing us to end the call until we could get to a quieter location.
As a fan of big thumping bass and gaudy presentation, I wanted to like the SMS Audio Sync by 50 more. The headphones have a slick, sturdy design, ridiculously long battery life and deliver some serious knock on the low end. Sadly, that thump submerges everything else into a muddy mess. For my money, I’d recommend the $186 Jabra Revo Wireless headphones, which have a more balanced sound, a funky design, NFC pairing and an equally long endurance.