Field Test: SYNC by 50
[Rather than giving you a review packed full of benchmark numbers and charts, our Field Test series is all about taking technology out of the box and out of the lab. We use it in our everyday lives, and report what we find.]
While I was lost last year in the football fields of tech called the Consumer Electronics Show, 50 Cent announced a new partnership with Sleek headphones. The prototype looked very cool, like a direct competitor to the Beats series featuring 50 Cent’s former mentor, Dr. Dre. I looked forward to getting my hands on them. Lo and behold, 50 Cent’s deal with Sleek headphones collapsed and the rapper-turned-businessman found SMS Audio to produce his headphones. They finally shipped this summer. Unfortunately, as much as I want to like them, it’s hard to recommend 50 Cent Headphones with the amount of cake you’ll have to drop to get them and the buggy proprietary tech they rely on.
There are three different 50 Cent Headphones models: The earbuds (STREET by 50 In-ear Audio, $119.95), the wired headphones (STREET by 50 Over-ear Audio, $245.95), and the wireless headphones (SYNC by 50 Over-ear Audio, 399.95). I reviewed a pair of the SYNC by 50 Over-ear Audio wireless headphones—a large, imposing set that completely cover your ears.
Available in Shadow Black and Ghost White, SYNC by 50 has 16-bit lossless digital sound, passive noise isolation, and 50-inch wireless range. It comes in a plush, if enormous carrying case and includes a sturdy 6-foot wire for plugging in directly as well as adapters for USB and airplane use. The soft memory foam cushions prevent ear fatigue, and the outer ears have buttons for power, bass boost, volume, and track skip.
The bass here is rich, providing enough reverb to shake your eardrums. The bass sounded as good with Snoop Dogg as it did with Steely Dan, though bottom-heavy genres like hip-hop and jazz benefit more than, say, tweeter-heavy classical. The sound was just as strong and as clear while wireless.
In fact, the problem with the SYNC by 50 Over-ear Audio isn’t the potency of the wireless connection, but the reliability of it. Instead of using Bluetooth, SMS uses Kleer wireless technology that requires an oblong inch-by-two-inch trinket that plugs into your headphone jack. Imagine a connector that’s about twice the size of the Square credit card device, and then imagine having to plug it into your iPhone, Droid, or whatever device you’d like to use as your music player. Clunky isn’t the word.
The trinket must also be synced to the headset, which means holding down a button for two seconds until the embedded icon blinks its blue light, then holding down the parallel button on the headset and waiting for the same sign.
The final straw here is that the sync often doesn’t hold. There were numerous times when my music would just cut off and, upon inspection, the blue light on the trinket suddenly stopped blinking. I suspect that it automatically stopped when it didn’t detect music coming through the device – despite the fact that there was. The volume also wasn’t as receptive as it should have been, and the song skip was sketchy depending on the music device.
Both the trinket and the headset have to be charged for an hour or so via the included mini-USB plug. The charges only went out once while I was on an airplane with the headset, and seemed to last a while.
The wireless trouble is all the more disappointing because, once I gave up and just wired up, the headphones themselves were decent. Of course, if you do that, you could just save yourself $150 and get the cheaper, wired 50 Cent model, or, better yet, get a cheaper, more reliable wireless headset altogether.