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If the $399 SMS Sync headphones are any indication of 50 Cent's contribution to the audio industry, he should continue churning out rap albums, energy drinks, and Vitamin Water, but leave the gear to the professionals. These are the first Kleer wireless headphones with corporate support from a hip-hop artist, but that endorsement doesn't save these headphones from some significant design flaws and an inflated price tag. Both issues need attention if these headphones intend to compete successfully against the Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Studio and the Soul by Ludacris SL300s headphones.
The Sync by 50s are built for listeners who take fashion seriously and shop for headphones that match their lifestyle, but the thin plastic covering the set doesn't inspire confidence for anyone using them on the go. If you have a chance to check them out in person, be sure to subject them to a simple creak test and you'll find that the thin plastic connecting the headband to the adjustable joints barely supports the weight of the heavy earcups, causing the set to sway side to side with discomforting flex when they're not firmly planted on your head.
I wouldn't feel comfortable using them to exercise despite what the marketing says, and I suspect the six tiny screws exposed at the bottom of the headband won't likely survive a single drop onto hard concrete or linoleum.
The wireless dongle that plugs into the audio source is an equally disappointing misfire in hardware design. Small details make a big difference in headphones, and the offset 3.5mm plug feels just as awkward and weak as those abhorrent FM transmitter attachments that came out for the first Apple iPhone--a small piece at the end of the jack also prevents the whole adapter from sitting flush on a music player, causing an alarming degree of wiggle room between the plug and its housing. I would expect this construction quality from a simple $20 accessory, but definitely not as part of a $400 package.
You can buy the Syncs in either white or black, though I'm afraid of how the white leather earcups and padding under the headband will degrade after months of constantly pulling them on and off your head, especially if you live an area where the summer months may drip sweat onto the material.
The white-and-chrome model I received for this review is trimmed with subtle gray and blue lines detailing the headband seams and stretched throughout the earcups. Of course, SMS Audio labels adorn the top of the headband with more branding printed just above the left earcup.
Unlike the Beats and the Souls, the headband joints on the Syncs lack the ability to fold into themselves, so you can either sport them around your neck or store them in the included semi-hard, neoprene-wrapped case.
Similar to the Soul by Ludacris SL300s, a royal blue S (for SMS) blinks steadily on the left cup when you pair the headphones with the receiver in wireless mode. If you're not feeling the flashing lights, you can also toggle Airplane Mode by pressing the track navigation buttons for three seconds to turn them off and on again.
The wireless technology used to pair the dongle to the headphones is engineered and licensed to SMS Audio by Kleer Digital. It's different from Bluetooth headphones that compress the audio signal during transmission, which means that these headphones will carry a much cleaner, more robust sound than you'd ever hear out of competing Bluetooth sets.
The Syncs also maintain a constant partnership with the dongle once you finish the initial pairing, so you can stream audio from any device with a 3.5mm stereo plug. The pairing itself is just as easy as a Bluetooth connection and requires just a few simple clicks and button-holds before you're ready to go.
In my anecdotal tests, I was able to walk about 300 feet away from my iPhone before the sound cut out, and best of all, Kleer's lossless audio transmission also lets up to three other users with Kleer-compatible headphones connect to the same dongle-- anyone up for a silent disco?
Kleer assumes that you'll spend most of your time listening to these headphones wirelessly, so both the dongle and the headset come with rechargeable batteries. The AC charger in the box is fitted with a detachable USB cord on the male side for sourcing power through a computer, but SMS only includes one power set so you need to buy another USB cord if you want to charge the headphones and the dongle at the same time.
Alternatively, if you run out of juice and don't have a port to plug into, you can listen using a hardwired connection through the port on the bottom of the left earcup, and SMS Audio does provide a matching blue cable with a single-button remote installed so you can keep your audio player in a bag.
The two earcups house most of the controls you need to equalize your music, including volume and track navigation on the right side and a bass-boost button on the left. Unfortunately, since the dongle can't connect natively to the music player on your smartphone, you won't be able to use the track reverse and forward buttons unless you purchase the USB Wireless Transmitter, sold separately in the SMS Audio Web store for $80.
Headphones that operate on a wireless signal are typically interrupted by static noise from other wireless devices (telephones, microwaves, Wi-Fi network routers) on the same channel, but the Kleer technology built into the Sync headphones automatically cycles through 16 channels to find the most reliable source without interrupting the music.
The headphones never cut out in my time testing the headphones, and they also power themselves off after 5 minutes of latency to preserve battery life--same goes with the wireless adapter.
Kleer's lack of audio compression means they sound distinctively clearer than Bluetooth headphones, and a panel of my coworkers had a tough time distinguishing between a Kleer signal and a wired connection. Spatial detail and vocals are crisp and more realistic than Bluetooth's distorted tones, and the extra bass boost on the side adds body to songs that need an extra push on the low end. Using a wired connection to compare them with Ludacris' SL300s and the Beats by Dr. Dre, the Syncs have a similarly artificial frequency response with an emphasis on bass that appeals to fans of modern, beat-driven tunes.
The headphones perform adequately in noisy environments but are limited by their lack of active noise cancellation. In other words, while the Beats by Dre and the Ludacris SL300s use power to eliminate lower frequencies and selective ambient noise like the roar of an airplane engine, the Sync headphones rely on padded insulation and volume levels to filter out sound.
Additionally, the limited angular movement of the earcups in relation to the obtuse curve of the headband creates a loose seal that leaks your music to everyone sitting around you, so be cautious not to embarrass yourself blasting songs you may not want broadcast to your neighbors.
The SMS Audio Sync by 50 headphones are a trendy fashion accessory while resting on your shoulders, but their flimsy plastic housing makes me question long-term reliability. The decision to choose Kleer wireless technology over simple Bluetooth extends its utility as a home theater headset and draws the attention of audiophiles who appreciate lossless quality, but SMS needs to lower the inflated price tag and re-evaluate the hardware design before I can recommend these to active listeners.