Review: SMS Audio Street by 50

Street by 50 offers sound quality, style and durability. (September 2nd, 2013)

Electronista Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: SMS Audio

Price: $179

The Good


  • - Stylish durable design
    - Deep bass reproduction
    - Folds easily for portability

The Bad


  • - Weak treble
    - No active noise cancellation

SMS Audio was founded in 2011 by Curtis Jackson, better known as 50 Cent, amid a dispute between the rapper and headphone maker Sleek Audio. It's not entirely clear what happened with that deal, but what is clear is that Jackson carried on with his plans to make the headphones that had been envisioned to carry his name. SMS acquired KonoAudio later that year to assist with the manufacturing. The resulting line of products is clearly aimed at competing with the Beats by Dre line with similar styling and pricing. Electronista recently put a pair of "Street by 50" on-ear headphones to the test to see if they are really a competitive new product, or just another celebrity endorsement.



Unboxing

Late last month I received a set of the Street by 50 on-ear wired headphones, which retail for $179. My first impression was that they looked a lot like most headphones in this price range. Upon opening the box, I was overwhelmed with a "new car" type smell that seemed almost too potent to be real. After a few days the smell was no longer detected on the headphones, however it still lingers in the box, as if it contained a "new car smell" air freshener. Nonetheless, this does not deter from the fact that the ear cups are made from sturdy plastic, the headband is constructed with some sort of flexible material that can be contorted nearly any direction without snapping, and memory foam--wrapped in a leather--cushions the ears and headband. The box includes a hard-shell carrying case, removable cable, soft-touch cleaning cloth, an owners manual and a product brochure.



Style

My review unit was provided in shadow black, which is one of the original colors along with white. For a limited time they are also available in cobalt blue, green, orange, magenta, red and teal. These headphones share design DNA with the larger, pricier, over-ear wired siblings in the SMS Audio lineup. The matte finish on the headband is soft to the touch and pleasing to look at. Glossy black ear cups with leather add a touch of flash and class, while the blue stitching in the headband provides a look that may have roots in the world of luxury automobiles. Make no mistake about it, these headphones might look like they are from uptown, but they are made for the streets. They feature sturdy plastic construction and can fold up and be tucked away in the included hard-shell carrying case when on the go.



Comfort

When I first placed these cans on my head, I noticed that they felt a lot lighter than expected. At first they were a bit snug, but the headband seems to have adapted to the size of my dome and eased up a bit after continuous wear. I assume this tight fit assists in cutting down outside noise since there is no active noise cancellation.

After a few hours of use they remain fairly comfortable, however pressure starts to build up near my ears when I'm wearing glasses. SMS Audio's "Ovalfit" ear cups are designed to fit the curvature of the ear to provide comfort and block outside sound. My ear must be slightly larger than average, or the inner cup is relatively small, because they don't fully fit inside. Admittedly these are called "on-ear" headphones, rather than "over ear," so perhaps the fit is exactly what was intended.

Included is a detachable 3.5mm audio cable with a built-in microphone and three-click control. The cord itself is thick and seems very durable, with gold plated connectors on both ends which should ensure years of trouble-free use. When using this cable with an iPhone, iPad or iPod, the three-click button can answer calls, skip forward one track and skip backwards one track.



Sound Quality

The acronym "SMS" stands for "Studio Mastered Sound," and the marketing states that these are a set of "professionally tuned, high performance headphones." Despite the semantics, I suspected that these were nothing more than a dolled up set of cheap Chinese cans with a rebadge job that would make GM proud. First I listened to a few tracks from the new Magna Carta Holy Grail album by Jay Z, and instantly I found that the 40mm drivers delivered a pleasing low end that I had been missing when listening to the album on other headphones and speakers. I followed up with some more hip-hop hits from the past like 50 Cent's classic "In da Club", as well as some other current tunes including Eminem's new song "Berzerk" and found that generally anything with bass in it was good.

It should be noted that every chance I had to listen to some tunes, I would slip away with the headphones and an iPod for an extended listening session. This started simply as professional curiosity, but it grew into more of an obsession as I poured through my music library to sample tracks from various eras and genres. While doing so I noticed two things; many newer albums sound better on these headphones than older music, and this same new music sounds better on these headphones than almost anything else I've put on my ears.

Over the past few years there appears to have been a change in the production strategy for new music. For a while I attributed this to a new generation of producers who just didn't quite have the same flare for mastering music as they did back "in my day." Recently though it has become apparent that there is more to it than that. It seems that the rise of digital sales has forced the hand of change, and music now is being mastered to sound best with this breed of premium consumer headphones. Or at least that is the conclusion I came to when pondering the question "what's wrong with music these days," but I digress.

At any rate, these headphones sound really great if you intend to listen to hits from the top 40, and even better if that happens to be rap, hip-hop, dubstep or anything else that is bass heavy. It was observed that treble tones did not have quite the same impact with these headphones as they do on other speakers; with that being said, they did bring out a wide range of nuances that I hadn't noticed before in songs I heard a million times before.



Conclusion

Curtis Jackson set out to build headphones that provide three things: sound quality, style and durability. After spending some time with these headphones, I can safely say that they provide acceptable sound reproduction, are pleasing to look at, and feel like a high-quality product that will last a long time. Ultimately this set of headphones meets or exceeds my expectations of what headphones in this price bracket should be.

by Matt Sargent


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