50 Cent is primarily known for two things: cranking out club hits and surviving a nonuple shooting.
Now the rap mogul is trying out a new hustle: ultra-luxe, musician-marketed headphones.
Mr. Cent is hardly the first to venture into this star-studded pool of mediocrity. But here’s where the gambit gets interesting: Cent’s Sync by 50 wireless headphones aren’t a crass vanity project. Under all the requisite swagger is a disarmingly decent pair of cans packed with nifty amenities.
My porcelain-white review unit was surprisingly sturdy and flexible. The leather earcups added some heft, but the padded headband and bendable frame ultimately made for a very comfortable fit. A week in my mosh pit of a messenger bag didn’t even produce scratches or cracks — an admirable feat for non-foldable headphones.
If the stunning white shell isn’t enough, the Syncs literally beg for attention via a pair of brightly flashing SMS logos on the earcups. They send an alert to everyone in the vicinity: “I am listening to music!” Passersby repeatedly stopped me to ask what was up. Each time, I had to awkwardly explain that they were 50 Cent’s new wireless headphones(tm), and that I honestly had no idea why they blinked every six seconds. As it turns out, the headphones have an “Airplane Mode” that takes care of the peripheral light show. But let’s be honest — having to dial back a default annoyance on a product is rarely indicative of good design.
If you can get past the flashy exterior, there are actually a ton of great features here. First off, both the headphones and the included wireless transmitter have integrated batteries that charge over micro-USB. As a lover of wireless gadgets (and an owner of many rechargeable batteries), the quick 90-minute charge time for each was incredibly convenient. And though the rechargeable option is welcome, the lack of a unified charging/base station meant the headphones and transmitter were just dangling while charging.
Setup is simple: I plugged the transmitter (about the size of a Tic Tac box) into my headphone jack, hit a sync button on each end, and I was up and running in a few seconds. The dongle uses Kleer’s 2.4 GHz lossless streaming tech to deliver high-fidelity CD-quality sound. You can walk about 40 feet away from the transmitter before the signal starts to hiccup, and you can sync up to four pairs of Kleer-compatible headphones (of any stripe) to each dongle.
Unlike other celeb-endorsed wireless headphones that treat audio quality as an afterthought, the Syncs actually deliver. Inside the buttery-soft earcups are two custom 40mm drivers. Though they aren’t especially warm, they are surprisingly balanced without being overly bassy. The trifecta of these solid drivers, the “THUMPP” bass boost feature (activated by clicking a button on the right earcup), and a playlist stacked with lossless audio files are where the Syncs really start to shine.
The results were pleasantly nuanced: rap and dubstep got their powerful bottom ends and movie dialogue on videos was pushed to the forefront. Jazz didn’t fare as well, but the brassy highs were only mildly intolerable. The Syncs definitely don’t push out the greatest sound, but when running full-tilt, they have some of the better sound I’ve heard from musician-backed cans.
Unfortunately, they don’t sound nearly as good at half-tilt. After a week of use I learned that the bass boost feature is a near necessity. And even though dongle-streamed audio sounded crisp, switching to the included 3.5mm cable killed a lot of the dynamic range and fun. The old-fashioned cable isn’t a complete Debbie Downer, though. The cable has an in-line remote with a mic and a multipurpose call answer/track search button.
After a while, the Syncs kind of grew on me. They’re designed to make you look brash and fashionable while doing uncool gadget kung-fu like muting the Deadmau5, switching to the mic cable, answering a call, hanging up, and then switching back to wireless streaming.
If anything, the biggest issue is price: a cool $400. While the Syncs offer a much richer array of features than other musician-backed headphones, they’re also missing top-shelf basics like active noise canceling. The fact that this indispensable feature is in many wireless headsets in this price range (like those from Sennheiser, AKG and Bose) should be a warning sign.
If you’re looking to squeeze as much value as possible out of your next headphone purchase, then the Syncs are not a wise choice, especially if you want an “Airplane Mode” that’s actually an “Airplane Mode.” SMS Audio also makes a non-wireless version, the $300 Street by 50 cans. But even though you save a hundred bucks and you don’t have to worry about losing or charging the wireless dongle, that’s still rather expensive.
However, if style, swag, swank, or cray are important to you — and you have the money to burn — the Syncs are a great way to stunt.