Every once in a while we come across a product that doesn t quite make it into one of our review categories, but really deserves a nice call-out anyway. Recently we came across one of those products in the Sync by 50 Wireless Headphones from SMS Audio. We didn t get these into our regular wireless headphones review, because they didn t quite fall into the price range or feature set of the headphones we reviewed, but they were so good, we couldn t just let them go without saying something. The Sync by 50 headphones sound great maybe even the best sounding consumer headphones this pro-audio nerd has put on his head in a really long time.
There s a lot to talk about with these bad boys, so we ll break it up into three different sections: technology innovation, packaging and construction, and sound quality.
The Sync by 50 headphones are made by SMS Audio, and incorporate their own flavor of patented wireless technology, called KLEER wireless. Kleer is an RF technology platform that can transmit 16 bit lossless audio to these headpones. It supports all sorts of wireless information in this case, audio, and some control information, using a 2.4 GHz frequency and some other circuitry proprietary to SMS. This enables some pretty astonishing frequency and dynamic response in these headphones. (More on audio quality in a minute.)
Traditional wireless technologies, like infrared and Bluetooth, for example, have definite limitations when it comes to delivering audio with much fidelity at all. In fact, Kleer's proprietary RF platform delivers a signal-to-noise ratio that bests standard Bluetooth by about 40dB. And when true audio fidelity like that can be delivered without draining batteries in a mad hurry, well, they might be on to something here.
Packaging and Construction
We must admit, when we got our review unit we were a little concerned that there was so much cheap-looking plastic. The way we figured it, for the near $400 price tag, they should almost come with your own personal DJ, right? They looked a little cheap, right off the bat. Out of the box, they creaked and snapped a little in the hand. They re glossy and have a lot of acrylic-looking plastic, and we didn t feel like they d hold up to much abuse.
The Sync by 50 headphones are marketed to users on the go, and we were having a hard time seeing them last with their soft plastic shell. Then we made a discovery: you can practically tie these headphones into a neat little pretzel shape. Should you do that to yours? Probably not, but rest assured, these headphones can take a certain amount of abuse without blowing apart.
The setup consists of a dongle that plugs in to the earphone jack of your iPhone, or any other mini-jack audio source. That s the wireless transmitter. The headphones are the receiver. Both the dongle and the headphones have to be charged separately, which is a bit of a drag. We could see these becoming cumbersome if one or the other unit runs out of juice in the middle of the day. However, they're rated to last for 17 hours under a full charge, and there is a cable included in case you want to go the wired route. Added bonus: the cable has a microphone, enabling the Syncs to be used with your iPhone's phone functions.
Pairing the two is easy and fast, and we didn t experience any interference or signal-dropping during our testing. And with basic audio controls on the headset itself, you can set everything up, drop your music source into a jacket pocket and still have a little control over what you hear.
As with all headphones, the sound quality is dependent on the source material. We tested these headphones with several different sources, but where they really shine is, of course, in using them with the source for which they were intended: portable music players. In our case, this was an iPhone playing iTunes music. For our testing we chose tracks that expose specific shortcomings in inferior headphones: low frequency reproduction, authentic acoustic sounds and heavy electronic music. In each case, we couldn t find much to complain about.
We ve seen some reviewers complain that these aren t active noise-canceling headphones. For us, that s like complaining that a piece of apple pie doesn t taste like key lime. Sync by 50 headphones were never designed to be active noise-canceling headphones in the true sense of that term: white noise produced to drown out or phase-cancel exterior sound. If you want noise canceling headphones, there are plenty of choices for that. If you want a killer music experience, you re in the right place with these cans. SMS states that the frequency response of the Sync by 50s is 20Hz - 20kHz. That's technical jargon that means these headphones don't present a sound quality bottleneck in your listening experience.
The earmuffs on the Sync by 50s are made from memory foam wrapped in soft cabretta leather, and as such, they passively eliminate a significant amount of outside sound. With a published dynamic range of 93dB, this enhances the already-very low noise floor, letting you hear even the softest details of your music. The headphones are very quiet - no low-level hiss or static under the audio material.
We find that the true quality of most audio components is revealed at their lowest volume, rather than when they re cranked up to 11. Did you know that if you listen closely, you can hear the producer bringing Adele in to the first verse of Rolling in the Deep with a quiet 1, 2, 3, 4? Listen closely, if your gear is good, you ll hear it.
In all our audio tests, we were thoroughly impressed (OK, pretty blown away, actually) with how reliable and true the audio reproduction was. We chose material we knew would be hard to deal with, and these headphones beat it up and stole its lunch money, every single time. Whether it was low volume, low frequency thump or airy, open strings, these Syncs kept up with everything we threw at them.
These headphones have a bass boost feature, accessible from the controls on the outside of one of the earmuffs. At first, we had the feeling this would be a garish and un-musical hijacking of everything under 300Hz, as it is on almost every other device on which the feature is found. But when we tested it out, it was actually a very subtle enhancement to the low frequencies, perhaps an addition of only a few decibels in the lowest frequencies.
Even with our electronic music, the bass boost was tasteful and unobtrusive. The result was an added richness and space to the overall experience, rather than a feeling that we were inside a cement truck with someone beating on the outside with a sledge hammer. We ve all been there, haven t we?
We can t really find any way to knock this product. We aren t real fans of the price tag, but in the world of products bearing a celebrity name, SMS has done a good job of setting up the Sync by 50 wireless headphones as a premium product bearing a big name, with a feature set and performance to match. These headphones will give you a premium listening experience, and the fact that they re also stylish and thoughtfully featured puts them at the front of the class.