Review: SMS Audio Sync Sport on-ear headphones

Bass-heavy headphones provide sweat resistance during workout, lackluster sound (August 1st, 2014)

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Product Manufacturer: SMS Audio

Price: $230

The Good

  • Battery life
  • Construction
  • Sweat resistance

The Bad

  • Awkward fit
  • Bass/Sound distortion
  • Controls

When hitting the gym or going out for a trail run, headphones can cause a number of problems. From the ear buds getting slimy with sweat or the ear cups not holding onto the user's head tightly enough, there are a bunch of inconveniences that occur. This isn't even considering the cords that can get in the way, resulting in headphones flying off someone's head or a plug being yanked from a device. Is there a set of headphones that can put active people at ease when wearing them? Perhaps, as SMS Audio, the company led by Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, has released an active version of its Sync on-ear wireless headphones. Do the SMS Audio Sync Sports give users everything they want, while delivering great audio?

SMS Audio took an interesting approach to the Sync Sport headphones, using several features to help the device be as friendly to activities as possible. Most of the exposed surfaces are covered in a 40U rubberized coating. The coating repels dust and sweat, while adding some durability against scratches, fingerprints and small abrasions if the Sync Sports are dropped. The Sync Sports look good, making the durability and solid construction feel important.

The headphones also have a nano-coating on the ear cups that helps it achieve an IPX4 rating, granting it protection against splashes of water. The ear cups themselves offer memory foam padding that measures about 0.75 inches thick. SMS says that the ear cup itself is sweat-proof, keeping any liquid from getting into the speaker area. For those that don't want to risk getting any liquid in the cups, SMS includes washable covers to go over them. A towel made of the same material is also included in the box.

Wrapped in perforated-leather, the cups seal against the ears enough to isolate users from most sounds. The level of isolation is quite impressive, as people from distances of one to six feet couldn't be heard over music until they registered just under a shout. Either way, the memory foam is comfortable after a few days of use. However, they do have that odd smell that memory foam generally has. Between the hold the cups keep when extended, and the design that slightly pinches inward, the headphones can be counted on to stay securely during most activities.

The headband of the Sync Sports measures 16 inches at its shortest, while full extension gives it a maximum of 18.5 inches. The underside of the band has a pad with the same foam and leather coating, which is just thick enough to keep the plastic from hitting the top of a user's head. As the headphones only weight seven ounces, weight wouldn't be an issue unless they are worn for a few hours. The band can be significantly bent, even with strips of aluminum sliding inside from the hinges.

Fit for the Sync Sport headphones is somewhat awkward, though, for a few reasons. While the SMS headphones utilize what the company calls "oval-fit" cushions, they take a little bit of time to get used to. Users expecting contact at upper portions of the ear from pads that only have a circle on the inside will notice a little less pressure from the cups. It isn't a bad fit per se, but it doesn't feel familiar. With the way the headband bends and the cups pivot, more pressure is put on the lower half of the ear.

Controls for the Bluetooth headphones are a fairly standard affair, with five buttons in a circular pattern on the right ear cup. Two buttons are used for skipping tracks, while another two are used for volume. The button in the center is multi-function, allowing for play/pause and phone calls. Sadly, this button feels and sounds cheap when used. A plastic click sound rings out in the ear cup whenever a user presses it. The three-way button on the auxiliary cable has a much better feel to it.

But when it comes to headphones, the most important feature is the sound quality. For fans expecting something different than the bass-heavy designer headphones like Beats, prepare to be disappointed. The Sync Sports are thick with bass at every volume level, making good use of digital signal processing. To get a feel for how bass-heavy the headphones are, our reviewer pushed an assortment of deadmau5 songs through the headphones at 75 percent volume. Headphone fatigue, to the level of nausea, set in a little more than 10 minutes into the listening session. During normal listening sessions, volume at 50 percent or less was suitable.

However, there is another problem with the sound. Other than mids being almost nonexistent because of the bass levels, high notes distort frequently. The volume doesn't need to be up high to hear it, either. High vocal notes or guitar riffs can cause the sound to break up, even to the point the speaker is heard rattling inside the ear cup. It's noticed the most when the source volume is above 80 percent, with the headphones needing to dip below its own 50 percent mark to stop it.

Volume tests provided a fairly constant curve of dB levels measured from inside the ear cups. From 100 percent volume to 25 percent volume, all three of the tested songs dropped 14 percent in their maximum readings. Even as the speakers crackled with some of the songs, a maximum reading of 100.6 dB was recorded during "Hunter." Of the test songs, "Hunter" felt the most natural to listen to, as it sounded the least affected by bass nature of the headphones. The Björk song is bass heavy itself, but more for pushing speaker reflexes than sustained beats.

Battery life was better than expected, as the Sync Sports lasted more than 12 hours on a single charge over three days of use. SMS Audio states that battery life is 10 hours. Charging time for the headphones was about 140 minutes, even though the company says it can take up to four hours. Bluetooth range went to 30 feet before the headphones completely dropped the signal. Sound break up started appearing just after 20 feet.

For people that want a resilient set of headphones that can transition to a workout or a bike ride, the SMS Audio Sync Sports are a good solution (if you can get past the bass-heavy sound). It's true that the controls lack a little finesse and they fit a little funny, but those problems aren't deal-breakers when it comes to using them. The audio, however, is a factor that could easily dissuade someone from picking them up. With the blasting bass at marginal levels and the ease with which they distort, what could have been a good pair of workout headphones is knocked down to something only passable. For a price of $230, users expecting a balanced, studio level of sound will have to look elsewhere.

by Jordan Anderson


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