Review: SMS Audio Street by 50 Active Noise Control Wired Headphones
Last month, we reviewed Sync by 50, a compact Bluetooth speaker system developed by SMS Audio and endorsed by rapper 50 Cent -- the company's first speaker, and not a particularly impressive one thanks to some first-time mistakes. One was the noble goal of trying to keep Sync consistent with the design language of SMS's previously-released Street by 50 headphones, generally large over-ear models made from shiny plastics with leather or leatherette padding. Priced to compete against similarly-equipped Beats by Dre and Scosche Realm models, the Street by 50 lineup has struck us as a hard sell at $180 to $300 price tags, but we decided to give one model a spin to see if we were missing anything. That model is called Street by 50 ANC ($280), and as an over-ear model with active noise-canceling hardware, it competes directly against Beats Electronics' recently-released 2013 version of Beats Studio (iLounge Rating: B).
Unlike Beats Studio, the refined sequel to a headset that redefined headphone fashion for an entire generation, Street by 50 - ANC doesn’t attempt to tightly meld plastic and metal together in a unified design. Instead, SMS Audio went with a completely plastic exterior that looks cheaper and feels lighter, offered in your choice of a toy-like metallic “cool silver” or a flatter “shadow black.” The silver version has white leather memory foam padding and contrast blue stitching, design elements that genuinely improve both ANC’s look and feel, though they’re basically invisible when you’re wearing the headphones. Beats has succeeded in commanding an almost ridiculous price premium on design, but Street doesn’t have anywhere near the same style to pull that off—if it’s going to beat Beats, it’ll have to win on frills, features, or sound quality, instead.
Street by 50 - ANC nearly matches Beats Studio in the frills department. SMS packages the headphones in an almost football-like, semi-hard black carrying case with blue piping and a single-pull zipper. Certainly handsome, the black and blue combination mirrors the included 3.5mm audio cable—here, with only a one-button remote and mic rather than Beats’ Apple-certified three-button remote—and is paired with a micro-USB cable to refuel the active noise-canceling system. Like Beats, you get a cleaning cloth, but unlike Beats, you gain an old-style airline headset adapter, lose a carabiner clip for the carrying case, and also lose both a wall charger and a second style of audio cable. In other words, Street by 50 - ANC isn’t quite as well appointed as Beats Studio, though it needs to be said that few headphones would be; Beats Electronics really loaded that model up with nice pack-ins.
However, Street by 50 - ANC does have an on-paper edge in functionality. After connecting to a computer to refuel, the headset’s noise-cancellation can run for 70 hours; unlike many rivals, you can also use these headphones without activating that feature, with no perceptible reduction in audio quality. By comparison, Beats Studio requires the feature to be on, and runs for a respectable but shorter 20 hours between charges.
We say “on-paper” because Street’s noise-cancellation system isn’t as effective as Beats Studio’s. Back in August, we noted that “Studio’s active noise-cancellation is good enough at blocking environmental sound that we were all but completely unable to hear music playing through speakers two feet away when listening to music through the headphones.” With Street, you’re not able to silence nearby audio sources in quite the same way, but you can filter out immediately ambient low-frequency noise with the ANC hardware, and playing music will drown out enough of the rest of the sound that you probably won’t notice anything else around you. As with almost every ANC system we’ve tested, there’s a slight hiss in the audio when the cancellation is active.
Street by 50’s sound signature is pretty solid. While it does have less sharp treble and detail than we’ve heard in numerous non-fashion headphones at this price range—or Scosche’s less expensive Realm RH1056m, for that matter—the overall performance is pretty much par for the course with fashion-focused over-ears in this category. There’s a decided midrange and bass focus, with low-end seriously kicking in at arguably unsafe volume levels over 50%. At safe levels, music sounds balanced and clear enough that most people won’t miss the really high highs or extra layers of audio found in top headphones, but we wouldn’t pick Street over the latest Beats Studio, or most of the Scosche Realms we’ve tested.
Overall, Street by 50 ANC merits our limited recommendation. For nearly the same price as a new pair of Beats Studio headphones, you lose cosmetics, pack-ins, and active noise-cancellation quality, while achieving similar audio quality and gaining small frills—nice leather earcups and longer ANC run time. While Studio is $20 more expensive, and the entire fashion headphone category remains quite overpriced, you’ll get a considerably better end-to-end experience than with Street by 50 ANC. Should you like the way this looks, and be able to find it at a fairly substantial discount, it may be worthy of your consideration regardless.