Bloated price tags and bass have been the hallmarks of nearly every celeb-backed headphone we’ve tested so far. So when we received a pair of 50 Cent’s newest model, the SMS audio Street DJ headphones, complete with a promise of “enhanced bass” on the package, we were less than enthusiastic about their prospects.
But wait a second. You know what? We don’t want to live that way. Optimism is so much more attractive than pessimism (or as pessimists call it “realism”). And besides, 50 Cent is an extremely savvy entrepreneur. Rumor has it the man made more than $100 million just for putting his name on Vitamin Water. If he calls his shots that well with beverages, one can safely surmise he was meticulous about choosing his headphone brand.
50’s choice, SMS audio, now has several models on the market, but this is our first time checking one out. So move over Dr. Dre, Simon Cowell, Quincy Jones, Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, Tim McGraw, Lil Wayne, Lance Armstrong…ahem…So move over other celebrities, it’s 50’s turn at bat.
Out of the box
The $300 SMS audio Street by 50 DJ Pro Performance headphones (we’ll just call them the Street DJ for brevity) is the top-tier model in 50’s lineup and comes with all the trappings you’d expect from such an offering. The outer cover of the box is flush with photos of both the headphones and the man himself, including a hologram sticker with his likeness. The box is made of heavy cardboard, with a magnetically sealed cover.
Opening the box revealed a hard-shell carrying case roughly the size and shape of a Nerf football. Unzipping the case reinforced the feeling that we’d seen this movie before. The all-black headphones lay in the case collapsed, clad in glossy plastic armor. The snazzy “S” carved onto the outer shell of each earcup was strikingly similar to Ludacris’ Soul headphones. To say the Street DJ isn’t the most original-looking headphone around might be an understatement. But then again, if you’re going to mimic a design, we think this is one of the better templates out there. Inside the box were some promotional materials, two removable headphone cables, and a gold-plated ¼-inch jack.
Features and design
The Street DJ’s heavy plastic exterior feels sturdy and well built. As mentioned above, the headphones are strikingly similar to dozens of models on the market, blending a hodgepodge of clever design characteristics to create the final product. The headband is drawn with sleek, shiny lines on the exterior, with a gritty matte strip along the center. An ample cushion of foam padding wrapped in soft black leather hugs the band’s underbelly. The oversized earpieces connect to the main frame by way of extendable metal hinges, which fold inward to collapse the headset for travel or swivel up in the DJ style.
To say the Street DJ isn’t the most original-looking headphone around might be an understatement.
The earpieces are cushioned with ½-inch thick memory foam pads and sheathed in smooth leather. Dual inputs welcome the included removable cables on either ear, allowing two headsets to be daisy-chained from the same source or for monitoring two sources at once for previewing mixes while spinning records. The cable choices include a black DJ-style coiled cord and an electric-blue, single-button mic cable.
Although the Street DJ are a bit heavy, their supple pads easily conform to the ears and head, providing a soft and secure listening environment with an impressive amount of passive noise isolation. We listened to the headset for hours on end with no discomfort.
We enjoyed a lot of what the Street DJ had to offer, but they just missed the level of detail we expect from a $300 headphone. For us, the Street DJ’s sound quality offered everything but that very top level of icing. That said, there was a whole lot of cake left over after that, and we were impressed with the flavor. The Street DJ provided a light and clear upper register, and a smooth, powerful bottom end, layered in a deep stereo image.
Having read the packaging, we were surprised to find the headphones offered a decent frequency balance, especially for cans aimed at the DJ crowd. Auditioning tracks from every corner of our music catalog, we heard few instances in which any portion of the sound was harsh or exaggerated. The punchy midrange was a little bright and forward at times, but we really had to intentionally zero in on it to find fault. The lower register was smooth and musical while still providing plenty of horsepower when we auditioned EDM, Dub and hip-hop tracks. The deepest frequencies cradled the midrange and treble with poignant force, commanding all but the lowest tones with gravity. Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” and Lil Wayne’s “One Way Trip” were among our favorites, rendered with bellowing grooves from down under.
As we listened on, the Street DJ’s forward midrange continued to teeter between brilliance and bristled sharpness, but the bright color revealed a nice affinity for acoustic instruments. Guitar, mandolin, and banjo were lightly rendered, with silvery sustain and detailed attacks from clicking strings and finger movements. One has a hard time imagining 50 Cent and John Denver hanging out together, but as our vinyl-transferred copy of “Follow Me” rang sweetly through our ears, we imagined the two might just get along.
We also enjoyed the depth of the stereo image the Street DJ provided, spreading out each instrument distinctly with an impressive level of dimension. Songs with dueling vocals were discreetly placed at opposing sides, as were reverb effects which spread from the source instrument on one side to the echo on the other in a dizzying spatial effect. The whirling keyboard from Paul Simon’s “Long, Long, Day” was revealed in vivid currents swirling through our heads from left to right. And we heard several examples of instruments pushed smoothly into the background of the stereo channels, creating a textured, spherical ambience.
Aside from their tendency to get a bit sharp in the midrange, the Street DJ’s shortcomings were revealed in the fine details. Deep timbres of electric guitar tones and percussion instruments were squashed, dulling the full breadth of the music. A great example came when we turned to the gritty, saturated productions of The Black Keys. The fuzzy crunch of bass and guitar on songs like “Gold on the Ceiling” had much less texture to explore than we desired, robbing grandeur and excitement from the track. And the multiple colors of percussion hits were less defined and fleshed out than many of the headphones we’ve tested in this class.
The Street DJ Pro Performance bring a durable and feature-packed design, clear and powerful sound, and a multi-dimensional stereo image to 50 Cent’s growing lineup of consumer headphones. These rang too brightly for us at times, and they came up short when it came to the fine print of the music, never quite reproducing the deeper timbres of the instruments as richly as we expect at the $300 price point. Still, we enjoyed much of what we heard, and fans of Mr. Cent will likely find the Street DJ Pro serve up a solid arsenal of features and performance for their next stint “in the club.”
- Clean and balanced upper register
- Smooth, full bass
- Deep stereo image
- Durable, travel-ready design
- Lack of detail in instrumental timbres
- Punchy midrange gets a bit bright at times