It’s safe to say we’ve approached SMS Audio, the rapper 50 Cent’s headphone line, with a measure of skepticism. The first pair we reviewed, the Sync by 50, didn’t win us over. Thus, the discovery that the SMS Audio Street by 50 DJ is a solid pair of headphones comes as a pleasant surprise. At $299.95 (direct), it’s still somewhat overpriced, as are most celebrity-endorsed headphones, but the Audio Street offers distortion-free, booming low-end for bass lovers, as well as DJ-friendly design features. It’s not perfect, nor the best DJ headphone pair we’ve tested, still, it’s a powerful option worthy of consideration in this price range.
This is a rather bulky pair offered in an array of colors and options. Our test model had metallic and black accents paired with huge memory foam ear pads—also black. Other options include black with blue accents and white. The padded headband and memory foam ear pads are extremely comfortable, though the Street feels a bit like a tank on your head. I think my neck got stronger while wearing it. So, despite it being comfortable, you feel its weight.
The Audio Street features innovative hinges for flipping away ear cups while DJ-ing—basically, an entire portion of the headband above the ear cup pivots away, and can lock in either position. This means the ear cup can be positioned away from your ear without you holding it there. Unfortunately, it’s hard to flip the ear cup away quickly, at least compared with the more traditionally designed DJ headphones out there. (There’s also a non-DJ model simply called Street by 50 available for $179.95.)
The most impressive aspect of the design is probably the one-two punch of the plush feel of the ear pads, and their ability to block out lots of ambient noise. The ear pads are among the most comfortable I’ve worn, even over long listening sessions, but the real design victory here is how well they passively block out sound—very few headphones achieve such a level of attenuation passively. (In-canal earphones are typically much better at passive noise reduction.) They don’t compete with the Bose QuietComfort series in terms of ambient noise reduction, but for a pair with no active noise canceling circuitry, the amount of peace and quiet they provide immediately upon wearing them is impressive.
The Audio Street DJ features the value-adding bonus of removable cables, which can be plugged into either ear cup. The headphones ship with two options—one with an inline remote and microphone for mobile devices, and one with a half-straight, half-coiled cable. A ¼-inch jack adapter and a rigid, bulky zip-up protective case care also included.
Call clarity through the inline mic is pretty decent—nothing amazing, because it’s cellular audio, but the headphones help by blocking out outside audio so well. The mic delivers clear-enough audio for you and your call partner to understand each other without issue.
On deep bass tracks, the Audio Street DJ shows off its power. This is definitely a pair for bass lovers and not for purists. At top volumes on tracks with challenging sub-bass content, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Street DJ doesn’t distort, and it delivers some ferocious rumble. The high-end of the frequency range is tweaked significantly in order to maintain a sense of definition, resulting in a seriously-sculpted sound signature.
This boosting works well for electronic music, but on Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” things sound a bit unbalanced. The drums in the background receive a heavy dosage of low frequency boost, making them one of the most powerful sounds in the mix. Callahan’s vocals compete with the drums, partly because the deeper parts of his register receive some boosting, as well, but the mids and high-mids, where we get sibilance and definition of consonant sounds, seem left behind. His vocals lack a bit of the treble edge they need to stay in the forefront of the mix here, but the highs are boosted enough that there’s an unnatural shimmer on certain percussive sounds. It doesn’t sound horrible, but this is a seriously bass-heavy mix.
Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild” is the type of track the Street DJ was built for—the sub bass synth hits are deep and resonant beneath a kick drum loop that could use a bit more treble edge on the attack, but has plenty of low-mid power. The vocals on this track are more balanced within the mix, but the star of the mix is the aforementioned sub-bass synth, which can get lost in headphone pairs with less sub-bass response.
On classical tracks, like John Adams “The Chairman Dances,” the Street DJ delivers a robust and exciting all–around performance. The lower register strings and brass have a nice resonance and growl to them—teetering on the edge of an unnatural, amplified sound, but not quite that intense. The woodblocks and higher percussion benefit from the tweaked highs, and while the mix is definitely sculpted and, again, not for purists, it never sounds harsh or ridiculous. The end drum hits are bit more intense, in terms of sub-bass presence, than they need to be, but again, for bass lovers out there, this is what you crave, and the Street DJ has it.
The unfortunate fact is these headphones aren’t ideal for DJs—the ear cups have a comfortable design, but the aforementioned hinges don’t let the ear cups flip away as easily as they should. Also, though it may seem counterintuitive, booming bass is not ideal for DJ or pro-style headphones. A DJ is presumably in a room with a large PA system that already has booming bass; what is needed is accuracy and definition in the low frequency realm, and across the entire frequency range.
If you’re looking for a more gig-friendly pair, the Beats Pro by Dr. Dre output is comparable to the Street DJ’s sound signature, and has a better headband design that allows for easier flipping. If you want a DJ headphone pair that lacks the tremendous bass boost, the Pioneer HDJ-2000 and the Panasonic Technics RP-DH1250 both offer more balanced sound signatures without giving up on the low frequencies altogether. And if you’re trying to spend less money, the Numark Electrowave is a quality budget DJ headphone pair that earned our Editors’ Choice award.
The Street by 50 DJ, however, is a solid headphone pair for bass lovers who really crave boosted, deep lows. Its DJ features can be viewed as extras, not the main ingredient. Like virtually all celeb-endorsed headphones, the SMS Audio Street by 50 DJ is overpriced, but it delivers powerful, exciting sound in an exceedingly comfortable package.
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