Active Listening: SMS, Polk Audio’s New Headphones Move With You

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sms polk

Like many of you, I work at a desk eight hours a day. This means that I have to keep a keen eye on my activity level for the good of my overall health and wellbeing. I try to walk to meetings whenever it’s feasible and take the stairs instead of the elevator, but my real exercise takes place outside of business hours – and nothing motivates me to move more than enjoying a little music.

Summers here in the South are hot and humid, and this one is no exception. So whether I’m jogging or biking or, hell, just taking care of a little yard work, things tend to get very sweaty very fast. After quickly tiring of having to shammy off my “good headphones” every night during cool-down, I began to explore more suitable audio options.

Since my favorite cans remain my Vader STREETs, I first looked at SMS Audio’s Wired Sport model. The difference between these on-ears and my sweet Dark Side ‘phones are primarily cosmetic. They’re a smooth, matte-finish black instead of high-gloss, and the accents are neon yellow as opposed to red. Other than that they offer the same great audio quality I’ve come to expect from 50 Cent’s vanity brand. The sound is full but not too bassy, and, though I still bemoan the lack of in-line volume control, its three-click mic lets me navigate forward and backward across my playlist and allows me to take phone calls – assuming, of course, that they’re not drowned out by the sound of a push mower… or of my old, frail lungs straining against the oppressive heat.

The real difference in the Sports has to do with construction. That oh-so smooth finish is actually due to a durable rubberized coating that helps sweaty hands hold onto (not to mention fold up and unfold) these headphones without unceremoniously dropping them on the blacktop. The ear cups themselves, which nicely conform to your head so as to block outside sounds, also come with a removable set of covers, meaning you can simply strip them off and toss them in the laundry to cut through those layers of gym funk. Along with the requisite embossed carrying case and SMS stickers, these also come with a matching branded sport towel – the ultimate in athletic conspicuous consumption.

I also had the chance to try out a set of wired in-ear models from rival Polk Audio. I received a pair of the Nue Era earbuds in an absolutely gorgeous tortoise shell and gold color scheme, and these little things sound just as good as they look.

Lightweight and perfectly portable, the Nue Eras have a contemporary Apple-style white design as opposed to the more classic sensibility of the STREET Sports. They also boast a 48″ cable, which means you can easily snake the cord under your exercise shirt to keep from accidentally snagging them on obstacles. The Nue Eras include a three-button inline remote/mic that easily allows a user to skip tracks forward and back and adjust the volume on the fly.

These Polks also succeed in novel design, trading the traditional barrel-shape of most earbuds for a more sculpted look. Each earbud features an oblong outer casing that helps seat it more firmly in your ear, clarifying the sound quality by stabilizing the speaker position itself. Though the overall sound wasn’t quite as balanced as the SMS offering, I found that I could easily sweeten the mix not just by adjusting my iPhone’s EQ presets, but by experimenting with the myriad of included eartips.

In addition to three sized pairs (S/M/L) of regular silicon tips, these earbuds also came complete with two sizes (S/L) of memory foam eartips, which helped fatten up the bass, and two sizes of three-flange silicon eartips, which I found to be the most flexible as well as the most comfortable. Add to this a handsome cloth carrying bag and a quick-fit guide for choosing from all those tips, and you’ve got a really great offering from Polk.

Pitting these headphones against each other is a bit of an apples-to-oranges affair. Those looking for a rugged and specialized sweat-resistant solution that easily compliments your music and your gym ensemble should definitely give the STREET By 50 Wired Sport headphones a look. The caveat here is the $179 price tag, but rest assured you’re making an investment in quality. Polk’s Nue Era earbuds, by contrast, are ideal for any manner of on-the-go listening and retail for around half the price – $99.99 MSRP, but you can scoop them up from Amazon for <$80. Their audio output isn’t quite as finely tuned out of the box, but there’s a lot of flexibility and, again, an obvious attention to craftsmanship that make them an equally smart buy.

Review materials provided by: SMS Audio, Polk Audio

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