What kind of sound can $50 (£42.50) buy? Quite a lot, actually, as the market is crowded with affordable headphones. However, not all of them are designed to sound good and last forever.
Shure, known for its professional microphones and studio monitors used by musicians across the globe, didn't settle for mediocrity, even with the constraints of building a headphone for under $50. The Shure SE112 we'll be looking at today is the culmination of the company's efforts to bring its legendary sound quality and durability to the masses.
So what does your money buy you? In the case of the Shure SE112, quite a lot.
Features and design
If you haven't used Shure earphones before, you'll be immediately impressed by the build quality. There's no metal anywhere to be found on the earphones but that doesn't stop it from feeling like a quality product. The SE112 are built like a tank, which is unsurprising as musicians use similar style earphones to monitor themselves on stage.
The Shure SE112 is built like a tank even though it's made out of rubber and plastic. The earbuds themselves are a bit larger than your typical earbud, but for good reason. Inside, you'll find a Dynamic Microdriver, a tried and true technology that's driven easily by mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.
Further enhancing durability is the beefy cable Shure uses with the SE112. The Y-connector that joins the left and right earphones is surprisingly thick. The headphones terminate in a durable 3.5mm right angled plug, which I prefer over straight plugs as it doesn't put as much pressure on a device's headphone jack.
Noticeably absent are a microphone and remote control for controlling your smartphone. Shure does offer a version of the SE112, the SE112m+, with these features for an additional $10. For $50 (£42.50), you'd expect an earphone designed for listening to music on the go to have these features but Shure used every bit of budget on build and sound quality so it's forgivable. If you must have a mic and remote, spend the extra money to get the SE112m+.
Included in the package are three different sized eartips, an ear wax scraper tool (gross but necessary) and a velvet carrying pouch that's a dust magnet.
For $50, the Shure SE112 sound good but won't blow you away. They don't punch above their weight for the price like some other earphones do. My current favorite sub-$50 earphone is the Zero Audio ZH-DX200-CT as they offer a lovely detailed and balanced sound signature. However, they're imported from Japan which means you're on your own if you try to file a warranty claim.
The Shure SE112 offer a balanced sound as well, but they don't feature the energy of the Zero Audios. They're also laidback instead of in your face, which I like as the sound won't fatigue you after long listening sessions. Look elsewhere if you like that front row seat sound.
While more expensive headphones give you a nuanced presentation of music, allowing you to hear and pinpoint exactly where instruments are, the budget Shure SE112 muddles everything together. They still sound good, don't get me wrong, but they can't retrieve as much detail as more expensive headphones.
One thing the Shure SE112 do very well is convey a sense of space. While most mid-tier earphones concentrate sound within your head, the SE112 provide good sound staging, though they don't sound as spacious as the Klipsch Reference X6i. That's to be expected as the Klipsch headphones cost nearly four times as much.
But perhaps the best thing about the Shure SE112 is the noise isolation. These earphones block out outside noise better than any other earphones I've tried. Shure was able to achieve this by having the earphones go deep into your ear, which may be a strange, uncomfortable sensation for some. You really have to twist and push the earbuds into your ear canal to get a good seal, which is required if you want to experience the best sound quality.
You can wear the Shure SE112 two ways: down or over the ear. I prefer wearing them over the ear as this lays the cable flat against your head to fight cable noise. They're also extremely comfortable over the ear as much of the weight is supported by the top of your ear rather than your ear canal.
The Shure SE112 are remarkable for being unremarkable. Its design is understated, its sound laidback and it has no creature comforts like a mic or remote. But that didn't stop me from really enjoying my time with them.
It's challenging for companies to build a quality product within a tight budget and I think Shure did a great job with the SE112. You can tell most of the money was spent on the build and sound quality, things I look for first in an earphone.
If you're looking for a durable set of earphones for your commute, you'll be very happy with the Shure SE112. Its unrivaled sound isolation and balanced sound signature means you can enjoy all types of music on the go. Plus the SE112 is built for abuse and they're backed by a generous two-year warranty in case anything goes wrong.