The Shure SE112 in-ear headphones (MSRP $49) faced every test in the book—and passed them. Any flaws I found were mild, meaning these headphones land toward the top of the performance heap.
This year, we've found no shortage of dynamite deals on in-ear headphones. From sleek design, to pleasing price tags, to premium performance, there are piles of products to choose from in this category.
Shure's SE112 Sound Isolating headphones (MSRP $49) aren't best in show, but they deserve special mention anyway. Travelers won't find a microphone or remote with this in-ear headset, and its noise isolation is average at best, but those are the only big complaints I have about the high-performing SE112.
Bass-forward, distortion-free listening
In a word, the SE112 faced a slew of tests in our audio lab and survived to tell the tale. This isn't the best performance I've measured all year, but it's definitely toward the top of the heap.
The bump bump bump of low-down tones on bass and kick are really showcased. Happily, so is most everything else. Too often, overly prominent bass comes at the expense of details in the middle and high end, but the SE112 does a decent job of maintaining proper emphasis throughout. Generally speaking, middle and upper notes on vocals, brass, strings, and everything else are perfectly audible. If anything, certain high notes sound too loud here and there—which will have you ticking down volume to keep from wincing at a cymbal's tsh tsh tsh. In a word, the SE112 produces very full, detail-rich sound.
Best of all, aside from the occasional abrasive high notes, there really isn't much to shake your fist at here: The headphones balance volume evenly between the left and right speakers, and I couldn't find even a sprinkle of audible distortion.
The SE112 tested well in terms of noise blocking, too—but not as well as you'd think for a product that includes the phrase "Sound Isolating" in its title. To put it bluntly, the SE112 has absolutely nothing on AKG's K323 XS model. Where the SE112 blocks a decent amount of middle and high-pitched outside noise, the XS absolutely obliterates external sound.
The most distinguishing attribute of any set of headphones is its frequency response—or how it emphasizes different points across the audible spectrum. To measure this behavior, we feed every product a frequency sweep: Is bass extremely loud? Is the middle range audible enough in comparison? Are very high notes overly prominent? A frequency response test answers all those questions.
The SE112 didn't ace this trial, but it came extremely close. Low frequencies of 20Hz to 300Hz hover in the vicinity of 80 and 85dB—making bass quite prominent—but much of the middle and high range receives sufficient emphasis, too; since the bulk of the midrange lives between 70 and 80dB, wonderful details on strings, brass, and others don't get obscured by bass.
That said, certain overtones in the middle range as well as some very high notes (3kHz and 6-7kHz) fall a bit too much in emphasis. This is inconvenient: I would find myself increasing volume to enjoy more detail throughout those points—and then a very high cymbal crash (10kHz) would make me wince all of a sudden, causing me to quickly lower volume again. The flaw isn't the worst thing in the world, but it pesters one's ears every now and again.
Total harmonic distortion (THD) on a set of headphones needs to stay below 3% to remain inaudible. THD simply refers to additional noise or clipped harmonics—sounds that the musical artist never intended for you to hear.
Shure's SE112 in-ears absolutely dominated this test: All told, I found less than 1% of THD across the board. This means that listeners will enjoy nothing but good, clean music—no additional garbage here.
A demure ensemble
Aside from a few useful extras, Shure's SE112 takes a very modest approach to design. You won't find anything flashy or extravagant here. The product's gray plastic and black, rubber accents make for a very muted scheme.
Lightweight and portable, this headset is easy to take on the road, but unfortunately, busy users won't find such luxuries as a microphone or remote control. That's a shame—for nearly 50 dollars, many will likely resent this omission. The cable seems quite durable, though, and Shure includes a drawstring carry case for added protection during transport.
While you won't find a variety of shapes, the SE112 in-ears do include three speaker sleeves in small, medium, and large sizes (I found myself longing for extra small). Users will also notice a tiny cleaning tool, which makes clearing out lint and other unwanted dirt from each speaker a much easier task.
The one thing you don't want to buy the Shure SE112 in-ear for is noise isolation. While these headphones do block a decent portion of outside noise, they aren't nearly as powerful as an active noise canceling set.
The SE112 didn't totally bomb the test: They barely block any bass noises at all, but middle range outside noise gets reduced to as much as 1/4 while high-pitched clatter gets hushed to just upwards of 1/8.
High performance you can reach
With big, balanced sound, decent isolation, and distortion-free audio, Shure's SE112 (MSRP $49) in-ear headphones make a convincing case for themselves. The quality parts and extra sleeve sizes make the deal even more attractive.
Alternatives are never far. Panasonic's dirt-cheap RP-TCM125 is made with cheap materials, but its dynamite sound quality bites enthusiastically at the heels of these Shures; id America offers a product with cooler extras and similar performance; and perhaps most fearsome of all is JBL's excellent Synchros S200i model.
Still, there's no denying that these sub $50 Shure headphones are toward the top of the dog pile—that's simply where you wind up with great audio and quality parts.
Meet the tester
Former Managing Editor@
Virginia is a former Managing Editor at Reviewed.com. She has a background in English and journalism. Away from the office, Virginia passes time with dusty books & house cats.
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