Well, say hello to the Shure SRH145 Portable Headphones (MSRP: $39.00). Very similar—in looks and performance—to the SRH144s, the SRH145s feature a closed-back on-ear design that’s meant to provide isolation from ambient sounds, while retaining optimum comfort.
Unfortunately, after testing the SRH145s the promise of good quality with a low price is just too good to be true. Time spent in our labs revealed performance that, while not immediately worrisome, struggled to match other low-cost options. But not everyone is looking for the best-of-the-best, and for anyone that just needs a functional pair of headphones that don’t break the bank, the SRH145s aren't a terrible choice.
After taking them through our lab tests, the SRH145s showed results that were on par with other budget-minded headphones. The results weren’t ideal and the problems it had were a culmination of many small factors rather than a disappointing result in a single category.
Our frequency response test didn’t produce results that were exceptionally surprising—either good or bad—and were pretty run-of-the-mill for cheaper headphones. On the other hand, the distortion and isolation scores weren’t very good and kept the SRH145s from being a true succeeding.
I’ll go through each of our primary tests and explain how the SRH145s performed and how that led to our final assessment.
While the SRH145s didn’t have any glaring issues that came up during our frequency response test, there are some key sections to highlight so you know what to expect. As a quick reminder, when we test, we start with a parent signal of 84dB and measure the response based on that number.
Sub-bass starts off around 60dB before quickly rising closer to 7d0B as it crosses into the bass range and 78dB before we leave the bass range at 300Hz. This means that sub-bass is seriously downplayed—starting at almost quarter as loud as our parent signal before slowly creeping up to a more suitable level. If you’re a fan of big, booming bass the SRH145s simply don’t have the oomph you’re looking for.
For the majority of the midrange frequencies (300Hz–2kHz) the response sticks close to 80dB but does drop to about 75dB at the end. Unfortunately, the high mids (2kHz–5kHz) are diminished severely until they’re back down to 65dB. Any sounds that fall in this range are going to be completely overpowered by the midrange and high frequencies that are significantly louder. While not completely detrimental—depending on your tastes in music—it’s an unfortunate result that diminishes the quality of music that favors brighter sounds.
It gets the job done
For $40, you can expect a barebones headphone experience. Much like the SRH144s, in order to keep costs down, some sacrifices had to be made. That means no accessories, no special features, and a design that’s simple and functional above all else.
The SRH145s may look like brushed metal, but in reality they’re made of a rather thin band of plastic. On the bright side, that translates into surprisingly light headphones that feel like they’re not even there after a little bit of time spent listening. It’s a little unfortunate that the only pop of color is found on the interior of the earpads, which are perforated to showcase bright orange fabric.
Adjusting the size on the SRH145s couldn’t be simpler. The entire earcups slide on a vertical track that’s easy to maneuver and fit to your head. Getting a comfortable fit should take no time at all and once they’re on, the SRH145s are light enough that you’ll hardly notice them. Unfortunately, the sliding track is a little loose and can easily shift when you take them off. It's likely that you’ll have to adjust the fit every time you put them on again, which doesn't seem like a big deal until you have to do it for the tenth time in a day.
Two metal hinges are built into the sides, allowing the “arms” to fold under the headband. The end result is a semicircle that’s 7-inches across at its widest point, which can only be loosely described as portable. When you consider there isn’t a carrying case to shuttle them around in, it becomes much more appealing to leave the SRH145s at a single location.
The cable is fairly standard and looks and feels durable, in large part thanks to how thick it is. That being said, the connection points at each of the earcups feels a little loose and with enough repeated stress we could see the connection breaking over time.
The semi-open back design of the SRH145 headphones meant that we went in expecting a lot of ambient sound to get past the earcups and for the headphones to leak plenty of sound as well. After putting them through their paces in our audio lab, we saw results that matched our expectations.
Ambient bass sounds--think construction or the engines from public transportation--are going to make it through uninhibited. In fact, the SRH145s don’t start to block any ambient noise until the midrange frequencies, and only then the relative volume is only cut down by about half. It’s still more than likely that you’ll remain totally plugged into the general chatter of your office. Really, the SRH145s don’t start to block serious ambient noise until the high frequencies, which unfortunately you’re not likely to encounter in your average day.
Keep in mind, these results are based on the headphones alone and don’t account for your music blocking ambient sounds as well. Just remember not to turn them too loud, otherwise you could cause some serious damage to your hearing.
Average audio with some specific concerns
Much like the looks, there isn’t anything immediately exciting about the sound performance of the SRH145s. While there are a few noteworthy concerns, for the most part you can expect a solid, albeit average output no matter what kind of music you’re listening to.
During our frequency response test we noticed that bass and some treble frequencies are pretty severely diminished compared to our input signal of 84dB. This means that the sounds found in the midrange frequencies will sound significantly louder than any booming bass or bright airy sounds like vocals. While your music won’t sound exactly like it should, it’s probably not an issue for most consumers.
Of course, no matter how accurate your headphones are, if outside sound is able to leak in it’s going to mess with the quality of your tunes. That’s why the best headphones have excellent passive isolation, blocking ambient sounds from getting to your ears.
The SRH145s benefit from a closed back design (unlike the SRH144s), which means they fair much better than their counterparts when it comes to passive isolation. Unfortunately, they still won’t be able to block any bass or sub-bass sounds—like subway or bus engines you’ll encounter on your morning commute. It isn’t until you encounter sounds that are in the midrange that you’ll notice any kind of drop in relative volume, which will be dampened up to half their original. Admittedly, this is before you start playing music, which will drown out much of what's around you.
Almost every pair of headphones suffers from some amount of distortion, otherwise known as the fuzzy, crackling sounds that can mess with your music. For our purposes, we consider anything above 3% to be audible to the average listener. So the lower the percentage, the better.
Unfortunately, the SRH145s tests showed they suffer from a fairly high amount of distortion in the sub-bass range–around 17% on average with peaks at 23%. The good news is that the human ear isn’t very sensitive to the sub-bass range so there’s a chance you won’t even notice anything out of the ordinary in these sounds, unless you have particularly sensitive hearing.
Following the high peaks in the sub-bass range, the distortion levels drop pretty dramatically around 200Hz so the level is closer to 1%—a much better result.
Good enough if you’re in a hurry with no other option
When it comes to the SRH145s there just isn't a whole lot to love. These are a budget pair of on-ears that have average (at best) performance with looks to match. For the average consumer that isn’t looking to spend a lot and won’t notice (or particularly care about) the subtle hiccups, there’s enough going right here to warrant a purchase.
As far as we've been able to tell so far, there just aren't really any cheap on/over-ear headphones that perform very well. The closest thing that we'd still feel comfortable recommending would be the Monoprice MHP-839 (MSRP: $30.00). Like the SRH145s, the Monoprice headphones don't offer much in terms of sound quality and looks. But, it excels in durability thanks to a removable cable. If you're prone to mishandling your electronics and want a little more peace of mind, the MHP-839 are a budget-friendly option that will last a long time.
If your heart isn't set on a pair of on-ears, you'd have better luck with a pair of in-ears. Like the AKG K 323XS In-Ear Headphones (MSRP $59.95), which cost a touch more, but hit all the right marks in terms of performance. In fact, they’re so good that we rewarded them multiple distinctions in our 2014 Best of Year Awards.
Still, for headphones that fit on your ears instead of inside them, the SRH145s perform admirably enough for their price that you can purchase with a clean conscience. Don’t expect to be blown away by their looks or their sounds, but there’s no denying that they get the job done.
Meet the tester
Former Managing Editor@@nschmiedicker
Coming from Buffalo, NY, Nick studied media production and arts journalism. When he’s not writing about tech Nick can be found playing video games and keeping up on the latest in pop culture.
Checking our work.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.Shoot us an email