Shure SE112 In Ear Monitor Review

A budget special from a high-end expert

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

5

Best Buy
Shure SE112 In Ear Monitor Review
SRP: £46.00

What is the Shure SE112?

During my short and generally unsuccessful stint in marketing, one of the subjects and points of discussion I encountered both in my working life and when reading industry specific publications (page turning classics all of them) was that above all else, the sanctity of the brand is everything. The strength and influence of the company hinges on the viability of the brand as perceived by investors and your public.

To preserve the status of your brand, you need to do a few things, some of which are obvious and some slightly more arcane. First and most obviously, if you have strong brand identity tied to a particular type of products, you risk it when you enter categories where you have no standing against companies that do. Rolex manages to cultivate a powerful brand identity in watches combining tradition, aspiration and a reputation for quality. This identity would probably not be aided by adding a toaster to the range (and it actually wouldn’t matter very much how good the toaster was or wasn’t) in the same way that Dualit making a manual chronograph wouldn’t really help their standing in terms of excellence in toast.

The other major lesson is more of a judgement than an absolute. If your brand is highly regarded in a particular price segment, it is always hugely tempting to try and use that reputation as leverage to move into a different price segment. This comes with some risks. If you are a strong budget brand, even producing a product that is superior to the competition at the higher price point still won’t lead to the breakthrough you are looking for. The risks for a high end brand seeking to make something more affordable are arguably even higher. If you don’t manage to maintain the qualities of the brand at the new price point, you risk destroying your hard won brand identity for a few sales.

As such, what you see here is a big deal. Shure is the original high end earphone manufacturer and long before the current boom in popularity was producing prosumer earphones that cost upwards of £200. As you might expect, the company has used their strong brand identity to produce their most expensive earphones ever in the form of the mighty SE846 but now they’ve done something rather more interesting. Even adjusted for inflation, the SE112 is the least expensive earphone they have ever made. Can the £46 SE112 maintain the qualities of the brand that are embodied in a £900 design?

Shure SE112 Design

Shure SE112
The SE112 is a conventional design and makes use of dynamic drivers rather than the single and multiple armatures used in the more expensive models. This is not the first time that Shure has used dynamic drivers - the SE215 which was up until now the least expensive model that the company produced also uses them - but this is not the technology that their earphones specialise in. The driver itself is of an undisclosed size and material but given that the housing of the SE112 is fairly substantial it is unlikely to be small. The housing itself is less sophisticated than the more expensive models that generally try and mould more carefully to the shape of the inner ear.

Shure supplies the SE112 with three rubber domes (the largest of which is an absolute whopper) and these are good quality and allow for an excellent seal to the outside world but unlike most other companies, the supplied domes aren’t your only option. Shure also offers ‘Christmas Tree’ tips, comply domes and their secret weapon, the foam cylinder. This looks an alarming object to fit in your ear but in all the years I’ve been listening to and reviewing earphones, nothing comes close to them for isolation. These will bump up the cost of the earphones but five sets ought to see you through for a year or so and Shure will ask you for £17.32 for the privilege. You also can buy 50 pairs for over £100 but you might want to dip a toe in the water first.
Shure SE112
This isolation is important because the ear monitors were always intended to be used by artists and performers who needed their exceptional noise isolation and impressive neutrality to hear what they needed to, the way they needed to hear it. This same isolation made Shure a natural candidate for commuters looking to drown out the outside world. The product didn’t need any changing to happily serve both markets and so it continues. This had the added bonus of ensuring that even the more expensive models are strictly functional in appearance and design which means that none of the designs are especially pretty.

The functional aesthetic means that the SE112 doesn’t look out of place in the Shure line up despite the low price. The thick cord, rubberised sections and generally robust construction are classic Shure and this feels like a pair of earphones that won’t trouble the impressive 2 year warranty. Where Shure has got the price down beyond using the dynamic drivers is by cutting back on some of the detail fittings that make the more expensive models as tough as they are. The major one is that the cord of the SE112 is not detachable. More expensive models use a detachable rotating cuff between cord and earphone housing that allows for different cords to be used as well as increasing the survivability of the design but this simply isn’t going to be possible at the price point and unless you are downgrading from a more expensive pair, you won’t miss what you never had.
Shure SE112
The functional aesthetic means the SE112 doesn’t look out of place in Shure line-up despite low price.
The other area where Shure has cut back is the carry case which is a little soft touch pouch rather than a hard case but once again this is still perfectly acceptable for less than £50. The SE112 does the most important thing it possibly can in this case - it still looks and feels like a Shure should. There are prettier earphones available at the price but I haven’t seen many that feel as rugged and carefully engineered as the SE112 does. The good news is that that 112 doesn’t feel heavy or bulky in the ear although it is worth pointing out that like all Shure earphones, the best fit is achieved by looping the cord around the ear first.

Shure SE112 Setup

The Shure was tested with the standard portable test equipment of Lenovo T530 ThinkPad, iPad 3 and Google Nexus 5. I also ran some tests using a Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS and the Chord Hugo - I’m aware of the mild absurdity of testing £46 worth of earphones on a £1,400 headphone amp but it was available and gives a useful absolute test of performance. Material used included lossless and high res FLAC, compressed material such as Spotify and Grooveshark and on demand services such as Netflix and Sky Go.

Sound Quality

Shure SE112
The review sample arrived looking sufficiently new that I connected them to an old phone and left the setup turning over for a day or so before making any serious effort to listen to them. Having done the run in, I approached the SE112 unsure of what to expect and with the slightest sense of trepidation. I’ve had a soft spot for Shure IEMs ever since my first pair of E2Cs all the way back in 2004 (and I still regard the E4C as one of the very finest earphones I’ve ever listened to). Every single pair since then has felt distinctive and a little special and I had concerns about how something radically cheaper than any previous Shure earphone could affect this reputation.

After a few days with the SE112, the answer is, nowhere near as adversely as I might have thought. There is an underlying honesty to the way that the Shure goes about making music that is instantly recognisable to anyone that has used other members of the family. The performance is consistent from top to bottom (even though Shure themselves claim deep bass on the website listening notes which always suggests to me a sort of horribly extended and disproportionate bass hump) and there is a sense that the SE112 is doing all it can to provide an accurate and uncoloured representation of what you are listening to. Would I want to master an album with them? Probably not. Can you tell how good a job the engineer did when listening to them? Yes you can.
Shure SE112
This performance is aided by useful sensitivity that means even the rather underpowered Nexus 5 can achieve a useful listening level with the SE112 and more muscular headphone outputs won’t struggle at all. When you couple this with the traditionally good isolation that the Shure offers (and I stress, I have only tested them with the supplied domes rather than the aftermarket options) you have an earphone that is a seriously capable partner for commuting - especially as noise leakage back out is almost non-existent. It is an enjoyable one too. Beyond the basic accuracy is an earphone with enough power and a sense of drive and speed to it that any music with a bassline is given a sense of urgency that gets the head nodding. Give the Shure something like the Drummatic Twins and the result is seriously entertaining.

When you calm down and listen to something slower but more carefully recorded, the news is still pretty good. Like most of the dynamic driver designs on sale today (I’m now forced to qualify this thanks to Sennheiser’s supernaturally good IE800), the Shure can’t find some of the fine detail that the armature based Final Heaven II can but the Final is twice the price of the Shure. What the Shure can do is demonstrate an altogether more authoritative low end and at the same time keep pretty much every other dynamic driver based earphone under £100 honest. To be clear, some more expensive designs can offer a little more space around the presentation and give you a greater sense of soundstage but way that the SE112 handles voices and instruments is extremely compelling.
Shure SE112
There is an underlying honesty to the way that the Shure goes about making music.
In a curious sense, this little earphone is similar to the Chord Hugo at thirty times the price in that it simply lets the music be entertaining rather than trying to put any particular spin on it. Using the Chord and the more terrestrially priced Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS with the Shure also showed that it is revealing enough to show the benefits of a higher quality output while still being forgiving enough to work with a normal phone or tablet. Much the same holds true for the quality of music you feed the SE112. The Shure manages to respond positively to the benefits of larger files without mauling compressed ones and also manages to be a happy partner for Netflix and other video on demand services. Sure, watching TRON Legacy via iPad and the SE112 probably doesn’t qualify as cinematic but it is perfectly good enough for a spot of late night viewing.

Verdict

Pros

  • Musical and accurate performance
  • Solid build
  • 2 year warranty

Cons

  • Not especially attractive
  • No inline controls
  • SoundMagic E10 slightly cheaper

Shure SE112 In Ear Monitor Review

When I am asked by friends and family about what earphones I recommend they buy, the budget they specify is usually sub £50 rather than the sort of figures you might associate with the more exotic offerings I review. For years, I have unhesitatingly recommended the SoundMagic E10. For £35 it is a truly excellent earphone and one that delivers sound quality I didn’t think would be easily matched at a similar price point. Such are the limited prices we are dealing with here that the Shure SE112 is a full 30% more expensive than the SoundMagic but given this equates to a small round of drinks, I think I can put the difference to one side.

The Shure manages to sound as good as the very talented E10 which is a genuine achievement. It is also more comfortable to wear, better built, sold with a better warranty and has the option to boost performance a little further thanks to the well-developed range of Shure accessories. This is now the best earphone under £50 I have seen and tested and really does represent remarkable value for money. The Shure SE112 is an ultra competitively priced earphone that still manages to hold with the values and qualities of the brand that makes it. If you need an affordable pair of earphones, stop looking; you’ve found them.
Best Buy

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Ease of Use

.
.
8

Sound Quality

.
9

Design

.
.
8

Sensitivity

.
9

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Our Review Ethos

Read about our review ethos and the meaning of our review badges.

To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.

Related Content

Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 In Ear Earphone Review
  • By Ed Selley
  • Published
Campfire Audio Io In Ear Earphone Review
  • By Ed Selley
  • Published
Lypertek Tevi Truly Wireless Earphones Review
  • By Greg Hook
  • Published
Westone W40 v2 In Ear Earphone Review
  • By Ed Selley
  • Published
SoundMagic E11BT Bluetooth Earphone Review
  • By Ed Selley
  • Published

Latest Headlines

McIntosh and Sonus faber unite under Fine Sounds Distribution in UK
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
JBL launches 4349 Studio Monitor
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
Technics SL-1210GAE turntable gets extra 210 units globally
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
AKG announces wireless Y600NC and Y400 headphones
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
LEAK returns with Stereo 130 amplifier and CDT CD transport
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published

Trending threads

Top Bottom