It’s easy to get drawn in by expensive headphones that come with a plethora of features and design quirks—like touch-sensor controls or swappable faceplates. But sometimes you don’t need or even want any of those fancy features. Instead, you just need a pair of headphones that look good, don’t cost much, and just plain work.
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.
Shure SRH144 (left), SRH145 (right) Shure
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 perforations on the earcups hide the only pop of color on the otherwise silver and grey headphones.
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.
The SRH145s aren’t very portable, even when fully collapsed.
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.
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.
Bass and treble frequencies are notably downplayed compared to the midrange and high frequencies.
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.
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.
The design of the SRH145 is fairly plain, but why fix what isn’t broken?
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.