Welcome to Headphones Week on Tech Digest. I’ve been getting a little wound up with rubbish sound quality of late. It’s bad enough listening to squashed up music files but doing it through came-with-the-player headphones is even worse. If you’re not up on this already, then I’ll give you a very quick version of why you need to spend money on them.
Free headphones neither isolate nor cancel ambient sound and most likely don’t fit very well in your ears. So, that means you have to turn the volume up loud in order to get the immersive experience you’re after which then distorts the quality of the music. Add to that the fact that the drivers inside basic headphones are rubbish anyway and you’ve got the equivalent of AM audio in you brain. Understood?
So, the next question is what to buy? How much do you need to spend to get decent sound and at what point is it the Emperor’s new airwaves? So, I’ve picked five sets of headphones fairly new to the market and I’m giving them a little low-down each afternoon this week. I believe they call it a review. If it’s useful, let me know and I’ll do some more.
The Short Version
Name – Shure SE115 in-ear headphones
Type – over the ear sound isolators
How much – £66 plus postage
How much should they cost – £45
Should you buy them – no
The Long Version
I’ll start with the positive’s here because there aren’t many and I’ll feel like I’ve achieved something once I’ve got them out of the way. First, the build quality is really good – probably the best out of all the headphones I’m looking at this week.
They’ve got proper thick cables, the kind you could garrotte people with without them breaking. They mean that what you’re buying is as close to “for life” as you can get with these things. The leads also come in two parts with a nice, chunky 3.5mm connection in the middle. I’m not sure what it is I’m supposed to insert in between my ears and my mp3 player but I feel very safe that these Shures would do whatever that job is very well.
The buds themselves aren’t too bad. You get the choice of six different sets – three of some disappointing grey rubber nothingness but the others made of squishable memory foam type material that you roll between your thumb and forefinger and jam into your head before they have time to expand.
The look a bit nasty once you’ve bullied them into submission – rather like greasy Mediterranean olives; doubly so when they come out of your ears pitted with wax.
The effect is that they pretty much fit to fill your aural canal and block out quite a lot of the ambient noise – not all, but good enough to give the drivers a chance to work their magic.
Yeah, this is probably the last good thing I can say about the SE115s. The packaging is ok. For a £66 set of ‘phones, you do get set up alright. What I’m referring to is the small black canvas zip bag complete with metal carabiner because, obviously, we’re all about quality audio while we’re trying to tackle the next overhang.
The Shure SE115s may actually be targeted at extreme sports enthusiasts but the point is that the bag is ok. It may even be slightly waterproof. Probably isn’t but the promise is good.
Here’s where these headphones really fall down. They sound rubbish – admittedly, better than a free pair but, if they’d been any more expensive, I’d be absolutely panning them. It may be the choice of material for the ear bud foam but all punch of the sound is lost. It’s like listening to £10,000 stereo system with hiking socks shoved in your ears.
You can tell that someone somewhere has done their job but that another bod down the line has totally ruined their work. It’s soft, muffled, rich but completely unexciting, and there can be no more damning word for audio equipment than that. They’re just plain lifeless.
The Shure SE115s offer a reachable step up in audio from freebee phones but, if I were you, I’d reach a little higher, or, at least, in a different direction.