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The Best In-Ear Headphones Under $100

by on March 16, 2015
in Top Picks, Phones and Mobile, Headphones, Music and Video, Guides & Reviews
Rating: 5 Stars 

These in-ear headphones not only won by a landslide for comfort and sound, they rang up more than $40 shy of our price ceiling.

Shure SE112m+

Shure SE112m+ earbuds

Some "what's the best" questions are easy to answer: Best rock group? The Beatles. Most romantic flower? The rose. Greatest baseball player? Babe Ruth. Most stylish first lady? Jacqueline Kennedy…er, um, maybe, Dolley Madison. No, wait – Michelle Obama?

Okay, some "best" questions aren't so easy to answer. But best sub-$100 earbuds? That's easy.

The Shure SE112m+ ($59 on Amazon).

These buds check all the feature/function/quality/value boxes: great sound -- arguably best-sounding in this price range -- comfortable and solid noise-isolating fit, in-line mic/volume controls, high build quality.

The Shure SE112sm+ rose to the top of a group of worthy contenders, the Klipsch R6i ($99.99 MSRP), the MEElectronics A151P ($79.99 MSRP) and the Marshall Mode EQ ($99 MSRP).  In narrowing down our field, we also listened to a host of other sub-$100 in-ear headphones, some with and some without the all-important in-line volume and music controls, including the Etymotics mc5 ($59 MSRP, without), the NHT SuperBuds ($99.99 MSRP, without), Paradigm's Shift-series e2i ($99.99 MSRP, with), the Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear i ($99.99 MSRP, with), the Skullcandy Fix ($49.99 MSRP, with) and the Yamaha EPH-M100 ($99.95 MSRP, with).

But the Shures at just $59.99? No contest. Here’s why.

Sound quality

Of all the sub-$100 buds we listened to, only the slightly brighter Klipsch R6i ($97 on Amazon) challenged the SE112m+ in overall sonic satisfaction and ergonomics.

Aurally, the R6i sounded slightly brighter with a smidge more soundstage and separation, but the differences are only noticeable in an intense A-B comparison. Rather than technical sonic properties, the primary aural differences between the Shure and the Klipsch are more tonal. One doesn't sound necessarily better than the other; just different.

Truth be told, arguably the best-sounding sub-$100 are actually Shure's previous entry-level buds, the SE215 ($99.99), which have been and continue to be my personal earbuds. The SE215s add a bit more separation and range, a bit more precision at the high end, and a bit more natural oomph at the low end versus the newer SE112m+ headphones. But, the SE215s lack in-line controls: you have to spend an extra $50 to get Shure's accessory cable with in-line mic/controls, which puts them out of our price range.

Fit and controls

Ergonomics is the other differentiator between the Shure SE112m+ and its competitors. The bud of the SE112m+ sits flat inside your ear – you can lie your head sideways on a pillow without impaling yourself as you would with most buds. The way the earbuds sit on and in your ears ensures a close fit which provides more sound isolation.

As with all of Shure's SE buds, the cables on the SE112s are designed to be draped over and behind the ear. This arrangement solves three problems: the in-line mic/controls are placed right at mouth-level – no more holding the mic in place for conversations; the cable isn't annoyingly in the way on the sides of your face; and, microphonics – aka touch transfer, that crackling noise you sometimes hear when your earbud cable rubs up against clothing – is eliminated. You can also wear the SE112s as usual, just dangling from your ears.

Ergonomically, the Klipsch R6i are also quite comfy -- just not as flat-to-the-ear comfy as the SE112m+ -- and are a bit more stylish. While not designed to be worn over the ear like the SE112m+, they should be. They're subject more to microphonics than the Shures, and wearing them over-the-ear solves the problem even if it does put the in-line mic/controls under your ear instead of under your mouth.

If wearing your cords over your ears is off-putting, consider the R6i's flat cables, which are nearly untangleable.

What other critics are saying

Critics who listened to both the plain SE112 and the SE112m+ agree with Shure's obvious sound-value conclusion. "This is now the best earphone under £50 I have seen and tested," notes Ed Selley of the U.K.'s AVForums web site when writing about the original SE112, "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."

"[T]hese earphones definitely set the bar for low-cost performance," agrees Ryan Waniata at Digital Trends, also commenting on the plain SE112. "Pound for pound, Shure's SE112 are some of the best budget buds on the market. If quality audio is of a high concern, we don't normally recommend you pay less than $100 for a pair of earphones. But if you just don't have the cheddar, you should probably pick up the SE112."

Buyers on Amazon hold similarly high opinions, consistently rating the SE112m+ 4 and 5 stars.

Bottom line

All-in-all, the Shure SE112m+ are easily, hands-down, no-more-calls-we-have-a-winner, the best budget earphones you can buy for less than $100. They sound terrific, are exceptionally comfortable to wear and come with the convenience of in-line mic and music controls. 

 

Shure SE112m+ - The Best In-Ear Headphones Under $100

Mohu Leaf



Discussion loading

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are you freaking kidding me?

From anastasi on March 16, 2015 :: 12:31 pm

$60 is not “low cost!”  That’s more than a week’s groceries or my commuting costs.  Considering it cost about $2 to be made in a Chinese sweatshop and will fall apart in a couple months, that’s really ridiculous!  I still have headsets from my old Walkman that still work after 20 years, they were made in Japan and cost me $5 at the time…

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Really?

From Josh Kirschner on March 16, 2015 :: 4:54 pm

This is an article about the best earphones under $100. If you’re in the market for a great sounding pair of earphones, $60 is not a lot to pay for earphones of this quality.

If your budget is $5, you’re out of luck here. However, we do have a number of excellent options in our sport headphones under $50 article: http://www.techlicious.com/guide/four-great-sports-headphones-under-50/.

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Calm down...

From Anup Kayastha on May 24, 2016 :: 8:20 am

Stewart is talking about the *best* one, not the *cheap* one. If you’re looking for both the cheap and good quality get Panasonic RPHJE120. I own it, and costs around 6 bucks. It’s worth it.

BTW, I’m looking forward to grab Shure SE112m+ this week.

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Yes, Really.

From anastasi on March 16, 2015 :: 9:46 pm

$60 is a lot to pay for headphones of any quality, unless the name is Sennheiser.  When you’re only paying a few bucks to make them in Asia, there shouldn’t be that much of an obscene markup.  Also, $99.99 doesn’t really count as “under $100.”

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You're assuming a lot about the cost/quality

From Josh Kirschner on March 17, 2015 :: 4:05 pm

Our recommended Shure SE112m+ sound better than the Sennheiser, were very well made. more comfortable and cost $40 less than the Sennheiser. We focus on the actual performance and experience with the devices we test, not where they’re made. Just because something is made in Asia (and by Asia, I assume you mean China), doesn’t make it lower quality or even cheaper than comparable devices. Apple iPhones, iPads and Macbooks are all made in China, yet few would argue they’re low quality products.

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It's about the margins..

From anastasi on March 18, 2015 :: 12:57 pm

When you pay $2 to make something, it shouldn’t get 2800% markup.  Even allowing for packaging, shipping, promotions, and R&D, this is ridiculous…  Apple may invest heavily in QC at Foxconn, but that doesn’t mean I want to support that kind of slave labor…

Again, claiming that $60 is “inexpensive” shows a real disconnect from reality in your review…

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A lot of your argument

From Brandon Lew on July 15, 2015 :: 2:03 am

A lot of your argument lacks the fundamental foundation of what makes an argument even worth trying to understand. It’s clear you don’t believe in spending a lot of money, but to consider $60 to be expensive is basically discounting the actual quality of the product. You have no evidence that Shure builds products out of sweatshops, you have no evidence that this product will not last long, and you have no evidence that these are overly priced. Another very vacuous point you made was that you felt packaging, shipping, promotions and R&D would cause a 2800% markup when in reality Shure spends very little in comparison on ALL of those levels compared to almost every other company. You also discount Shure as company by saying that it is expensive to pay more than $60 on anything but Sennheiser which clearly shows that you’re biased toward the seemingly only company you know of. Did you know that Shure was actually #1 in the headphones and Sennheiser was #7…(http://time.com/74886/best-headphones/)...you have no idea what you’re talking about…and if you’re going to discredit this review, Shure as a company as well as yourself with your arrogance and ignorance, then don’t bother reading reviews you don’t agree with and arguing unfairly.

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Your "Best" earphones not android compatible

From Sharon on March 25, 2015 :: 4:08 pm

Stewart: Your article does not recommend any equivalent android compatible earphone of similar quality. I only found this out at the Shure website which makes clear your best-rated earphone is only meant for Apple products. This doesn’t seem fair and makes your article seem more like a product placement than a fair review. How about a review of the best earphones for the rest of us?

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The Shure 112m+ are Android compatible

From Josh Kirschner on March 26, 2015 :: 4:51 pm

Because of the nature of Android – the wide variety of different Android operating systems and the wide variety of Android phone makers – no headphone maker guarantees their models with in-line controls will work with all Android models. It’s essentially a hit-or-miss proposition and an ongoing frustration for headphone makers. That’s why Shure’s wording is so confusing. But the Shure 112m+ WILL work with an Android phone, as will the mic, and the in-line controls MAY work, but you would need to confirm with your specific device/apps.

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under $100 is a great, reasonable price point.

From Southpaw on June 02, 2015 :: 1:18 am

Considering that the iPhone 6 plus can cost $600 to $800 or more, $100 for high end replacement earbuds is reasonable.

This “Anastasi” person is just another entitled, spoiled loser. Sorry you can’t afford it. Not all of us are losers that can’t afford $60 to improve the quality of our day to day lives through good sounding music.

I am going to most likely Order the Shures on Amazon. Thanks for the review.

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Thanks!

From Josh Kirschner on June 02, 2015 :: 8:33 am

Glad you found the review helpful.

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Shure 112 va 215

From Chaim on June 17, 2015 :: 8:54 pm

Are the 215 also flat in the ear like the 112? Which would you recommend?

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Shure SE112 vs Xiaomi Piston 3

From Brandon Lew on July 15, 2015 :: 1:48 am

This review might have been done before people really even knew that the Xiaomi Piston 3 was attainable in any other country other than China (where they are made). Anywho, for $28.50 at PenonAudio the Xiaomi Piston 3 is even cheaper than these Shure SE112s and the Piston 3’s have come ready with a great build quality, packaging and design (winning the Red Dot award), and spectacular audio performance. If you haven’t already tried the Piston 3, I would really like to get your feedback on how they compare to the Shure SE112. BTW I’m not at all biased, I love Shure and have a pair of SRH440s and 550DJs so I’m a huge fan of Shure.

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The techlicious.com is a very

From custom car bumper stickers uk on September 01, 2015 :: 6:27 am

The techlicious.com is a very informative website. my friends give us this website link. I read all posts in it.i would like to save the link so I can come here again to see you, thanks for the information.

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Good reviews

From Terry on September 16, 2015 :: 3:36 am

Cnet also reviewed Fiio Ex1 in ear headphones (sound great for the money) but it is more expensive than Shure SE112. I wonder have you compared these 2 earphones in terms of sound quality and fitting.

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In ear

From Peter Hyatt on May 05, 2016 :: 7:14 pm

The Fiio EX1 has great sound.

How about the Beyerdynamic AK T8 ie?

They are a bit over the $100 mark but they sound stunningly beautiful!

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That's not even fair.

From Brandon Lew on May 05, 2016 :: 8:45 pm

Glad to hear that you like the EX1, which by far is my all time favorite iem. But the T8ie is something like $999 LOL, if you want comparisons and reviews, best look for one discussing them against other big boy universal iems like the AKG K3003 or even some of the ciems. Most people here probably haven’t even considered spending that much on any iem…especially considering this is a topic on “budget” iems haha. Anyways I wish you luck on getting feedback on your question.

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$8 Panasonic phones rock!

From Keith on May 10, 2016 :: 10:53 pm

Try these out for a grand total of $8!! Very clear nice detailed sound.

Panasonic ErgoFit In-Ear Earbud Headphones RP-HJE120-K
http://www.amazon.com/Panasonic-Headphones-RP-HJE120-K-Ergonomic-Comfort-Fit/dp/B003EM8008

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