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New budget-price Shure headphones wow the Audiophiliac

Shure SRH144 and SRH145 on-ear headphones look, feel and sound terrific!

Shure SRH144 (left), SRH145 (right) Shure

The competition is heating up for high-performance budget headphones, and these two new Shure on-ears, the SRH144 and SRH145, are bona fide contenders. They sound the same, and sell for the same price; the difference is the SRH144 semi-open design lets you hear sound in your environment, while the SRH145 closed-back design hushes external noise. The SRH144 and SRH145 smooth over the roughest edges of harsh MP3s and iffy-sounding YouTube videos, no problem. The tonal balance is commendably rich.

The two models have identical specifications: they weigh a mere 5.2 ounces (150 grams) and have non-detachable 5-foot-long (1.5-meter) cables, and impedance is rated at 34 ohms. The mostly plastic designs feel durable, and their head-clamping pressure is moderate, so they'll stay put on your noggin when you're groovin' to your tunes! The cable's heavy-duty 3.5mm plug housing should withstand a fair amount of abuse without failing; I'm less impressed with the potential durability of the headband's metal and plastic hinges. The cables lack inline remotes and mics, but if that's what you need, move up to the Apple-compatible SRH145m+.

Look and feel are commensurate with the budget pricing, but they're a step up from MonoPrice's 8323 'phones. In terms of sound,the SRH144/145 is clearer than the 8323, bass texture and definition are better too, but the 8323's bass sounds more powerful than the SRH144/145's. Jeff Tweedy's vocals and acoustic guitar on Wilco's "Summerteeth" album pop out of the mix more over the SRH144/145 'phones; the 8323 sounds hollow, not all there. The 8323 is an over-the-ear design, so it's bigger and bulkier, but does a bit better at blocking external noise. The SRH144/145 sounds better overall -- its smoother, more accurate tonal balance and transparency won me over -- but it's double the price of the 8323.

If you can spend just a little more, Beyerdynamic's DTX 350 p is even better, significantly clearer than the SRH144/145, but Shure's headphones' build and sound quality equation is impossible to beat for the price. Shure's two-year warranty is super-rare in the budget headphones category, so if you're rough on headphones, that factor might also tilt the decision in favor of the SRH144/145.

In the US the SRH144 and SRH145 are $39; the headphones will be sold in the UK and Australia, but prices are not yet available.