Headphone Sessions 1/30/2012: Shure Open-Back Headphones

In case you’ve been under a rock, CES just happened.. And to personal audio fanatics like us, it’s the ‘Better-Than-Christmas Holiday-after-Christmas!’ It’s the grand time of year when all new must-have gadgets are revealed to the world and here in the land of Headphonia — the “everything headphone place” where HeadRoom is located somewhere in the deepest valleys of Montana — this time of year means NEW HEADPHONES!

2012’s first new releases include Shure’s initial step into the world of full-size open-back cans with the SRH1440 ($399) and SRH1840 ($699). HeadRoom is incredibly excited to be the first company in the USA selected to have a set of both headphones to listen to and evaluate from the comfort of our own listening stations and we don’t want to waste any time letting you know what we think. And just as expected, the long-time pro audio manufacturer par excellence does not disappoint. Right out of the box, it’s clear that some serious audio engineering has taken place inside and outside these headphones, but we only gave them about 100 hrs of burn-in before making our assessments.

SRH1440

On the point of burn-in, the SRH1440 was initially edgy sounding right out of the box and the 100 hours of play-time smoothed a bit of that sharpness. We still find the 1440 to have a presence peak in the upper mid-ranges after burn-in which lends itself to clear definition and detail in vocals and acoustic instruments, but can also seem to pull the body out of the vocals on certain recordings, leaving them somewhat thin. The soundstage is open and spacious and the musical separation is pleasantly obvious and simple. The ‘up-front’ image presentation with decent bass response, if perhaps lacking extension into the lowest sub-strata frequencies, almost resembles the sound signature of some top Grado headphones but with a smoothness in the upper frequencies and a level of wearing comfort that most Grados historically lack.

The SRH1440 ergonomics can be rather tight and the fit may even pinch at the top of the earcups for those of us with bigger heads. HeadRoom testers with smaller craniums and those who wear glasses experienced no fit issues. The headphones themselves feel a bit heavy and, at least to our eyes, the amount of black plastic in the construction doesn’t scream out “$400”. That doesn’t necessarily mean we found them to feel cheap or flimsy, they just aren’t flashy. The headband adjustment is a bit balky and was disliked by some testers because it took effort to get the fit perfect, yet it was equally liked by others because once the headphones are set correctly on your head, they won’t slide around.

Taken on its own terms, the SRH1440 is a strong audio performer. But when placed against some other headphones at its price point, the 1440 value becomes slightly undermined. For example, when put side by side versus the AKG K701, the 1440 sounds somewhat flat and un-dynamic, lacking mid-range warmth or heft. Next to the (sealed-back) Denon AH-D2000, the 1440 sounds much clearer and better detailed but lacking in some bass authority.

Ultimately, we feel the SRH1440 is a touch overpriced and would gain a significantly higher value rating if the price was just lower. The performance and sound quality is definitely there, it’s just a tad expensive compared to a few other similar-performing cans.

Shure SRH1440

Shure SRH1440

SRH1840

Here is another very clean, analytical and neutral headphone with excellent tonal accuracy seating you at the front table of your favorite jazz club while your musical heroes perform right in front of your ears. Highs are crisply detailed, yet smooth with natural, silky timbre in the mids and the bass is taut and full with a slightly distant engagement from the ‘up-front’ mids/highs presence. The soundstage is spacious and the imaging is impeccable. Again, we are reminded of the higher end Grados, and again, the Shure comfort and fit is easily superior.

We put the SRH1840 up against the HiFiMAN HE500 also found at the $699 pricepoint. The HE500 definitely out-slams the 1840 in bass response but the Shure still holds its own, albeit lacking some of the impact of the HE500. We’ve touted the HE500 as an awesome can for its impactful, fun and engaging tone. The 1840’s are actually audibly clearer through the mids and highs affording superb value to the listener who prefers a more analytical approach versus the smooth, ‘punchy’ presentation of the HiFiMAN HE500. The only other comparable open-back headphone close in price is the Grado PS500 which has a tiny edge in the upper mid/high frequencies that the 1840’s don’t, yet the 1840’s maintain the same level of precise detail resolution. Keep your eye out for an upcoming Headphone Session dedicated to the solely to the Grado PS500.

The SRH 1840 is incredibly lightweight and, unlike the Grados that can cause sore hot spots on your ears or the HE500 that feels heavier the longer you wear it, the Shure fit style seems to disappear after you’ve had them on for a while. The velour ear pads are extra-soft, yet the cushion padding is firm enough that they feel like they’ll maintain their proper form for many hundreds of listening hours.

Both the 1440 and 1840 come in an oversize packaging box and include a padded soft-shell carrying case, an extra set of ear pads and an extra cable. The detachable/replaceable cables are terminated with a 1/8” ‘mini’ connector and include a screw-on 1/4” stereo plug adapter. The connection point of the cable at the headphone is ingeniously able to swivel 360 degrees, which basically eliminates tangling from the ‘Y’ cord cabling and greatly improves durability and cord life.

Given this is Shure’s first shot at full-size open-back headphones — similar to their first shot at a full-size closed headphone line two years ago — we think Shure has basically knocked it out of the park. If serious audio fans count on anything, we expect Shure to make audio products that truly sonically perform. The SRH 1440 and SRH 1840 are no exceptions, and the 1840 really holds its own against any other can at the price. In our estimation, the 1440 seems a hair pricey compared to the AKG K701/K702 or Q701 models that continue to wow us with their tonal accuracy and neutrality, but no question the SRH 1440 still offers a certain sound of its own that many Shure lovers will highly appreciate.

For more information on Shure open-back headphones or on any other headphone or headphone accessory under the sun, call us at 800-828-8184. An attention-starved HeadRoom headphone expert anxiously awaits the opportunity to point you toward the headphone that best suits you, and to share the knowledge that only hundreds, maybe thousands of grueling hours of listening to our favorite music on awesome headphone rigs could possibly provide to help you Get it Right Between Your Ears!

Shure SRH1840

Shure SRH1840

4 Responses to Headphone Sessions 1/30/2012: Shure Open-Back Headphones

  1. Christian Jørgensen⚓ January 30, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

    Magnaplanar next?

  2. Ross February 7, 2012 at 6:06 am #

    how do they compare to the shure 940?

  3. dalethorn February 10, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

    Before I got the Shure 1840, I was using the Shure 940, Grado PS-500, Beyer DT-48A(oval pads), and Sennheiser 800. The thing those headphones have in common from my perspective is a combination of brightness or presence (not forwardness) in the upper mids, and what jumped out at me with the 1840 is that that presence was muted somewhat, or softer. It’s pretty significant so anyone would notice it right away if they have used the headphones I mentioned. Personally, I like the sound of the 1840, but I would guess that persons whose hearing is already somewhat muted in that area may not like that soft presentation.

  4. Josh February 6, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    Christian,
    At this point we don’t know….we can only hope!

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