Pros: Detailed, "open" feel, Build Quality, Included goodies
Cons: Heavy, Uncomfortable headband
It has started to become a trend that when I review equipment here on head-fi I give a small background regarding my audio experiences, in an effort to provide the reader of the material a better idea of my opinions to ultimately aid in objectifying such a subjective category of audio. For those of you who have read my other reviews you may find this repetitive, but I still feel it is of importance to the quality of the review and for what the reader takes away from it. So... here goes:
I am a young audio enthusiast who is relatively new to the headphone scene. I may not have years of experience with headphones specifically as many of the other members of head-fi have had a chance to have, but I am certainly not new to the world of quality audio playback. Audio fanatics run common in the family, so even from a very young age I have had a vast exposure to high end loudspeaker systems. It is this exposure that I blame for my audio-snob like qualities today, as hearing music played back sloppily frustrates me to the point of frowning or even sometimes removing myself entirely from the situation. Most of my experience comes with external setups, whether it be my exposure to family members' hi-fi loudspeaker systems or my own custom built extensive car set-up (soon to go all out on a home hi-fi system). I am diving into the unrealized headphone niche of audio... being a college student and moving from place to place frequently has made headphones one of the most feasible options for enjoying beautiful sound for the time being. I may be less than a year old in the headphone world, but I am certainly not new to audio in general. I also think it worth noting that I listen to many different types of music for these reviews, and although I usually don't mention the song genres specifically, I think it should be known that I listen to as many genres as possible for these reviews, whether I find such a genre enjoyable or not. Regardless of whether the genre is of my taste, I try to pick out the strengths and weaknesses the headphone offers up for said genre and write based on the sum of all strengths and weaknesses. My best realized sonic experience comes from the Sydney Orchestra playing in the main hall of the Sydney Opera House. With that disclaimer said, I will do my best to draw comparisons from other headphones I have heard as well as make comparisons to external setups for perspective's sake. I hope you find this read informative, and do not hesitate to ask me specific questions if this review did not answer your question.
Comfort: Compared to other headphones I have owned and demoed, I have to say these are probably a notch below average unfortunately. While I have not tried the SRH-840 for more than a couple minutes, I can safely assume that these are probably more comfortable overall, but certainly still have some issues. The clamping force and overall comfort on the ears is just fine. My complaint comes both from the weight of the headphone and from the pressure of the headband. Shure makes quality products, but on their Studio Reference Headphone line it just seems they have struggled in the headband department, as many complaints regarding this physical piece of the headphone are out there for the SRH-840 as well. I find that they are much less comfortable than both my Sennheiser HD448 and CharterOak SP-1 because of the pressure the headband applies on the top of the head. It takes frequent adjustments after as little as a half-hour listening session. On the upside, the velour pads are very comfy and protect against sweaty ears for multi-hour listening sessions, unlike my SP-1 or HD448, despite being closed and offering some isolation (more on this later). Unfortunately I have to report that the comfort on these headphones could be much better.
Durability: Don't let the plastic material choice cause you to draw erroneous assumptions about the build quality of these headphones. They might be on the heavy side, but they're certainly built like a tank. To actually break these things would take some effort, and the hard case that comes with them renders them likely candidate to physically last as long as you want them to. As mentioned earlier, they may not be the most comfortable, but they make up for it in durability. The swivel joints on the Shure aren't even exposed. I really think the only way to damage these without smashing them against something would be to twist the joint the wrong way with some hearty effort. An extra set of pads are even included in case you ruin your current set. Absolutely no worries here.
Sound Quality: Since this is arguably the most important aspect of the review, I will spend the most time on this section and break it up into the logical three categories - Highs, mids, lows.
Highs: Airy, detailed, extended and controlled. Wow, what a combination! For my experience at least, it seems that when the upper registers have the lightweight feel to be as nimble and detailed as I am looking for, I have to pay for it by tolerating a brighter feel. I am okay with a subtle brightness if it does indeed provide the detail in the upper mids and highs, and it usually has to roll off a tad early just so it doesn't provide too much listener's fatigue. These SRH-940s do an incredible job of keeping the highs airy and detailed while never becoming bright. The control of the highs is even more impressive when you hear the upper register extension these have to offer. I haven't quite heard extension like this in a headphone... in fact these SRH-940s maintain high frequencies like many of the loudspeaker setups I have heard do, which is quite impressive considering the external setups I am speaking of have a dedicated driver for the highs. The extension reminds me a lot of some dedicated MB Quart car tweets I have, but the Shure's don't require the rest of the frequency to have ton of juice to keep up. Even more so, the highs remind me of an external setup in the sense that it seems they have a volume sweet spot. Since external setups often have dedicated drivers for specific frequency ranges, it is not uncommon to hear the balance of the setup change slightly as you increase or decrease the input power. Often each set of drivers will have slightly different sensitivities to the input power and thus turning the volume knob can generate changes in balance. Usually there is a volume sweet spot for which the system in tuned for. I notice these balance changes as I up the volume outputted from my FiiO e7/e9 combo, and that these headphones have a sweet spot. The presence of the highs seems to become extreme passed this sweet spot and there seems to be a slight emphasis on the mids below said sweet spot. This, of course, is somewhat subtle but still worth noting as I don't observe these balance changes as drastically in my other headphones. This intrigues me since the headphone only uses one driver per ear cup, and is most likely indicative of an impressive soundstage.
Mids: Always my favorite part of the spectrum... if it can't do midranges it isn't for me. In my opinion the mids are very neutral in this Shure. It seems as their purpose is just to tie the highs and lows together, and this gives it a very natural feel. The vocal ranges certainly aren't as juicy as they are in my CharterOak SP-1 but are far from veiled or colored. Just like the highs, this range is very well controlled and imaging is superb for a headphone, especially a closed one. The upper mids definitely contain more detail than that of the lower mids, and overall I find the detail in the midranges to be ever so slightly behind the SP-1. The imaging however in the Shure is quite impressive, giving you more a "room" (wide) feel than the "hall" (direct) feel the SP-1 does. The SP-1 puts you a little closer to the music and the Shure makes you take a step back. The SP-1 presents the music more athletically while the 940 gives it more of a laid back feel, while both sounds still remain "analytical". I also find my SP-1 to be very mid-forward, so that may have something to do with it. Honestly, because of the nimbleness, increased detail, and clinical feel in the midranges from the SP-1 I would probably dub it a better "reference" studio monitor than the SRH-940 (SP-1 was also more money), but I'm finding I prefer the Shure when I just want to listen to the music and not think about it. When extension is the most impressive aspect of this headphone, it shouldn't be surprising that the mids have less to comment about. That being said, I have no real substantial complaints about the midrange - they are very natural and "fair". If anything they swim in the large sonic space the SRH-940 offers without feeling empty or gapped, and give one more bullet point of evidence towards the above average soundstage.
Lows: This could be the most difficult aspect of the headphone to asses for a couple of reasons. It doesn't help that I am very picky with my bass, and I feel that it is the first to go as you work your way into cheap options. Bass presence usually is never the problem, but bass quality almost always is. It seems so common that bass is overdone and spills into the mids, drowning it out. I prefer bass that carries some impact, but more importantly carries tone and recovers promptly. The first thing I notice when equipment is underpowered... whether it be headphones, car components, or speaker towers is the bass becoming sluggish and lagging behind. Obviously amplification makes huge differences throughout the spectrum, but in the bass is where I generally hear the most substantial difference. I noticed the same with the SRH-940s. Straight out of an iPod classic I noticed that the mids and highs were hardly affected, but the lows lost a lot of texture and layering, most likely due to bass notes not recovering fast enough and leaking into each other...leading to more drug out than separated notes. These sound fine unamped, but MAN if you throw some real juice behind them the bass just tightens up and becomes layered, fast, deep, and noticeably impactful at least. The low end extension of these headphones is nearly as impressive as the extension in the highs, effortlessly hitting very low notes with more volume than other headphones I have tried or owned. The bass reminds me a lot of the bass in the Senn PX-360 but with WAY more control to it and no bleeding into the lower mids. In fact, if anything they have a slight recession in the low mids/midbass region which help with this bleeding effect. Do I prefer this recession? Not entirely, as I feel my SP-1 seems to love this range while still preventing the "bass bleeding" into the mids. The Shure certainly makes a nice sonic compliment to the SP-1 for this reason. This ever so slight recession in the mid bass is probably my only true complaint of the Shure SRH-940 with regard to sonic signature. All the rest of my mentioning was more comparison and appreciation of difference rather than dislike. I will conclude this section by saying the bass extension, layering, and texture are all very excellent while the bass impact is fine and the recession in the midbass region is mildly frown-worthy.
Additional Notes: The "extras" that come with this headphone are excellent. Shure includes a nice hard zipper case that should protect them quite well if you are a frequent traveler. Inside the case are an extra set of velour pads (which are removed from the headphone very easily, yet still remain secure during use), a removable straight AND coiling cable (very nice of you Shure), and room for a portable player/amp if you want.. my iPod and e7 fit just fine.
Isolation is fine/average - better than my loose fit SP-1 and slightly worse than my HD448... I'm guessing due to the velour pads. I will say that for how big of stage and the imaging they provide.. it is impressive these offer the level of isolation that they do.
I will say that it is subtle but nice that they quantified the notches on the side of the headband so you can get the extension of both sides of the headband right the first time to allow quick fitting. If I let other people use the headphone and they adjust the band I can remember "if I set both sides at setting 3 that it will be comfortable" and that is nice.
Both cables come 3.5mm terminated with the ability to utilize the threaded 6.3mm adapter. Both cables attach into the left ear cup via a twisting lock.
Nutshell: Most definitely a treble lover's headphone. It does well with instrumental and string oriented music. They sound fine unamped, yet utilize an amp very well. This means that if you're looking for a headphone that will run out of a portable device or anything unamped and know you may upgrade to a better amplifier later, these are safe bet. Just remember that these (to my ears) seem to have a volume sweet spot and you may have to do some tinkering to find that once you amp them. For 300 dollars, I would say you're getting what you paid for. The sonic signature is gorgeous and really the only hiccup is the slight midbass recession... but the control and extension in the highs and lows combined with the large soundstage and solid imaging make this headphone easily worth 300 dollars. Value wise, I think it would be tough to say these are anything other than "solid", especially considering all the goodies you get with them.