Pros: Comfortable, detailed/clear highs and mids, deep low-bass, excellent for: orchestra, classical, jazz, vocals, and certain kinds of pop and rock music
Cons: Mid-bass could use a tad-bit more 'oomph' without using an EQ, slightly fatiguing, poorly recorded or mastered tracks sound bad, headband cracking
So, I received my Shure SRH940's on September 7, 2011. Yay!
This is my first time posting a major review of an audio product and it addresses many of the questions I had when I was searching for my next major headphone. I hope this review is useful to both newcomers and veterans of Head-Fi. I am still learning about all of the technical terms and details of how to describe a headphone's sound signature, but I will try my best to convey my thoughts.
Where did I purchase my SRH940's?
Long: I bought the 940's from Headphones.com with a 15% off-discount for a total of $255 USD. I would personally like to thank Mr. DavidMahler from Headphones.com for assisting me through the ordering process as the website, for some reason, wasn't accepting the discount code.
What comes with the SRH940's?
I posted a silent unboxing of the 940's on YouTube. It's not the best of quality, using only a digital camera, but it gets the point across.
These headphones have a lot of things bundled in the rather large box (see the section about the 940's lying flat for more details).
Inside the box:
Official product manual
2 year limited warranty
Large hard-foam/plastic storage case
Shure SRH940 headphones
4 velour pads total (two on the headphones, two extras)
9.84 ft. (3 m) detachable coiled cable (when coiled it's around 3.5 ft or 1 meter) with 3.5 mm gold-plated straight jack
8.2 ft. (2.5 m) detachable straight cable with 3.5 mm gold-plated straight jack
1/4 in. (6.35 mm) gold-plated stereo audio jack (screw on)
Headphone specifications (from the Shure official website)
40 mm drivers
42 ohm impedence
5 Hz - 30 kHz frequency range
320 g mass (without the cable attached)
With an extra cable and replacement pair of ear pads, I'm sure the 940's were packaged with durability in mind. The hard storage case feels like hard foam on the outside, almost like a plastic material. The inside is mostly lined with some sort of fabric, and a foam ring is in the middle to hold the headphones in place when inside the case in addition to a detachable cable. There is a Velcro-secured compartment for the storage of the extra velour ear pads, and a nylon pouch is attached to the inside lid to store the second cable and 1/4 in. stereo jack.
How comfortable are the SRH940's?
Short: Very comfortable, heavy, but padding helps with the weight.
Long: For a full-sized headphone, the circum-aural (the ear pads surround the ears) 940's are very comfortable. The clamp force is moderate, not too tight, not too loose. I found that the squishy velour pads help relieve the clamping force. Compared to the 940's brother, the SRH840's, they are actually heavier by measurement. Don't let that fool you though, I found the 940's to be lighter on my head than the 840's. It might be because of the cushioned bumps located on the 940's headband, which the 840's lacked. Despite others' opinions about the 940's having the same "crown of death" comfort effect as some AKG headphones, I found the headband quite comfortable. I do have to mention that the headband+weight of the headphones does cause me to have "flat baseball cap hair" if I wear the 940's long enough.
The 940's have marked levels on the headband to make it easy to adjust one side of the headband equal to the other side. I have a small-ish sized head and I find that the 940's are most comfortable with the headband set at size 3 (out of 10) on both sides, so the 940's will fit on most heads.
The velour ear pads are a huge welcome to me. I've tried a good amount pleather/leather headphones at my local Guitar Center store and I found most of them to be uncomfortable, not to mention how quickly they heated up. I don't know if it was the pleather ear pads of the 840's, but I found that the 940's didn't clamp as hard on my head as the 840's did.
How comfortable are the SRH940's while wearing glasses?
Short: They feel about the same as without glasses on.
Long: To me the 940's are still very comfortable even with glasses on. I have glasses with thick arms, and even with that, the 940's squishy velour pads conform to the glasses.
How well do the SRH940's isolate noise?
Short: Less isolation than in-ear monitors or pleather/leather ear pads, but they still isolate pretty well.
Long: For a closed headphone, the 940's provide decent noise isolation. They don't isolate as much as in-ear monitors nor pleather/leather, but they still do a good job. I can still hear surrounding noises while wearing them, but I find that to be good so that I can be more aware of my surroundings.
How durable are the SRH940's?
Short: They seem durable, although some parts do squeak when adjusted. Extra bundled pads and cable are a welcome addition.
Long: Despite the 940's being made of plastic for the most part (the outer ear piece and the SHURE logo feel metal to me), the 940's feel pretty durable. The swivel and folding mechanisms on the 940's do squeak a little when I move them, but I don't think that will cause problems in the future (I hope). As I mentioned earlier, the extra ear pads and cables are good as backups should the first set break or malfunction. Shure does provide a 2 year limited warranty with the 940's, covering only product defects and not normal wear-and-tear damage.
How portable are the SRH940's?
Short: Very portable as a full-sized headphone. Detachable cable prevents cable strain.
Long: The 940's fold up pretty neatly, similar to the Beats by Dre headphones, making them fairly portable headphones (without using the hard storage case). One side of the headphone folds inward while the other side folds right on top of it (either side can be folded first, the order does not matter). The detachable cable makes storing the 940's a breeze without having to worry about the cable-ends being stressed or bent.
Do the SRH940's lie flat (on a surface)?
Short: No, a spring mechanism and angled headband prevent them from lying flat.
Long: Although there is a swivel mechanism that allows the ear cups to swivel 90 degrees, there is one strange detail about the 940's swivel mechanism. There seems to be a spring mechanism that naturally prevents the 940's ear cups from rotating the full 90. As a result of this mechanism, the 940's are actually pretty large when left by itself, hence why the storage case is large. It is convenient to place the headphones directly from your head to a surface so that the ear pads lie on the surface rather than the top or sides of the ear cups.
Natural lying position ear cups facing upward (note that the headphones do not swivel flat with the drivers pointing upward due to the spring mechanism)
Natural lying position ear cups facing downward (note that the headphones do not lie with the drivers pointing downward flat due to the spring mechanism naturally pushing against the ear cups from swiveling the full 90 degrees)
Pushing the ear cups to swivel the full 90 degrees (note that even with the ear cups fully swiveled at 90 degrees, the headband is actually 'bent' downward so that they do not lie completely flat)
If the SRH940's ear cups do not swivel 90 degrees naturally, then how do they look on one's neck?
Short: Wear them backwards on your neck.
Long: Moving the headphones from listening position (on your ears normally) to your neck, the ear pads face upward and actually dig into my chin/neck. This is uncomfortable and I can barely move my head without bumping into the velour pads.
However, moving the headphones from listening position, turning them around 180 degrees, and then placing them on my neck so that the ear pads rest on my shoulder, they are much more comfortable to wear.
Do the SRH940's require amplifier to sound good, or can they be run straight out of an iPod?
Short: An amp is not needed and an iPod provides sufficient juice to power the 940's.
Long: No they do not require an amp to sound decent and they are capable of running straight out of an iPod. However, an amp may help (I don't own an amp myself).
How do the SRH940's sound?
Setup: Unibody aluminum Macbook (FLAC files played in VLC with flat EQ, with the exception of the picture below); iPod Touch 2G (320 kbps CBR)
Tracks or albums used during the review:
Deems Tsutakawa - Deems Greatest Hits (jazz)
Pet Shop Boys - The Most Incredible Thing (electronic/orchestra)
Ottmar Liebert - Up Close (binaural acoustic)
Hungarian Chamber Orchestra - Vivaldi/Geminiani Guitar Concertos/Sonatas (orchestra classical)
Mongo Santamaria - Montreux Heat (Latin jazz/percussion)
Fighter X - Unreleased (chiptune)
Trash80 - Icarus (chiptune)
Vitas - Philosophy of Miracle (Russian pop/opera)
Usher - My Way (R&B)
Vince Guaraldi Trio - A Charlie Brown Christmas (piano jazz)
Chiaki Ishikawa - Uninstall (Japanese vocal pop)
Gackt - Diabolos (Japanese rock)
Franz Ferdinand - Tonight (indie rock)
High and Mighty Color - Swamp Man (Japanese alternative metal)
Dazzle Vision - To the Next (Japanese visual-kei screamo)
Lia - Tori no Uta (Anime soundtrack)
Ayana - Last Regrets (Anime soundtrack)
Twelve Girls Band - 敦煌，奇迹 (Chinese folk)
S.H.E - Play, Shero, Super Star (Mandarin Chinese vocal pop)
Hebe Tien - To Hebe (Mandarin Chinese vocal pop)
Joey Yung - Ten Most Wanted, EP2, 容祖兒, 姚珏 & 莫拉維亞交響樂團 (Cantonese Chinese pop, Cantonese Chinese pop/orchestra)
Harlem Yu - 哈林天堂 (Mandarin Chinese pop)
Jane Zhang - 我爱邓丽君，改变 (older Mandarin Chinese vocal pop, modern Mandarin Chinese vocal pop)
Fish Leong - 崇拜，愛的大遊行 Live全記錄，燕尾蝶：下定愛的決心 (Mandarin Chinese pop)
Rainie Yang - 半熟宣言 (Chinese vocal pop)
Joanna Wang - Start From Here (Mandarin Chinese/English folk)
Jolin Tsai - J-Top 冠軍精選，J1演唱會影音全記錄，Myself，舞娘 (Mandarin Chinese pop)
Sammi Cheng - 信者得愛 (Mandarin Chinese vocal pop)
Eason Chan - DUO 陳奕迅 2010 演唱會，The 1st Eleven Years 然後呢?，U87 (Mandarin Chinese vocal pop, Cantonese Chinese vocal pop)
Short: Great extension on both ends of the sound spectrum. Lows are present but seem quiet compared to the mids and highs. They lack the bass punch that most headphones have. Mids seem laid back and upper-mids are more forward. Vocals sound very good with the 940's. Highs are detailed and are the most prominent of the 940's. Despite the highs being prominent, they handle sibilance quite well, though they might be fatiguing to some.
Being the first pair of headphones over $100 USD I've owned, my initial impressions of these 'phones are just about on par with everyone else; they seem 'bass shy' in the sense that they don't have the mid-bass 'thump' that I'm used to hearing (especially coming from Sennheiser CX-300's). However, there seems to be very good bass extension. Is this what neutral bass is supposed to sound like? I found that with a slight increase in the lower end with an EQ (about a 3-5 dB gain at around 60-130 Hz) is good enough for me. That said, some electronic tracks sound odd with the 940's since they lack the mid-bass 'thump thump' effect. Ladytron, however, sounds all right with the 940's since her songs feature her voice.
Vocals seem forward and very clear, which is what I was looking for in my next headphone. Female vocals indeed do sound brilliant with these headphones. Guitars and congas also sound very good with the 940's. Rock music sounds fantastic with the 940's with the prominent highs and forward vocals.
The highs are definitely more prominent than any headphone I've owned so far, but not to the extent where it hurts my ears (my ears are sensitive to sibilance). I find that the 940's handle sibilance quite well actually. Some of the sibilant tracks I have don't sound as sibilant to my ears with the 940's as they were with the CX-300's. Most brass instruments sound great with the 940's so they are an ideal match-up for jazz.
The soundstage is pretty decent for a closed headphone. I found it to be wider than the ATH-M50's and the Sennheiser HD25-1-ii, having better instrument separation and air between the instruments played. They I haven't tried them for gaming yet, but I was going to try them out soon.
All in all, my first impressions of the 940's are impressive. The lack of the bass thump is my biggest complaint, but I can manage it.
Short: Bass is more noticeable but still quieter than the rest of the sound spectrum. Highs are tamer and not as fatiguing. Some rock music doesn't sound right with the 940's and some brass instruments for jazz can sound harsh. Can be used for gaming, but I haven't heard a serious gamer's headphone before so I can't really tell you what's good and what's not good for a gaming headphone. Overall, I notice some imperfections in some of my music and I noticed details in the upper frequencies that I didn't notice before. Poorly recorded tracks and/or low bit-rate tracks are noticeable with the 940's.
Long: After about 50 hours of use, the sound signature of the 940's seemed to be a bit tamer. After listening to my music more carefully, I can hear some of the imperfections of my tracks. It might be because of the clearer high notes, but I'm really starting to hear more details in the songs I listen to. Just for the sake of testing, I tried playing a 192 kbps track from the Hungarian Chamber Orchestra's album listed above and it sounded pretty bad with the 940's. I think they call this feature "unforgiving" in terms of describing a headphone.
The lows/lower-mids seemed more noticeable than before, although they are is still relatively quiet and laid back compared to the rest of the sound spectrum. I find that the bass isn't focused on the mid-bass, but more on the lower-bass. I keep thinking the bass can be described as not the clubbing type of bass (mid-bass), but more like deep sound rolling thunder (lower-bass). I actually prefer this kind of bass since it's not the kind of bass I get to hear every day (so many young people seem to have a liking for that mid-bass). Despite that, classical music sounds fantastic with these headphones. The bass required for most classical music isn't the clubbing type of bass, so the rolling-thunder bass of the 940's work quite well for this genre of music. However, some rock tracks may sound odd with the 940's due to their lack of sufficient mid-bass and emphasized highs.
I didn't mention this before, but most of the mids seem to be forward. Guitars and higher-pitched instruments such as violins and pianos all seem to take the front stage. Vocals still sound excellent on the 940's, both male and female. However, due to the emphasis of the 940's highs and upper-mids, female vocals are absolutely amazing with the 940's. I really like the way pianos are presented with these headphones. I found that if you have pop music that emphasizes vocals over bass, the 940's do a sufficient job at presenting that type of pop music.
The upper-mids/highs seemed to be toned down slightly so that they aren't as fatiguing as they used to be, but are still the most noticeable sounds from these headphones. Sometimes the highs can be a bit harsh on the ears such as trumpets, although I've always found trumpets to be too much for my ears. Jazz music also works well with the 940's for the most part.
For gaming, I found the 940's to be adequate for the games I play. I mainly play computer games via Steam (Spiral Knights, Portal 2, Team Fortress 2). The explosions are present, but it, again, lacks the 'thump' of the mid-bass. To me, the explosions sound good enough but I haven't heard a serious gamer's headphone before, so I can't really tell you what's good and what's not good. I am able to hear other players' footsteps during game play, so I can locate players more easily than I could with the CX-300's (which had lots of bass but a rather small soundstage).
What's the verdict?
Overall, I am really enjoying these headphones. They have nearly all of the attributes I wanted from my first major headphone purchase. For a closed, comfortable, decent-soundstage, deep low-bass, foldable, highly-detailed, mid/high focused, portable headphone at $275 USD street price, I would recommend this headphone.
Thank you for taking the time to read or glance over my review. I hope this review is helpful in some way or another. I'm not too experienced in the world in high-fidelity sound (this is my first major headphone purchase), and I know it's not the most detailed review you've read in terms of describing the sound signature, but I tried my best.