Pros: very open sounding, wonderful detail, build quality
Cons: Bass is controlled but may not be enough for some
Let’s get the basics out of the way first.
I was quite happy with the solidly built case and accessories that came with this headphone. I find the cables to be of decent quality and it’s nice to have a choice between a coiled and straight cable. If I had one wish though it would be for Shure to create a shorter thinner cable for use with portables and if they built in a microphone and IPhone compatible set of switches I would be ecstatic! If they make such a cable I will be the first one in the line waiting to buy it. (Note I have adjusted the design mark on these as I did suffer a broken headphone due to the plastic design and have also adjusted the overall score of the headphone accordingly).
The ear pads are extremely soft and comfortable and I have no issues with clamp on these nor do I find them too loose on the old noggin either. I have actually fallen asleep with these on and when I woke up several hours later found the only discomfort I had was too much warmth in my ears. I also find I can slip them down around my neck comfortably when I want to talk to someone. But like others have commented I wish the cups didn’t face upwards as I too get paranoid something could get spilled into the drivers. The headphone is heavier than some I have owned but I took the one reviewers advice and wear these with the headband more forward on my head than tradition and find the headband does not bother me.
So how do these sound?
SRH-940 – Closed design meets open sound goodness meets IEM detail?!
Ok you’re asking yourself, has this guy flipped his biscuit? Who knows, maybe I have, but if I was to sum up the SRH-940 in one sentence, that’s what I think of.
Anyone who has followed my meandering path through head-fi land will know I have dabbled on both sides of the fence (full size versus portables/IEM’s) pretty heavily. I started out buying low end locally available IEM’s and portables and then gradually graduated to more expensive and online purchases. I then started to be intrigued by full size headphones and played around with a variety of headphones and bought my first desktop amp which I still use to today.
So what does my history have to do with my outlandish statement?
In my first forays into full-size headphones I was introduced to what a sound stage could be like and also what bass could be like as compared to what I was experiencing with IEM’s. I started with an AT AD700 and then upgraded to the AD900. In both cases I loved the sound but found the bass to be lacking and the midrange to either be to distant or to thin and the treble was just to strident and sharp for me (especially in the case of the AD900). So I then bought a pair of Sennheiser HD600 which was more satisfying in the bass and fuller in the midrange but I found the treble to just be wrong for cymbal and other percussive reproduction. I then bought a pair of Denon D7000 which I found to have fantastic bass and better treble than the HD600 but ultimately I found I just wasn’t listening to the D7000 enough to justify owning such an expensive headphone. Today I can see I also subconsciously missed the intimacy and detail I was getting as compared to a good IEM.
While I was going down my full-size headphone journey my IEM journey was also running rampant. I struggled to find what I wanted, vacillating between different signatures, being wowed then turned off by the extremes. Then finally realizing I liked lots of midrange and treble detail with good bass that did not intrude and muddy the sound. This part of my journey ran the gamut of a dozen or more mid-fi level IEM’s, to higher end gear like the Sennheiser IE8, Monster Turbine Pro Coppers, Earsonics SM3, Ultimate Ears Triple fi 10, VSonic GR07, Etymotic HF3. Note I include the HF3 and GR07 in the high end because despite their price or their limit on only having one BA (HF3) I feel they offer similar levels of technical proficiency and musicality to the other more expensive IEM’s on my list. I personally do not ascribe to the idea that expensive equal’s hi-fi.
I also went down a similar path with portable headphones but that path has been limited since I find portable headphones just don’t have enough of either full-size headphone qualities or an IEM’s portability and intimacy.
OK OK, I know what you’re thinking. When is this guy going to get back to his outlandish statement??
In a nutshell with all of my experience I think the SRH-940 give me the same type of detail I have received from my most detailed IEM’s while having the sound stage of an open headphone like the HD600 and the isolation of a closed back studio monitor.
I have even heard more details in some of my music than I have with any IEM I have owned. Some of that detail is annoying as it is obviously unintentional utterances or sound in the studio, but more often than not it’s intentional and adds to the experience of the music. More importantly I find myself incorporating the detail into the music rather than just being drawn to the detail itself, the detail sounds more organic than other detailed IEM’s and products I have owned. I also find this headphone more capable of transitioning in volume levels than most products I have owned. Songs that have subtle changes in volume and position are very well handled by this headphone. If someone is meant to sound like they are in the distance and to the right, getting louder until they are in the center the 940 handles this type of transition very well.
I’m a front row spectator… This headphone definitely places me in the front row. The cool thing is that front row can feel like a small jazz club or a large amphitheatre depending on the music but so far has not felt like the front row of an insanely raucous rock concert. But I’m definitely in the front row. So if anyone prefers being further back you might prefer a different headphone.
Let’s talk bass – The bass of the SRH-940 is very neutral with pretty much ZERO mid-bass emphasis. So for those listening to music that requires a lot of thump like dubstep, bass heavy electronic music, etc. you might want to audition these if possible or simply buy something else if you can’t audition these rather than take a chance. But for most classic rock, psychedelic rock, older hard rock, classical, jazz, country, new age, folk, and acoustic music the bass will most be adequate and if not just require a small EQ boost to become satisfactory. In my case I use a small bass boost from 1 at 500Hz to 5 DB at 32hz on my computer setup and almost exclusively listen to these with no EQ on my iPhone. I find the bass lacks the timbre and presence I have heard on the best headphones I have owned or heard but this area is not substandard it’s just not as good as the best. Do I wish it was as good as the best? The answer is of course YES, but only if it could be accomplished without affecting the rest of the sound.
Mmmmmm… Mids – This is where this headphone starts to truly shine. I have to be honest here. My musical preferences lie in the midrange and treble frequencies. I thought I was a bass-head but over the past few years I have either become or finally realized I am a mid/treble-head. But while I say that, I can also say with complete certainty I am not fond of strident or shrill mids or treble. The SRH-940 more than any other product I have tried seem to be able to balance the fine line between detail and transparency without making me want to remove the headphone if a song has sibilance in it. I also have never felt ear fatigue after using these. I have read these are great for female vocals and that is absolutely true but I think it’s a disservice to this headphone to think that is all they are good for. I find they handle all singing well along with any instrument that falls in the midrange spectrum. They are detailed without ever crossing the line into sounding artificial or overly aggressive. This might make them too polite for aggressive music genres like Death Metal etc. but I think that would only be for those who almost exclusively listen to those genres, in which case I suspect certain Grado headphones would fit the bill better. But if you are like me and have found it hard to get a signature that balances the warmer and smoother mids of a Sennhieser headphone like the HD600 and the aggressive Grado type mids, these might just do the trick for you. I also find the mids of the 940 to have none of the thinness I experienced with the Audio Technica AD900.
Treble – For me the treble of a headphone is where you separate the pretenders from the contenders. It is the one area that has to be done right and it’s the hardest area to get right. Personally I can’t stand overly bright treble, metallic sounding treble, tinny treble, or pingy sounding treble. It needs to have good decay and it needs to be detailed without sounding artificial. In my search for the most realistic sounding treble for cymbals I have heard, the VSonic GR07 has been the best… up until now. I feel the SRH-940 does an admirable job of cymbal reproduction, one that surpasses the GR07. The only full-size headphone I have truly liked for cymbals was the D7000 and I think the 940 is better than the D7000 in this area (mainly due to the D7000 being a bit too piercing). The 940 offers excellent detail and decay without crossing the line into artificial sounding or distracting.
So is this a giant killer? Should all HD800 owners sell their gear? Should Beyerdynamic just close up shop? No, but while this headphone may not a giant killer it is at least as good as any $3-500 headphone/IEM I have owned or heard. It deserves to be mentioned alongside the Sennheiser HD580-650 headphones, Audio Technica AD900/1000, AKG K701, and other upper mid-tier headphones, and it may offer a compelling argument against a few of the headphones in or around the $1000 mark, depending on mitigating factors such as genres listened to, need for isolation, ability to be played from portable sources, modest amplifier requirements, etc.
In my case, the fact I am willing to wrap the big cable this comes with when on the train or out walking the dog versus using a much simpler to manage high quality IEM just so I can get the better sound quality, is a HUGE statement about how much I like this headphone because in my case comfort and easy to use generally out-weigh sound quality for me (please don’t judge me too harshly!!).