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Shure SRH1540 Headphones

100% Positive Reviews
Rated #186 in Over-Ear


Pros: Bass, mids, smooth and clear treble, comfort

Cons: Poorly recorded tracks can suffer bass bloat

**I edited this review on 2/28/14 to include some new thoughts.  I placed the edits at the bottom of this review**


This review is a little unique for me.  Firstly, I'm more comfortable and experienced at writing reviews of amplifiers and DACs.  Writing a headphone review is a new thing for me.  Secondly, this is my first foray into premium closed headphones.  I've heard many closed cans in my day, but my premium cans have always been open.  This is my first attempt at analyzing flagship closed cans.


Review system:


Trafomatic Head One and Schiit Bifrost Uber.  Apple lossless files fed to Bifrost via coax.



Ok, let's get down to it.  Some reviews have already been posted, so I'm not going to rehash everything or reinvent the wheel.  Anyway, here we go.


Let's start with the lower frequencies because these cans are known for their bass.  There is a lot of bass, but I wouldn't call these bass cannons simply because it's controlled, textured, detailed, and not bloated.  It digs deep when it needs to, but it never seems to distract from the other frequencies.  When I first fired them up, I was shocked at how powerful the bass was because my reference cans are the Sennheiser HD600s, which aren't necessarily bass light, but they're not going to please too many bass heads anytime soon.  The bass is extremely enjoyable, but I'd say it's north of accurate.  It is emphasized, but done in a pleasing way.  If I was to nitpick, there is a weakness with poor recordings.  Some of the lesser quality bass tracks can come across as bloated, which can interfere with the other frequencies.  Is this is function of the headphones or recording studio?  Both, I'd say, because these headphones aren't forgiving in the bass region.


Mids are excellent.  They are very accurate and life-like.  Guitars are rendered with appropriate crunch.  The same can be said for saxophones and violins.  Dave Matthews Band live sounds exquisite through these headphones.  Male voices are not washed out into the background and seem very accurate and pleasantly rendered.  Female vocals are also good, but I don't have a large collection of those kinds of tracks, so I don't want to say anything more than I simply enjoyed how female voices were reproduced.  I've read some reviews that claim the mids are recessed.  I can honestly say that this is not the case with my ears.  The mids aren't forward, but they're not recessed, either.  They're "just right," which is what Shure is famous for in the end.


Upper frequencies are very nice.  When looking at the frequency graph, I was worried these would have treble roll off, especially when comparing them to my Beyerdynamic DT990s, which have some serious treble sizzle.  To my ears, there is less treble than the DT990s, but I wouldn't call it roll off.  It's just very smooth and pleasing.  It is very clear, which renders a good sense of space.  It's never harsh or intrusive.  Cymbals are present, but they never show any tizziness.  There's no "hotness" in the upper frequencies for me.  I really like how Shure rendered the treble.  Very non-fatiguing while maintaining clarity and presence.


Soundstage is very good for closed cans.  I've listened exclusively to open cans on my reference system for the last few years, so I'm very used to the open rendering of the music.  While the Shures will never be confused with open cans, they are very open in sound.  There's good air and imaging there.  They do form a very 3D image that circles your listening space.  They don't fall victim to the "three blob" soundstage that many headphones produce.  Imaging is believable with good space and placement.  It's among the best I've ever heard in closed cans. I'd say it's very accurate within the confines of a closed can system.


I bought these headphones mainly for rock, indie, classic rock, and alternative.  So far, they haven't disappointed.  I'm sure cans costing 2x (or more) as much as these are better, but at the current street price of $500US, these are excellent cans.  I have been enjoying them immensely.  It has taken some time for my brain to adjust to the extra bass and the closed-back design, but it's been an enjoyable transition.  These headphones are extremely fun and musical.  They are definitely worth an audition.


**Edits 2/28/14**


I was finally able to put my finger on the sound signature.  These headphones have a unique sound signature that is easy to hear, but I was having a hard time trying to describe it.  Well, it finally hit me like a ton of bricks after an extended listening session.


These headphones have the audio qualities you hear when listening to recordings made by ribbon microphones.  That's it.  There it is.  It's a very nice sound signature and even has a hint of vintage audio to it.  The frequency curve looks like one you'd expect from a ribbon microphone.  Also, these are some smooth headphones and have absolutely no grain.  None.  In fact, they make the HD600 sound like they have grain.


**Edits 3/19/14**


I've put several more hours over several listening sessions on these, so my opinion is even more locked in.  My overall opinion has not changed at all, as these are the best headphones I've ever owned.  I think they surpass the mighty HD600s.


Anyway, I started to really think about what makes these special.  I've come down to two major conclusions (no need to rehash all of the opinions about bass, mids, and treble, as those are pretty obvious at this point).


1) As I previously stated, they have a ribbon mic presence to them.  That's very pleasing.


2) They have a room quality sound to them.  In natural rooms with loudspeakers, bass tends to come forward and highs are a little subdued.  I had a chance to listed to a really nice speaker system this weekend (not mine, as mine isn't very good), and my opinion was confirmed.  These Shures are tuned in a similar manner than I hear in room settings.


Then, I read about the new NAD VISO HP50, which are tuned to have "room feel."  When I compared their freq resp, bingo.  Behold.



**End of edits**


Pros: Comfortable, great built (similar to SRH1840), excellent pads, pleasant sound quality, imaging/separation and accessories.

Cons: Bass is elevated and intrudes on lower mids, isolation a bit weak for a closed headphone, leaks sound, price.

Shure oh, Shure. Have to reiterate, I'm a Shure Fan. Like their microphones, loved their headphones. Was a fan of the SRH440/940 combo when I had them, liked (but did not own) their SRH840 offering and definitely needed to try their open-back "flagship" SRH1840s and did for a while last year. So of course when I read that a new closed-back flagship was about to be released, I got pumped and waited for availability. As soon as they were "In-Stock", I placed the order. It just sounded like a promising entry, you know, SRH1840 style and design, alcantara earpads, and the only thing I was questioning was: are these going to sound as excellent as their previous cans???





Sensitivity: 99 dB/mW
lmpedance: 46 Ω
Driver: 40mm neodymium
Frequency Range: 5 Hz – 25 kHz
Weight: 10.1 oz (286 g)
Cable Length: 6 ft (1.8 m)
Cable Style: Dual-exit, detachable oxygen-free copper
Plug: Gold-plated 1/8" (3.5 mm) stereo mini jack



Package Contents

As usual, Shure doesn't skimp on accessories. It's sad seeing a barebones package like those provided with the old Denon series, most Audio Technica headphones, etc. and paying "premium" prices where all you get is the headphone and... well, nothing else.

  1. HPACC3 (Zippered, hard storage case)
  2. HPAEC1540 (Extra set of Alcantara Ear Pads)
  3. HPAQA1 (Threaded 1/4" Adapter)
  4. HPASCA3 (Extra Dual-exit, detachable cable)



Design, Comfort and Build:
If you are familiar with the SRH1840s, then you shouldn't have problems loving the build of the 1540s. They are just excellent. I mean, "aircraft-grade" aluminum alloy, steel, carbon fiber construction, they might seem like buzz words but once you hold them in your hands you cannot deny that they feel like a premium headset. Best of all, they are EXTREMELY light! I don't doubt that these could withstand abuse and the test of time. Really. Design, again similar to their previous offerings. These look good without going extremely utilitarian nor too flashy. But I'm pretty sure that people will still talk about how they look once on your head. Shure still uses the same system when extending the headband and it looks like instead of extending down, they extend sideways and you look like a dork with them on! LOL sorry, but that's what I think anyway but maybe it's just me since I really have more of a long-ish head than round-ish... Even with this caveat though, comfort is top-notch. They made a great decision by going with the Alcantara pads. Trust me, going from something like the Alpha Dogs to the Shure's is like night and day. I rate the Alpha's very high in comfort factor but the 1540s take the cake because of their light weight!





As always, the important bits... The sound. As soon as I felt the great comfort, I turned "On" my X3, pressed "Play", closed my eyes and I knew I was in for something... different. Being used to the 440/940 sound and very familiar with the 1840/SennHD600 sound, what was coming out of the SRH1540s caught me by surprise. Why? Well previous Shure's were lean on the low-end. Bass presence has been "there" forever in all of them but not really powerful nor particularly impactful. The 1540s are ALMOST basshead levels to these ears. Bass has definitely been increased so the good thing is that they don't sound as "boring" as most of their previous entries. The bad news, I feel that bass overpowers and smear a bit into the lower mids. This "heft" especially in the mid-bass region gave the overall tuning a bit of warmth. So initial impressions were:


1) "Oh, these are surprinsingly bassy!"

2) "a bit of instrusion but still lovely mids as always"
3) "Salsa sounds excellent, love the separation, let's play this track on the Alpha Dogs... yep very nice!"
4) "Highs a bit tamed..."

Went through my usual suspects after that of course and definitely the bass was the main player in ALL of them. Mids were in Shure fashion, EXCELLENT. Guitars crunch, vocals come through effortlessly my ska/punk records make me want to get up and dance, I thoroughly enjoyed every song I was playing but noticed that a bit of "air" up top was missing. Not sure if highs have been "muted" to maintain a more even frecuency throughout or if it's that whole "we are bassy/fun and don't want to do like Ultrasone and blow your ears with emphasis on highs as well" mode these cans have going on. I think Jude mentioned something about a "safe" sound signature and this is basically what these are. Elevated bass, a bit thick/warm but lovely mids and "safe" highs. List of songs played for the review:


Thrice - Under a Killing Moon
Miguel Bose - Este Mundo Va
Kaskade - One Heart
Blink 182 - Kaleidoscope
Jon Cleary - So Damn Good
Mima - Oigo Voces
Esperanza Spalding - What a Friend
Sara Bareilles - King of Anything
Killswitch Engage - Fixation on the Darkness
Juancho - Amor en la Mesa
Boston - More than a Feeling
J-King y Maximan - Ella me Pide Something
Calvin Harris - Feel so Close
Three Six Mafia - Late Night Tip
Orquesta Macabeo - Me Repito


I listen to different genres because I get bored easily and what I have liked about the Shure's is that they play well with most genres every time. And this one is no exception. Love the clarity in the mids, the detail and separation especially with my favorite Salsa and Merengue tracks.



But I do have to say that, I miss a bit of the sound signature of the "old" SRH940s... Heck, even the SRH840s. In fact, I mentioned in board discussions that these new 1540s are REFINED SRH840s. They share A LOT of similarities but the 1540s have better imaging and sound stage, more mid-bass, more evenness overall and of course are more comfortable. 


How do they compare?

Well, the latest headphones I've been using a lot are MrSpeakers Alpha Dogs and Beyerdynamic T5p's and I believe I mentioned everything in the Alpha Dogs review...



Compared directly to the Alpha Dogs, 1540s offer more bass, a bit boomy, mids not as forward but clear and good sounding, non-offensive highs, excellent imaging (similar to the 1840s and ADs), wider sounding. These Shure actually leak a bit of sound though and they are more comfortable (lighter as well) than the ADs.



And this was actually disappointing, the 1540s leak what I believe is A LOT of sound when volume is increased to "enjoyable" levels (for me). At least I saw my co-worker head-bopping to one of the songs I had playing... lol. I asked her if she actually knew what song it was and yeah, she knew... So that's a fail for me there.




The Beyerdynamic T5p with Blue Dragon cables highlight is definitely their mids, very clear, forward and excellent. Due to their more "treble-forward" approach, they sound colder than the Shure's. Soundstage and imaging are very good as well but their highs are a bit too much sometimes (maybe too revealing to my tastes or maybe they are too peaky?). Bass is actually quite anemic in comparison with both the ADs and 1540s but what it shows it's good quality. Also, straight from the X3, I didn't found them that anemic and through the Burson Soloist SL, I actually enjoyed them more than the Shure's These are very comfortable as well, good isolation and no leakage.


Comparison summary, 


Bass quantity: SRH1540 --> Alpha Dogs --> Beyer T5p
Bass quality: Alpha Dogs --> Beyer T5p --> SRH1540
Mids presentation: Beyer T5p --> Alpha Dogs --> SRH1540
Soundstage/imaging: Beyer T5p --> Alpha Dogs == SRH1540
Highs: Alpha Dogs --> SRH1540 --> Beyer T5p
Sound Isolation/Leakage: Alpha Dogs --> Beyer T5p --> SRH1540
Fun Factor: SRH1540 --> Alpha Dogs --> Beyer T5p
Price: Alpha Dogs == SRH1540 --> Beyer T5p


Finally, just wanted to mention that I tested these guys with my usual setup:


Astel Kern AK100 MK2 --> Schiit Magni
FiiO X3 --> Schiit Magni
PC --> NuForce Icon HDP --> Lehman BCL
Straight from the FiiO X3 and AK100 MK2

(These are fairly easy to drive, did not have a problem with my gear.)




So, Shure 1540s, excellent mids, very good imaging, just "Ok" isolation and leakage control, but a little bit too much bass. They are indeed enjoyable headphones and one of the most comfortable headphones I have ever put on BUT sadly, at this point in time, they are not for me. I'm still a fan though. Shure knows how to create products and cater to specific audiences. I just hope that on their next headphone they do something with their presentation (i.e. tame the lows a bit, more clarity up top) and change the design a bit so that one doesn't look weird wearing their headphones! ;-)


For $500 retail (you can probably get them at $400 if you skulk enough), they seem to be a good buy due to their accessories, the build, the comfort, etc. but sound-wise I'm not sold, especially when the range of headphones on the $200-$400 bracket is so competitive and newcomers seem to also pack their boxes with accessories as well. Still prefer the Alpha Dogs over these as well as other lower priced options such as the Yamaha MT-220 (not because of their build nor comfort, just based on sound preference).


So all in all, if you are a fan of Shure, enjoyed their SRH840, love comfortable headphones and ear pads, don't care about leakage and prefer a bassier signature with even mids and highs, these should be a good buy for the RIGHT price. As always, just be sure of what you really want and make your selection based on your tastes and gear.





Extra Pics:


I love these connectors!!


Pads, extremely comfortable but probably the reason why isolation is not super great and sounds leaks.


Even though there's not a lot of padding, there's not a lot of pressure up top, so they feel good.


Top view

Shure SRH1540 Headphones

The SRH1540 Premium Closed-Back Headphones feature an expansive soundstage for clear, extended highs and warm bass. An included storage case, replacement set of Alcan Tara ear pads, and an additional dual-exit cable ensure years of uninterrupted listening enjoyment.

Feature40 mm neodymium drivers deliver superior acoustic performance for an expansive soundstage with clear, extended highs and warm bass Closed-back, circumaural design rests comfortably over the ears and reduces background noise Lightweight construction featuring aircraft-grade aluminum alloy yoke and carbon fiber cap for enhanced durability Steel driver frame with vented center pole piece improves linearity and eliminates internal resonance for consistent performance at all listening levels Ergonomic dual-frame, padded headband is lightweight and fully adjustable for hours of listening comfort
LabelShure Incorporated
ManufacturerShure Incorporated
PublisherShure Incorporated
StudioShure Incorporated
TitleShure SRH1540 Premium Professional Headphones (Black)
Warranty2-year limited warranty
Item Height4.5 inches
Item Length10.5 inches
Item Weight2.8 pounds
Item Width9 inches
Package Height4.6 inches
Package Length12.5 inches
Package Weight3 pounds
Package Width9.6 inches
ProductGroupMusical Instruments
UPCList - UPCListElement042406319799
Model Name/TypeMPNEAN/UPC
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