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.
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.
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.
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**