Pros: Consistent across the spectrum; Great bass; Extremely revealing; Very efficient (can drive easily with an iPod); Relatively modest price
Cons: May not be the best for full orchestra classical (which I don't listen to much)
I bought these about a six weeks ago for $180 at Guitar Center (They retail for $250, and I have since seen them for $160) after reading a number of stellar reviews and trying them out in the store using my iPod. The Shures replaced a 10 year old pair of AKG K501, and are a very different type of headphone.
I bought the AKGs because of their incredibly open and natural sound, even though they were designed for classical music and I listen mostly to jazz, R&B, house/electronica, rock (some), and movies. What the AKGs lacked in bass slam they more than made up for in other areas. Plus the bass improved significantly when I replaced the stock ear pads a couple of years ago with ear pads made for the 701. You can order these from AKG for $45/pair. They are held on with a bayonet clip -- so you unscrew the old pads and install the new ones as if you were changing the lens on an SLR camera. The 701 ear pads are a significant and worthwhile upgrade for the 501s if you have a pair and would like to stick with them.
My headphone amp is a Rega EAR, for which I paid about $350.
Back to the Shures:
They sounded great right out of the box -- open, clear, and precise with accurate (tuneful) and deep bass, though perhaps not as airy as you might prefer if you listen to a lot of orchestral music (which I do not).
They had (and still have) me digging through my music collection to listen to CDs that I haven't played in years -- almost to the point where I just started at one end of one of my shelves of discs (I have 600+ CDs) and started working my way through the shelf to find out what long-neglected tracks would sound like through the Shures. To me, that says a lot. The Shures really let me hear "into" the recording, in many cases revealing rhythmic cues or other details that helped define the musical passage. Missing these cues with the AKGs had caused me to put aside many recordings that I now find myself enjoying as if they were new.
An obvious possible reason for this is the difference in efficiency between the Shures and the AKGs. It could be the the Rega EAR is not good enough to extract what needs to be extracted from the AKGs. More on that below.
The Shures are so revealing that they called to my attention a shrillness (and perhaps a degree of electrical interference) with the Grado headphone extension cable I'd been using. They also have revealed the weakness of the Rega EAR, which I now feel has lots of gain, but not much finesse.
I replaced the Grado cable with a Mogami Gold extension cable ($56 from Amazon) and heard an immediate reduction in the noise floor and other irritating artifacts of what I presume was some degree of electrical interference (hash; harshness; a sense of compression when listening to high notes). So now I'm focused on replacing the Rega.
I listened to the Shures through a Perreaux headphone amp ($800) last weekend, and it was a night-and-day improvement over the much less expensive Rega. I'll be auditioning the Shures through the PS Audio GCHA (recently reduced to $499) next week, and also will be curious to hear what the PS Audio does for my old AKGs.
The Shures are heavy, and some may find that they clamp too tightly. Also, because they are closed, you may find them a bit warm compared to an open-back 'phone. I think they're fine, but they are not as comfortable or as lightweight as the AKGs. Also, I wear eyeglasses, but do not feel that either of these 'phones is uncomfortable for eyeglass wearers.
The rest of my living room system:
- Oppo BDP-83 Universal disc player
- PS Audio Digilink III DAC
- Naim preamp and power amp
- Wiremold power strip (recommended by Naim)
- Shunyata Research power cables on all non-Naim equipment
- DNM interconnects and speaker cable
- ATC loudspeakers
- RealTraps room treatment panels
- Base equipment platforms, Vibrapod feet, and other vibration control tweaks
In my office, I listen to an iMac via a pair of Alesis M1Active 320USB desktop monitors, which have a very good headphone jack through which I use a pair of Grado SR60s. The Alesis M1s are extremely versatile and a lot of laughs for $90.
If you listen to anything other than orchestral classical (and perhaps even if you do), the Shure SRH840 should be on your list. Check them out at a pro music store like Guitar Center or Sam Ash (bring your own MP3 player) where they'll let you listen for a while.
Highly recommended, especially at this price.