LEAK: SHURE SRH240, SRH440, and SRH840 headphones (and pricing) likely to be announced tomorrow! (And mini-review of SRH840.)
(left to right) SHURE's new SRH240, SRH440, and SRH840
(left to right) SHURE's new SRH240, SRH440, and SRH840
Though some information on SHURE's new line of full-sized headphones has been released, no information on pricing has yet been available, nor have any impressions of these headphones been posted yet (that I've seen).
For at least the last couple of years, I occasionally wondered when (or even if) SHURE was going to release a line of headphones. With their excellent reputation and products in the categories of earphones and microphones--categories from which there is expertise to apply to headphones--it surprised me that we had not yet seen any headphones from SHURE.
The company has obviously made an effort to keep a very tight lid on this project. SHURE's Matt Engstrom mentioned to me well over a year ago that there might be at least one upcoming product that I might be able to beta test, but he gave no indication what kind of product(s) he was talking about, so I assumed he was talking about something new in earphones. The very first time I was made aware of the fact that SHURE was moving into headphones is when I opened up the beta box, a bit startled by the sight of the very full-sized SRH840. For several months, I was one of the beta testers of the SRH840 (the top model in the line), but did not know (until it was posted here a couple of weeks ago) that there were two other models also in the works (the SRH240 and SRH440)! Like I said, they kept the lid tight.
A little over a week ago, I received the other two models (the SRH240 and SRH440), but still no information at all about pricing. No matter whom I asked, nobody would tell--pricing was "to be determined." Even with the press releases in Europe, there was no pricing info included.
Without much hope (given how secretive they'd theretofore been), I begged for permission to allow me to show the three new headphones around at my mini-Meet (which occurred yesterday, April 18, 2009). Astonishingly, the day before the mini-Meet, they responded with a "yes," but still there was no pricing information. So a few of us at the mini-Meet listened to the new SHURE headphones yesterday with no knowledge of the new line's pricing.
So what do I think of them? Given how limited my time has been with the SRH240 and SRH440, I'll only comment for now on the SRH840, which very quickly earned a spot as one of my favorite closed headphones (when it comes to full-sized headphones, you'll find open headphones on my head at last 90% of the time). Finding out another Head-Fi'er was in on the beta test, I contacted him to ask him if he was as impressed as I was, and it seemed to me he was. (The funny thing is that I haven't yet confirmed that he was using the same model, because, at the time we talked, I still thought there was only one model to speak of.)
The refinement of the SRH840 (physically and sonically) belies SHURE's newcomer status in the full-sized headphone space--in fact, it's not just a great first attempt, it exceeds many of SHURE's new rivals (new for SHURE anyway upon entering the headphone space with a pro audio bent). From a build standpoint, the SRH840 is a tank, and, having discussed some of the physical durability tests SHURE put it through, it's no surprise to me. The yokes that hold the earcups are super beefy, looking like they could otherwise serve as the control arms of a miniature offroad car's front suspension. The earcup's are largish, and should be able to fully envelop most ears very comfortably. During the beta testing, we were given two sets of earpads--one set was not only more comfortable, but sounded better, and this is the set SHURE is shipping the SRH840 with. (These earpads have a supple leather-like feel, and are filled with what feels like a soft memory-type foam.)
One of the nicest physical features of the SRH840 is the headband--I can't think of another headphone headband quite like it. The whole top portion of the headband can twist and move more freely than any other full-sized headphone I've used. It is soft, and covered with a moisture-wicking fabric on the side that touches the head (under which is nice padding), and a high-quality leather-like material on the top. Size adjustment is accomplished with via a traditional sliding mechanism, but with nice clear numbering and detents which make it easy to make sure your size settings are perfectly symmetrical. One critical advantage the SRH840 has over many of its pro audio rivals is the lack of a vice grip on one's skull. I'm not a pro audio guy, so maybe there's some ritual dance common among pro audio types that involves violent head movements--I can't think of any other reason several pro audio headphones I've tried seem intent to squeeze to the point of near torture. Thanks to that twisty, flexible headband, the SRH840's grip is simply perfect, even for my rather wide head, never slipping, but never over-gripping--again, perfect.
My only gripes about the SRH840's physical properties are the small wires that go from the headband to the earpieces, even though they're well guided (similar to the ones you'll find on Sony's MDR-7506 and Sennheiser HD25). I'm also not crazy about single-sided, coiled cable--I tend to prefer double-sided straight cables, as they're usually lighter and easier for me to manage. (I know some people love single-sided coiled cables--I'm just not one of them.)
Most importantly, how does the SRH840 sound? It sounds like something SHURE's Matt Engstrom had his hands and ears on, which is a very good thing. For those of you who don't know Engstrom, he's not just a musician or the Category Manager for Listening Products at SHURE--he's also one of us, and has a great pair of ears. When I listened to the SRH840 for the first time, I knew he was involved with it, even before Engstrom confirmed it to me.
The SRH840's deep bass extension and slam is everything you'd expect from good closed headphones, but still very detailed and controlled. Though bass is north of neutral, it never strikes me as overbearing, being much better damped than Ultrasone's PRO 900, with even more accuracy down low than Ultrasone's very expensive Edition 9 (which is another of my few favorite closed headphones). The SRH840's midrange is fuller than Sennheiser's new HD 380 Pro, and is simply a better headphone than Sennheiser's latest pro audio entry. Full though it is, I wouldn't call the SRH840's midband bloomy, which, for what it is, is just how I'd want it. There was obviously some effort made to make sure the SRH840's treble has sparkle, something not often associated (by me anyway) with closed headphones. The SRH840 actually reminds me of the SHURE's own SE530 in-ear monitor, but with sparklier treble--fuller than neutral, but still with excellent detail. It's also like the SE530 in that it has very good passive isolation, blocking out the world very well, and just about completely so when any music is playing.
Don't let the SRH840's pro audio roots and appearance trick you into thinking it's not an audiophile-type headphone, as it most certainly is, to these ears. I don't often use closed headphones to listen to delicate chamber music, but am perfectly comfortable doing so with the SRH840. In fact, at this moment, I'm actually listening to the SRH840, being fed by the Lavry DA11 DAC and Ray Samuels Audio Apache headphone amp, playing a Mozart Minuet recording by Academy Of St. Martin In The Fields Chamber Ensemble. The new SHURE does the more gossamery stuff very well, which I'm not apt to say about closed headphones in general.
What criticisms do I have about the SCH840's sound? Well, it's a closed headphone, and I'm definitely more of an open headphone kind of guy. It has good soundstaging for a closed headphone, but, of course, it's simply not as open and free sounding as an open headphone. So far, no closed headphone has been able to pull me away from my preference for open headphones, and that hasn't changed. That said, the SHURE SRH840 is currently the only closed headphone in my main rig (that isn't a custom in-ear monitor), and it scales well, moving from portable rigs to high-end desktop rigs adeptly.
Even though I know these impressions are a bit abbreviated and rather incomplete, I'm going to end them here for now, only because I was finally able to squeeze more information out of one of my contacts at SHURE today that I want to post about before they go live with their official release. From what I can tell, SHURE is intending to officially announce the release of these headphones fully and completely tomorrow at The NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Show. I am now also sure--for the first time--about the suggested retail prices of all three of SHURE's new headphones (well 99% sure anyway--I won't say "100%" until they officially announce the prices), and it's this pricing that elevates this new line of headphones from a home run to a grand slam. When asked in a survey during the beta program what I thought the pricing of the SRH840 would be, I think I responded $349 to $399, given that the SE530 in-ear monitor has an MSRP of $449 (and given the prices of its full-sized, closed competitors). Today I found out that the SRH840 is going to come to market with a $199.99 MSRP (which obviously means that its street price will be even lower), which, frankly, I have great difficulty believing--but the person who told me today should be well placed to know. The SRH440 and SRH240 will have MSRP's of $99.99 and $59.99, respectively--and though I haven't yet said much about those, my early impressions lead me to believe that SHURE is going to be moving a lot of units of all of them--a lot of units. And if that pricing information is accurate (which, again, I'm 99% sure it is), SHURE's competition has a lot to worry about, because the new kid in this playground came armed for bear.
At this point, the only information I have as far as the release date is "summer 2009."
2009-04-20 1040 EDT: Edwood (the other Head-Fi SHURE SRH840 beta tester) has added his comments here.