I'd previously planned on not writing any more "reviews" on Head-Fi, but as I've learned, things rarely go as planned. I guess I'll just say this is my latest one of the Shure SRH1840, which I recently bought, mostly because of the raving on it by some very experienced Head-Fiers. The reading fueled curiosity, which in turn fueled an impulse purchase.
This mini-review is based on semi-critical listening to the headphones across a period of approximately a week - a lot less than my usual review period, and the usual disclaimer applies: my thoughts in this review aren't necessarily final and should be considered both incomplete and susceptible to change.
- Source component: Plinius CD-101 (CD player) (Signal Cable Silver Reference power cord, directly into wall)
- Analog interconnects: RadioShack/Auvio RCA (yes, really)
- Headphone Amp: HeadAmp GS-X, in unbalanced mode
- Comparison Headphones: Audio-Technica AD2000, Sennheiser HD800
Test music encompassed the following genres:
- Classical & jazz
- Metal (black, death, power, prog, thrash)
- Rock (alt, indie, pop, etc)
No artist listing for this review, as I literally pulled tons of CDs from my collection for this review, some of which I hadn't listened to in a while.
Foreknowledge of other headphones can be a bad thing. I mean a really bad thing! The whole time I listened to the SRH1840, I couldn't stop mentally comparing it to a whole bunch of other headphones! It took away from my enjoyment, I tell you!
- vs the Audio-Technica AD2000 (AD2K): I couldn't help this mental comparison, as the AD2K is my #1 headphone, and the SRH1840 was beaten by it BADLY in terms of impulse response and forward-moving drive. It was like going from an accelerated F1 race-car to a sedan. Not that there's anything wrong with being a sedan. But when you're spoiled by that F1 race-car, well just about everything is going to sound slow in comparison.
- vs the Sennheiser HD800: This mental comparison bothered me more than the AD2K one, because the HD800 was a little of what I wanted the SRH1840 to be, except it wasn't. The SRH1840 lacked the HD800's wide & deep soundstage, cleaner treble, increased clarity, and increased blackness to the background. It got close - but just not close enough to really match it, and it actually negatively affected my enjoyment of probably my most critical music genre: ambient electronica. When it comes to ambient electronica, the one thing I want the most is that peerless sense of float & suspension - of the music literally hanging in the air around you, away from you, and emerging from blackness and disappearing again. The HD800 pulls that act off pretty well (though not as good as the Sony Qualia 010), but the SRH1840 didn't. Its background wasn't "black" enough and everything was too close on it in comparison. However, not too close that it was thisclose - just relatively to the HD800. And for those who think the HD800's soundstage effect is overdone (I'm one of them), this can be a good thing. What I'm saying here is that the SRH1840 killed my enjoyment of ambient electronica. Ok, not that there's anything wrong with that - it's just that there are very few headphones that really play that genre well IMO, and the SRH1840 wasn't one of them. I do however have to give it credit for being better than the average headphone here, as its ambient electronica performance was above-average for me, way better than previous headphones like the AKG K70x, Audeze LCD-x, and Beyerdynamic T1. In fact, I'd call it the next-best headphone after the HD800 for ambient electronica, and that's saying a lot! I'm saying I could actually sort of tolerate it! (But I didn't really enjoy it.)
- vs the Audeze LCD-2 r2, from memory: Not a direct comparison here, but I previously owned the LCD-2 r2 for several months and heard it again more recently at an audio show. The LCD-2 r2 had a few big flaws to me, primarily among them: insufficient treble quantity, compacted soundstage, and lack of clarity. I couldn't help but think that the SRH1840 represented what I would've liked from a fixed LCD-2 r2. I thought it had more treble, a reasonably big soundstage, and a very good level of clarity. Except for one thing - the SRH1840 lacked the LCD-2's bass quantity & depth. You know what I really wanted from the SRH1840 after comparing it to the LCD-2 in my head? MORE BASS! Hey, could I get some more bass here? Where's the bass?!
- vs the Audeze LCD-3, from memory: Well since I thought the LCD-3 was like a bassier version of the LCD-2 r2, I think my in-head comparison here doesn't need to be said, but I'm going to do it anyway: I WANT MOAR BASS! I WANT LCD-3 BASS! I WANT LCD-3 BASS ON ALL MY HEADPHONES!!1! Come on, is more bass too much to ask?
- vs the Beyerdynamic T1, from memory: I couldn't help but think "Dang, the T1 is a piece of CRAP compared to the SRH1840!" And I don't mean just the sound quality either! Sure I thought the SRH1840 fixed the T1's big flaws for me - it seemed cleaner, clearer, and more natural-sounding, with a wider, more open soundstage. And it wasn't any worse either in the bass or impulse response. But it was the fit adjustment that really had me going! Owners of the T1 should be familiar with its slippy fit mechanism - it just doesn't lock that well. And its headband "steps" aren't exactly conducive to achieving a nice, custom fit. The SRH1840's mechanism, on the other hand, helps it stay in place, but even better, it's along a continuous slide, instead of being stepped, so you can adjust the fit exactly to your head. Now how come Beyerdynamic didn't think of that?!
- vs the Grado HP1000, from memory: Conversely, I couldn't help but think here, "Dang, the SRH1840 is a piece of crap compared to the HP1000!" But I should put this in context. I think the HP1000 is one of the greatest-sounding headphones for jazz. No, I think it's perfect for jazz! There aren't any better headphones for jazz than the HP1000! The HP1000 has supreme x-factor for jazz: its compacted soundstage throws the jazz group right in front of you, but even better, it has a supremely sumptuous mid-range that just makes everything (especially brass instruments) sound so deliciously full and heavy and perfectly textured. There was just no way the SRH1840 came close to it. It completely lacked the HP1000's unique deep, heavy, & thick sound, practically going the opposite direction for a much thinner sound. Heck, the SRH1840 made me miss the HP1000!
Now at this point, if anyone is thinking that the SRH1840 can't be that great from my comparisons so far, well that's only because I set it up that way on purpose. I wanted to paint a negative-looking picture of the SRH1840 so I could stress just how good it actually is. Because I think the SRH1840 is fantastic! Wait, what?
I'm going to put it this way: the SRH1840 is probably the single best all-round dynamic headphone I've heard this year, or any year! Seriously folks, and I'm not just saying this to be snarky or for humorous effect, or to overhype it. If there's anything I want to do on purpose, I want to get on the hype train and make it worse. The SRH1840 is the most amazing full-size open dynamic headphone package that's probably ever been made, and I couldn't be more enthusiastic about it. It's awesome, amazing, and an absolute must-buy for anyone whose budget is up to HD800-level ($1.5K)!
There's no other headphone I'm going to recommend more than the SRH1840 - not even the AD2K, as much as I love that headphone. First let's talk about the price. Ok, $700. I know that's expensive for a lot of people. But it's also substantially less than the headphones that I think it beats sonically! Forget the HD800, T1, LCD-2 r2, et al. Those are all rip-offs. Yes, I'm calling them rip-offs. All of them. I think they're all overpriced. Ok, I think the SRH1840 is overpriced too. Honestly, $700 for its sound quality is asking too much money. I think it should cost $500 at most, but $700 isn't really that bad, especially when you consider the price tags of those other headphones.
As for the sonic issues I pointed out, I intentionally made mountains out of molehills there. None of them are huge dealbreakers, just minor things that mostly affect only me and I can't say how someone else would hear them. To sum up the SRH1840's sound, I'd call it one of the most balanced-sounding dynamic headphones I've heard. Ok it's not completely neutral, as I think it could use more mid-range and bass (especially bass), but it doesn't really matter, because it's extremely versatile. It handled every genre I threw at it with varying degrees of success, which is more than I can say for its competition! There wasn't a single genre of music that I thought was flat-out terrible on it, and honestly it just did a fantastic job across the board. I've heard very few headphones that can easily meet the demands of both classical/jazz and electronica/rock/metal, and in fact, none of the current flagships have done that for me. But the SRH1840 achieved a perfect balance between semi-realistic-sounding acoustic instruments (classical/jazz) and not being too passive-sounding to also play more "rough" types of music.
No the SRH1840 wasn't perfect, and I came away from it still preferring my Audio-Technica AD2K and Senn HD800 combo. The AD2K fills my role of a forward-driving aggressive, accelerated headphone perfectly while the passive-, clear-, and bright-sounding HD800 does everything else for me. But I think if I'd never heard the AD2K or HD800, the SRH1840 would be a great middle-ground. No, a perfect middle-ground! It's the best do-it-all headphone of all time so far and I'd call it a logical next step after something like the Senn HD600!
Seriously folks, and I'm not just saying this lightly. I've heard tons of headphones to date. Too many headphones! Some of which I couldn't get out of my head while I listened to the SRH1840! The SRH1840 is the new bar by which all other headphones will be measured for me and I can't think of a good reason to not recommend it. Those who haven't bought an expensive headphone before should get this one first! Those dissatisfied with one of the competing headphones should buy it too! Those who want to try a new headphone should buy it! Those who want to downgrade should also buy it! Heck, I can't think of anyone who shouldn't buy it!
You want flaws? Nitpicks? Annoyances minor & serious? Ok I'll give a run-down here of some of the things that bothered me:
- Lack of clarity compared to HD800 (note: the HD800 doesn't have total clarity to me either though, just significantly more).
- Lack of bass quantity to really satisfy for trip-hop (Massive Attack) and bass-driven electronica (The Crystal Method, Orbital).
- Lack of treble quantity to really satisfy for bluegrass (Alison Krauss & Union Station) & ambient electronica (Trifonic, Laika, Global Communication).
- Treble not very clean.
- Lack of a totally black/silent "background".
- Lack of sonic aggression to really satisfy for metal (In Flames) and prog rock (Porcupine Tree).
- Tendency to sound semi-blurry on very complex music, notably densely-packed ambient electronica and very busy thrash metal, especially at high volume.
- Lack of some full-body presence to mid-range.
- Slow impulse response that blurred over very fast note sequences.
What about the HD700?
I heard the HD700 at an audio show not too long ago (at the 2012 THE Show Newport Beach) and I'd definitely take the SRH1840 over the HD700 in an instant! I thought the HD700 was like a shadow of the HD800 - sort of the same type of sound, but none of the refinement, and less than stellar in almost every aspect. Sonically I don't think the HD700 has any legs up over the SRH1840, and when it's $300 more, there's no reason to get it instead IMO. The SRH1840 at a lower price just makes more sense!
My impressions of the HD700 can be read here: http://www.head-fi.org/t/612958/t-h-e-show-2012-newport-beach-ca#post_8454665. I'd now put the SRH1840 as the "some other headphone" I'd recommend over the HD700, and over the LCD-2 r2 as well, actually. Even though the LCD-2 r2 is a fine headphone, I think the SRH1840 is a better all-rounder (well, except for bass-heads).
Additional reviews of the aforementioned headphones can be found in this article: http://www.head-fi.org/a/asr-head-fi-threads-compendium
Edited by Asr - 7/5/12 at 2:33pm