Shure SRH 840 vs. Audio Technica M50X
Jun 16, 2015 at 4:16 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 3


Headphoneus Supremus
Feb 1, 2009
So, best friend owns the M50X, so I borrowed them (traded out with my SR225e with her for a week) to really decide between these two.  
Burn in time at the start of the comparison was: Shure ~40 hours; M50X 200+ hours  In the comparison over a week, I probably put in an additional 30 hours on each.  Over that span the SRH840 tightened up a TINY bit as it hit the 70 hour of burn in mark, while the M50X was the same throughout
Sources: iPhone 5S; audioengine D1; audioengine d1(unamped out) + Millett SSHM; audio engine d1 (unamped out) + Nady 64 band EQ + Millett SSHM; Audio Technica LP120 + Millett SSHM
recordings were a mix of everything from vinyl, to FLAC, to 320 kbps mp3 to even some 128 kbps mp3.  Genres crossed everything from Jazz (bitches brew in particular got a lot of play) to classical to country, to folk, to rock, to metal to hip hop to pop.
Comfort: I found them to be pretty equal overall.  The SRH840 padding was a bit more comfortable, but the M50X were a bit lighter.  Portability wise they were pretty equal with the M50X maybe having a slight edge there.  
Sound isolation I thought the SRH840 was a slight winner.  Not night and day difference though. However, this also could be due to my SRH840 having newer pads.
Build quality I'd say a draw.  The protruding cables on the SRH 840 were worrisome, but everything else about it seems a step up from the M50X.  I just don't get the external mini cables on the SRH 840 (they connect the removable cable to the actual driver assembly, for some reason they don't route internally for part of the journey from the Left entry point to the right earcup).  If not for that, the SRH840 would have easily beaten the M50X, as otherwise it seems very similar, but just more professionally appointed.  
Included accessories slight edge to the M50X, basically having the same things, but the M50X coming with both a straight and coiled removable cable and the SRH 840 coming with an extra set of pads.  
So, before we get to the sound I'll say it's basically a draw.  They both have virtually the same design aesthetic, roughly similar build quality, both have bayonet style removable cables.  
Overall signature:  
Bass: They're both pretty standard studio monitor fare overall signature wise.  The M50X has a touch more sub bass, the SRH840 having a tad more mid bass.  For rock I found the SRH840 more fun with the mid bass really bringing out kick drums and bass lines.  For certain electronic genres the extra bit the M50X had from 20hz to 40 Hz was useful.  I'd say the SRH 840 has more bass.  It sounds fuller.  Though bass wise I think this is mostly a preference thing.  I think the SRH840, especially when amped had much tighter bass though.  I'll get into this in more detail in clarity and detail below.  
I'll say I'd lean slightly towards the SRH840, especially when amped, but also cede that it's somewhat preference, as sub bass lovers may lean M50X because of the amount of bass it has from 20-40Hz, while tight bass lovers will lean strong SRH840 for the tight power it has from 50Hz-200Hz.
midrange: I'd say the SRH840 has more lower midrange, this is an extension of its greater midbass.  Rhythym guitars sound rich and powerful on the SRH840 in a way that really is striking in comparison.  in the middle midrange I'd say they're basically the same.  Upper midrange the SRH840 again takes a slight lead, as it has a clarity and punch there in the upper midrange that the M50X lacks.  
I'd say the SRH840 wins midrange easily.  It's both more powerful and better controlled, especially when amped.  
treble: This is really where things become a matter or preference.  The M50X has a smooth, yet somewhat distant treble.  The SRH840 has a gradoesque 8K peak that really brings you to the front.  I think in the context of a closed phone, this works in the SRH840's flavor.  Whereas the HD650 can get away with having a laid back treble, because it's still 100% clear, the M50X can just sound muddy.  But I can also see somebody preferring the smooth treble of the M50X.  Neither headphone becomes sibilant, though the SRH840 can be a bit fatiguing if you are listening to something with a lot of treble.  
I'd call this a draw.  The M50X is smoother, the SRH840 is more present and detailed.  
If you want a way to think of how these come together, signature wise, I'd say the SRH840 is an HD650 bass + midrange with Grado SR225 treble in a closed back.  The M50X is like HD650 treble with more sub bass.
Bass: no contest here, the SRH840 is clearer by a smidge when both are unamped, but when amped from even a marginal power source, like the D1 amp/DAC, it really pulls away.  Bass is tight, with firm, but fast impact.  The M50X can easily get bloated here in comparison.  Amping also helps close the gap in the M50X's sub bass advantage.  Further, the SRH840 seems better able to take EQing.  When I Eq'd in a bit more sub bass, the SRH840 held up clarity wise.  Whereas when I tried to EQ in a bit more mid bass ont he M50X, its already muddy bass became even muddier and unwieldy.  
Mids: again, no contest, the SRH 840 has powerful, well articulated mids that the M50X can't touch.  The M50X kind of turns all mids into a sort of indistinct mush by comparison, the SRH840s mids can range from powerful to delicate.  Listening to No Leaf Clover, the SRH840 can simultaneously maintain the orchestral airness of the orchestra, while also conveying the power of Metallica, AT THE SAME TIME.  The HD650 is the only other headphone I've heard pull this off.  
Highs: while the SRH840 treble comes close to being fatiguing, and may put off some people, it's clearly more present and clear.  It has sparkle, it does it with an 8k spike, that's more aggressive than average.  
Overall the SRH840 easily bests the M50X in detail retrieval and clarity, and impressively it does this while having a fuller, more powerful sound.  Usually headphone makers have to pick one or the other, but Shure managed to beat the M50X here in both regards.  
Soundstage: I'd say the SRH840 is a bit wider, the M50X a bit deeper.  The SRH840 really has a very gradoesque soundstage to me.  The 8kHz spike brings everything upfront, and clear, but sacrifices some depth of soundstage.  Listening to Pink Floyd The Wall, the SRH840 sounded like I was on the front row of a fully 360 experience at a large hall.  The M50X sounded like I was on the 20th row of a deep but narrow concert hall.  Neither approaches anything like a great open headphone's combination of depth and width.  Soundstage between the two is mostly a question of whether you like width or depth.  Again, I think the SRH840's lack of internal reverberations I think gives it this width advantage, as everything can be clearly placed, and it's 8k spike brigs everything up front.  The M50X's smoother treble makes for the deeper soundstage
Driveability: both are easily driveable, obviously.  I had no problem getting ample volume from my iPhone.  However, I'd say that the SRH840 benefits more from an amp, as when supplied with current, they really tighten up and become more powerful and clearer.  The SRH840 scales up very well when supplied with current.  The m50X doesn't do much of anything with amping but get louder.  This scalability for the SRH840 also, I think, means its better able to take EQ adjustments.  How I EQ is to pull down "problem" frequencies and then use the amp's power to get me back to the listening level I want.  So a headphone that scales well with better amps also tends to be able to have it's sound signature shaped.  With a good EQ the SRH840 can be very chameleon like.  Pulling 8kHZ and 125 Hz, I was able to get its signature to more or less mirror the HD650 (though it didn't have the HD 650's soundstage and lacked a bit of clarity).  The M50x, however, tended to just go to mush when you did much of anything with EQ.  It seemed bound and determined to hold its signature and anything you did with EQ was pretty severely punished.  This isn't surprising given that the M50X is more marketed at the consumer crowd, while the SRH840 was originally more marketed at the working engineer crowd.  Engineers are likely to need to EQ stuff all over the place and work with all kinds of variations in power of source.
Conclusion: Putting this all together, I think the SRH840 is a better headphone.  The two are overall fairly similar in a lot of regards: looks, portability, isolation, and even signature is a fairly subtle difference.  They're more similar than they are different.  But I don't think the M50X has a clear advantage in any area other than pure amount of  sub bass.  Everything else is either a trade off or the SRH 840 has a clear advantage.  WHen amped, even with lower powered amps, the SRH840 really starts to distance itself.  
At the end of the day, the SRH840's incredible balance of power in the midbass and lower mids with clarity in the upper mids and treble is pretty incredible.  To me the SRH840 is like an HD650 in power of bass, but with the Grado "up frontness" and clarity in the treble.  As the HD650 and SR225e are two of my favorite headphones, this is a very intriguing combo in a closed headphone.  The SRH840 doesn't have quite the clarity and detail of either of those headphones, but for a closed headphone it is very impressive there and easily bests the M50X.  That being said, the SRH840 is slightly more expensive than the M50X (though not the new brown version of the M50x).  The M50X may well be better suited in comparison to the SRH440 (though the SRH440 is $50 cheaper).  However, depending on how you feel about sub bass and a preference of smooth highs, that may still be enough to steer you towards the M50X (and the $50 in savings as well) over the SRH840, they aren't so different that the SRH840 is unequivocally better for all users, but I think it will need somebody to have a STRONG preference for sub bass and smooth treble to overcome the SRH840's clear advantage in clarity and power/fullness of sound.
As the HD650 and SR225e will probably always be my go to main phones, and I was searching for a closed compliment, I think my closed headphone search is probably now over for the foreseeable future.
Jun 19, 2015 at 12:50 PM Post #3 of 3
Thanks for reading!
I had the M50s at one time, and I remember it being slightly more treble aggressive than the M50x, the highs of that phone were more similar to the SRH840, IMHO.  Seems like AT really tried to give the M50X the house sound smooth treble, which I think has mixed results in a closed headphone.  I didn't want to say too much there, since that's based on auditory memory from like two years ago.  But it seems to jive with what others have said.
but yeah, I really do dig the SRH840. a 2dB cut of 8kHz, 2dB boost of 16-20kHZ and a 5 dB boost of 20-40Hz can make it a dead neutral headphone (if that's what you're after), IMHO, with a balance of clarity and power that is hard to find elsewhere.
Even though I love my HD650, I'm now considering selling them.  They're better than the SRH840, but only when I'm sitting in my chair at home, with a dedicated desktop amp, in a quiet environment. The SRH840 and SR225e are so good that while yeah, they don't quite get you to the levels of the HD650, I'd rather take their simplicity and ease of use than the HD650, and if I need soundstage I can pull out that AD700s.  
but I go back and forth on that.

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