Test Drive: Three Sets of Cans

srh940 mainSHURE SRH940

Shure are better known for their microphones than for the small speakers that occupy the earpieces in these cans, but the two-year old SRH series of professional headphones may well change that. The SRH840 was the original top of the line model and it is still available, but the new SRH940 Professional Reference Headphones are the current top dog. Designed for studio use and critical listening, these phones promise “accurate response across the entire audio spectrum, smooth high-end extension, [and] tight bass”. Just what one would expect from a marketing brochure, but the proof is in the wearing and listening, isn’t it?

The SRH940s ship in a padded case, and both cable and ear pads are detachable and replaceable. Included are spare ear pads and a choice of straight or curly cables. These terminate in a 3.5 mm mini‑jack with a screw thread to accept a threaded 1/4” phone adapter (included), while the other end uses a smaller, 2.5mm mini‑jack with a plastic barrel that twists half a turn to lock into place. The phones themselves appear to be solidly built from a firm grey plastic, and the frame and earpiece mountings incorporate plenty of flexibility, allowing the cups to be rotated in every direction, making travel with them a snap.

The construction results in the cups generating slightly more pressure on and around my ears than my AKGs, but they are well padded and comfortable, and unlike my AKGs these did not make me sweat during long sessions. This pressure also ensures that isolation from external sounds is acceptable, although not as good as the DT 1350s mentioned above, and not quite as good as what I expect from closed-back phones. The only discomfort came from the top band, which feels as if it puts the entire weight of the cans on a small area on my head instead of spreading it out; that may have had as much to do with the geography of my head as with the design of these phones, although their 11 ounce weight didn’t help much. With an impedance rated at 42 ohms and a sensitivity of 100dB SPL/mW, the SRH940s shouldn’t require any sort of esoteric headphone amp to drive them.

The SRH940s are definitely punchy, with an upper midrange boost in the area between 1kHz and 3kHz. Rock and pop have an appropriate level of excitement and, more importantly, various undesirable mouth noises are evident and easy to find. Transients are well articulated, and the high frequencies seem nicely balanced overall.

The bass is arguably a bit too tight for some promo work. Imaging with significant low end booms came out feeling lighter than what I am accustomed to, and I was concerned about how the lows might translate on loudspeakers. It’s not that bass and low mids are missing or inaccurate; it’s just that they are overshadowed by that prominent mid-range, in a way that sometimes robs them of ‘oomph’. If you are looking to have your stingers bump you in your seat, then these are not the phones for you.

Having said that, for most studio uses I think the frequency balance of these phones, with its absence of hype at the low end, are probably more a blessing than a curse. As we know, imaging and commercials live or die on mid-range, where the sales message lives, and you quickly appreciate the detail and clarity that these phones bring to that region. After a lot of listening, I even began to feel that my beloved AKGs were sounding muddy by comparison.

The Shure SRH940s carry a suggested retail price in the US of $375, with a street price in the low- to mid-$200s. For more information, visit www.shure.com.

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