First Listen: Shure SRH840 Professional Monitoring Headphones ReviewOctober 22, 2013
As an amateur hi-fi enthusiast I'm certainly no head-fi expert, but that won't stop me from saying that the Shure SRH840 professional monitoring headphones are a sweet sounding set of cans.
I don't think I’ve ever owned a pair of headphones or in-ear monitors that cost me more than $25 up until two years ago when The Spirited Uncle M officially introduced me to premium sound with a gift of HiFiMan Re-Zero IEMs. Having only known Skullcandy’s boomy bass and the harsh highs of cheap Apple, Samsung, Sennheiser and Sony IEMs before then, the HiFiMan’s exposed me to reference-quality sound.
Unfortunately, over the last year my ear canals have become very sensitive to IEMs and extended listening is simply intolerable. Since my 9 to 5 cubicle-life is unbearable without music, I needed to find a closed-back, on- or over-the-ear headphone that would give me the same, if not better, sound as the HiFiMan Re-Zero at a price that seemed sensible for a set of hi-fi cans that will primarily live on my office desk.
As usual, I started scouring the Internet in search of the perfect headphone that would deliver exceptional sound quality, comfort, value, and performance even when powered by mobile devices and crappy business-class PCs. Thanks to hundreds of glowing reviews on Head-Fi.org, the Audio Technica ATH-M50 and ATH-EWS9, Beyerdynamic DT1350 and Sennheiser HD25-1 II all made my shortlist. After debating about exactly how much I wanted to spend vs. claimed performance, I had pretty much decided to enter the head-fi world via a refurbished model of the Audio Technica ATH-EWS9 to stay in my mid-range budget when some further comparison reading revealed the Shure SRH840 as a notable alternative to each of the above models.
The Shure SRH840 are described as “professional monitoring headphones” designed for “professional audio engineers and musicians” and “optimized for studio recording and critical listening.” So when I found a new, sealed set for $145 delivered vs. the normal $199 retail price, I decided to just go for it.
Unboxing the SRH840, it was immediately evident that Shure intended for buyers to rock these cans for years to come. The build quality and included accessories are just what you would expect from a legendary name in the pro audio world. These headphones come with an extra set of replacement ear cup pads, a leather (pleather?) carry bag, a detachable/replaceable coiled 10 ft. oxygen-free copper cable terminated with gold-plated plugs, and a 1/4” gold-plated adapter for amplifier headphone jacks. Despite being constructed of mostly thick plastic, the SRH840 headphones retain a robust feeling that instills confidence that they’ll hold up to day-to-day use whether you’re in the office or at the studio.
Straight out of the box I plugged the SRH840s into the front panel of my NAD C 326BEE integrated stereo amp to give them a go with John Coltrane’s Giant Steps played through a Sony DVP-S9000ES SACD/DVD player. Immediately I noticed a significant jump in richness and warmth compared to the Re-Zero IEMs I was accustomed to. Coltrane’s sax sounded lush and accurate, with a full forward presentation that’s likely aided by the slight boost in bass and mid-range frequency response. Despite this, Paul Chambers’ bass never sounded boomy or muddied, in fact the bass was clear, punchy and easy to follow—just how it should be. I’m certainly no bass head, but I do appreciate a clean low-end rumble, and the SRH840s definitely deliver, even with no break-in time. Added to that, the sensitive notes, like Jimmy Cobb’s jazz brushes circling the snare drum maintain clear separation and presentation even when things got busier.
Shure says that the SRH840’s “Precisely tailored frequency response (claimed 5 Hz - 25 kHz) delivers rich bass, clear mid-range and extended highs,” and I would certainly have to agree. Whether I was playing jazz classics like Coltrane and Miles Davis, or blasting the Deftones and Pearl Jam, I had no trouble sitting back to enjoy entire albums right from the get-go. And now with about 70 hours of play, the 40mm neodymium drivers have noticeably loosened up and expanded the very clear, accurate, warm, and non-fatiguing dynamic range. Even normally harsh-sounding heavy rock was pleasing to listen to. In fact, I’d say that while these headphones maintain excellent detail, they’re also very well balanced; the high notes smoothly roll off just enough to relieve poor recordings of their harshness that makes them sound better than you’d expect. I think it will be easy to listen to these for hours on end, which is exactly what I was hoping for.
Being a full-size circumaural (around-the-ear) headphone constructed of thick plastics, these certainly have some heft to them. These cans weighed in at 376 grams without the cable on my scale. Despite the weight, I was comfortable wearing them for upwards of two hours straight. I have a relatively small oval head (21”), and the clamping tension was just about right. My ears fit perfectly inside of the cups and I had no discomfort from the pads, albeit they do get warm.
Thanks to the closed-back design, thick pads, hinged and swiveling ear cups, and nearly ideal clamping tension, the SRH840s seamlessly coupled to my head, providing good background noise isolation and no noise leaks. Even when laid on my desk with the pads together there’s only the slightest bit of leakage, which makes these perfectly acceptable for use in the workplace or other quieter environments.
My only complaint so far is with the headband. Possibly because of my head-size, the headband tended to slide around or fall off if I tilt my head too far forward or back. This may not be an issue if you have a larger head, but these wouldn’t work for me if I planned to use them on the go. Secondly, the headband did put some uncomfortable pressure on the top of my head. The contact point is small, so it may be a matter of bending the band into place to distribute the weight more (which seems possible) and letting the pads soften up, but occasional repositioning is a must for me for the time being.
Overall I am happy with this purchase. As my first “hi-fi” headphone, the SRH840 will serve as a reference point for future purchases, but I am more than pleased with the sound quality and price vs. performance. Plus, with their very good frequency response range, 102db sensitivity, and 44-ohm impedance, these are easy to drive with mobile devices and standard sound cards, and the clarity and response only gets better when mated with a stereo amplifier. If you’re looking for a beginner audiophile-grade headphone with an accurate and balanced sound, rich dynamics, solid construction, and a quality name stamped on it that won't break the bank, the Shure SRH840 professional monitoring headphones may fit the bill.
***Extended Listening Update***
After about two weeks of continual use at the office, I am happy to report that these cans have only improved in sound quality and comfort. The drivers seem fully loosened up and are simply delivering a clean, well-rounded sound with nice bass extension and little coloration. If anything, the highs are slightly recessed, so these lean to the warm or dark side of neutral, but are overall very pleasing to listen to regardless of the genre of music (at least to my ears). As for comfort, the headband has definitely gained flexibility and the padding has naturally softened up with use. While the thick headband is certainly still felt on top of my head, the pressure is felt far less than it was, and I have no problems wearing these for slightly longer periods. For all-day use some mods may be helpful.