Shure SRH-940 – Our man is comparing it to the HD800 – is he mad?

The Shure SRH-940 compares favorably to the Sennheiser HD-800, which costs five times as much on average as the SRH-940. The differences between the SRH-940 and the HD-800 are subtle at most over the entire spectrum. The HD-800 has a very slight edge in clarity of upper harmonics, and I don’t know if that’s due to superior driver design and manufacture, or whether it could be due to the placement of the larger HD-800 drivers in their large earcups and the sense of extra spaciousness which that creates. Either way it’s not a difference that jumps out at me when switching between the two (each connected to an iPod Touch latest model playing the same tracks, and with the volumes set so they sound equally loud on most tracks) – you have to listen for the difference.

The bass sounds the same to me with each headphone, and I compared them closely with tracks that have heavy, medium, and light bass. Besides the tracks listed below, bass-centric tracks include Donald Fagen – Morph The Cat, Afro-Celt Sound System – Inion Daughter, Medieval Babes – Isabella, and Pink Floyd – Speak To Me.

The midrange differences are also subtle, with the HD-800 sounding slightly more open or airy, but again that may be due to the ambience the HD-800 adds by projecting its sound into those large earcups. My sense of the difference in balance is that the SRH-940 is up approximately 1 to 2 db compared to the HD-800 around 300 to 600 hz (my guess), and down about the same amount around 3 to 7 khz.

Many of the SRH-940 reviews I’ve read talk about it being “analytical”, “bright”, or even sibilant on the high end. It doesn’t sound that way to me. As best I remember the sound of the Sennheiser HD-600 and HD-650 (which I no longer have), the SRH-940 is very similar, very smooth and more-or-less neutral sounding, which may sound bland to people who expect more “punch” or other such things that grab your attention. If you have well-recorded music tracks with concussive bass, punchy mids, sparkly highs or other such qualities in them, the SRH-940 will reproduce those with their proper flavor and proportion. You won’t miss anything.

Shure SRH-940
Shure SRH-940

Caveats: 1) Some of my music tracks have moments of excessive brightness or sibilance with the SRH-940, so rather than try to guess whether it’s the headphones or the music, I rely on comparisons to other headphones that I have to tell me whether the SRH-940 is worse, better, or the same. 2) My experience using the iPod Touch -vs- using various headphone amps is that the amps make a very subtle difference in the sound. People who report large differences are very likely experiencing impedance or phase problems due to any number of factors. If you use a headphone amp or something similar, test it first or make sure you can return it (or the headphones) if it doesn’t work out.

The only other headphone I compared the SRH-940 to (a very brief listen) is the B&W P5. The P5 sounds slightly hollow compared to the SRH-940, it sounds somewhat muffled on the high end, and sounds a little bit weak in the deep bass. Given that the P5 and SRH-940 sell for about the same price, and that the SRH-940 wins in sound quality on all counts (in my opinion), I’d say that the P5’s advantage is smaller size and better portability.

The SRH-940 will play at reasonable volume levels with portable devices such as most cellphones, iPods and so on. The straight cord feels strong enough to withstand some abuse, and with the earcups pulled all the way down and rotated against my chest, I can have the headphone around my neck all day long without it getting in my way when I’m not listening to it. It also comes with a coiled cord. Neither cord has an angled plug unfortunately. The other good news with the cord is that it’s detachable. The other less-than-good news is that the detachable end is partially proprietary. The detachable plug is a standard sub-mini plug (next size smaller than a 1/8 inch mini-plug), but the plastic fitting behind that plug locks into the jack on the earcup in a way that would require DIY’ers to take the earcup apart if they want to use a different cable without the proprietary connector.

Shure Cup
Shure Cup

The earcups of the SRH-940 completely surround my ears, and it’s a close fit. The internal space for ears in each oval earcup measure 2-5/8 by 1-7/8 inches. I find the fit very comfortable, but people with much larger ears may feel very cramped. The carrycase that comes with the SRH-940 is fairly large, and would take up a lot of space in a carry-on bag for airline travel. If this is your situation, I’d recommend carrying the SRH-940 around your neck when boarding, or just wrap it in something thin to place in a suitcase, to give it minimal protection. The entire headphone seems to be plastic except for the velour earpads, and Made In China means they optimized the SRH-940 for lowest production cost. The good news is that it seems to be very well made, and given the sound quality, a real bargain at the usual prices. Isolation from external sounds is good even when not playing music. When playing music, I can’t hear the telephone ring from 3 feet away, and the ringer is the old-fashioned kind – very attention-getting.

In addition to the pop music tracks listed below, which I used mainly for detecting weaknesses or other problems with the sound, I played a wide variety of genres (Jazz, Diana Krall, Bill Evans Trio; Bach organ, Biggs; Beethoven 9th, Solti CSO; Chopin, Moravec; Reggae, Marley, Tosh; Country, Haggard, Yoakam; Verdi, Domingo; Sinatra and Bennett; Punk, Germs, Fear, Sid Vicious, Social Distortion; Medieval, Madrigali, Medieval Babes; Trance, Mylene Farmer, etc.)

The following are some of the music tracks I tested with, and the main features I listened for with those tracks:

Blues Project – Caress Me Baby (piercing guitar sound, handled well).
Cocteau Twins – Carolyn’s Fingers (guitar string detail and quality, excellent).
Commodores – Night Shift (bass detail, excellent).
Germs – Forming (raw garage sound, good).
Lick The Tins – Can’t Help Falling In Love (tin whistle, very clear and clean).
Lou Reed – Walk On The Wild Side (bass impact, good; detail excellent).
REM – Radio Free Europe (drum impact, very good).
Rolling Stones – She’s So Cold (bass impact and guitar sound, very good).
U2 – With Or Without You (bass boom/high-pitched instruments/sibilants, handled well).
Van Morrison – Into The Mystic (bass, moderate).
Who – Bargain (voice trailing off: “best I ever had”, very good vocal harmonics).

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