Shure SRH1540 Headphone Review
A terrific marriage of sound and comfort
If you're a musician, an audio enthusiast, or just a regular Joe searching for delicate, detailed audio performance, consider the Shure SRH1540 over-ear headphones.
While originally sporting an MSRP of $624, these premium cans are currently selling for $499. If you're gawking at those big price tags, don't worry. We were too—until we got them into the lab.
You can certainly find the stellar audio quality for hundreds less, but you'll be hard-pressed to find another pair of over-ears that package solid performance, serious comfort, and great extras quite like these.
Pamper your ears in style
Let's face the music: When it comes to headphone materials, it's tough to find the middle ground. If they're comfy, do they look cheap and chintzy? If they're elegantly styled, are they a pain to wear?
Relax—Shure drew the map to the middle ground with the SRH1540 over-ears.
Big, soft ear pads mold to your jaw and temple, locking in sound but not heat. Nothing heats up too much though, thanks to tiny holes in the fabric that let the pads breathe. Padded plastic buffers the top of your head, and bends easily, making for a great fit. Thin aluminum reaches from the band to meet the cups, keeping the SRH1540s both durable and light.
These cans look good, too. The back of each cup sports patterned black hatching that's covered by smooth glossy plastic and ringed by shimmering silver. This is some seriously handsome, professional design.
As for the cable? It's like a tank. Thick, unyielding rubber from end to end means it doesn't lay flat and comes out of the box kinked, but the tradeoff is that it's extremely durable. A heavily shielded flex point travels to a well-guarded Y-split, which branches out to both ear cups. On the rare chance that the cable is damaged, Shure includes an identical backup.
I have a feeling no harm will come to these over-ears if you're careful, though. Everything—the headphones, the two cables, a quarter-inch adapter, and replacement ear pads—can be packed safely into a leather case.
The case isn't really the "carrying" kind: It's as big as a hearty loaf of bread. Headphones like this are really best to keep by your workstation, though—you generally wouldn't buy over-ears as travel companions. On the plus side, no expense was spared for posh presentation—each cable is stored in a zip-up pouch that sticks into the case via velcro. Talk about fancy.
At the end of the day, though, what really matters is that the sum of these parts is a very comfortable set of over-ear headphones.
A Shure thing
Shure claims that the SRH1540 are "premium closed-back headphones," and I'm inclined to agree. These over-ear cans are solid, reliable performers on all fronts.
They don't provide the completely flat soundscape that professionals might be looking for, but the SRH1540 over-ears foster a very balanced sound nonetheless. Testing revealed modest bass support and prominent midtones. Volume remains even through treble pitches, and eventually peaks during overtones.
What does this mean in practice? I listened to a number of different artists from different genres, but what stood out strongest was Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major ("Eroica").
This symphony begins with two staccato Eb major chords, voiced amongst instruments like the double bass, cello, violin, clarinet, oboe, and timpani (a percussion instrument). When listening to the SRH1540 over-ears, the double bass and cello notes stand out with powerful resonance, while the clarinet and oboe dance playfully up top.
The SRH1540 over-ears expertly handle volume between the left and right speakers, too, striking an even balance. From solo piccolo to the full strength of the whole symphony, both speakers purr in beautiful unison.
The details are just impeccable: Take the violin—from whispering harmonic overtones to tremolo sawing at the bowstrings—each quality is not only audible, it's free from any and all audible distortion. Even the lowest, rumbling notes on the timpani ring clear. No matter how manic Beethoven gets, these Shure over-ears maintain clarity and stave off clipping.
Travelers, take heed: These over-ears aren't expertly suited to the noisy outside world. This isn't just because of their sizable form factor, either—they just don't block ambient sound like a set of in-ears or active noise cancelers would. You won't hear high-pitched noises as much with these cans on your head, but rumbling bass sounds will still penetrate even the fiercest of old Ludwig's works.
There's no denying that the Shure SRH1540 are priced well above what the average consumer is prepared to spend. At an MSRP of $624 ($499 online), they are anything but a casual purchase.
Testing justified the high price, however. A full, rich soundscape complemented by a very high degree of comfort leaves almost nothing to be desired. The SRH1540 over-ears provide the kind of balanced playback that many musicians and audio purists would relish.
If you're looking for top-notch sound but you just don't have that much to spend, Beyerdynamic's Custom One Pro headphones offer four excellent soundscapes for less—but you'll miss out on some luxury. The SRH1540 over-ears are practically flawless, pampering your ears even after hours and hours of use. From the swanky extras, to the well-made, durable parts, to the polished sound, these are a dynamite buy.
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