Incredible Sound For Less Than A $100 Bucks
by John Gatski
There are numerous headphones that are decent at a low price, but few great sounding headphones are available — for less than a $100 street price ($125 MSRP).
Shure Inc., known for its high quality microphones, has put out a dandy $100 headphone, designed for professionals and other serious music listeners, that is really good for the money. The made-in-China ’phone has a bit of coloration to the treble and midbass, but for the most part it is a nice coloration that makes it a good choice for portable playback listeners who something better than earbuds or cheap headphones. The SRH440 also is good choice for musicians, pros and home recordists who want decent accuracy housed in a comfortable and acoustically isolating headphone.
Shure also offers a more expensive model, the SRH840, which is said to offer a bit more accuracy.
The SRH440 utilizes two 40-millimeter neodymium magnetic drivers, housed in an headband with adjustable, closed-back ear cups and a user-replaceable coiled connector cord. The 44-ohm impedance makes them easy to drive, (factory measured at a 105 dB level driven by 100 mW at 1-inch from the driver). Plenty of level for any device to drive this headphone. The detachable, oxygen-free wire cable unlocks from the left ear cup, enabling easier travel storage. The cable terminates with a mini-jack 1/8th-inch cable and comes supplied with a screw-on 1/8-inch-to/1/4-inch connector for use with pro and audiophile players.
The headphone cups are adjustable, and the overall fit was comfortable for my ear. They isolate very well, keeping out quite a bit of noise. I used them on a plane with a portable high-res player and found that their noise isolation allowed me to hear jazz and classical music without having to turn up the player all the way.
I compared the SRH440 to a pair of costlier Sony MDR-7509s. It and little brother, MDR-7506, are popular headphones with the pros and about the same size and close-back design. I also compared it to high-end headphones, such as my reference open-back AKG K701 and Grado SR-325. Playback devices included my TASCAN HDP-2, flash player/recorder, a Sony PCM-M10, Sony PCM-D1, Benchmark DAC1 Pre converter/preamp, and Mytek 24/96 converter/preamp, and an Apple Macbook Pro. I played various kinds of music, including high-resolution jazz, classical and pop.
The general music playback through the Shure SRH440 was very good —considering how inexpensive it is; as mentioned, it has a bit of boost in treble and midbass. The boost in the treble gives the headphone sound a gentle “airiness” quality — without being too harsh. Not totally accurate, but I liked it. The bass boost’s desirability depends on your type of music. On pop or jazz music with abundant bass, it was sometime too much, but on jazz and acoustic music where the midbass is generally flatter, it sounded good.
I really liked the headphone for classical and jazz, especially acoustic guitar, where the slightly enhanced presence allowed me to hear the picking nuance a little clearer. Drum cymbals sound really nice as well. The stereo imaging is excellent with a pleasing soundscape that wraps around the ears.
Though its more expensive, I actually liked the Shure better than the popular Sony MDR-7509 and MDR-7506 professional headphone. The Sony’s have a flatter midbass, but there is a slightly hard edge to the midrange and the top end is not as airy. The SRH440 was no match for the total accuracy and imaging of the $750 AKG, but the top-end response of the $100 Shure was surprisingly close to the big guy.
My favorite use for the SRH440 was with the smaller players. I logged in 50 hours of or so with the Sony PCM-10 and D1 and an M-Audio Micro-Track II. With high-resolution jazz music, all the Shure allowed me to hear the extra information of a 24/96 recording. (By the way, the M-Audio MicroTrack's had a tone setting, “bass reduce” that actually flattened the Shure’s bass boost, making it just about perfect).
Another bonus for this headphone is its user replacement parts. The ear cup pad, the cord and the adapter are all available from Shure — in case you wear them out or lose them.
The Shure SRH440 is a great sounding headphone for $100. Other than the midbass bump that made some pop music too bloated, it is a reasonably accurate headphone with just a sheen of rise in the treble. It is an ideal choice for those who like to listen to music in the house, home studio or from quality portables. It is comfortable and keeps out noise — without resorting to sound-coloring, active noise-canceling circuitry. A Stellar Sound Award indeed! For more information, visit www.shure.com