The Cool, Comfy, and Competent Shure SRH1540

The Shure SRH1540 ($499)
You know what I like about Shure? Focus. Shure started in 1925 as a mail-order radio parts and kit supplier. Soon, radios became available pre-built, and with the depression sales fell. In 1931 Shure begins developing their own line of microphones; in 1941 they became a microphone supplier for the U.S. military in WWII. Since then Shure has built a long continuous history of microphone and phono cartridge developments, and entered the headphone market in the early 2000s. In all that time, they've remained a private company, focussed tightly on the needs of those in the audio arts...and they don't waver. Marketing departments regularly trot out flowing prose about their corporate cultures, which all too often seems dubious at best. But I've spent time with numerous Shure associates and have visited and toured Shure's headquarters, and I'll happily attest to the fact that Shure's corporate culture is indeed strongly embedded in the company: Shure cares deeply about audio and the performance of their product, and the SRH1540 virtually glows with the radiance of this passion and competency.

Physical Description
The Shure SRH1540 is a full-size, circumaural, sealed headphone. Build materials is a very nice mix of synthetics, carbon fiber, aluminum, and steel. I find these cans terrific looking.

The headband is constructed of two metal bands covered in protein leather with small pads underneath to provide cushioning for the top of your noggin. I partially disassembled one side of the headband to have a look at the metal over-head arches and it looks like they are stainless steel (they also don't seem to be magnetically attractive), which surprised me a bit because the headband arches do seem to take an intentional bend fairly readily. More on that in a moment.

The earpiece yokes are a single piece of formed aluminum that act as sliders into the headband on one end, and clip into holes on the front and back of the ear capsules on the other end to provide a small amount of up and down tilt. The ear capsules do not rotate forward and back, and have no folding feature. Initially, this lack of rotation was a bit worrisome as it limits how much adjustment is available for a good fit, but I found the headphones fairly comfortable none-the-less. When I did determine that a little rotation of the ear capsules was called for, I simply grasped the headband at the end-caps and rotated in the desired direction. The metal in the headband was malleable enough to take on the bend fairly readily, and it certainly seemed durable enough for this type of adjustment. (See video on page 2 for demonstration.)

Ear capsules are black plastic with a large, carbon-fiber outer panels emblazoned with the Shure logo. Earpads are Alcantara covered memory foam with openings easily large enough (62mm x 45mm) and deep enough for most ears.

The six foot OFC "Y" cable connects to the bottom of both ear pieces with MMCX coaxial, snap-on connectors, and is terminated on the other end with a threaded 3.5mm stereo plug that mates with an included 3.5mm to 1/4" adaptor. The 3.5mm plug is rather large and may be prevented from insertion into phones and media players by the sometimes small entry-ways in protective cases.

The headphones do not have any folding features to make them more compact for storage and transport, but a very nice hard-shell case is included. The cables must be removed before placing the headphones in the case. Also included is a second identical spare cable and ear-pads for the headphone.

Comfort, Ergonomics, and Styling
Weighing in at a mear 286 grams, the SRH1540 is a spectacularly light and comfortable headphone. Clamping force is moderate and adjustability good (though sometimes bending the headband is the trick needed), when properly fit to your head this is one of those supremely comfy cans that can be worn for hours without fatigue. Earpads are particularly comfortable, and seem to be very cool to wear.

The SRH1540 looks really good in photos, but it looks really great in person. Yes, they are a bit large, but the comfort, build quality, and good looks, not to mention decent isolation, has had me out on audio walkabout a couple of times already.

Nits to Pick
The price is a bit of a pill to swallow. But having had these in hand, and on head, and experience their sublime comfort, build quality, and sound (as we'll see in a moment) I think the price/performance ratio is pretty darned good.

In terms of the physical product I have only two minor quibbles: Both cables sent are identical. I would have preferred a little variety. Since Shure is focussed on pro audio, it would make sense to include a longer coiled cable in addition to the six footer included for use in pro applications when the wearer has to move around some to twiddle knobs in the aux racks. As an alternative for consumer use, it might be nice to make the included cable about 9 feet long for home and office use, and then have a 4-5 foot smartphone cable with remote and slender 3.5mm plug for walkabout duties.

The other quibble is the size. Without any folding features, this is a headphone that's full-size and stays that way. It's worth remembering that these headphones were primarily designed for audio pros as a tool, and in that application the light weight and durability of the simple design is very important.

I think the above complaints probably say more about me and my desire for a large, sealed headset than they do about the SHRH1540. This is a professional audio product, and all the above complaints (except maybe to have a second long coiled cable) are somewhat irrelevant for professional use.

Time to talk about the sound, flip the page and we'll dig into it.

COMPANY INFO
Shure Incorporated
5800 West Touhy Avenue
Niles, IL
info@shure.com
(847) 600-2000
ARTICLE CONTENTS
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COMMENTS
Jazz Casual's picture

Nice review as usual Tyll. I have to ask how these compare to the TH900 sonically, which is also an open sounding closed headphone with a slightly U shaped EQ. :)

Tyll Hertsens's picture

The TH900 and 600 are too bright for me.

Jazz Casual's picture

Okay - interesting.

bronson's picture

The TH900's aren't as bright as the TH600"s IMO, but both are world class cans (IMO).  Tyll, I love what you do and especially enjoyed your ultimate headcan review magazine, though a tad expensive to import into the U.K from the U.S.A - but worth it for shure (U see what I did there?) sorry for the crappy pun devil

Anyways - I also own the NAD viso HP50 & Focal Spirit Classics and really appreciate each on their own merits, the first coming to my attention from watching your viddy with the moustached gent from PSM - I'd never heard of these cans until that point and am glad to discovered them via you so big thanks - I really love these cans, which brings me to my query regarding the Shure 1540's - do you think that these cans are a step up from the NAD & Focal Classics?  The Shure's price tag certainly suggests this to be the case but how do you see how they fit compared to these other two cans?  Are the 1540's worth investing in a pair if already owning the other two I mention, in your opinion?  I understand that this is subjective, but nonetheless would be interested in your view on this for Shure (sorry :))

And by the way - I'm one of the guys you talk about in another video with panel inc. S.Guttenberg, Jude etc, who thought beats by dre were what good sound was - then I found Innerfidelity and got into this addictive "hobby" you described, and now own an array of "summit-fi" cans including Audeze LCD-X, Sennheiser HD800's, Fostex TH900, TH600's, HIFIMAN HE-6 to name but a few - so big thanks for opening my eyes and ears! yes

Just one thing - U cost me a shed load of green bro - but I guess it's better spent on cans rather than coke, and at least I'll have something to show if I ever go brokesurprise

Thanks in advance - I'm a big fan :) and understand you are probably too busy to answer individual ramblings like this. 

Jazz Casual's picture

I don't think that the TH900 is bright either. I do think that its presentation has an unvarnished quality in that it's exceptionally clean and resolving - nothing is smoothed over, including the highs. It doesn't sound euphonic or lush. Its presentation is surprisingly open for a closed headphone, and it is the most dynamic and visceral headphone I've heard save for the Abyss.   

bronson's picture

Byrnie's picture

It was very enjoyable to hear your take on these.

DiRo's picture

lol love the way you put "I wouldn't let that comment concern me too much" in regards to 1540 being rolled off. Owned these for about a month now and agree they are not rolled off in fact highs are much like the se425 but less cold.

Side note, it seems like the HP50 is perrty good value to be compaired to the SRH1540 at 60% of the price? I enjoy my 1540 but HP50 maybe a good portable option without losing much in sound quilaity?

Tyll Hertsens's picture

which is why it's staying on the WoF.

Beagle's picture

Fully agree about the scale at lower volumes. I just think that the 1540 has a nice big footprint and has a large midrange (to go along with the large bottom end) that helps in depicting real sense of timbre....the smooth seamless top is the icing on the carrot cake. The real magic is that it can provide a nice sense of space while accomplishing all of the above.

JRAudio's picture

Tyll, due to your recommendations, I have / had also the Sennheiser Momentum, the NAD Viso HP50, the Focal Spirit Pro and bought the Shure SH1540 about some weeks ago.

My opinion on the NAD sound is, that it is very neutral to my ears from midrange to treble and very low bass, but a tiny bit boxy at low mid bass (it resonates a bit at some low frequencies) and I miss a bit of “openess” and air.

The Focal Spirit Pro is better in the low mid bass than the NAD, but here I am missing a bit the neutrality of the NAD in the highs (and is a bit too small concerning the earpiece) and sounds a bit small in the sound stage.

Here comes the Shure. With regular level, it has more resolution in the highs (even they are not as neutral as with the NAD) and is very, very comfortable, when listening for longer periods of time. Yes, also in the midrange, the NAD and the Focal are more neutral, but with the Shure, I am more pleased when listening a longer time. Yes, when it gets louder, the bass gets looser and can't get near the bass of the Focal or NAD, and yes, also the treble gets a bit nervous with higher levels, but add resolution, with regular levels.

For regular levels, I really like the Momentum soundwise, even they are not as neutral as the other three, but for me the great weak point was the very small ear cups, that hurt my ears after some time.

Juergen

PS: You should try the very old looking Beyer DT150. Looks like it is from the past century and has also a bit high pressure on the ear, but is very good for most frequency range (a bit too much in the low bass and a bit too much in the upper highs), but for the price really good (if you can tolerate the very old looking design).

 

 

 

RPGWiZaRD's picture

That's the first time I see someone calling the highs of SRH 1540 bright. :P Looks quite neutral to me, even the very lower-mids seems maybe tiny bit more emphasized (yes I'm taking your custom algorithm into consideration + goldenears measurement as well) which should make it pretty meaty sounding.

These are so close to my ideal response but fails on one critical point (again for my taste only). The bass peak is at too low frequency at 50Hz (would prefer 80Hz and reaching also slightly higher up to get subbass and midbass in balance, now it's a bit too subbass skewed so I'm missing out a bit on the thumping), but otherwise the ~8dB boost is right up my alley. :/ Sucks when it's so close, yet so far. haha The bass looks both punchy & tight, extremely good balance throughout the entire range and good soundstage and comfortable... 

Cpfeffer's picture

Hi Tyll, thank you for a great review. 

How do the Shure 1540 compare to the BW p7 in your opinion?

Thank you.

Cp

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Guessing a bit here from the measurements and memory, but I'd say the 1540 is warmer sounding overall. The P7 has a stronger "U" EQ. Both have excellent treble resolution and image well...guessing the P7 might do a tad better here.

I like the nicely neutral warmth of the 1540 over the cooler P7.  I'd say the 1540 is also quite a bit more roomy and comfortable as well.

bronson's picture

Rillion's picture

Tyll makes some important observations in this review concerning listening levels.  I personally listen at typical levels of only about 55 dB SPL C-weighting (that would be even lower with other common weightings).  Any time music goes above a sustained 65 dB, I find it uncomfortable to listen to.  Going by the ISO226:2003 equal-loudness contours, at 100 Hz that is an 8 dB (!) difference in perceived loudness relative to 1000 Hz when going from 80 phon to 55 phon.  (The Olive et al. papers used 78 dB B-weighting for listening tests.)

Rillion's picture

Just adding to what I wrote above.  Mr. Katz recommends 83-86 dB SPL on *forte* (loud) passages, for mastering purposes, in the following fascinating article: http://www.digido.com/how-to-make-better-recordings-part-2.html

(roughly 86 dB with two speakers playing; 83 dB from a single speaker).   I estimate for my music collection that the average would about 18 dB below forte, or 86 - 18 = 68 dB.  This is quite close to the 69 dB that listeners in the Airo study referred to here:  http://headwize.com/?page_id=266 

preferred for average headphone volume in a quiet room.  That is still quite a bit higher than my preferred listening level, but I guess I am atypical. 

grizzlybeast's picture

Can you comment on how these would fair for tracking in regards to leakage?

I had a t50 modd that I put the alacantra pads on. I was expecting it to leak even more and to the contrary they leaked a lot less, making the t50 mod a perfect tracking headphone. 

That is literally the only thing stopping me from these. Also how is the imaging compared to say an Alpha dog or even the Focal spirit pro

I dont care how much they keep noise out as much as in. The t-50 modd with the pads also let noise in but not much out. These pads are simply AMAZING!!!

 

Much appreciated,

 

Grizzly

m8o's picture

You make me want to try if not buy them, but I am having trouble getting past how unmatched the left is from right.

zobel's picture

The Sennheiser HD 380 Pro does get better reviews in side by side comparisons, and it is $180.

Never Satisfied's picture

I have the 1540 and did have the HD 380 Pro at one point. The 380 is probably better for studio tracking and is more portable, but compared to the Shure 1540, it is nowhere near as good for actually listening to and enjoying music, and it has extreme clamping force which makes it uncomfortable to wear after a little while (more so than HD 6xx). The 1540 is super comfortable.

zobel's picture

Tyll really liked their sound too, except at loud levels. If he finds them a bit snug, they wouldn't fit me at all, too big of a head. I like to say it's because my brain is so large, and why I'm so intelligent, but people don't seem to get the connection there...

zobel's picture

Didn't plan on posting twice, it just glitched out. Guess these Sures will be a good fit for most people, but it was very good to know actual ear pad size, since I need 48mm X 78mm. Glad the Sennheisers have extra large ear space.

zobel's picture

The Sennheiser HD 380 Pro does get better reviews in side by side comparisons, and it is $180.

zobel's picture

The srh 1540 ts $500

Minstrel's picture

Hi Tyll

Really appreciate your work reviewing.

I'm attracted to the Shure's because of their:

Strong isolation
Hopefully neutral
Smooth?
Absence of 'spittiness'

I am looking for these qualities:

Good isolation
Unfatiguing
Neutral and natural sounding
Smoothness
No hardness or harshness
Still sound intelligible at unbelievably low listening volume

What rank order would you put the following 'phones in their ability to approach the above requirements?

NAD VISO 50
Sennheiser Momentum oE
Shure SRH440
Shure SRH840
Shure SRH1540

Thanks Tyll

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