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.
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.