Upper frequency response through the SRH1440s was open and extended without sounding hyped-up. Violins and flutes never sounded strained or metallic (except when that was the player’s intent.) On classical recordings with a lot of room ambience the SRH1440s upper frequency response generated a larger and more open room acoustic than the A-T W-3000ANV headphones. The AKG K-701’s upper frequency response was much closer to the SRH1440’s, but their leaner midrange and upper bass sounded slightly astringent in comparison to the SRH1440s.
Due in part to their upper frequency extension, the SRH1440s image beautifully. The overall soundstage was as big as the AKG K-701s, but with better three-dimensionality and imaging specificity. Grado’s RS-1 headphones generated a similarly sized, outside the head, soundstage, but with slightly greater midrange proximity and prominence. The only earphones in my reference collection that delivered better, more precise and dimensionally accurate imaging were the Ultimate Ears In Ear Reference Monitors.
The amount of low-level detail delivered by the SRH1140s was noticeably superior to the Sennheiser HD600s, especially on lower frequencies. To find a headphone that had the same amount of inner detail I had to move up to the Grado RS-1 headphones or the Ultimate Ears IERMs. During multi-hour monitoring sessions the comfort of the SRH1440s quickly brought them to the top of my grab-first list over the Grados and UEs.
Dynamics from the SRH1440s was always convincing with excellent contrast. Micro-dynamics were especially well handled, regardless of the amplifier, but macro dynamics were influenced by an amplifier’s quality and ability to deliver wide voltage swings. Triple fortes were far more impressive through the April Music Eximus DP-1 headphone amplifier than through a 4th generation iPod Touch. Given their sensitivity and impedance the SRH1440s should be easy for any decent headphone amplifier section to drive, but the Shures will definitely reward listeners who use something better than the headphone amplifier found in a typical portable MP3 player.
Ok, I’ll admit to some goofing off some during the Olympics. I became quite fond of the “live feed” channels available through NBC Live. Their audio tracks came sans commentary. Only the sounds of the venues were audible. Through the SRH1440s that sense of being there was quite addicting. I expect that the live unadulterated sound from women’s field hockey is a treat not savored by many, but through the SRH1440s the noise from the field and the audience’s reaction was compelling due to the plethora of inner detail and dimensional information faithfully preserved by the SRH 1440s. The on-field action sounded closer, more dimensional, and more specifically located in space than the audience, whose sounds surrounded the central action. I think the on-location sound recording on many of the events at the Olympics, such as archery, was first-rate, especially as heard through the SRH1440s.
Back to music…I recently made a live field recording of guitarist Chris Eldridge, mandolinist Chris Thile, and violinist Gabe Witcher during a workshop on improvisation at the Rockygrass Academy. Through the SRH1440s I could hear all the minute details of the recording, from small crowd murmurings to the performers repositioning themselves on the metal folding chairs. During the recording the wind was blowing intermittently, and even though I had a windscreen on my Audio Technica AT-825 stereo microphone, it still picked up some serious low-frequency wind noise—look out for flying subwoofers—listening to this recording was much safer on headphones. But even on headphones the wind noise was more than merely noticeable. Listening with the A-T W-3000ANVs the wind was like a pressure-booster, periodically pushing at my eardrums, but through the SRH1440s the wind-driven noise wasn’t as nearly as overbearing and was easier to separate from the music itself.
On classical material, such as Monteverdi’s “Lamento D’Olimpia” from Emma Kirkby’s album, Olympia’s Lament [Hyperion], the separation between the direct sound of Kirkby’s voice and the reflected sound of the recording venue is emphasized by the SRH1440s’ precise imaging. You can also hear the room itself “bloom” as Kirkby leans on a note. The fast transient attack and rapid decay of Anthony Rooley’s accompanying lute is also well preserved by the SRH1440. Kirkby’s pure soprano, which can become overly strident through some transducers, sounds just right through the SRH1440s. From her softest sighs through the loudest exclamations, the harmonic and textural character of Kirkby’s voice remained consistently natural and musical.