The frame of the SRH1840 is, as advertised, light, strong, and adjustable. But sadly the frame allows ear cups to swivel in the vertical axis only; it does not allow the ear cups to swivel in the horizontal axis (that is, to tilt from side-to-side to better fit the sides of your head). Two-axis, swiveling ear cup mounts are in our view a big plus for comfort-minded listeners and they happen to be a feature almost all other premium-priced headphones provide as a matter of course. What’s more, Shure has seen fit to give its less expensive SRH1440 model a different frame that does allow two-axis adjustments.
We don’t’ mean to make a big deal of this, since many listeners find the SRH1840 light and reasonably comfortable to wear. Even so, we think Shure’s much less costly SRH1440 fits better and is substantially more comfortable to wear than its big brother (go figure).
Perhaps our strongest and most lasting impression of the Shure SRH1840 centered on the headphone’s terrific clarity, detail, and tonal purity—especially through the midrange on up through the very top of the treble region. If you play recordings rich in detail, high harmonics, and subtle reverberant cues, you may well come away, as we did, feeling that the Shure rarely misses a thing. With the SRH1840 in play, you have the satisfying sense that you’re hearing all, or nearly all, of the subtle touches that recording engineers and record producers strive to capture, but that many headphones fail to reproduce.
Bass, however, is one area where the SRH1840 tends to evoke mixed reactions. On one hand, the Shure’s bass descends quite low (lower than you might at first expect) and offers pleasing qualities of tautness, control, and admirable pitch definition (there’s no muddiness or sonic uncertainty with these ‘phones). On the other hand, the fact is that the SRH1840 mid- and low bass are somewhat too lightly balanced, enough so as to give serious bass aficionados that uneasy feeling that, “something’s missing.”
The effect is not unlike what happens if you try to use a fine, small, high-performance monitoring speakers in an overly large room; you can hear what the speakers are trying to do and can hear that they are attempting to provide high quality sound, but there simply isn’t enough low-end “oomph” to make the overall tonal balance seem appropriately weighted and thus realistic. Granted, on certain really well-mastered records the SRH1840’s do at times seem to have adequate if not ample bass output, but on many records the headphone’s low-end balance seems overly thin and lacking in clout.
Dynamics, as is often the case with top-shelf open-back headphone designs, are highly expressive and engaging. This is not just a matter of the SRH1840 being able to play loudly when the situation warrants, but also a matter of the headphone being responsive enough to capture much more subtle (and at time almost subliminal) dynamic contrasts and shadings that, in our experience, lend a sense of “you-are-there” realism to the sound.
To hear a good example of the kinds of detail and dynamic subtlety the SRH 1840 can provide, give a listen to the track “Temple Caves” from Grateful Dead alumni Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum [Rykodisc]. The song opens with Hart playing a percussion instrument called a rain stick, whose delicate sound is reminiscent of the initial splatter of raindrops at the onset of a downpour, and the SRH 1840 does a beautiful job capturing the sudden attack and ensuing decay of each “drop” as it falls. On “Temple Caves” as on other tracks on Planet Drums, Hart has pulled together a brilliant (and brilliantly diverse) percussion players from across the world, so that as the track progresses you feel—with the Shure’s on your ears—as if you are getting a Technicolor sonic tour demonstrating the sheer variety and scope of the percussion instruments at hand.