Shure has been producing quality studio headphones for a number of years now, and has also been popular with the iPod generation, but now the company's pro and consumer lines are crossing paths.
The Shure SRH440 Professional Studio Headphones--one of four new pairs of recently introduced or revamped professional headphones--are affordable and sound surprisingly balanced. The SRH440s are intended for musicians in recording studios, but at $100, there's no reason music lovers who prefer headphones over earbuds can't enjoy them as well.
If you're looking for subtlety and ultraportability, these may not be for you. The SRH440s are full-fledged headphones, and they're a bit bulky. Included is a large vinyl carrying bag and threaded 1/4-inch gold-plated adapter. The construction is decent, but the material flexes quite a bit, and that is where the bargain price shows. Longevity may be an issue, but how much wear and tear is inflicted ultimately depends on the user.
The company's logo is emblazoned in silver on each earpiece and on top of the headband. The replaceable pads are black, oblong-shaped, and primarily made of vinyl, with a cloth interior sewn in. The cups can be flipped out in reverse for when you just need to monitor with one ear. Most people we know tend to just push an earcup behind the ear, but options don't hurt.
The vinyl black headband is lightly padded--too lightly, as discomfort sets in after an hour of continuous use, even though the headband is adjustable. This issue shouldn't arise with a pair of headphones intended for long recording sessions. The rest of the headphones' frame is also black, and made of hard plastic. The hinge allows you to fold the earcups inward for storage. Also, exposed wires, starting from just above the hinge, run along down through the side of the frame and end in each earcup--very old-school and a potential snag magnet.
The Shure SRH440 headphones use a single 10-foot detachable coiled cable cord with 1/8-inch gold-plated adapters on both ends. The cable securely locks into the connection port of the left earcup. The coil is extremely loose--no tension whatsoever for forced recoil--and provides more than enough slack to let you roam from one spot to another. Such a long and coiled cord adds some unnecessary weight, further exasperating the problem we have with the overall design--it looks clunky, a throwback to a headphone design of more than a decade ago. We would've preferred a straight cable, as being much more practical for studio use (a straight cable is available as a separate purchase on Shure's Web site). But the fact that the cable is replaceable is great, especially for those who are always shorting out studio headphone cables by running over them with chairs.
Although the SRH440s are not able to replace large studio monitors, the headphones do have most of the spectrum covered. The SRH440s will satisfy classical listeners with a crisp interpretation of strings, as well as jazz, folk, world, ambient, trance, trip hop, new age, and most rock subgenres.
The bass is far from overwhelming, but does have more boom than a flat-response set of cans would produce. The drivers are capable of reproducing frequencies generally handled by a subwoofer. It's just enough to where every instrument has a turn to shine. The sound signature strives for balance and clarity; it's neutral but rich--add a headphone amplifier and it's even better.
After the 100-hour "burn-in" period, the sound quality improves even further (some people like the sound out of the box, but it might be too bright for others). The SRH440s sound great with or without tweaked EQ settings--whether on MP3 players, audiovisual receivers, or laptops with quality sound hardware. The Sennheiser HD 238 headphones are comparable to the SRH440s in both price and sound quality, but the Sennheiser pair projects sound outward (open design), so it's not exactly ideal for recording purposes. The Shure headphones' closed, over-ear design produces a fair amount of sound isolation, but when the highs are high, the sound will bleed out a bit. However, the HD238s provide more bass than the SRH440s, if that's what you're looking for.
There are two things most quality studio headphones come with that the Shure SRH440 Professional Studio Headphones do not: a flat response and a high price tag. Paying more than $100 for studio headphones from established brands such as Sennheiser, Bose, or AKG is typical.Therefore, Shure's lower-priced foray into the semiprofessional headphone realm adds some healthy competition to the mix.