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There’s no shortage of headphones marketed towards professional audio engineers in the world, and whether you’re a burgeoning or an established professional, the choices are bound to be dizzying. Even if you’re just a music listener who walks along the audiophile path, there are dozens of headphones clamouring for your attention. So, with option paralysis setting in, how do the Shure SRH840A Professional Studio Headphones stack up against the rest?
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The first point to broach is that these are a ‘nice’ sounding pair of headphones. What I mean by that probably requires some comparison to studio monitors for context, in that it’s common for recording studios to have multiple sets of speakers through which to test various mix decisions. One pair may be as flat as possible to give an authentic, unbiased reproduction of what was captured, while another may have a slightly boosted upper midrange to represent some lower-quality speakers that the average household might be using. The less-popular option is a set of speakers that tend to scoop a bit of the mids out, which almost always sounds fantastic to the end consumer, but it can be a dishonest representation in a studio environment that can lead to nasty surprises when you go and play your new song through a car stereo.
The SRH840A headphones are actually extremely flat in the midrange from around 200Hz to 2kHz, but do have pronounced humps at 80-100Hz and at 6kHz, and a subtle dip at 3.5kHz, this makes them an awesome monitoring headphone in the tracking sense and the subtle dip at 3.5kHz also makes them a great headphone for everyday listening. The result is a pair of headphones which are both extremely useful in the professional sense as well as being a satisfying listen in the context of critical applications.
Frequency figures aside, the sound of the headphones can best be described as powerful. The bass response is remarkably punchy and spacious for a closed-back design, and the vibration through the pads on your head are really immersive. The mids are so smooth it’s almost hard to describe them at all. The highs are nicely airy and present, precisely what one might hope for in a studio monitoring scenario. Given that the quoted frequency response ends at 25kHz, no doubt there’s plenty of crispness to be had, really allowing you to get in there on such notoriously tricky hi-end sculpting exercise as bringing out room excitement in an overhead or dialling in just the right amount of pop sizzle on a vocal. They are also a great headphone for cross checking sibilance, which is a very handy vantage point for anyone prone to hyped mixes.
As previously mentioned, these headphones situate themselves right at the middle ground between a pleasing sound and an accurate one, but that doesn’t necessarily remove them from a professional conversation. The detail offered from the 40mm drivers is honestly pretty phenomenal. I’ve been using monitoring headphones for the last eight years or so, and listening to some of my favourite albums through these headphones revealed details I hadn’t previously noticed. That kind of anecdotal evidence has to be taken with a grain of salt given that I am actively listening for differences, but I was certainly impressed by their depth.
Another of the SRH840As strong suits comes in the form of their incredible isolation. The closed-back, circumaural design rests comfortably over the ears and keeps background noise and spill to an absolute minimum. Even with the headphones cranked while close miking vocals, I still found the lack of spill to be rather remarkable, even with compression engaged.
Shure’s SRH840As are actually a newly revamped version of the SRH840 pair, taking into account some consumer feedback and also giving them a black and gold makeover. Visually they look awesome, a feature that will no doubt come in handy for the on camera content creation crowd.
While the original SRH840’s were for the most part well-reviewed, for many the only major criticism was in regards to the headband. It’s good to see that Shure have addressed this with the new SRH840A update and the headband design appears much more robust and comfortable than previous incarnations, with thick moulded plastic and solid screws holding the swivels in place. Only time will tell if they will hold up to the regular abuse of a gigging musician, but for this kind of studio use they definitely look and feel the part.
Shipping with an additional detachable straight cable, as well as a carry bag and high quality threaded 1/4” (6.3 mm) gold-plated adapter, it definitely lends itself to professional use, while the two-year warranty provides the exactly the kind of peace of mind you would want in a headphone at this price-point.
In the context of a professional headphone, reliability is really half the battle and no doubt Shure’s new SRH840A has this in spades. This reliability is evident both in the build quality and in the consistency of its sonic reproduction.
Overall, the SRH840A Professional Studio Headphones from Shure offer a really great sound, but not without some limitations. The ideal person for these headphones would most likely be someone who’s entering into audio engineering and wants to get the most out of their money, which means a pair of headphones that can be good for mixing as well as casual listening rather than needing two pairs with two separate agendas.