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It’s for good reason that Shure is synonymous with the term “industry standard”. The brand has been responsible for pioneering some of the most widely used pieces of audio gear on the planet; with a focus on purposeful design, practicality and high build quality, as opposed to frills, superfluous accessories or facile packaging or marketing. It is the combination of these principles that the SM58 is still the go-to live handheld microphone the world over, and equally, the SM7B in the studio and broadcast domains.
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Having owned a first generation pair of SRH440’s many moons ago, it’s fair to say I’m fairly familiar with the SRH440’s sonic print as well as their physical composition. You may be asking yourself whatever did happen to that pair of headphones? Well as a young man once said, “don’t leave a set of beloved headphones within the grasp of an overzealous young canine”. For once, the dog actually did do it. Those headphones were indeed no match for our fervent hound and realistically, what headphones would be! All this being said, I was eager to see what improvements the latest generation of SRH440A’s had to offer, dog proof or otherwise.
On the surface
When assessing a set of studio headphones, one typically evaluates a few simple points to tick off the list. Build quality, sound quality and comfort. The rigours of a studio environment are certainly substantial, whether it be a commercial space or a podcasting/voiceover booth, headphones need to be able to withstand this anticipated heavy wear and tear. Their sound reproduction is ideally neutral, with as little hype as possible, and also be suitable for multiple hours of continual wear without becoming physically fatiguing.
The slimline, ergonomic design of the SRH440A both look and feel professional, unobtrusive and classy. Simple aesthetic updates such as as the removal of the blue and red coloured ovals on each side of the headphone are a smart aesthetic choice, instead opting for just the Shure logo on the outside of each cup. Particularly nice when shot under camera. They don’t draw unnecessary attention, but instead blend into their surrounds rather nicely.
The pleather ear pads are comfortable and the oval shape and circumaural design of the cups makes for a cosy fit over the ears and provides good isolation and minimal leakage, ideal for tracking sessions. The headband provides just the right amount of comfort, making them worthy of longer use and I would say is an improvement on the previous gens. A detachable 3-meter cable is always a welcomed addition for a studio headphone, which is assured to cope some foot trips and tugs in its life. This also comes with a gold plated 1/8” to 1/4″ threaded adaptor, with both cable and adaptor being easily replaceable if required.
The flat folding design of the new SRH440A is a slight departure from the previous models, which allowed the cups to folded up under the headband and nestled into its dedicated carry pouch. This newer flatter design actually makes for a less bulky foot print, ideal for being placed in a backpack whilst traveling. I must admit, I was hoping there would be a carry pouch included with this new set, but it seems Shure have focused their energy into design and sound quality improvements with this fresh model over an abundance of accessories. The build quality of the SRH440A is of course top notch, as expected from Shure, with the chassis being made of hard moulded plastic. I wouldn’t hesitate throwing these into a backpack for a session or gig time and time again, but for those who do prefer having a dedicated carry pouch, the dedicated Shure HPACP1 pouch can be purchased separately.
Plugging in the SRH440A’s and playing some familiar material, I was instantly reminded of why I enjoyed my first generation pair so much. Their rather neutral, unexcited sound is exactly what one typically looks for in a studio headphone.
A frequency response ranging from 10Hz – 22kHz, is an admirable figure and their depth in the low end is reflective of this measure. Their overall sonic balance is perhaps a little low-mid leaning and slightly underwhelming in the upper midrange and top end, and I consider this a positive given their intended use as a studio headphone. Whilst other headphones might be considered more “exciting” to listen to, aka whopping amount of low end and sparkling tops, they typically make for a more fatiguing listen, particularly on longer sessions. Not only this, but being more coloured in their sonic footprint, tend to make editing and mixing tasks tougher, as translatability onto the plethora of real-world playback systems can become problematic. Thankfully, I didn’t find these issues with SRH440A’s.
The 40mm neodymium magnet drivers provide plenty of punch and clarity, making the hunt for problematic frequencies in the mix a less arduous task than otherwise expected. As mentioned earlier, the circumaural closed back design provide great isolation but also a pleasing depth of field, particularly for a closed back design; making for the tweaking of reverb parameters for example quite gratifying. Their consistency in dynamics between listening back from whisper quiet to blaringly loud I found to be pleasing, making mix balancing tasks at quieter volumes a breeze. And speaking of loud, another one of the improvements made to this new model is the impedance, which now sits at 40 Ohms, thus being comfortably driven by pretty much any consumer electronic playback device.
The updated SRH440A’s do indeed set a benchmark for what a high quality studio headphone should be, particularly in this rather saturated area of the market. In classic Shure fashion the build quality is tough as nails and the sonic footprint is far more neutral than sparkly and colourful. The simple aesthetic updates make for an inconspicuous appearance on camera, ‘shure’ to get a tick of approval from the podcasting and content creator markets. Their no frills direction has made for an honest sounding headphone worthy of being placed in any studio, even without a dog proof guarantee.