Nowadays, with pretty much every newly minted headphone outfit referring to its flagship products as being of “reference” or “professional” quality, it’s refreshing to come across a product from an audio industry veteran that actually deserves the moniker — and is an affordable one, to boot.
Shure’s new Professional Reference Headphones entry is the SRH940, an upgrade to last year’s much-loved SRH840, and Shure isn’t kidding when it throws around descriptions like that. The 940 may cost around $300, but so do a lot of headphones that sound far worse, and it’s a bargain considering that it plays in the same league as headphones that cost three to five times as much. You read that right. This new contender from Shure is that good.
The overall character is well balanced. No exaggerated low-end bloom here; the 940’s sound definitely leans toward the analytical. (If your tracks sound bad, these ’phones will let you know.) Frequency range is given as 5 Hz to 30 kHz (giving these a very slight edge over the 840’s 25-kHz extension). There’s plenty of high end here, along with a smooth-as-silk midrange and clear, detailed bass, all of which is presented across a nice, wide soundstage. The SRH940 shone on whatever I could throw at it, from music with solo acoustic instruments to sample-dense, low-end-heavy hip-hop.
The headband and earcups are plastic, and while the 940 doesn’t necessarily feel quite as substantial as a metal-bodied headphone, construction is solid and their light weight (along with the velour) makes them quite comfortable. The 940 folds into a compact package, and its portability is enhanced by high sensitivity and low impedance, which make it easy to drive with a phone or iPod.
A case and two 1/8-inch terminated cables (one coiled, one straight, along with a screw-on ¼-inch adapter) are included, along with an extra set of pads. All of these accessories are also available separately from Shure, so you can be confident they’ll last a good, long time given a little care.
The only possible downside I found is that the Shure SRH940 headphones clamp fairly tightly, and the headband can get a bit uncomfortable where it contacts the top of your noggin during long listening sessions. The Shure’s velour-lined earcups are very comfy, however, and this is a minor issue in a product that’s otherwise nearly perfect, especially at this price. – Michael Berk
One thing I like to do on airplanes is check out what kind of headphones people are wearing. (Sounds creepy, I know!) Other than stock earbuds, the kind I see most often is a noise-canceling model from a well-known manufacturer — the things are pretty much ubiquitous.
Well, the world may not know it, but a bunch of other companies make noise-canceling headphones, too. Case in point: Audio-Technica. AT’s ATH-ANC7b headphones sport a closed-back, over-ear design with noise-eliminating electronics built into the earcups. Just insert a single AAA battery and you’re ready to go.
One thing about the ATH-ANC7b caught my attention right off the bat: its price. You can pick these ’phones up for around $120 — significantly less than what you’d pay for that other, frequent-flying brand. (All right, it’s Bose.) Build quality of the ANC7b is excellent. And the ample foam padding makes them one of the more comfortable headphones I’ve used. AT also gives you a substantial zippered travel case, along with detachable 1-meter and 1.6-meter cables, a ¼-inch adapter, and an airline adapter.
AT claims that the ANC7b reduces environmental noise by 90%, and I believe it. Running on my treadmill with the ’phones strapped on, I didn’t even feel a need to switch noise-canceling on to filter out the motor hum — the sound isolation afforded by the earcups’ extra-comfy pads was that good. But when I did make the switch, most residual noise was effectively filtered. The AT’s tonal balance got a noticeable uptilt when noise-correction was active, lending cymbal crashes and violins a crisp quality. (The balance shift isn’t bad for podcast listening, though, which is what I mostly do on planes.)
As for music, the ANC7b also proved to be a good performer on that front. Treble was a bit on the soft side, and bass had a bit of a bump. But its midrange clarity was fine, though I didn’t find the sound on tracks with vocals to be as involving as on the $250 Phiaton MS-400 I compared them with. When you add everything up, these AT’s are a great value. – Al Griffin
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