We always ask our gear reviewers at Tape Op to take the product in question into the studio and use it on sessions. I think this is a good thing. To me, there's not much use in the real world for key jangling in front of mics; and in the heat of a recording, I couldn't care less what someone's bench test results were for some item (not that I don't think testing has merit or importance outside of a session). What we want our reviewers to do is put the gear through the paces, to see if it does benefit a recording and find out if it holds up under real use. But then I got sent a product that had me confused, the Shure SRH1540. These are closed-back headphones, and at 10 ounces, they are very light and comfortable. They come with two sets of detachable, durable cables (1/8'' with 1/4'' adapters), an extra set of Alcantara covered earpads, and a nice, semi-hardshell case.
In the previous issue, I favorably reviewed the Focal Spirit Professional headphones [Tape Op #98]. I really like using them in the studio for listening to details and examining the frequency spectrum. With two more months' use, I also think that these are the flattest-response headphones I've heard, and they remind me of my favorite types of studio monitors - the kind that tell it like it is and make me work hard.
So it's pretty crazy to get sent the Shure SRH1540 headphones for review, because they just sound really good. It reminds me of the old studio advice against having monitors that are too "nice" sounding, because you might not work hard enough on your sounds or mix. Don't get me wrong - I absolutely love listening to music on the SRH1540 cans. I'm listening to a bunch of recent final and rough mixes of mine right now, and the clarity and detail is astounding, and the experience is highly enjoyable. I've also gotten lost in Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here via these headphones. It's a treat. I feel like the midrange is "pulled back" a bit in a specific way, so that the soundstage feels wider. This feat is done well, not in some ham-fisted way, and is part of what makes the headphones pleasurable to listen to. The low end is very deep, possibly a bit heavier to my ears than the reality of my mixes, but not hyped up like the current "lifestyle" headphones. The high end feels neutral and accurate to me, and sonic details are clear without being harsh. The fact that Shure has nearly 90 years of acoustic transducer R&D under their belt always shows in the quality of their microphones and headphones.
I hope no one takes away the impression that these are not amazing headphones. They sound fantastic. But my warning is for my studio-rat friends out there - the SRH1540 cans sound so good that you will get lost in enjoying the music and you might not be working hard enough. Ideally I would bring these and the Focal headphones to every session I do, and I'd switch back and forth just like I do with monitors. And then I'd take the Shure headphones home and listen to Pink Floyd and Brian Eno before I fell asleep!