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While originally sporting an MSRP of $624, these premium cans are currently selling for $499. If you're gawking at those big price tags, don't worry. We were too—until we got them into the lab.

You can certainly find the stellar audio quality for hundreds less, but you'll be hard-pressed to find another pair of over-ears that package solid performance, serious comfort, and great extras quite like these.

We subject every pair of headphones we test—from gaming headsets to in-ears—to the same rigorous process of data collection and function analysis.

The Shure SRH1540 made mincemeat of their time in the lab, justifying their price with full, balanced sound, minimal distortion, and proper tracking.
When we talk about frequency response, we're referring to how a set of headphones handles each frequency along the spectrum from 20Hz (the lowest bass) to 10kHz (the highest treble). Given a set volume, every headphone responds differently. Some boost bass, others lay completely flat. The Shure SRH1540 fall somewhere in the middle, roughly following an equal loudness contour (ELC)—but with some key departures.

The Shure SRH1540 over-ears' frequency response compared to an equal loudness contour.

The SRH1540 over-ears roughly follow the curve of an equal loudness contour.

If we take an even closer look at the frequency response result, we find that the SRH1540 over-ears don't emphasize sub-bass frequencies as much as in a "perfect" ELC, but bass frequencies from 60 Hz through 800 Hz are given ample emphasis. The emphasis tapers off as bass frequencies approach midtones, and things even out until around 4kHz. High frequencies above 4kHz–mostly overtones and harmonic resonance (cello, electric guitar)—rise in volume to compensate the human ear's low sensitivity to them.

The Shure SRH1540 over-ears tested with a balanced, even frequency response that allocates strong emphasis to bass, with flat midtones and peaking highs.

The Shure SRH1540 over-ears tested with a balanced, even frequency response that allocates moderate emphasis to bass, with flat midtones and peaking highs.

Pamper your ears in style

Let's face the music: When it comes to headphone materials, it's tough to find the middle ground. If they're comfy, do they look cheap and chintzy? If they're elegantly styled, are they a pain to wear?

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Relax—Shure drew the map to the middle ground with the SRH1540 over-ears.

Big, soft ear pads mold to your jaw and temple, locking in sound but not heat. Nothing heats up too much though, thanks to tiny holes in the fabric that let the pads breathe. Padded plastic buffers the top of your head, and bends easily, making for a great fit. Thin aluminum reaches from the band to meet the cups, keeping the SRH1540s both durable and light.

Tiny holes in the fabric let the pads breathe.

These cans look good, too. The back of each cup sports patterned black hatching that's covered by smooth glossy plastic and ringed by shimmering silver. This is some seriously handsome, professional design.

As for the cable? It's like a tank. Thick, unyielding rubber from end to end means it doesn't lay flat and comes out of the box kinked, but the tradeoff is that it's extremely durable. A heavily shielded flex point travels to a well-guarded Y-split, which branches out to both ear cups. On the rare chance that the cable is damaged, Shure includes an identical backup.

The Shure SRH1540 ear cup

The SRH1540 wears handsome black hatching overlaid in glass.

I have a feeling no harm will come to these over-ears if you're careful, though. Everything—the headphones, the two cables, a quarter-inch adapter, and replacement ear pads—can be packed safely into a leather case.

The case isn't really the "carrying" kind: It's as big as a hearty loaf of bread. Headphones like this are really best to keep by your workstation, though—you generally wouldn't buy over-ears as travel companions. On the plus side, no expense was spared for posh presentation—each cable is stored in a zip-up pouch that sticks into the case via velcro. Talk about fancy.

At the end of the day, though, what really matters is that the sum of these parts is a very comfortable set of over-ear headphones.

Our distortion test measures the level of unwanted sound and clipped notes present within the frequency output of a pair of headphones. Ideally, we want to see less than 3% THD (total harmonic distortion) from 60 Hz (the beginning of the bass range) through 10kHz.

While the SRH1540 over-ears tested with more than 3% distortion below 60 Hz, this isn't much of a problem, as human ears struggle to even hear frequencies in this range. Where it counts, these Shure cans are perceptibly distortion free, which is a great result.

On a side note, the SRH1540 over-ears tested with only about 5% distortion in the sub-bass range—this result is vastly better than what we usually find. Most importantly, though, these Shure over-ears are perceptibly distortion free across the entire range, which is an excellent outcome.

You can expect imperceptible distortion unless you're listening at a volume louder than 104.014 dB, which is approaching dangerous levels as is.

The Shure SRH1540 over-ears total harmonic distortion

The SRH1540 over-ears exhibit less than 3% THD (total harmonic distortion) from 80 Hz through 10kHz.

A Shure thing

Shure claims that the SRH1540 are "premium closed-back headphones," and I'm inclined to agree. These over-ear cans are solid, reliable performers on all fronts.

They don't provide the completely flat soundscape that professionals might be looking for, but the SRH1540 over-ears foster a very balanced sound nonetheless. Testing revealed modest bass support and prominent midtones. Volume remains even through treble pitches, and eventually peaks during overtones.

Double bass and cello notes stand out with powerful resonance.

What does this mean in practice? I listened to a number of different artists from different genres, but what stood out strongest was Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major ("Eroica").

This symphony begins with two staccato Eb major chords, voiced amongst instruments like the double bass, cello, violin, clarinet, oboe, and timpani (a percussion instrument). When listening to the SRH1540 over-ears, the double bass and cello notes stand out with powerful resonance, while the clarinet and oboe dance playfully up top.

No matter how manic Beethoven gets, these Shure over-ears maintain clarity and stave off clipping.

The SRH1540 over-ears expertly handle volume between the left and right speakers, too, striking an even balance. From solo piccolo to the full strength of the whole symphony, both speakers purr in beautiful unison.

The details are just impeccable: Take the violin—from whispering harmonic overtones to tremolo sawing at the bowstrings—each quality is not only audible, it's free from any and all audible distortion. Even the lowest, rumbling notes on the timpani ring clear. No matter how manic Beethoven gets, these Shure over-ears maintain clarity and stave off clipping.

Travelers, take heed: These over-ears aren't expertly suited to the noisy outside world. This isn't just because of their sizable form factor, either—they just don't block ambient sound like a set of in-ears or active noise cancelers would. You won't hear high-pitched noises as much with these cans on your head, but rumbling bass sounds will still penetrate even the fiercest of old Ludwig's works.

Heroic sound

There's no denying that the Shure SRH1540 are priced well above what the average consumer is prepared to spend. At an MSRP of $624 ($499 online), they are anything but a casual purchase.

Testing justified the high price, however. A full, rich soundscape complemented by a very high degree of comfort leaves almost nothing to be desired. The SRH1540 over-ears provide the kind of balanced playback that many musicians and audio purists would relish.

If you're looking for top-notch sound but you just don't have that much to spend, Beyerdynamic's Custom One Pro headphones offer four excellent soundscapes for less—but you'll miss out on some luxury. The SRH1540 over-ears are practically flawless, pampering your ears even after hours and hours of use. From the swanky extras, to the well-made, durable parts, to the polished sound, these are a dynamite buy.
Attenuation refers to the amount of noise naturally or actively quieted when wearing a pair of headphones—it's sometimes also called "isolation."

Testing revealed that the SRH1540 over-ears aren't the greatest isolators: These cans block about 10dB of sound from midrange noises like footfalls and clicking keyboards, reducing them by about 1/4 of their original volume, which is average.

Higher pitched frequencies, like ringing phones, will be quieted even further, to about 1/16 of their original volume. Common bass-range noises, however, will still be highly audible, so expect to hear honking trucks and rumbling engines.

Our attenuation tests measures how much ambient noise a pair of headphones blocks out while they're over or on your ears. The SRH1540 are average isolators, blocking some middle and high pitched sounds, but no bass.

Meet the tester

Lee Neikirk

Lee Neikirk

Editor, Home Theater


Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.

See all of Lee Neikirk's reviews

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