Shure SRH1540 – A Sure Bet

The Shure SRH1540 is the second Shure headphone I’ve ever tested at length, having first experienced the open flagship, the SRH1840. I wasn’t enamored by the SRH1840 overall, as I felt it was a bit thin sounding. It was lacking in body and euphony for my personal taste, though it was an excellent headphone for its highly detail, and fantastic, airy soundstage. Definitely a great tool for those who are into that type of sound. I personally prefer a warmer, richer, more musical experience, which I felt the SRH1540 would fit quite nicely.

Build Quality

The 1540 shares a near identical build and aesthetic with the 1840, so most of what I mention will be similar to my experience with the 1840, barring obvious differences.

The 1540 is well built, considering how little there is in the way of external design. The headband is essentially split into two thin headbands covered in leather (unsure whether its genuine or synthetic).

This is one of the only areas on the 1540 I wish would’ve been different, as it just makes sense to have one single headband pressing down to the scalp, not two. The 1540 leaves two distinct indentations on my head after extended periods of use. The downward force of the dual headband may not be suited for those with larger heads.

The aluminum yokes/extension arms feel very solid, which I don’t foresee ever, ever breaking or bending without some truly powerful force put behind it. There are no clicks, or grooves for size adjustments. The 1540 resizes in a very smooth manner, which may be a problem for those who like to perfectly match left and right sides (I personally don’t have this issue as I wear the 1540 fully extended). The arms hold the oval-shaped plastic cups, which may be a contrast to the strong aluminum, but doesn’t look out of place in the general design of the 1540. The plastic doesn’t feel neither cheap nor fragile. Just a non-descript matte black which contrasts other aspects of the 1540’s styling. The cups swivel vertically, but not horizontally, which may be a problem for oddly shaped heads.

The closed-back, outer cups use a high gloss, carbon-fiber design, which looks more contemporary compared to the classy, gorgeous, open grills on the 1840. The cup is stamped with a silver Shure logo that the 1840 lacks.

The 1540’s oval pads are among the best I have ever felt, made of Alcantara material (akin to faux suede). Incredibly comfortable, soft, and easily removable for cleaning/replacement. The inner wall/lining of the pads is synthetic leather, which helps the pads maintain a good amount of isolation, like typical synthetic leather pads used in most closed-back headphones. I don’t see how these pads can’t fit over everyone’s ears properly, as they are large and spacious. Among the best pads I have ever used. So much, I believe they make compelling alternatives for any other headphone that it may fit on.

The 1540’s cups each house in (which I assume) Shure’s proprietary connections. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of this type of input and would’ve preferred standard 3.5mm or mini-XLR inputs. The dual ended cable is pretty standard fare. Not overly thin nor thick, neither too short nor too long, it gets the job done. Non-grippy and doesn’t seem prone to tangling. On the source end, it terminates into a gold-plated, straight 3.5mm plug with a screw on 6.3mm adapter. The barrel is thick (Shure branded), with a great amount of strain relief. I can understand why people would upgrade the cable to something a little more luxurious, though I don’t have any specific issue with it. It is just a decent, utilitarian cable.

After all is said and done, the Shure 1540’s build quality is pretty top-notch, though a bit less luxurious than the price would suggest. The only areas I found lacking are the lack of movement on the cups (limiting how well they fit differently shaped heads), and the mediocre twin headband design, which lacks a bit of cushion on the bottom side.

Rating: Great

Accessories

The Shure 1540 comes with an absolute plethora of goodies:

-Additional pair of Alcantara pads. I greatly appreciate this more than anything else, as it would allow me to use the pads with other headphones.

-Two detachable cables. I don’t really understand why they supplied two identical cables. I would’ve preferred the cables be different in length, for some variety and versatility.

-1/4″ gold plated screw on adapter. You can never have enough of these. Better to have spares than none at all.

-Zippered Hard Storage Case. Very functional, and holds all the goodies. Certainly one of the better included cases, though I would’ve liked a handle.

The Shure 1540 is well equipped, though I wonder if its price takes all these accessories into account. Personally, I could live with just the headphone, one cable, and the spare pads if it would cause the price to go down a bit.

Design Issues

Like the 1840, the split headband design is unnecessary and would’ve been more comfortable as a single headband design. Not sure if Shure did it for weight or aesthetic reasons. The only other real design issue I see is the lack of horizontal swivel on the cups, as it limits freedom of movement to adjust for oddly shaped heads.

Comfort

The 1540 is among the most comfortable closed-back headphones I have ever used. Lightweight, and rests on the head lightly, with most of its weight falling evenly near the cups. There is some moderate clamp, so some stretching may be advised if you’re sensitive to clamping pressure. The alcantara pads are a much welcome change compared to the leather, synthetic leather pads abundantly used on closed-back headphones. It remains cooler for longer, and isn’t sweat inducing, though the inner wall’s lining is still made of synthetic leather.

Its only possible issues in comfort are the dual headband design, which aren’t padded all too well, and leave a pressure/hot spot on the top of the skull. This takes a period of adjustment, and will absolutely leave an indent on your head if you keep your hair short.

Aside from that issue, the 1540 can be worn seemingly all day without becoming hot, or head shift inducing.

Rating: Great

Isolation/Leakage

The 1540 seals quite well, keeping its sound leakage to a minimum. Passive sound isolation is good, though the Alcantara pads don’t seal as well as typical synthetic leather, or real leather. However, it is an improvement over standard velour pads.

Rating: Very Good

Sound
Prior to listening to the 1540, I expected a sound reminiscent to the Philips Fidelio X1, but in a closed-back form. The Shure SRH1540 met my expectations, with a heavy low end, recessed midrange, slightly sparkly upper range (though smooth overall), and excellent soundstage. To go into detail…

Bass

I fancy myself as somewhat of a very mild basshead. More like a ‘bass inclined/well balanced’ head. I prefer sub bass over mid bass in general. I must say I was left impressed with how low the Shure 1540 was able to reach with a satisfying rumble. Its not exactly a bass monster, yet the 1540 hits 35hz notes with relative ease, and is appreciably audible down to the mid-20hz range before it becomes quiet relative to the rest of the sound.

There is somewhat of a downside with the 1540’s bass and it is something I found to be a minor issue with the 1840 as well. The 1540 does not like very loud volumes, as the bass noticeably distorts at exceedingly high volumes, or tracks with bloated, boomy bass. The 1540 is well behaved at moderate volume levels, moderate-high as a limit before I’d say the bass loses its quality. I’m a moderately high volume listener and didn’t have much issue with the 1540’s bass, though it is worth noting, if you like to jam out at higher volumes.

Note: I’ve been told by trusted friends that MrSpeaker’s Alpha pads work incredibly well with the SRH1540, apparently control the bass issues significantly well. I personally can’t confirm what changes arte made, but it may be worth checking out if you happen to own a pair.

Quality: Very Good

Quantity: Strong, not-basshead level

Midrange

The 1540’s midrange is recessed relative to the bass and treble. I’m not completely bothered by this, as I was a v-shaped fan for years, though my tastes have evolved to become more of a bass and midrange first/second kind of person.

Frequency-wise, the midrange is overall quite non-fatiguing and laid back, reaching its biggest peak at about 5khz, before rolling off noticeably until the treble range.

Vocals are not the strongest point of the 1540, and as such, I recommend something else if strong vocals are a top priority. If you’re more about the beat, the pulse, the ambiance, the 1540 will be quite adept, and be well suited for genres like EDM (Trance, Chillstep, etc).

While it may be recessed, it leads to a bigger sense of space in the sound, which aid the already great soundstage on the 1540.

Quality: Good
Quantity: Slightly Recessed

Treble

The 1540’s treble range is generally smooth with good extension and air. At about 8khz, it ramps up to a non-fatiguing, 10khz treble peak, which softens up while continuing to extend to about 13khz, before smoothing over and becoming non-distinct.

This gives the 1540 an energetic yet well controlled treble section which gives the sound plenty of air and clarity without it ever becoming overly harsh or ear piercing.

Quality: Great
Quantity: Sparkly 8-10khz range, smooth and non-fatiguing otherwise

Soundstage

The 1540’s soundstage has more in common with open-backed headphones rather than closed-back. It is impressively open sounding, with good air, highly defined audio cues, with excellent width and good depth. Impressive for a closed, dynamic headphone. It won’t be mistaken for an open headphone, but it does sound quite spacious and non-restricted by the closed-back design.

Rating: Great

Clarity

Despite its laid back midrange recession, the 1540 is generally a clear sounding headphone. Highly defined, sharp audio cues, crisp treble without being overbearing, good extension up top, leads to a clear, yet generally smooth sound.

Rating: Great

Sound Signature

V-shaped
Full, energetic bass
Slightly distant midrange
Extended, clear treble
Airy

The 1540’s sound signature will appeal to v-shaped headphone fast who like a lively bass and treble response. The midrange is its weak point, though it isn’t a gaping void like some v-shaped headphones can tend to be.

Amping

Portable amp at minimum recommended

The 1540 isn’t a very demanding headphone, but it is one of the rare sensitive headphones I have tested that noticeable improves with quality power and source. The 1540’s bass is potent and can distort with heavy volumes (presumably due to lack of pad seal, though I can’t confirm this personally), and I expect some mitigation of distortion to occur with some proper amping.

I personally recommend a neutral to slightly bright source and amp, to control the bass a bit. Midrange proficient amps will also help the 1540’s sound.

Gaming

The Shure 1540 leans more towards fun/immersive gaming, with potent bass, large soundstage, and sparkly treble as its best attributes for gaming.

The sharp audio cues inside its large soundstage for a closed headphone leads to a very good competitive side as well, though its distant midrange may make it harder to pick up sounds as well as better balanced headphones with a more forward midrange and less bass.

The clarity in the upper range helps expand the soundstage, and keep audio cues clean and focused.

In terms of closed, fun headphones, the 1540 is a definite top contender, and one that gamers with a penchant for a v-shaped sound may not want to pass up. The rear soundstage depth wasn’t nearly as good as the Fidelio X2 I compared it directly against, but it was still in the realm of ‘great’ at picking out rear cues.

Rating: Excellent

Personal Recommendation?

Music? Yes, mainstream, EDM
Movies? Yes, Action
Gaming? Yes, leaning on non-competitive, immersive gaming
General media? Yes

The Shure SRH1540’s sound characteristics makes it a very engaging headphone for all forms of media, with its lively bass, large soundstage for a closed headphone, and vibrant clarity up top. Full, potent bass presence, and crisp, open-esque soundstage makes it an easy recommendation even at its price range.

Final Impressions

The Shure 1540 ticks all the right boxes for those who do not mind a v-shaped response: It is comfortable, with pads that weren’t leather based (artificial or not), lively, clear, spacious, and very capable at general media like movies and video games. I’m a sucker for well rounded headphones with some potency and liveliness, and the 1540 does not disappoint. I do feel it should be priced a bit lower to be even more competitive in the market, and a worthwhile investment. This doesn’t stop the 1540 from being a great headphone, should you choose to pay its asking price. A couple of years ago, the 1540 would’ve been a headphone I could classify as endgame for my v-shaped tendencies (at the time).

If you like potent bass, energetic, but never overwhelming treble, and great soundstage, the 1540 is an absolute safe bet, especially for a closed headphone.

Likes, Dislikes, and Unfiltered Thoughts

Pros:

Comfort
Bass
Treble
Soundstage
Accessories

Cons:

Slightly overpriced
Distant midrange, vocals
Lack of horizontal swivel (may be uncomfortable for odd-shaped heads)
Bass may distort at high volumes with stock pads

Unfiltered Thoughts:

If you love a v-shaped sound with some smoothness like the Philips Fidelio X1, the 1540 is a very close, closed-back alternative with a similar sound and characteristics. I think those looking for a better X1, may actually find it here, though again, in closed-back from, so you lose a little in the way of immediate soundstage openness.

Do I recommend the 1540? Yes, though I find it a bit pricey for its performance. If Shure could get rid of the extra, unnecessary (though welcome) accessories, and sold it for $300-350, you’d have a ‘Shure’ win.

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Christian Gabiel [Mad Lust Envy]

Under the name Mad Lust Envy, known for the surprisingly popular headphone gaming guide on Head-fi's Video Game Discussion sub-forum. Avid anime and gamer geek with a penchant for headphone audiophilia, though admittedly more for general media use, less so for music. Plenty of music listening when reviewing, however. While the headphone hobby started in 2010, it was full steam ahead from the start, never looking back.

5
REPLY
  • Frank iacone
  • 2017-05-02 19:16:00
  • The Shure 1540 is an excellent headphone and works well. not sure have not heard the Fidelio X-1.
  • Reply


  • Gabriel Sosa
  • 2017-05-02 16:24:00
  • Hi ! Thanks for such a complete review. I´ve the opportunity of acquiring a pair of New Fidelio X1 and a almost new pair of Shure 1540. For the same Price, what do you recomend me ? Sorry for my english, Gabriel From Argentina
  • Reply


  • Currawong
  • 2016-01-05 01:00:00
  • Thanks for that. I've gone through and updated the post. That one must have been published before editing was complete.
  • Reply


  • wowgivemeabreak
  • 2016-01-04 21:52:00
  • Solid review but my goodness, the word is "its" not "it's"
  • Reply


  • Jeff
  • 2015-04-21 07:37:22
  • I liked this headphone a lot when I auditioned but it doesn't fit my head too well :( Can't wait until Shure comes up with their next line of headphones!
  • Reply


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