Senal SMH-1200 Closed-Back Studio Monitor Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, May 16, 2017.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone7+ with Oppo HA-2/AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC/amps, various computers using the AudioQuest DragonFly Red/Lehmann Traveller DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the Senal SMH1200 headphone (SMH1200 hereafter) are based on direct comparisons to other headphones, particularly those that resemble its design (closed-back studio monitor), but also to a few premium headphones for reference. I'll describe how I relate to the SMH1200 (i.e., my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    The SMH1200 bass has a rolloff below 60 hz or so, which becomes noticeable in the very deep bass, however, the bass has good impact and weight for pretty much everything I listen to. The music track comments below illustrate where a user might notice a difference between the SMH1200 and a headphone with a strong deep bass. The upper bass to low mids may have a tiny coloration depending on your perceptions, but I mention it only as a disclaimer since the SMH1200 is one of the most neutral headphones I've had. The treble may sound slightly rough to some users, as I hear the typical +/- 4 db variances there, but given the many so-called "flagship" headphones I've had that are no better, the bottom line comes down to those ultra-fine details that people pay $600 to $1000 USD for. The SMH1200 is actually better than a few of the $600 headphones I've owned, so while I can't say that it's as good or better than the average $600 headphone, I can say confidently that it's better than the average headphone under $500.

    Isolation is average or better for a good closed-back monitor. Leakage is low, but if playing music loudly in a quiet office or library, a person sitting next to the headphone will probably hear some faint sounds. The earpads are soft and squishy, and covered with a good grade of plastic that should hold up well. The earcup openings are oval (2.25 x 1.5 inches) and fit my average-size ears with room to spare, but users with extremely large ears might find them a snug fit. The headband has some nice padding and the headphone is light for its size, so nothing to worry about there. The headband's range of adjustment is 1.75 inches, and my average-size head fit in the middle of that range. The earcup rotation is a few degrees each way, which will accomodate most users.

    The SMH1200 comes with two cables, both detachable - one is 4 ft long and fabric covered with a one-button control and 3.5 mm smartphone plug, and the other is 6 ft long coiled (10 ft stretched) with no controls and a standard 3.5 mm plug, threaded for the included 6.35 mm (1/4 inch) adapter plug. The short fabric covered cable is nice enough, but the longer studio cable is extremely well made - thick enough to inspire confidence, but very flexible with a soft rubber covering. Both cables have an earcup lock, similar to what Shure uses with their pro headphones, but I've never felt the need to lock the SMH1200 cables, because the plugs snap into the left earcup with a satisfying click, with no wiggling. A heavy-duty plastic/pleather bag is included, and because of how the earcups fold into the headband, once bagged the SMH1200 is a nice compact package. Of course, a user can also pull the earcups down and wear it around the neck if that's more convenient than packing it up.

    LAST WORD: I hadn't heard of or seen the Senal headphones until B&H featured them, and since the SMH1200 is or was their flagship at only $150, I figured it would be a safe purchase. It turned out far better than I expected - the SMH1200 is a much better headphone than previous "studio monitor" headphones I've had in the sub-$200 range, but I suspect that this level of quality is becoming the standard these days, due to the overall increase in consumer headphone use. My SMH1200 is "Made in the Philippines", and I can't think of any criticisms that make sense for this headphone. The build quality is very good, the comfort is superior, and the sound is worthy to monitor high-quality audiophile recordings. Highly recommended.

    In previous reviews I've included the following music samples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to those other reviews and see how the SMH1200 compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has amazing detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The SMH1200 plays this extremely well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled perfectly by the SMH1200.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can feel a little of the weight they carry with the SMH1200.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The SMH1200 plays this music very smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Great sound quality - this is a good test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled perfectly by the SMH1200.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The SMH1200 plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The SMH1200 reproduces the space and detail very well.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the SMH1200 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The SMH1200 plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine sound is clearly identifiable.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The SMH1200 reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The SMH1200 plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have a taste of the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that indicates a minimally effective deep-bass response. Overall, the SMH1200 plays this music extremely well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has excellent detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The SMH1200 plays this track perfectly.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce lightly with the SMH1200. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The SMH1200 provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for best-case detail. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the SMH1200 does those very well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The SMH1200 plays this with enough weight and detail that you can hear/feel some of the 16 cycle per second "beats" of the fundamental tone.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor** who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2015, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the SMH1200 is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    **Mantovani developed the "Cascading Strings" sonic effect circa 1950, a famous "Wall of Sound" effect for mono hi-fi systems that predated Phil Spector's own famous Wall of Sound effect by 10 years or so.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is fairly subtle with the SMH1200.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the SMH1200 renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any headphone.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The SMH1200's reproduction of the 'clop' sound is lighter than ideal.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The SMH1200 conveys some of the drama here but the 32.7 hz organ pedal tone is a bit light. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the SMH1200 renders the tones and transients extremely well.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The SMH1200's reproduction is excellent, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are strong and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The SMH1200 delivers the impacts with decent weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

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