Shure SRH-144 On-ear Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, May 18, 2015.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone6+ with v-moda Verza/Portaphile Micro/Decware Zen Head amps, various computers using HRT Microstreamer/FiiO E17k/Beyer A200p DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the Shure SRH144 are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - the v-moda M100 and XS, the FAD Pandora VI and IV, the Beyerdynamic T1 and T90, the AKG K812 and K712, and notes that I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I'll describe how I relate to the SRH144 (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    I reviewed several Shure headphones that I purchased previously, and I purchased this headphone out of curiosity about its sound, because I now use the Apple i-device Audioforge Equalizer app to make a determination of the headphone's signature or frequency response. Although the maximum resolution I get from the i-devices is 44 khz (CD quality) using Apple-compatible DACs such as the Oppo HA-2, that resolution is more than sufficient to determine a headphone's signature, which is its basic sound quality. I rarely need to go beyond basic sound quality unless the headphone is criticized elsewhere for tonality problems or unusual distortions, etc. In the SRH144's case there are no tonality issues per se, nor are there any noticeable distortions, but given the unusual sound compared to most headphones in this price range ($40 USD), that unusual sound will be my focus for this review outside of the physical features.

    Check the Audioforge chart above or in the Photos section of my dalethorn website, and you'll see where I boosted the bass by 6 db at 40 hz. That boost does not make the sound warm nor does it add any boomy, muddy, or other negative quality to the bass - it merely fills in for a significant rolloff below 80-100 hz. I reduced the midrange by 4 db at 600 hz and boosted the treble selectively since it was recessed well below average for hi-fi headphones, and even many low-cost headphones such as the AIAIAI Tracks, B&O Form2, Edifier H850, Grado eGrado, Philips SHP9500, Soundmagic P21, etc. The sound without EQ is about the same as a typical FM radio installed in the lowest-cost cars, however it's a very smooth sound, unlike most ultra-low-cost car stereos. With EQ the sound is as good as the average $400 to $500 headphone, when those headphones are played without any EQ. So you get $40 worth of sound for $40, but the potential is much greater due to the use of quality drivers and an accurate build.

    The open-back SRH144 has no isolation, so leakage is therefore a non-issue. It may be possible to use it in offices, libraries, or on public transit if played at low volume levels. It's very lightweight being small, on-ear, and mostly plastic. The headband has some padding and the earpads are soft and squishy, so it's very comfortable for extended use. The clamping force is light, which is normal for a small lightweight headphone. There are no issues with wearing glasses, since the earcups contact only the outer ears. This is an ideal portable headphone in that it can be pulled off the head when not in use, earcups pulled all the way down, and worn around the neck with no discomfort. This is important to me since I don't like to have to carry a headphone bag or case when I'm on walkabouts. The total range of adjustment is about 5/4 inches on each side, where my average size head fits in the middle of that range. The cable is double-entry and non-detachable, with no mic or music player controls.

    My final overall impression is that the SRH144 must have been created for very temporary monitoring chores, where bass and treble extension aren't needed. I'm guessing that's the case since almost all of the very low-cost headphones that I'm familiar with have a bass emphasis, which that demographic demands. The SRH144 iw fairly inefficient compared to most of my headphones, and my iPhone 6-plus doesn't have enough output power for many of my low-volume music tracks. In previous reviews I've included the following music examples 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 SRH144 compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Shure SRH-144 review part 2 - music samples

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The SRH144 plays this very 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 very well by the SRH144.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Distant 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, and you can almost feel the weight they carry with the SRH144.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The SRH144 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 very well by the SRH144.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The SRH144 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 that have a full treble, but the SRH144 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions softly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The SRH144 plays this high treble energy recording softly - the voice and instruments are detailed but not edgy - in fact quite musical.

    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 recognizable.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The SRH144 reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are normally very extended and detailed, but the SRH144 requires a treble boost to reproduce the cymbal's upper harmonics.

    Ed Palermo - Crazy (Pop Vocal): A dose of big band, pop, country, and jazz with a unique vocal is Ed Palermo's Big Band, and this track is a great demo for the SRH144 - for instrumental tone and ambiance, and a perfectly-recorded vocal. The saxophone lead at 2:51 is especially gratifying.

    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 SRH144 plays this music very well.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 should have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that indicates a good deep-bass response, but the bass is light here. Overall, the SRH144 plays this music very well.

    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 don't reproduce well with the SRH144. 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 SRH144 reproduction is very distant. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for maximum detail. I want to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, but the SRH144 does not delineate these instruments as well as most of the headphones I have.

    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 SRH144 plays this with some detail but very little 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 SRH144 is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    Michael Buble - Nice 'n Easy (Jazz): The voice is prominent but well-recorded, the massed instruments are fairly distant, and the bass line is pretty clear and detailed. This sounds good with most headphones, and fairly good with the SRH144.

    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 extremely light with the SRH144.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the SRH144 renders this music as good as I've heard given the headphone's very soft treble.

    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 SRH144 reproduces the 'clop' portion of that sound pretty well.

    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 SRH144 conveys only a little of that drama due to the recessed lower bass, but the tympani have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is normally fairly bright and highly detailed, but the SRH144 misses most of the tonality due to the very soft treble.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and has a significant "bite". The SRH144's reproduction is good and the close-miked piano is 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 upper bass impacts here are decent and work well with the horns and other instruments. The SRH144 reproduces the impacts with some weight and detail, and while the horns normally have a distinctive kind of bite, the soft treble mitigates most of that bite.

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