If you want the very best in headphone sound quality, you need to look for a full-size open-back pair like the Shure SRH1440. They're thoroughly impractical in anywhere but quiet rooms, but other types rarely get close to the expansive, detailed sound they can offer. However, as a name known more for earphones than high-end headphones, can these Shures really make an impact?
Upon first opening up the oversized case of the Shure SRH1440, we couldn't help but notice how close in design these headphones are to those of Sennheiser's open-back HD range. The Sennheiser HD 650 have become a standardbearer for headphones of this type, and Shure seems to have its sights set on the same audience.
However, the Shure SRH1440 have an ever-so-slightly less attractive design. Its chunky plastic arms joining the cups to the headband have a whiff of the practical "studio" headphone rather than the more carefully-styled home-bound type. There's not a great deal in it, though, and in our book comfort and sound quality should always be top concerns in an open set like this.
The Shure SRH1440 are constructed using a surprisingly wide variety of materials. Most of the outer is tough black plastic, at the heart of the headband is a flexible strip of metal, the driver grilles are black-painted metal, the headband padding topped with synthetic leather and the earcup padding is covered in velour. There's just one part here that's just for show, which is the band of silver that rings around the speaker grille.
Although not bowled over by the Shure SRH1440 looks, build quality is excellent. The synthetic leather used in the headband is so soft and convincing that we had to check with Shure whether it was the real deal, the headphones are feel sturdy and the tension of the headband is well-judged - low-to-mid, for home use.
They are a little heavier than Sennheiser's models, at 325g, and the earcup padding doesn't quite feel so luxurious. Hence, no, they're not quite as comfortable as the HD 598, but it's a little like comparing various brands of sports car - we'd happily wear these headphones all day long. Their open backs make them much cooler on your ears than a closed pair and the velour doesn't stick to your skin like some synthetic leather cups do.
The drawbacks of an open pair like this are that they leak sound readily and they barely block out any external noise. If you want a pair of headphones to give you brief respite from screaming kids, these are not they. And it goes without saying that they're utterly useless for on noisy streets, buses and so on.
This is no knock on the Shure SRH1440, just the reality of what open-back headphones are all about. Within the field, these headphones make no big mistakes. An important bonus, the 2m cable is fully removable, with a simple gold-plated pull-to-release mechanism at the bottom of each earcup.
Opting for flexibility rather than flouncy audio cred, the jack is a 3.5mm jobbie threaded to accept a 6.3mm converter, included in the box. A large, well-padded case is included too.