There has been a lot of interest in the SRH-1440, with questions such as "Is it that much better than the SRH-940?", or "How does it compare to the SRH-1840 when it costs only about half as much?" I've had the 1840 for a couple of months, and since I've been happy with it I wasn't thinking about the 1440 until curiosity got the best of me and I finally ordered it. Since most reviews tend to bore you with lots of detail about cords, plugs and ear cushions before they get to the sound, I'll do the sound first and then describe the physical details after that.
From the bass through the middle frequencies, the 1440 sounds pretty similar to the 1840 with very minor differences. Judging small differences is problematic, because those differences tend to move around the tone scale or even from one headphone to the other depending on the music tracks you're playing. In other words, track 'A' may have strong output at 200 hz and headphone 'A' may have some emphasis at that same frequency, effectively doubling the impression of that emphasis. If headphone 'B' is slightly recessed at that frequency, it would tend to cancel out the emphasis and sound "flatter" or smoother than headphone 'A'. But then the reverse may occur at a different frequency, so it's important to test with a lot of music tracks and see if there are any variances that are consistent with more than a few tracks.
Where the 1840 has some forwardness or emphasis that's most noticeable around 1.0 to 1.5 khz (my impression), the 1440's emphasis seems to occur about an octave higher. This emphasis or forwardness is less than what I experienced with the Grado PS-500 which is an excellent headphone, so it's not a negative for the 1440 - merely noted for the review. Moving up to the "presence" region which I estimate to be around 4 to 6 khz - that part of the lower treble that makes voices and some instruments sound more (or less) "alive" - the 1440 is significantly more lively than the 1840, and that holds true all the way up to the sibilants region just below 10 khz. The highs above 10 khz are very similar between the 1440 and 1840, and typical for most high-end headphones.
The overall sound of the 1440 in the "brightness" area from approximately 4 khz through 9 khz is very similar to the Shure SRH-940, which many people consider to be on the bright side of neutral. My years of experience with high-end headphones and music media tells me that it could go either way, depending on what you listen to. So while the 1440 is brighter than the 1840 and sibilants are stronger accordingly, I have only one music track out of 1600 where sibilants are bothersome with the 1440. See the additional notes in the music track listings below.
My final impression of the SRH-1440 sound is that it's an ultra-hifi headphone that has superb balance, smoothness, detail, and which benefits greatly from the best source material and amplifier you can use with it. Some of my testing was done with the iPad-3 playing through its line-out dock port into an Objective-2 headphone amp (purchased from JDS Labs, assembled), and some with a desktop PC and Foobar2000 software playing FLAC format music tracks. A more ideal configuration would be a good DAC running from the desktop or laptop USB, feeding into a decent headphone amp like the Objective2 or better, but given the spectacular sound I'm getting already I have no doubts about the ultimate quality of the SRH-1440 headphone.
The 1440 has a proprietary double-entry detachable cable that's about seven feet long and straight (not coiled), terminated by a standard straight (not angled) miniplug. A 1/4 inch (6.35mm) adapter is supplied and screws onto the miniplug. I can't be certain whether the miniplug would fit into any of the recessed sockets on music players that have such things, but the threaded portion of the plug ahead of the business end is 7mm in diameter including the threads. The cord is made up of two side-by-side strands that are bonded together, where each strand is 3mm thick, and those two strands separate at a strain-relief and join the earcups 'Y'-style.
Many people feel that single-entry headphone cables are a better choice because they're more convenient, i.e. they don't get tangled as much as double-entry cables. The price for that convenience is potentially worse sound due partly to the fact that the total cable length going to each driver is different, and partly to the requirement for a thin cable running across the headband to get the signal to the second earcup. Fortunately, the 1440 matches my personal preference. The SRH-1440 comes with two identical cables, the 6.5mm adapter, an extra set of velour earpads, and a semi-hard carrycase that affords good protection when transporting the headphone.
Since the 1440's cable has a standard miniplug with optional 6.5mm adapter, one might assume that Shure intended that it could be used with portable music players. Since laptop and desktop computers also have miniplug jacks, and because the 1440 is less efficient than many of the headphones that are typically used with portable music players, I'm going to assume that the intent for the miniplug is to be used primarily with computers. I did try a few relatively low-volume tracks with the iPod Touch alone, and while those were adequate for playback indoors where it's fairly quiet, they might not be adequate for playback on-the-go. If you do require that kind of playback with the 1440, you will probably need to increase the volume of at least some of your music tracks.
The earpads are fully circumaural and plush velour, with openings that measure approximately 1-5/8 by 2-1/2 inches. The inside of the cups have cloth-covered thin spongy pads so the ears don't contact anything that would cause discomfort. The earcups appear to be a type of high-grade plastic, with a headband that's metal alloy internally which provides good flexibility, moderate clamping force, and good stability with no tendency to shift when I move my head around. Compared to the 1840, the 1440 is slightly heavier which is not very significant to me, but the clamping force is much stronger - a lot like the Sennheiser HD-600/650 headphones. Compared to the 600/650 though, I think the comfort will be much better long-term since the 1440 doesn't tend to get warm on my ears like the Sennheisers did, and the 1440 doesn't feel quite as claustrophobic either.
The headband has small spongy pads underneath which feel very comfortable on my head, but if there is any tendency for discomfort in spite of the relatively light weight of the headphone, I recommend pulling the earcups down just slightly more than the minimum, to let most of the weight be borne by the earcups and not the headband. Note that the earcups have very little horizontal rotation, but that rotation combined with a generous vertical rotation allows alignment of the earcups to fit nearly anyone's head.
The SRH-1440 is a good-looking headphone if you've seen photos of it, so it has a modest bling factor that you don't have to pay a premium for. I would rate its appearance as 8 out of 10 and I would rate its comfort factor at least a 7.5. The reason the appearance doesn't get a 9 or better is because the 1440 isn't a fashion headphone, so my subjective rating of 8 is probably as good as you can get for a serious hi-fi product like this. The reason I didn't rate the comfort higher is because the 1440 is a full-size headphone with moderate clamping pressure to keep it stable on your head.
Being an open-back design, the SRH-1440 has almost no isolation. The soundstage is comparable to the SRH-1840 and slightly better than the SRH-940, which might surprise some users who aren't aware of the 940's above-average soundstage for a closed-back design. Listening to the 1440 I never get a sense of constriction, compression or any other such quality - the sound is always airy and effortless.
Now that I've covered the basics of the sound, it's time to describe how the SRH-1440 sounds with a variety of music that's available on CD's or as high-quality downloads from Internet music stores. I've used the following examples in other reviews, so these will serve as good test tracks for this review and the results can also be compared to the results noted in the other reviews.
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 SRH-1440.
Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound and particularly striking how the SRH-1440 reproduces the triangles, bells and other background instruments that are often obscured with other headphones that have limited high frequency response. Of special note for this headphone are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement.
Blues Project - Caress Me Baby (1966): Rarely mentioned, but one of the greatest white blues recordings ever. The loud piercing guitar sound at 0:41 into the track is a good test for distortion or other problems. Handled well here.
Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the SRH-1440.
Buffalo Springfield - Kind Woman (~1968): A Richie Furay song entirely, rarely mentioned, but one of the best sounding rock ballads ever. This will sound good on most headphones, but it's a special treat with the SRH-1440.
Cat Stevens - Morning Has Broken (early 70's): A near-perfect test for overall sound - this track will separate the best sounding headphones from the lesser quality types. Nothing specific, except that almost any deviation from perfect reproduction will stand out with this track.
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 SRH-1440 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.
Def Leppard - Bringin' On The Heartbreak (1981): MTV goth/pop/metal at its best - good ambience and high energy - the better headphones will separate the details and make for a good experience. Lesser quality and the details tend to mush together.
J.S. Bach - E. Power Biggs Plays Bach in the Thomaskirche (~1970): Recorded on a tracker organ in East Germany, the tracks on this recording have the authentic baroque sound that Bach composed for, albeit the bellows are operated by motor today. The SRH-1440 plays the tones seamlessly through the upper limits of the organ, which are near the upper limits of my hearing.
Jamming With Edward - It Hurts Me Too (1969): Intended originally as a test to fill studio down time and set recording levels etc., this was released a few years later for hardcore Rolling Stones fans. Although not as good technically in every aspect as the Chess studio recordings of 1964, and in spite of the non-serious vocals by Mick Jagger, this rates very high on my list of white blues recordings, and sounds absolutely delicious with the SRH-1440.
Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has some loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical on some headphones. The SRH-1440 provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in, for maximum detail effect.
Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch (~2009): Featured in The September Issue, this song has heavy overdub and will sound a bit muddy on some headphones.
Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery - Delilah (Take 3) (1962): The vibraphone is heavily dependent on harmonics to sound right, and the SRH-1440 plays it superbly.
Pink Floyd/Dark Side of the Moon - Speak To Me (1973): Strong deep bass impacts will be heard and felt here.
Rolling Stones - Stray Cat Blues (1968): Dirty, gritty blues that very few white artists could match. On some headphones the vocals and guitar lack the edge and fall more-or-less flat. If you're a really good person, playing this song will probably make you feel nervous and uneasy.
Tony Bennett - I Left My Heart In San Francisco (1962): Frank Sinatra's favorite singer. Highest recommendation. With some of the best headphones, the sibilants on this recording are very strong, but they're not bad with the SRH-1440.