SRH-840, HD25-1, and ESW-9

People has been asking me to do a comparison between the Shure SRH-840, the Sennheiser HD25-1, and the Audio Technica ESW-9. For a long time, the ESW-9 and the HD25-1 can be considered two of the most loved portable closed cans. Then, Shure released the SRH-840, and it also started to build a group of followers, me included. The SRH-840 actually is rather big to be called a portable, but somehow, perhaps due to its foldable design, gets discussed in the same category as the HD25-1 and the ESW-9. For me, the comparison is quite valid, as I also use the SRH-840 the same way I used the HD25-1: outdoors.

These three cans are very respected in the headphone community, and each has qualities that appeals to a big group of people. Each headphone, however, have a very distinct sound signature that makes them unique from each other. They are all very good at what they do, and for that reason, I don’t think it would be fair to rank one as better from the other.

The Audio Technica ESW-9 is very unique, in that it sounds like it has a tube amplifier permanently attached to its drivers. Though amplification and source can alter the sound of the ESW-9, at the end, the sound will still come out sounding smooth and tubey. This is one of the biggest reason that people get the ESW-9, to get a tube sound without actually using a tube amplifier. The ESW-9’s strong point is in the midrange, as its tube-like midrange sounds very pleasing, especially when listening to vocals. Another thing that the ESW-9 does well is covering up for mediocre and sibilant recordings.

While the ESW-9 has a strong point for sounding very tube-like, often the tube flavor can be very strong, and being a strongly colored headphone, the sound will not change much despite any changes you do on the amplifier and the source. This can be a double edged sword: it’s great when you really after that tube sound, as you won’t get it from the other headphones, but when you want a more “solid-state” sound, you’re not going to get it with the ESW-9. The ESW-9 is great for RnB and Modern Jazz. However, I wouldn’t recommend it for fast-paced music, as the ESW-9 can sound too relaxed.

4.7/5 - (3 votes)


  • Reply December 16, 2010


    BE the Pokemon Master… Collect All Three!!! HE HE HE!!!

  • Reply May 5, 2011


    Hi Mike, Really like your reviews. I’m looking for a pair of on ear phones to supplement my IE8’s. I have tried ATH M50’s and find they are too big for my small head….. I listen to a wide variety of music from Female Vocal, Jazz, Electronic, Classical & Rock and would like something for all genres? Would the HD25-1 be a good choice or something open backed like a HD600 / 650? Suggestions greatly appreciated.

    • Reply May 5, 2011


      If you think the M-50 are too big, then the HD600/650 would also be too

      The HD25-1 is a good one, but it’s a bit too forward and claustrophobic
      for classical. If you want to spend more money (~$500), the Sony Z1000
      ( is a very good
      all rounder, though not as good as the HD25-1 for Rock. If you want to
      look into cheaper options, the ATH SJ55
      has quite a wide genre bandwith as well, should be good for most of the
      music you listed, except perhaps Classical.

      Obviously the Sony at $500 will give the best level of refinement, but
      if talking about purely genre bandwith, I think the SJ55 is just as good.

      • Reply January 21, 2012

        Chris Allen

        I thought the ESW-9 would be suitable for Classical music?

        • Reply January 21, 2012


          It’s not bad, but not the best choice.

  • Reply October 23, 2011


    Mike, just curious but where would the Beyerdynamic 7/800s fit into this big headphone mess?

    • Reply October 24, 2011


      The DT770-880s you mean?

      Well technically the 770-880 are more capable than this trio, but in my opinion their voicing is best suited for monitoring and not music listening, though I know people who loves the 770-880 for music.

  • Reply January 28, 2013

    Eric Thompson

    SRH840’s don’t have enough bass for me, my DT 770’s and Denon D-5000’s sound like beats bass cannons compared to the SRH840’s but they have a detailed and flat mid-range and treble for monitoring, they would be really good for rock if they had a little more bass. I wouldn’t care so much if you could get more bass out of them but eq doesn’t do much either

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