The $99 Pioneer DJ HRM-5 headphoens are a whole lot like the $99 Shure SRH440s…except the HRM-5s are way more comfortable and I think they sound better.
Winner: Pioneer DJ HRM-5
Oh. You wanted more?
It’s Thursday, and it’s time for the headphone showdown!
Both Shure and Pioneer only recently entered the modern monitoring headphone market. It’s clear that both companies took a look at what was working in other headphones that were selling, and tried to refine those aspects into something new.
Shure’s SRH440s are often recommended as good, neutral alternatives for those who don’t want a Sony or an Audio-Technica monitor headphone. They have a beefier, tank-like build compared to the classics. Even though their ear cups are big, they’re some of the least comfy full-size headphones I’ve worn in the last year. I can still feel the moderate head irritation, just thinking about it writing this paragraph.
Before a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t even know the Pioneer DJ HRM-5s existed. I saw them on a shelf and was amazed at how much of a clone they were of Audio-Technica’s monitor line. Turns out, I like the HRM-5s more! They take everything good about AT’s iconic headphones and add some stuff that’s better.
Which of these new monitoring headphones is the better pair? Let’s find out together.
The Pioneers are better. You want the HRM-5s. Don’t buy the Shure’s unless you really like to change pads.
Both of these headphones feature a neutral, flat, monitor-style balance. In spite of this, both headphones are a pleasant listen for non-pro uses. Now, no headphone can be truly “flat,” and because of the way your ear perceives different frequencies, you probably wouldn’t like that anyway. Sound is subjective in nature…and subjectively, I have more fun listening to the HRM-5’s. They’re just a touch more sculpted in the lows and a touch less fatiguing in the highs, and the result is a natural musical sound that I could listen to for days.
The Shures don’t sound bad at all. In fact, their sound is one of their two best aspects next to their build.
Most of the popular monitor headphones are praised for their durability. Shure takes build up several notches and laughs everyone out of the room. Everything about the SRH440s is beefy. The plastics used feel rock solid, and the metal-backed cups are stiff and heavy in the hand. Even the cable is absurdly thick for this market segment. The included bag is kind of huge, and whether folded or open, the 440s cut an imposing figure.
The HRM-5s are certainly not badly built, but in a room with the 440s, every other headphone is probably going to lose on raw build quality. The HRM-5s compare quite well to every other monitor headphone save the Shures, and comfortably sit in second place. They inhabit a good middle ground, feeling solid without feeling clunky.
Both of these headphones shamelessly steal design cues from other popular monitoring headphones. The HRM-5s have rectangular bits on the backs of the ear cups that are offputting at first but really grew on me. The 440s suffer from having exposed wires. They’re stupidly durable exposed wires, in keeping with Shure’s theme, but if you don’t like exposed wires it’s a knock against them.
Both headphones use the same locking cable mechanism, and both headphones fold down the same way and include a bag. The HRM-5s ear cups can rotate a full 180 degrees, and this helps them to fit a wider variety of heads much better.
Neither headphone looks totally silly in public, but the HRM-5s are much more subtle.
The Shure SRH440s are one of the most uncomfortable monitoring headphones I’ve ever worn. Ideally, monitoring cans should provide good isolation and good comfort, so that you can wear them for hours in the field or in the studio. If the headphone gets in the way of the listening work you’re trying to do, something has gone very wrong.
It’s funny too, because on the surface, the SRH440s look like they would be comfy. They have nice big ear cups and pads, with plenty of room inside for the ears. The headband is fully padded, and in spite of the lesser ear cup rotation, is quite adjustable to different head sizes. I think it’s the beefy build that lets the SRH440s down. They feel like a vice grip on your head, with their solid materials overcoming the plushness of the pads. People have had much better luck putting more expensive pads on the 440s…but at that point, you’re better off investing in different headphones, in my opinion.
The HRM-5s are at the other end of the spectrum altogether, with a cushy comfy fit that’s exactly right. They’re still a bit clampy and present on the head, but they crush the comfort level of most of the competition. One of these days I’ll have to make a proper tiered list of headphone comfort, but these would definitely be in the lower third of the top tier. The comfort ideal is for the headphones to totally vanish on the head, and while these don’t do that, they’re nice and soft and pleasant to wear. The secret is the plush memory foam padding used in the pads and the headband. I hope Audio-Technica takes notes for whenever they revise the M- series again.
Winner: HRM-5 by a mile
Both headphones come with a coiled cable and a bag. The bag for the Shures is hilariously substantial. The HRM-5s go one extra and include a long straight cable. So, they win for including one more extra thing.
So there you have it! The HRM-5s are a very comfy, well-balanced pair of monitoring headphones. They’re my favorite current example of the full-size monitor headphone “genre”, if you will. Does that mean they beat my old favorites, the MDR-V6s? I’d say they’re about equal. The V6s are much smaller headphones, and their specialized sound signature is not as well-suited to general listening as the HRM-5's. So it’s a little hard to compare them.
If you’re looking for Audio-Technica or Sony alternatives, and you want something decently comfy, you probably want the HRM-5s. I haven’t found a better alternate pick yet, and I don’t expect I will. Pioneer DJ also offers the HRM-6, if something shinier appeals to you. But they’re more expensive.
I wore the HRM-5s while writing this in a cafe, next to a fire extinguisher. Here’s what I look like.