Ear pads: Am I audiophiling wrong?

So first, the rhetorical questions - because of the subjective nature of audio, it’s difficult to really do it wrong, but I am curios about something on a more basic level and that’s the ear pads / cushions. It’s something I’ve recently been into (after building a collection of cans; god this habit is expensive), particularly how the materials affect the sound.

On a really basic level, my understanding is that velour pads might color the sound, either by absorbing some of the frequency ranges or letting them escape, and leather creates a better seal, allowing for a fuller sound. That said, you’d think there would be a particular type of pad that goes well with a certain type of headphone (i.e. velour for open back, leather for closed back). Of course, it varies wildly by build quality of the pad, and the original signature of the cans. So, with that said I’ve had some mixed results with experience.

  1. My Sennheiser HD 558 - originally had velour pads, but they tore (this is how I started in this rabbit hole), so I got some cheap faux leather pads for them, and I was actually pleasantly surprised as the sound signature was noticeably warmer and punchier.

  2. My AKG-K7xx - originally had velour - but I found the heat to be uncomfortable for extended use, so I opted for leather; through an unfortunate shmelt-- I mean shipping accident, I ended up with fenestrated sheep skin pads (opposed to the synthetic leather), which I was unpleasantly surprised with - while they are much more comfortable, it adversely affected the sound - it seems colder; I suspect it’s because these pads are thicker than the original.

  3. Lastly, my Audio-Technica ATH-M50x - originally had that pleather crap and I got velour replacement pads (just for kicks), and pleasantly surprised by the results. My fear was also true, these get warm, but so does the sound - an already punchy headphone just got better, and these are now my most fun set.

Next up is my AKG M220 - the pleather pads are starting to crack to an annoying degree, and with my previous experiences, I think I’m slightly more confused than when I first started.Previously, my favorite pair, the AKG K7xx has become my least favorite, but still serviceable, especially for long term use.

So what are your experiences like? Thoughts, opinions? Let the discussion commence!

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I wouldn’t say I’m an audiophile, but here’s what I’ve observed since getting some cheap leatherette earpad (and headband pad) replacements from aliexpress for my Sennheiser HD 25-C II.

The earpad material can understandably affect the sound by nature of the ear/earpad interface. But also:

  • The seal between the earpad and headphones will affect sound, especially the punchiness of the bass. The replacements I got don’t seem to seal as well as the originals and I seem to have lost some of the punchiness I really liked about these headphones.

  • The thickness of the pads might also make a difference since they determine the distance of the drivers from the ears. In particular, the old pads were really worn down and crushed, while the new ones are fuller, which subjectively makes me feel the sound is quieter than before at the same volume settings.

Minor details, but even small changes are noticeable after getting used to something over a long time.

On another note, what are some good sources for earpad replacements?

Interesting note on the seal between the pad and phone - I also noticed my AKG K7xx have the flimsiest mechanism - it seems the pad is supposed a slim plastic sheet with rails cutout, so you press and turn. My ATH-M50 has the most frustrating, but arguably most secure has the pad has to stretch over the phone. The HD-558s utilize multiple clips around the phone which is a bit of a middleground. The combination of the mechanism and driver distance very well explains the disappointing result of an otherwise stellar pad. Maybe it will improve has the pad breaks in.

As for sources, I don’t really know. I find popular enthusiast headphones are much easier to find replacements for than lesser known models. I was pretty much forced to go for a Chinese manufacturer of Amazon form my HD-558, whilst I had no problem finding reputable pads from my M50x and K7xx. Dekoni makes pretty solid, albeit pricey pads. I got those from Massdrop at a much more palatable price.

From my fathers old (~25 ish years) AKG-K400 I can tell you, the AKG system works reliably.
AudioTechnicas stretch thing is indeed a little frustrating. I found sticking your finger into the cup and then pushing outwards works best.

Years ago I bought a pair of HD 558s and wasn’t happy with them. The sound seemed weak and anemic, so I returned them.

Recently I bought a Sennheiser PC 363D headset, which supposedly uses the same drivers as the 558/598s. And it has the same velour pads and the same problem. Maybe if I put some leather pads in it…? I’m not sure if it also uses the same pads as a 558.

How much of a difference did the pads make on your 558s? Do they sound noticeably punchier, or is it a subtle change?

It was a pretty noticeable change. But I never had an issue with the sound, but they definitely played second fiddle to my K7xx, and with the long non-removable cable, I relegated them to my work cubical. The pads I got actually appear to have a hybrid design - fenestraded leather on the inside, but solid touching the EAR.

Prior to the pad replacement, my attitude was kinda meh, but with them I actually look forward to listening to music at work. One reviewer actually dock’d two stars from his review because they gave it more a “closed back sound” (i.e. punchy).

Just a note is that I already went through one pair very quickly from NeoMusica due to subpar adhesive over a tiny area (so it came unglued), that manufacturer that no longer sells them. I would have re-glued with super glue, but there wasn’t enough material (pretty tight tolerances) to do it by hand, and I ended up breaking the plastic ring that clips in. NewFantasia is another Chinese manufacturer that appears to be using the same design, but I don’t know if they’ve addressed the adhesive issue. One month in and still good; since I haven’t seen review bombs yet, I’m assuming they have addressed that issue.