What Happens As The Cushion Pads Age

Disclaimer: I was looking for a replacement pads for my HD800 and found that CustomCable had the cheapest price, so I bought the pads from them. 

 

Replacing the cushion pads on your headphones should be done regularly, like changing the oil in your car. Not only does changing the pads have hygienic merit, but it also helps to preserve the original sound intended by the designer. Even if the pads are clean, they become compressed as they age, and this alters the effective acoustic space a great deal. It’s like having the same speaker set up but in a different room; you know the sound will be different. I’ve witnessed this sound-change phenomenon with numerous headphones: Sennheiser’s HD580, 600, and 650 are notorious for this, and so are Beyer’s DT770/880 and 990. I haven’t come across a beat up AKG K701 or K702 so I can’t really comment on those unfortunately!

When I replaced the pads on my Sennheiser HD800, it was not for hygienic reasons, as they were still relatively clean – it was that the pads have deformed so much that I couldn’t bear listening to them, knowing that the sound (especially the instrument separation in this case) was far from what it used to be when new. Just yesterday I tested a 2nd hand HD650, comparing it to a set with newer pads, and I very much preferred the sound with newer pads. Washing the pads actually delivers a similar sound-changing effect too. After you wash them, they will soften and compress easier than brand new pads. Again, this results in a change of effective acoustic space. So therefore, it seems that the best way to rekindle the acoustic (and hygienic) properties of your headphones is to purchase new pads every once in a while.

From what I’ve observed, most headphones begin to sound more ‘forward’ as the pads wear. This may or may not be a good thing depending on the original character of the headphone. What I dislike the most however, is that instrument separation becomes quite messy, and bass articulation also suffers. This effect isn’t related to burn in or driver variation – I’ve tried swapping drivers and pads to pinpoint the issue – this effect is related to the change in the acoustic space due to old deforming pads. I believe this matters much more than burn-in or driver variations.

For the past few months I’ve rarely listened to my HD800s because its qualities have been too unbearable for me. The lower treble was becoming very glary, the overall sound grainy, and the bass articulation muddy. Instrument separation however was still decent (this is the HD800 after all), but it was nowhere as good as I remembered it to be. I almost forgot how good the instrument separation on a set of brand new HD800s was, had it not been for the guys at the local Jaben offering me an audition on a brand new HD800 unit. Eventually I couldn’t bear the sound of my old HD800 anymore, so I started looking around for replacement pads. The last time I looked, Sennheiser USA didn’t have them in stock and neither did Sennheiser Singapore. So I continued my search and noticed that a few stores carried them, but I ended up going with CustomCable as they were offering the cheapest price by far.

After installing the new pads on my HD800s, the low treble returns to its proper place and the glare is mostly gone; the background is nice and black; bass articulation presents itself once again and instrument separation improves. Everything is just as impressive as when I auditioned the HD800s for the first time. This improvement however, is not strictly limited to the HD800s – I’m very familiar with Sennheiser’s HD580, 600 and 650 line up, as well as the Grados and Alessandros, and the same thing happens on those headphones too!

Some headphones, like Hifimans, have stiffer pleather pads and are more resistant to deformation with wear, so not all headphones will require as often a pad change. Of course, I cannot comment on every single headphone out there, but I thought I should share my experience in case anyone else is becoming disheartened with his or her beloved headphones – they probably just need new pads! Be sure to check out Custom-Cable if your cushions are in need of a refresh!

pads_headphone

 

 

 

What Happens As The Cushion Pads Age
4.7 (93.33%) 3 vote[s]

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44 Comments

  • Reply December 4, 2012

    maciux

    I can’t believe there is such a big difference. I must check my totally used, and new pads with HD25-1.

    John Grado once said that L-Cushions “sounds” better when used for a longer time, when they’re properly soaked with our natural oils 🙂

    • Reply December 4, 2012

      Julius

      John was right, your sweat and natural oils sink into the fiber and keep it gently saturated and keeps it from drying out. I am shocked Sennheiser did not send Mike a brand new set of pads for free. That is pure nonsense. Earpads should be replaced free of charge for life if you actually purchased them,

      • Reply December 4, 2012

        L.

        So how about HE-6 or LCD2 or any other top tier headphone? It’s not realistic to give free pads for life. Not that I would mind 🙂

        • Reply December 4, 2012

          Julius

          Sennheiser is almost always out of HD800 earpads, they are notorious for being hard to find and scarcely available and force buyers to go to other vendors and buy parts for their own products that are missing some pieces to begin with. It is not realistic in the Audiophile world because nobody protests weird and poor ethics. If buyers complained enough, the company will change whatever their buyers want them to change. Sennheiser put a selling cap on their HD700 and HD800, seems to not want to produce more replacement parts for their most expensive headphones and forces you to go to other vendors. I am not sure I am okay with that. Free replacement pads is more than enough justification against a Pricing Cap that makes sure nobody gets a great deal for the holiday seasons. Seems fair to me. Why do HE-6 replacement pads cost $20 and the Audeze and Sennheiser Hd800 pads cost closer to $100?

          • Reply December 4, 2012

            L.

            I fully agree that this is unacceptable, it’s incredible

          • Reply December 17, 2012

            Daniel Leblanc

            I agree, when Iremoved my lcd3 pads to put on my HE6, it was a huge hassle and caused a few little rips. I ordered an extra set for the He6 as i liked its comfort, and put the old ones back with double sided tape on the lcd3.

            And on topic of this thread, this may be silly, but to me earpads are like accoustic treatment. It’s like the equivalent to damping a sound room with accoustic foams and tapestry in a way; and it actually has a large role in transforming sound

      • Reply December 4, 2012

        Mike

        Free HD800 replacement pads. Now that’s an idea! Hope Senn is reading this.

        • Reply April 28, 2013

          Valerio Longo

          I think that free replacement is not possible, but they should have a human price! I’m living this situation and I’m thinking to sell my headphones, I can’t accept to pay 100$ two peice of sponge covered by 10 g of microfiber! it’s ridicoulus! T1 earpads are the same of dt 990 and have a normal price!

          • Reply April 28, 2013

            dalethorn

            If HD800 pads could be made in large quantity (not likely) or with low precision so as to be easy to make, then they could be cheaper. People won’t believe it, but companies like Sennheiser make very little if any money on earpads for HD800’s. It’s not possible to job those out to China or elsewhere because the quantity is too low. The best solution and only solution to get earpads for very limited production headphones down to a reasonable price is to have a common earpad design, but apparently that was not possible with the HD800 design.

            • Reply April 28, 2013

              Valerio Longo

              what you say is true for a headphones no longer in production; for hd 800 is reasonable to think that for one hundred erpads produced they reserve five of these to spares market and the other go to new hd 800.
              I can’t believe this has a tangible influence on the producing cost to justify 100 $ price; furthermore spares parts are sold directly by sennheiser so there aren’t distribution cost.

              p.s. sorry for my english 😉

              • Reply April 28, 2013

                dalethorn

                If I were making the HD800, I would not be manufacturing a quantity of replacement earpads for each headphone. I had a HD800 for 3 years, and when I finally gave it away, the earpads were still like new. I think that’s the norm, not the exception. If you look deeply into the costs of producing custom parts for anything in the low volumes they will be sold at, even $100 for earpads is a money loser. A software developer in Berlin or Heilbronn or Los Angeles will make $50 an hour plus benefits as a salaried employee – as a consultant $200 per hour is normal. Most people have no idea how much it costs to make custom parts like HD800 earpads and maintain perfect quality. If it could be done a lot cheaper, we could find them somewhere with a money-back guarantee.

                • Reply April 28, 2013

                  Valerio Longo

                  I said five percent, not fifty 🙂
                  I have been listening mine intensively for a year, and I note a clear sound degradation, especially with complex symphonic music

                  • Reply April 29, 2013

                    dalethorn

                    I would guess that Sennheiser planned for replacements ahead of time. If they guessed wrong, it’s a shame, since they should produce *more* than the minimum estimate of needed parts. Why more? Because it’s extremely inconvenient to have to make a production run of small spare parts, which are not profitable like headphones. Expensive headphones are profitable, but cheap ones are too because they’re mass produced and shipped by the carton to resellers. HD800 earpads are low cost, *and* they don’t ship in bulk quantities, hence they’re not profitable.

                    • April 29, 2013

                      Valerio Longo

                      I agree on this, but I still think they are too expensive 🙂
                      they should cost less then half of the actual price IMHO

                    • April 29, 2013

                      dalethorn

                      My Beyer DT48 earpads were $25 on a $375 headphone, or 1/15 the cost. The DT770 sells for $169 but pads are $28 to $32, or about 1/6. So the HD800’s are pricy, but they are the same ratio as the best ratio for other headphones, which is especially interesting given that those other earpads are mass produced. You might write a letter (not email, or use the “Send A Letter” website) to Sennheiser and ask for an explanation. With a real stamped and posted letter in hand, they may answer you. I remember when I was modding the Shure 940 and 1440, thinking I could stuff common materials into the earcups to dampen the excess highs, but the sound was never good. Then I got extra Shure earpads and used the foam backing from those, and it was like a miracle – perfect damping without losing HF details. Not saying the Senn 800 pads are perfect, but every aspect of what they are is critical.

    • Reply December 4, 2012

      Mike

      On the HD25-1, it wasn’t such a big difference. I own several pads for it. Maybe one reason is that the fit is always such a close one to the ears, there is little room for changes.

      L-Cushions are the one with the RS-1 and MS-Pros? If yes then yes that’s correct. I actually wrote an article on that a long time ago.

      http://headfonia.com/washing-your-grado-bowls/

  • Reply December 4, 2012

    kongmw

    Is it just me or do the new pads on the left in the picture look like they are made of a different material?

    • Reply December 5, 2012

      Will Sharp

      I’m gonna guess it’s because the suede material has worn down so much you can see the fabric underneath.

    • Reply December 5, 2012

      Mike

      Yes what Wil said. The pads were identical when new.

  • Reply December 5, 2012

    Anaxilus

    Mike, was wondering if you ever washed you old pads and possibly put them in the dryer?

  • Reply December 7, 2012

    Fred

    It’s a shame you can’t get those replacement ear pads easily if you live in South America…

  • Reply December 8, 2012

    Fred

    I find it controversial since the theory of the sound changes is based mainly on the distance of the driver from the ears, which is changed due to the pads’ shape changes whit usage. Since it’s well known that people have different ears and head shapes, is this theory really consistent?

    In my opinion, i think that brand new/worn pads can influence the sound depending more on anatomic subjects on each individual person, and of course, manufacturers and designers are aware on it, not only designing pads for they optimal performance when they are new but mostly to contemplate the largest number possible of anatomic variations on people, having in mind that it’s crucial for the distance between ears and drivers. In short, why not consider the fact that a worn pad can provide a better sound (or not, as in the experience described on this review), depending on the person’s head/ears/neck shape, and it’s not an absolute truth?

    • Reply December 8, 2012

      Mike

      Yes Fred, that’s why with Grados some people prefer worn pads. With the Senn I prefer new pads.

  • Reply December 8, 2012

    Austin Morrow

    Mike, can you make the cover photo into a landscape wallpaper? Possibly 1920X1200?

    • Reply December 8, 2012

      Mike

      Thanks Austin. I will make a 2560×1600 version next week.

  • Reply December 8, 2012

    Edd_N

    Nice article Mike! I am amazed of the visual difference of these. I guess the fabric ones are more prone to change and this has reminded me that I really need to get some replacements for my DT880 since they were pretty ‘used’ when I got them – ew!

    I second a request for the first image as a desktop background, it’s a stunning shot! If you can do the ratio I would like a 2560×1600 if it’s not too cheeky :P.

  • Reply January 9, 2013

    leonz

    Hi Mike, can you help detailing how to replace the HD800 pads? I also see there is HD800 replacement headband padding in CustomCable, do you know how to replace it as well? Thanks.

    • Reply January 10, 2013

      Mike

      You just pull out the pads and they come off. May be a bit stiff but they don’t really have any screws or anything.

      The headband padding I suspect come off the same way but I’ve never replaced it. Try asking custom cable.

      Sent from my mobile device. Sorry for any mistype.

      • Reply January 10, 2013

        leonz

        Thanks Mike!

      • Reply January 12, 2013

        leonz

        btw, does the replacement pads come with the inner liner meshing?

        • Reply January 12, 2013

          Mike

          Nope it doesn’t

          Sent from my mobile device. Sorry for any mistype.

          • Reply January 12, 2013

            leonz

            so the original inner liner plastic can be reused for the replacement pads?

            • Reply January 12, 2013

              Mike

              Ah, that liner plastic! The clear colored one? No that one you get it with the new pads

              Sent from my mobile device. Sorry for any mistype.

  • Reply February 24, 2013

    ryan

    hey mike, what cable are you currently using on your HD800?

    • Reply February 25, 2013

      Mike

      Always use stock, though I think the SXC is the nicest.

  • Reply March 9, 2013

    ryan

    The earpads on the HD800 is so thin. I wish they would be thicker and wouldn’t deformed in shorter period of time. The good thing is the clamping is so light

    • Reply March 13, 2013

      Mike

      Well thicker would mean bigger sound variations as the pads age

  • Reply December 31, 2013

    Peter Janušič

    I just ordered from Custom cable, it was indeed (still) the cheapest, thanks for the tip. My pads look the same as your used ones on the photo. I have a really old pair with 3 numbers so it was time for a replacement.

  • Reply February 13, 2015

    Levente

    I can confirm this sound change with my old AKG K501. After washing my pads with careful reshaping movements, the the sound is also changed to the original signature. The amazing soundstage and spacial presentation is back, no more muddy forward presentation. I think i have to order new pads for even better sonics.

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