One of the most intimate contacts any music lover has with their equipment is with the earpads of their headphones. But what if you love the sound of headphones A, but don’t much care for their feel on your head. Can you do something about it?
Well, there’s a good chance that you can with Dekoni Audio products. Dekoni makes a bunch of accessories – and even sells a set of Dekoni-branded planar magnetic headphones, which are a modified model from Fostex. But the great bulk of its lines are replacement earpads for quality headphones. Amongst the brands they cover are Beyerdynamic, Focal, HIFIMAN, Audeze, Sony, Audio-Technica, Technics, AKG, Fostex, Sennheiser and even Beats.
Here I’m trying out three different types, at three different prices points, with the Astell&Kern AK T5p 2nd Generation Closed Headphones, which I reviewed here.
- Well made replacement earpads
- Available with a range of fittings compatible with several different brands of quality headphones
- Dekoni Elite Velour earpads for Beyerdynamic DT770/880/990 series use a “tight” velour that is acoustically similar to leather – $74.95
- Dekoni Elite Hybrid earpads for Beyerdynamic DT770/880/990 series use a velour surface for comfort, a sheepskin outer ring and a fenestrated sheepskin inner ring – $109.95
- Dekoni Elite Fenestrated Sheepskin earpads for Beyerdynamic DT770/880/990 series use fenestrated sheepskin for all soft surfaces, allowing for cooler wearing – $119.95
- Fenestrated means perforated
- Very comfortable to wear. The increased depth of the earcups compared to the stock ones provided on the Astell&Kern AK T5p 2nd Generation Closed Headphones does result in a different listening experience.
A bit more information
Why the A&K headphones? Well, for one thing, as I pointed out in my review, they are great headphones. But also, they are physically compatible with the Beyerdynamic DT series, since A&K worked with Beyerdynamic in developing them.
Above I focused on the comfort element of replacement earpads. But there are other reasons why you might want new earpads … even if your headphones are new. For example, you might want to grab some now and just put them away until the original earpads – which are the parts of a set of headphones, perhaps apart from the cables, most subject to wear and tear – need replacement. Some brands have demonstrated that they will keep replacements in stock for at least a couple of decades, but that’s a long time and you don’t know what the future holds.
And then there’s the matter of sound. We tend not to think to much about it, but the earpads are a significant part of the dynamic system that constitutes headphones. The volume of air they contain between driver and head, their compliance or “springiness”, change the way that the driver works. Resonances are altered, perhaps ameliorated, or maybe introduced. Different frequencies may be absorbed more by different materials.
There are plenty of head fi enthusiasts who tweak their headphones with different pads, sometimes purchased and sometimes home made, in order to adjust the character of the sound.
Fitting the pads
I will confess that I hate fiddly tasks like removing and fitting new earpads. Let’s face it, headphones are not designed to have their pads changed all the time. Makers expect you to change them somewhere between never and two or three times over their lifespan. So they haven’t typically spent a lot of design time on making the task easy.
That said, with the A&K headphones the fitting wasn’t particularly onerous. There’s a narrow channel around the circumference of the earcup. At the back of each earpad is a flat ring made of a rubbery material – the ring is around 6mm wide – which can be stretched over the end of the channel to fit inside it. Once you get it started, you align the overlap with a notch in the channel, and then just rotate until the ring is entirely in the channel. The result is neat. With all three of these earcups, there were no visual clues that they were not factory fitted.
The stock earcups on the A&K headphones feature a material that feels like soft leather, although I would have expected A&K to have mentioned this if it were. The profile of the cups are rounded, so that they are like half a donut, and there is no backing material across the open space inside the cup.
All three of the Dekoni earpads are more cylindrical, with a flat face on each and with a fine black material covering the driver side of the hole. Apart from that covering and the profile, the other marked difference from the stock pads is that they are much deeper. The supplied pads, uncompressed, are 20mm thick, while all three of the Dekoni ones are 30mm.
Well, that was an interesting experience. Despite the considerations I outlined regarding the effect of earcups on sound, I was honestly not expecting to hear much of a difference. One reason why was that rapid A/B testing was impossible. Even though the fitting system is reasonably effective, it isn’t fast.
In general, I thought that the headphones sounded pretty much the same with all three of the Dekoni pads installed, although a touch brighter with the Elite Velour and Hybrid Velour than with the Fenestrated Sheepskin ones.
But the differences between all three and the stock earpads were marked. First, they were all noticeably quieter. That is, the music was quieter when the Dekoni earpads were installed. I’d say they lost at least three decibels in level. I suppose that’s because their greater thickness moves the drivers a centimetre further away from the ears, and the greater air volume takes more energy to fill.
Increasing the volume to account for that, I felt that the treble was a little more prominent and the overall presentation of the sound somewhat less weighty, with a more constrained bass. There was a slight increase in “air” – remember the A&K headphones are closed-back models – but a corresponding loss of immediacy and focus.
Comfort-wise, I found the Velour and Hybrid models tighter on my head than the stock ones, thanks to the extra depth holding out the yoke of the headphones a little wider, and thus increasing the force of their spring. This was less apparent with the Fenestrated Sheepskin earpads. They seemed to have a bit more give in them.
The Dekoni Audio earpads are well made and well designed. On my head with the Astell&Kern AK T5p 2nd Generation Closed Headphones, I preferred the original earcups.
On your head with a pair of Sennheisers or Focals or ATs? Who knows? That’s part of the fun when you depart from stock headphone fittings. Experiment and see what you think.