If it seems like Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50xs are ubiquitous today, it’s because they really are everywhere. From studios to musicians to consumers, these over-the-ear, closed-back headphones are quite popular. The cables are now replaceable with three different configurations to fit any need—coiled, straight, short—but what about the ear pads? They last a reasonably long time but eventually wear out, especially with studio use, where frequent cleaning is necessary. I’ve recently purchased three different types of replacement ear pads and found some curious results that I think are worth sharing.
Generic Chinese Pads from Amazon
I’ve purchased authentic Audio-Technica ear pads before, but thought I ought give some $10 options on Amazon a try. It took a couple of weeks to get them shipped from China, but they arrived in great condition. They were a little snug. Eventually I got them mounted on the ear cups by carefully sliding the lip of the ear pad into the small groove on the perimeter of the cup; it stretches them a bit, but the pads mount firmly. These pads were smaller than authentic A-T pads, the foam was a lot firmer, and the leather-like material wasn’t nearly as soft or supple.
The real difference was in sonic presentation, though, as the usual M50x sculpted curve (solid bottom end but not crazily hyped, honk and mud scooped out of the mids, slightly hyped top end) was radically changed. The bottom end was mostly gone, true mids (500 Hz to 2 kHz) were crazy loud and dynamics were lost, with a reasonable fit but not much comfort. The ear pads felt hard and ear fatigue for both the ear lobes and the eardrum became noticeable after just minutes of use. Even at this low price, even if you need to buy a large quantity, I can’t recommend these ear pads for anyone, consumer or professional.
This company is dedicated to making replacement headphone ear pads, and they do it well, offering a 180-day free trial. They’ve got pads for Bose, Beats, Sony 7506s and Audio-Technica’s ATH-M series (the same pad fits the whole series) and in a variety of colorful styles and materials. My $22.99 replacement pads were noticeably larger than the stock pads, quite a bit thicker and made of a nice, supple, black protein-leather (which isn’t actually leather). Installation was a bit tricky, as always, but not a problem. (Wicked offers brief installation guide videos for all of its products online.)
The first thing I noticed was a snug fit from the pads and comfy feeling from the soft pleather, even if it felt like the cups/drivers were a good bit farther from my ears than normal. Listening to some mixes, it was clear that these weren’t like the cheap Amazons at all; the soundstage, dynamics and frequency response were all back to normal, except for a notable increase in bass response. I’m not saying the bottom end was out of control like with some Beats models I’ve tried, but it was a significant boost and spread out across most of the bottom spectrum (not isolated to one particular frequency). The bottom end did lose some punch and tightness, as well as note differentiation, so this tonal sculpt would not be ideal for mixing or mastering.
Such bass response might be desirable for bassists and drummers, however, as many players prefer some “junk in the trunk” over reference accuracy when tracking/dubbing. Vocalists would likely do better in flatter cans, though and it was definitely “too bottom end” with A-T’s bassier ATH-M40X models. All things considered, Wicked Cushions makes a quality product and delivers great service at a reasonable price, even if their pads are better suited for performers and consumers than mix engineers.
Authentic Audio-Technica Pads
I bought a pair of Audio-Technica pads direct, shipped for $24.99, and I still prefer them over the other choices. They’re a comfortably soft pleather and are just the right size for the best fit, with audio performance that is exactly like new models, with no boosts or coloration. It should be noted that some tinkerers stuff the cups with dampening material to increase bass response; others add a layer of thin cloth to the center of the pad to decrease shrillness.
The AT-H line is worthy of repair. I recently had a pair refurbished at the A-T factory for $68 and it took only a week. This included new ear pads, a new headband and a new cable. (This was an older, hardwired pair.)
If you’ve got a pair of the ultra-popular ATH-M50x headphones in need of some TLC, there are a number of options, from DIY tricks, budget pads, consumer-y choices, authentic parts and reasonable factory service options if you get in over your head.
Audio-Technica • www.audio-technica.com
Wicked Cushions • https://wickedcushions.com/