Originally Posted by Greed
TH-900 with Mrspeakers Alpha Pads
Okay, so I've been trying various pads with the TH-900 for a few months now. I typically like to keep them on for at least 20 hours of listening, but since time is of the essence I've quickly swapped the pads over to the Mrspeakers Alpha Pads per request (prepropushyman ).
The pads are somewhat difficult to apply as they are a bit larger than the normal Denon, J$, Lawton, or stock pads. After a lot of adjusting I finally was content with the fit. I stress extreme caution putting the Alphas on. I was clumsy and actually scratched the inside of my cup when trying to lock the ring in place. At least the scratch was very small, but my OCD side went nuts when I first saw it. After sleeping on it, I don't even think about it now!
The pads fit decently well, although are a bit big and awkwardly shaped for the circular cups, but it still works flawless and is pretty secure. If you have owned or auditioned a pair of Mad Dogs with Alpha Pads and thought that they were comfortable... well, these take it to the next level. The comfort of the TH-900 has never been cozier. They seal better, isolate better, and definitely feel better. Because the TH-900 is lighter than the MDs, the comfort competes with the most comfortable headphones I've ever worn - which are the Beyerdynamic DT series. It might be my ears, but I find the lightweight and circular cups to fit so well that I was reluctant to sell the various headphones just because of the comfort factor. The TH-900 w/ Alphas is just as comfortable, the only difference being is that they are closed. I've always found open back headphones to agree with me better because of the air flow and way they allow my ears to breathe. One of the reasons why I'm thinking about selling my MDs (I know crazy, but it’s true), despite my love of its sound, is that my ears tend to get someone hot after a few hours. In addition, my ears build up pressure after long sessions and that can become quite uncomfortable. This forces me to take breaks, which I should be doing anyway, but sometimes I don't want to. Well, the TH-900 with alphas has a very light clamping force in comparison to the MDs, so the pressure is a non-issue. That is a major plus for me. Overall, I would say that the TH-900 with the Alphas is the most comfortable closed headphones I've ever worn.
Now that is out of the way, the most important question is: How do these pads affect the sound? First of all, the sound doesn't change drastically. The change is noticeable but not a huge change. If you enjoy the sound of your TH-900s with the stock pads, particularly in the treble and bass areas, than these pads might not be for you. I immediately picked up on two distinct changes. Just to let you all know I'm a huge fan of these headphones. I rank them the highest out of what I've tried thus far as being the best all-around headphone. It does everything well for me. Other headphones do things “amazing” - like the HD800 with acoustic and classical or the LCD-3 with rock, classic rock, and jazz - but the TH-900 does well with anything I throw at it. A very enjoyable headphone as is.
The most significant change is in the bass. The bass, with stock pads is visceral, tight, controlled, and quite linear. The emphasis on bass is done right with the TH-900 (unlike many other headphones), very rarely being too overpowering. With the Alphas the bass becomes a bit more of a drama queen. It wants to be the star of the show. There is definitely a mid-bass emphasis with the alphas that may or maybe not appreciated. The sound becomes less balanced, and can become overpowering a lot easier than with the stock pads. They start to sound more like the D7K to me. Still very impactful, but the overall control becomes looser, and less linear. As I said, this change could make bassheads even happier (those that tend to like a bit of flab with their meal). The other difference I noticed was the "blanketing" of the highs. If you found the treble to still be somewhat "hot" or too sparkly, these pads definitely tone down the high frequencies. I wouldn't say it sounds veiled in comparison, but the pads give you a bit less clarity and extension but the trade-off is even smoother and more fluid highs. Personally I found the change in treble a bit unwanted. I liked the treble as is, with the stock pads. It had just enough sparkle for me without the fatigue of piercing and strident treble experienced with the D7K. The treble for me was one of the major selling points of this headphone. I'm pretty sensitive to treble. Any amount of brightness is probably too much for me, and I will experience fatigue quite quickly. I didn't have a problem with the treble with the stock pads, but for those that did or do, the alpha pads might be the answer you are looking for. They also might be an alternative to EQ, if that is your cup of tea.
The other changes are very subtle to me, and some can even be hard to pick up on if you don't know your equipment or recordings. The mids are a bit less recessed with these pads, but only slightly. They are brought forward a bit more. The trade-off is the soundstage is condensed somewhat. The width is closed in some, and the depth is brought forward as well. To me, it is like I moved up a row or two in the audience. Not a huge difference, but definitely noticeable for me.
I've only been comparing these two pairs of pads for a little over eight hours, but I can tell you that I really enjoy both presentations. The alphas change the TH-900s into a warmer sounding headphone. The highs are nulled some, the bass has a bit more meat, and the soundstage is a bit more intimate resulting with a more forward mid-range. I appreciate the difference in sound, especially if these were my only headphones. I could swap pads depending on my weekly/monthly mood, tweaking the sound somewhat similar to tube rolling. I'm still not sure if I want to buy a pair of alphas to have as an option, but I'm already confident that I like the stock pads better. The changes are very nice in their own right, but the true sound of the TH-900s (the way they sounded stock) is what really gives me that "wow" factor. That is the sound I would rank best all-rounder, and that is the sound I've grown to appreciate the more time I have with them. Of the changes I mentioned the most appealing one, in my opinion, is the comfort increase. I've never really been a fan of the protein leather. They aren't very plush, especially in comparison to the lambskin alphas. They are still quite stiff even though I've used my TH-900 for more than 150 hours. I also really like the steeper angle with the alphas. It definitely gives you that full padded feel all around the ear. The stock pads on the other hand, are a bit thin in the front. Just not as comfortable.
Bottom line - the pads give you a different flavor. Neither is necessarily perfect, and they both offer a difference that could be valued more than the other depending on the person. It really is the name of the game at this level of audio. Preferences, rather than what is "better" than the other. You decide.
The alphas can be had for 60USD @ www.mrspeakers.com - Well worth the price, just to have them to test with. They fit a variety of cans and are REALLY comfortable, especially when broken-in.
I will post some impressions of the stock Denon pads soon, still getting my finger around the sound of those. Suffice to say, I don't like the change in sound or the comfort factor either.
Disclaimer: All of these impressions were in my opinion, and will not necessarily be shared. I'm not promoting anything, just a regular subjective view.
YMMV as always.