Ah, I went back to the stock pads.
I tried different players such as the Hifi-M8, Hifiman901 and AK120 and found the stock pads to retain clarity throughout.
It is interesting to see that you went back to the stock ESW11 earpads after all.
Having read the impressions of the ESW9 earpads on the ESW11LTD I had to give it a try too. Fortunately, Maxx134 offered me his almost mint pair of ESW9 earpads and I was able to at least avoid custom tax too. Thank you!
Do note that these are just my preliminary impressions after about 6 hours of listening to a variety of genres, some in high resolution and well mixed and mastered. Differences are relative speaking to the ESW11LTD with the original stock earpads.
What is immediately appearant is a clearer presence of treble extension. I think this also adds to the fact mids sound more clearer. Soundstage has slightly more definition, focus and overall blackness. Overall the whole presentation also takes a few rows to the back, adding a slight sense of air. Bass quantity is less prominent in the mix, but seems deeper and tighter. The overall presentation is closer to neutral and natural, but still with that sense of 'ATH' smoothness in the mids. It is also more 'relaxed'.
This revelation adds some perspective to the potency of the drivers in the ESW11LTD. Just a simple pad swap had a pretty noticeable effect. I won't use big words like profound. I recall rumors that the driver might be a derivative of the W3000ANV. One could try swapping many variables like a better DAC, tube amp or even adding a power regenerator in the mix. But I believe there is huge potential in the earpad department for the ESW11LTD. I have a Svetlana 2 outputting some tube magic into the ESW11LTD and for me that is plenty enough.
I can imagine other ESW11LTD owners to appreciate this swap for ESW9 earpads. There is no real drawback or flaw. Just a different recipe for the ESW11LTD to treat your ears. However I am struggling with less fortunate 'mainstream' recordings that will show me more flaws. In that sense the ESW11LTD with their original stock pads will be more forgiving and proper 'elitist' good high resolution recordings will always sound good. Even on lesser grade headphones if you get my point..
If you compare the back of the ESW9 and ESW11 earpads you will notice they are almost the same size. However the ESW11 padding is facing more outwards, and thereby visually will look easily larger than the ESW9. The leather on the ESW9 is more supple, but the ESW11 has a smoother surface. When you add foam on the inside of the ESW9 at the back the padding will be flatter and less sloping inwards which is more comfortable since its pressure distribution on the ears is more even. Also you get a more angular positioning of the cups on your ears. The ESW9 already has less padding surface than the ESW11 so this is important to distribute its clamping pressure as evenly possible on the ears.
The ESW11LTD with their original pads does sound more intimate/romantic. Especially the mids, which have definite butterly sweetness which is not overdone. Overall it sounds more richer/warmer and I could happily live with an earlier treble roll-off and and less defined soundstage. It just seems that's my preference. That however doesn't take away the changes the ESW9 earpads can bring to the table which others may be able to appreciate more if they are looking for that.
The perfect utopia would be to have an earpad that combines all the qualities of the ESW9 and stock ESW11 earpads together into a hybrid. They could make the mids slightly less butter and more fluid. Slightly more treble and soundstage definition. Bass can remain the same because that already gives it that weight and body that I am looking for. But now I am just really talking the way I would like it to be. Many different ears to please.
I hope these impressions will add more perspective. In the end your ears decide!
I will see if my opinions change after a few more days listening.
After giving it some more time, I have learned to appreciate the ESW9 earpads more. But only with proper recordings. I have been listening to Susan Wong recently and it is a delight. I could happily live with both the stock ESW11 and ESW9 earpads. Though imho the stock ESW11LTD does have an edge in comfort and being more forgiving of less fortunate recordings with clipping issues.
After I have given the esw9 earpads a weeks time, I went back to the stock esw11 earpads. Back and forth testing.
Differences are immediately noticeable. There is a certain lively vibrance to it, and butter. You know it is colored, but for me in a good way.
The padding of the esw11 is not evenly distributed. One half end is clearly thicker and gradually becomes thinner at the other half. One should not just put the earpads on the esw11ltd blindly, but they should be aligned properly. The thicker padding should touch the top/back area of your ears. And the thinner padding should touch the bottom/front area of your ears.
It also seems to me the esw11 padding is curved more smoothly inwards to the center and seems have intentional shaping towards our ears. The esw9 padding is curved sharply to the center, thereby effectively reducing the available surface pressing on your ears (more pressure!). Although the stock esw11 pads are still on ears, I consider them 'extended on ears' as they just really extend over the edge of your ears.
All in all the stock esw11 earpads are much more comfortable to me. But this could differ per person. The esw9 earpads have thinner padding, and also the padding itself seems to be pretty much even accross the board. This only further confirms that I was indeed feeling more pressure at the back end of my ears after extended listening.
Having said that. I don't feel like pulling out earpads every other day and getting the much tighter esw9 earpads on the esw11ltd really requires some patience and courage. I am not good at that. I do still stand by the differences the esw9 earpads bring. For some that might be very interesting and maybe some not. Nevertheless it is a easy to perform 'mod' that does not cost you too much.
You don't need to drill holes in the lovely wooden cups (OMG) or perform any rigorious modding like Maxx134 does!