Dekoni Audio Elite Earpads for Audeze LCD headphones

Rating:
5/5,
  1. gLer
    Dekoni delivers premium LCD pad swap
    Written by gLer
    Published Nov 6, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Premium materials and packaging.
    Superb comfort (with caveats).
    Maintains excellent LCD sound quality (with caveats).
    Cons - Clamp could be increased with thicker pads.
    Fenestrated pads change the sound (not necessarily a con).
    I was first introduced to Dekoni Audio products when the fabric earpads on my newly-acquired Focal Elear fell apart. Little did I know at the time that replacement earpads made from genuine sheepskin leather could not only make the headphones sound better than the original pads, but also cost half the asking price of new Focal pads.

    In fact, the Dekoni pads impressed me so much that I was surprised to find they weren’t featured in the Head-Fi showcase (fixed that), and that they hadn’t been reviewed before (fixed that too).

    Then this happened: the pads that I considered the finest ever made for a headphone – the premium brown leather lambskin pads of my Audeze LCD-3 – were accidentally nicked and torn when I set them down on my desk, much to my shock and dismay. After all, how could such a quality pair of pads that were still in as-new condition be so easily damaged?

    Not one to panic, I coolly remembered a recent announcement from Dekoni on their new range of Elite pads for the LCD series, and rushed online to find out more. A few weeks later, my previous favourite pads were replaced by my new favourite pads – the Dekoni Elite Sheepskin for LCD – and my LCD-3 has never sounded or looked better.

    Full disclosure: Dekoni sent me two pairs of their new LCD pads – Elite Sheepskin and Elite Fenestrated Sheepskin – in exchange for my objective and unbiased review, with no guarantees or demands of any sort on my findings. The views expressed below are entirely my own, and were not influenced in any way by Dekoni or other interested parties.

    Unboxing and first impressions

    Having already bought my first pair of Dekoni earpads, I knew what to expect when the new LCD pads arrived: a set of well-crafted, tastefully decorated and labelled glossy boxes, complete with a magnetic latch and ample room inside to house two pads without damaging them in transit.

    Compared to how Massdrop shipped me a pair of Elex pads – in a flimsy plastic packet stuffed inside a cardboard envelope without any markings, branding or (more importantly) protection – Dekoni’s approach is a step above, and most welcome. Not quite an Apple-esque experience, but as close as you can get for a set of replacement headphone pads.

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    Removing the enclosed pads, I was immediately struck by how soft they were. Coming from a pair of ultra-soft lambskin pads on the LCD-3, the Dekoni’s sheepskin is perhaps not quite as soft to the touch, but certainly softer than some other lambskin pads I’ve used (including ZMF’s Ori, Auteur and Eikon pads), while still appearing appreciably thicker and therefore stronger.

    Compared to the original LCD pads, the Dekoni pads are notably thicker on the rear side of the angled exterior, by a good half centimetre or so. The memory foam appears to have been cut in multiple layers, with the divide between layers visible through the leather, but you wouldn’t know it unless you look at it closely in the right light. This doesn’t affect performance or appearance, but it’s something I picked up so worth a mention here. The foam itself is firmer than the non-memory foam used in the original LCD pads, so compresses less and retains its shape more when worn (more on this later).

    Installation and comfort

    Audeze weren’t too smart when designing their headphone pads. Given the superb quality and materials used, the complete absence of a removable mechanism for the pads – be it a lip for the pads to wrap over, or holes for disc to slip into – the LCD pads are crudely glued onto the metallic headphone cups.

    This means that removing the pads also destroys the pads – or at least, it destroyed my pads. The glue is so strong that the entire top layer of prized lambskin leather on the back of the pads came right off as I slowly and carefully pulled and removed the original pads from the headphones. Not only that, but a layer of leather was left behind on the cups! I would include a photo of what they looked like after all was said and done, but it’s probably too distressing for a PG-rated site like this one and is strictly against Head-Fi’s zero tolerance for gratuitous violence.

    So, before you rush out to buy a set of replacement pads for your LCD headphones, just know that it’s a one-way trip. Once they come off, they stay off, unless you’re willing to stick them back with foam exposed to the elements.

    Despite the trauma of the pad removal, once removed, the new pads were a pleasure to install. Each Dekoni pad comes with a pre-installed ring of 3M translucent double-sided film, and all you need to do is carefully lift off the paper backing, align the pads correctly, and carefully press them down against the cups (I suggest you watch thisYouTube video to learn how to properly remove and install LCD pads). 30 seconds is all it took to fit the new pads.

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    Of course I’m jumping the gun a bit here; having received two different sets of pads, I didn’t want to ruin them by permanently installing and then removing one to test the other, so before deciding on which of the two pads I’d ultimately use for my own headphones, I used removable double-sided tape on the three sets of pads (the two Dekonis and the original pads) to easily switch between them and test for fit, comfort and sound.

    Speaking of comfort, the solid Elite sheepskin pads felt the most familiar, coming from a similarly solid pair of lambskin pads. It definitely isn’t as soft as the original pads, but that’s likely more a factor of the firmer foam Dekoni uses. The leather itself is supple and soft, but smoother and less creased than the Audeze lambskin, most likely due to lack of any wear on the Dekonis.

    Both the sheepskin and fenestrated sheepskin pads were cool on the skin, although the fenestrated pads remained cool after a lengthy listen while the sheepskin pads became and remained warmer. Being leather I expect both will get warm on warmer days, but the fenestrated pads will likely breathe better and remain cooler for longer. The heat-activated memory foam of the Dekonis will also get warmer than the foam in the original Audeze pads, so if you live in a hot and humid environment you might want to keep a facecloth handy for the occasional wipe down.

    Fortunately, being leather, with proper care and maintenance these pads should last many years, unlike Focal’s material pads that disintegrate a little too quickly when exposed to heat and moisture.

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    One other note worth making: the thicker pads and firmer foam could spell trouble for those of us with larger heads. I never considered the LCD-3 to have a particularly strong clamp, probably because the pillow-soft pads completely enveloped and collapsed around my ears, cushioning any effect of the headphone’s hefty weight. With the Dekoni pads, you may initially feel the stronger clamp, especially if using the new Audeze suspension strap.

    I have a relatively large head, but even so the clamp wasn’t uncomfortable, just noticeable. Luckily, I still had several rungs of extension left on the headband yokes, so increasing the yokes one click loosened the clamp closer to what I was used to with the stock pads. Also, as the foam gets ‘activated’ by heat from your face, the pads will conform and distort, making them more comfortable for extended listens. With extended use the leather will likely soften further, transforming the Dekoni pads into the comforting cushions I know and love.

    Sound impressions

    I imagine some of you may have skipped to this section first, so let me get straight to the point before diving deeper into specific examples of how the LCD-3 sounds with the Dekoni pads: the Deskonis DO change the sound of the LCD, very slightly and positively in the case of the sheepskin pads, more obviously in the case of the fenestrated pads.

    To my ears, the fenestrated pads changed the LCD’s rich, deep and layered sound a touch too much for my liking, but that’s not to say the changes were all negative. In my notes below, you can decide for yourself if you think these changes would better suit you, or if you’d rather keep to the tried and tested sound of the original pads and the Dekoni alternatives.

    The first thing I noticed about the Dekoni pads was their thickness, and how the memory foam was firmer than the foam in the stock pads. Putting aside the effects of fenestration for now, this meant both Dekoni pads hold your ears further away from the drivers. This theoretically can impact the sound of the headphones, although in truth the extra distance is not substantial enough for a major shift in frequency response. What it does do is widen and deepen the soundstage ever so slightly, most notably with the solid sheepskin pads. I suspect the fenestrated pads filter the sound in ways that also affect soundstage, widening it ever so slightly.

    Paul Simon’s ‘Boy in the Bubble’ from his masterpiece album Graceland shows off the LCD-3’s deeper stage with the Elite sheepskin pads, whereas the fenestrated pads sacrifice a bit of depth for more air but also more width and an overall more diffuse sound compared to the heft of the solid pads.

    The LCD-3 is often lauded for its fast, clean, deeply extended and perfectly weighted bass, and the Dekoni sheepskin pads further reinforce that impression. Lorde’s ‘Royals’, my go-to test track for upfront bass impact, hits deep and hard with the original stock pads, and even more so with the solid Dekoni pads. It’s as if the room size has increased, and the impact of the drum reverbs hang in the air a little longer than before. Interestingly the fenestrated pads don’t lose much bass impact with this track, although Lorde’s vocals do come across slightly brighter than both the original and solid pads, and also a smidge thinner if I were to be critical.

    That added thickness from the solid Dekoni pads doesn’t come at the cost of the natural air and sparkle that I really enjoy with Audeze’s revised (post-2016) LCD-3 Fazor drivers. I certainly wouldn’t want the sound to be any thicker, although fans of the pre-fazor warm-and-gooey LCDs might beg to differ. In fact, I appreciate the extra heft, the slightly longer decay, and the truer tones of bass notes.

    Made In Heights’ eclectic electronica in her ‘Wildflowers’ track sounds bigger and bolder with the solid Dekoni pads, with less glare and more focus on her sugar sweet vocals, while the fenestrated pads render the track with a softer sheen, excellent separation and a touch more emphasis in the upper mids.

    Voices are better placed in the mix with the solid pads, while the fenestrated pads even out the FR, injecting more air into the midrange and treble than the stock and solid pads. If you prefer your LCDs a touch brighter and cooler, the Dekoni fenestrated pads might just be the subtle tweak you’ve been looking for.

    Closing thoughts

    Dekoni have hit another huge home run with their family of Elite LCD pads. Not only are they well presented, beautifully made from premium materials, exceptionally comfortable and easy to install, they also give you the option of keeping intact the LCD’s already superb sonics, or tweaking them slightly to taste.

    While removing the stock pads can be traumatic for some, this isn’t Dekoni’s doing, and with luck Audeze will rethink their pad installation design for future LCD revisions. That aside, Dekoni’s pads offer a viable – and in my opinion preferable – alternative to Audeze’s already excellent pads, and significantly better value at around half the price of original pads.

    Just keep in mind comfort issue and clamp force, but if you have a normal noggin, that won’t be an issue. Also keep in mind how the fenestrated pads change the LCD sound, and whether or not that’s to your liking. If you’re undecided, my suggestion would be to buy both, and soft-install each of them to hear the difference before deciding for yourself. In my case it didn’t take long to decide on the solid Elite sheepskin pads for my personal use.

    Unlike the Focal Elear, for which I consider a pad swap mandatory, the reasons to swap pads on an Audeze LCD are less compelling. However, when the time comes, I wouldn’t hesitate to go with Dekoni, safe in the knowledge I’m getting an even better product for less money – something Dekoni is getting an admirable reputation for these days.

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    1. View previous replies...
    2. capetownwatches
      Quite outstanding review both in terms of content and presentation. A most enjoyable read.
      capetownwatches, Nov 8, 2018
    3. CrispApple
      Great review, the photos are excellent!
      CrispApple, Nov 8, 2018
    4. Pharmaboy
      An excellent, comprehensive review: well written & covering all the bases, enhanced by adding multiple well-framed photos.
      Pharmaboy, Nov 8, 2018