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Dekoni Elite Pads for Sennheiser HD800/HD800S

Rating:
4.5/5,
  • Born out of previous success with other models the Dekoni Audio HD800 pad for the Sennheiser HD800 Line of headphones (available in Sheepskin, Elite Velour, Fenestrated Sheepskin, and Hybrid models) carries on Dekoni’s tradition of excellence and quality in the headphone ear pad space. What sets Dekoni apart from the herd is they tune every pad they make to specific headphones so you know you’re getting an upgrade and not just a replacement. Dekoni has spent about a year perfecting this ear pad and feel that it is the culmination of the best they have to offer. This pad truly is an upgrade and should increase the sound stage as well as your overall spatial awareness inside the headphone.

    EPZ-HD800-SK_049-300x300.jpg

Recent Reviews

  1. gLer
    Dekoni Elite HD800 pads tinker with perfection
    Written by gLer
    Published Jul 2, 2019
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Well made, great craftsmanship, excellent value.
    Cons - Sound deviates from stock, fit and clamp could be hit-or-miss.
    Full disclosure: Dekoni sent me the complete set of Elite HD800 pads to test and review on my own system with my own pair of HD800 headphones, without fear, favour or any expectation for preferential treatment or specific outcomes. The views and notes below are my own, and entirely reflect my own hearing, taste in music and sonic preferences in sharing them here.

    It took me many years to warm up to the genius that is the Sennheiser HD800. Coming from unashamedly ‘basshead’ roots, the HD800 always seemed to me to be an over-hyped, overpriced headphone that appealed to audiophile ‘snobs’, with their hoity-toity classical and jazz-inspired playlists.

    And yet with the years the HD800 just seemed to hold its own as a headphone that many aspired to emulate but only ended up poorly imitating. Even Sennheiser’s own HD800S, supposedly designed to address the few shortcomings of the original – namely a ‘nasty’ 6kHz spike and strident treble – split enthusiasts down the middle, with the likes of Innerfidelity’s Tyll Herstens boldly declaring the HD800S failed to measure up to its older brother in some key areas (bass distortion and muddled mids, for instance).

    For everything the HD800 (and HD800S) had going for it, it somehow also spawned a sub-industry of modifications for beginners and enthusiasts alike (one of which, the SuperDupont Resonator or SDR mod, I wholeheartedly recommend as an essential upgrade). But, until recently, there was nothing that suggested the very interface between the HD800 and your head – the pads – needed tweaking.

    Considering how ‘pad rolling’ is part and parcel of modern-day head-fi, you’d think this a little strange, until you realise that the HD800 is so sophisticated in its simplicity that even the smallest change can make a massive difference to how it sounds, and that most changes take the sound too far away from the HD800 ‘sweet spot’, the very sound that makes it so special and so preferable to so many.

    Dekoni Elite – a pad rolling panacea

    Dekoni Audio has built a well-deserved reputation for making high-quality replacement pads for some of the world’s most popular headphones. I reviewed their pads for Focal’s Elear here, and found them to markedly improve on both the sound quality and build quality of the original pads. That said, the Elear absolutely needs a pad change to sound its best; the HD800, as I’ve grown to appreciate, does not.

    Not only is the HD800 one of the most ergonomically comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn, the pads strike an almost ideal balance between comfort and sound quality. The HD800 does what it does not only because of its massive dynamic drivers, expertly engineered cups, and optimised mix of materials, it’s about the sum of its parts. Change one, and the risk is you change everything else.

    That goes for the pads too. There’s a reason Alex Grell chose the size, shape, thickness and materials for his pads. And yet in designing their range of Elite pads for the HD800, Dekoni unapologetically broke all the rules by changing not only the material but also the shape, thickness and construction of the original pads. Would it be one change too many, or have they somehow found a solution where no-one else had previously thought of looking?

    DekoniHD800_01.jpg

    Dekoni’s Elite series of pads almost always includes four different versions, and the HD800 family is no different. I received one each of their Elite Sheepskin, Elite Fenestrated Sheepskin, Elite Velour and Elite Hybrid pads in sturdy, well-constructed boxes. Each pad type is identical bar the construction materials, which, like all other previous Dekoni pads, are made from high-quality heat activated memory foam inners and real leather or plush velour outers. Along with the pads, Dekoni supplies a small plastic tool for removing the original pads, and a printed set of instructions showing how to mount (and unmount) the Dekoni pads onto the headphones.

    Removing the original (OEM) pads is simple, made even simpler with the Dekoni tool. A few careful plucks, and the pads pop off from the cups with ease, exposing the original perforated Sennheiser dust covers in each cup. At this point I advise you remove the original dust covers, because the Dekoni pads have their own built-in, non-detachable covers, and in my listening, I found that two layers of dust covers were not only overkill but also added a thin and unwanted veil to some of the music.

    Some have suggested the Sennheiser dust covers are integral to the HD800’s sound signature, and cut away the Dekoni covers instead. Not wanting to mutilate perfectly good pads, I decided to take the easier option, but the brave among you may want to experiment differently.

    Installing the Dekoni pads is equally simple; line up the tabs on the back of the Dekoni pads with the indents in the HD800 cups, and carefully work your way around each pad, pushing in along the edge until it ‘clicks’ into place. In less than a minute the changeover was complete and listening could begin.

    DekoniHD800_02.jpg

    Before we get into comfort and sound impressions, a quick note on removing the Dekoni pads, because as easy it is to install them, removing them is anything but. If you’re like me and baby your HD800 more than you baby your babies (and for good reason, babies don’t come with paint that chips just by looking at it), then you’ll want to be extra super cautious when removing the Dekoni pads from your babies.

    Inserting the tool and getting the first ‘pop’ is easy enough, but unlike the original pads that seem to pop off in one smooth motion, the Dekoni pads pop and then hold fast at every adjacent clamp point. According to the instructions, the trick is to grip the pads after the initial pop and then gently (and by that they mean firmly) twist the pads around and away from the cups without breaking anything in the process.

    I believe bomb disposal experts have had less nerve-wracking experiences with far more dangerous equipment, but after some profuse sweating and less-than-profound language, I seem to have perfected the art of Dekoni HD800 pad removal. Still, I only attempted it four times – as many times as I needed to install and listen to each of the different pads for the purpose of this review – and I’m glad to say my beloved HD800 still looks good as new.

    Look, feel and touch

    The first thing you’ll notice about the fit of all four Dekoni Elite pads is how much thicker they are compared to the original pads. The face of each pad is fat and flat, unlike the round and shallow profile of the originals. Also, unlike the original pads that are filled with a squishy, semi-firm foam, the Dekoni pads are filled with a heat-activated memory foam that’s initially quite stiff and cold to the touch but quickly softens as it’s warmed up and ‘moulds’ to the contours of your face.

    The extra size takes a bit of getting used to, both visually and physically. In my case I needed two or three further clicks on the headband to get the pads to sit flush with my ears on my very average-sized head, and while I love the look of the pads, they do make the HD800 seem a little less refined and more aggressive in appearance. Size-wise, take note, because if your head is larger than average and your HD800 headband is already maxed out, then you might find the Dekoni pads are just too tight for comfort. Conversely, if the HD800 has worn too loose on your head until now, the Dekoni pads will grip you like Goodyear tyres on a freshly tarred road.

    Speaking of grip, one of the advantages of the HD800, for me, is its relative lack of clamp with the original pads. Due to the thickness and resulting slight change of angle of the cups on my face, the HD800 with Dekoni pads is both tighter and grippier. It’s not uncomfortable, it’s differently comfortable. The Elite Velour and Elite Hybrid pads are the most comfortable of the set, like two warm cushions on the skin, and while the leather pads are supple and smooth to the touch – and the leather is good quality real leather rather than the cheap pleather used on so many other aftermarket pads – they’re slightly harder and cooler, at least initially.

    DekoniHD800_08.jpg

    Sound impressions

    All the comfort in the world doesn’t make a difference if the sound isn’t up to par, and on the whole, the sound quality of the HD800 with all four Dekoni Elite pads is excellent. It’s also different to stock, no matter what it says on the tin, so how much you love the ‘original’ sound (or in my case the HD800 SDR sound), and how far you’re willing to go for better fit or comfort (if indeed the Dekonis are more comfortable to you), will determine how much more (or less) you like them over the stock pads.

    In designing the HD800, Dekoni founder and owner Tal Kocen said the one thing he tried to do was to smooth out the 5kHz (although most measure it as 6kHz) peak and by testing with different baffling materials. He also suggests the ‘openness’ of the HD800 design means that sound changes are far more subtle with a pad swap compared to pad rolling a closed headphone, and that “the biggest difference is that while they don’t necessarily change the frequency response much, they move the drivers away from the ear and create more space within the headphone.”

    I took time to listen to each set of pads, taking notes using my tried-and-tested playlist to listen for particular nuances in the sound. Most of the pads were tested using most of the playlist, which includes (but isn’t limited to):

    Amber Rubarth– Hold On (from Sessions From the 17thWard)

    Heidi Talbot– If You Stay (from Love & Light)

    Lana Del Rey– Video Games (from Born To Die)

    Norah Jones– Come Away With Me (from Come Away With Me)

    Thomas Bergersen– Gift of Life (from Illusions)

    Def Leppard– Love Bites (from Hysteria)

    Angels of Venice– Trotto (from Angels of Venice)

    Jethro Tull– The Waking Edge (from Crest of a Knave)

    Lorde– Royals (from Pure Heroine)

    Max Richter– Winter 1 (from Recomposed by Max Richter – Vivaldi: The Four Seasons)

    My HD800 listening aligns fairly closely with my preferred musical styles, those being acoustic female vocals, female-driven pop, light classical, cinematic scores, female vocal jazz, and soft rock. I listen to other genres as well, but in most cases anything that needs a heavier hand with bass or warmer, more intimate vocals is deferred to my second love, the ZMF Auteur.

    It’s safe to say that if your listening tastes closely align with mine, you’ll find a lot to like, and much to love, with the Dekoni Elite pads. To keep it simple, I’ll cover how Dekoni measure and describe their own pads, and then compare what I heard with each of the pads on my own system.

    Elite Velour

    Dekoni: The biggest difference here is the Elite Velour pad will absorb a little more of the high frequency material and so you see a ~3dB dip between 10kHz and about 14kHz. It seems to take away some of the sparkle but causes the overall warmth to get accentuated a bit. Again, though, we see that 5kHz peak diminished and the high frequency material smoothed out.

    My impressions: Easily the warmest of the pads, both in comfort and in sound. The opening sequence of guitar plucks on Heidi Talbot’s ‘If You Stay’ are as crisp and bassy as ever, but also a touch more resonant, with a slightly longer decay. That’s very possibly a factor of the added volume between ear and driver – something which also results in a marked decrease in volume over the stock pads. This applies to all the pads, not just Velour, so be mindful when making your own comparisons.

    On that note, all the Dekoni pads will make your HD800 sound softer at the same volume setting, which could trick you into hearing differences in the sound profile that are only there because of the lower volume. Turn the dial up a bit to hear what the pads are really doing to the sound. I didn’t expect the volume drop to be as steep as it was, and to be honest is the change I liked least.

    All that said, the change from stock sound, once volume matched, is subtle. With the SDR mod and mild EQ (I use SonarWorks religiously with my HD800 and don’t make any excuses for it), I never have an issue with treble spikes or glare, but the Dekoni Velour pads did take a hint of air away from the upper registers, and expanded the stage ever so slightly. Bass and mids, from what I could tell, were mostly unchanged.

    DekoniHD800_03.jpg

    Elite Sheepskin

    Dekoni: This one makes the most sonic difference as the Sheepskin material by nature is thicker and less porous than the others. What this means is that the sheepskin does not absorb much of the material that hits it, it just keeps the material moving on through to your ear. The high frequencies don’t get absorbed at all and you maintain more material and ‘air’ to what you’re listening to. This pad is great for a little extra lift in the top end.

    My impressions: oddly I found the Elite Sheepskin pads to have the least audible change from the original pads, probably because of all the pads they also had the least pronounced volume drop. It’s also possible that the music I listen to is generally well recorded with few glaring peaks, and I don’t have an extensive classical playlist, so perhaps the ‘strengths’ of this pad were lost on me.

    Def Leppard’s cymbal splashes at around the 1:20 mark of ‘Love Bites’ can make or break a headphone for me, and if the extra ‘lift’ of the Sheepskin pads supposedly made this part any more strident, I didn’t hear it. Then again, I do have a particularly odd manifestation of hearing loss (called Cookie Bite, Google it), so it’s possible that the extra bite of the pads was cancelled out by the bite in my hearing, and the pads fit my hearing like a proverbial glove. Also I have a thing for leather pads, so of all the Dekonis, these were easily my favourite.

    DekoniHD800_05.jpg

    Elite Fenestrated Sheepskin

    Dekoni: The frequency response on this one is almost identical to the Hybrid Pad, that is to say very little difference in the sound signature all the up to about 2kHz. The main difference between the two is comfort, depending on whether you prefer the feel of leather or velour on your skin.

    My impressions: the biggest change for me with the Elite Fenestrated Sheepskin pads – which prior to receiving them I thought would be my favourite, given my penchant for the ‘fenestrated leather’ look – was the added airiness in the sound. Dekoni’s Fenestrated pads for the Focal Elear were easily my preferred choice for that headphone, and in hindsight that could be because of how well they balanced the Elear’s heavy-handed bass attack with the other frequencies. In the case of the HD800, I’m not sure the trick works as well, if only because the HD800 is not the world’s most bass-endowed headphone to begin with (which is also why my SonarWorks profile raises the bass level a few notches above neutral).

    The heft of the mediaeval drums in Angel of Venice’s ‘Trotto’ was nowhere near as pronounced with these pads as it is with the stock pads, Sheepskin or Velour. Lorde’s ‘Royals’ also didn’t have the same aggressive thump that makes this track my litmus test for bass response. That said, if you prefer your bass leaner and more refined, the sound profile of the Fenestrated pads may be just the ticket. Strange as it seems I’ve heard the HD800 described by some as ‘warm’, especially with the SDR mod, and if you don’t like your sound too steamy, the combination of a bigger stage – even bigger than the stock HD800’s industry standard – and leaner bass will make for an appealing sonic cocktail.

    Looks-wise I thought these pads would also be the most impressive, but unlike the Elear equivalent, the holes of the HD800 pads are larger, showing more of the yellow memory foam beneath, and giving the pads a less even appearance than I would have liked.

    DekoniHD800_04.jpg

    Elite Hybrid

    Dekoni: Much like the Fenestrated Sheep, the Elite Hybrid does little to change the sound profile of the HD800 up to 2kHz. You will also notice a smoother transition out of the ‘conchal bowl’ and a nice arch over the peak while maintaining a little more of the higher 10kHz+ material which adds some air and a hint of sparkle to the sound.

    My impressions: The Hybrids, like the Velours, were the most comfortable of the lot, but I have to say I find the combination of materials rather odd looking. This isn’t limited to the HD800 pads – I also found the Focal Hybrids rather odd. They have a ‘stitched together’ look that’s somewhat out of character with the pristinely precise construction of the HD800, but I guess the contrast could also make them oddly appealing to some.

    In any case, the sound of the Hybrids tallies closely with Dekoni’s findings, although I did find them reducing the bass more than I’d typically want them to given the low base the HD800 starts you off with. If you do EQ your sound you may want to up the bass a touch along with the volume. The instrumental intro sequence to Jethro Tull’s ‘The Waking Edge’ covers almost the entire frequency spectrum, with some potentially piercing pings and razor-sharp guitar strings, and not once did I wince with the Hybrids on my ears. That a good thing for both my ears and the pads, and if you like the look, want the velour comfort and are happy to live with a slightly less hefty sound, these could be the pads for you.

    DekoniHD800_06.jpg

    Closing thoughts

    You have to hand it to Dekoni: taking on an absolute classic headphone and tinkering with what many consider to be as close to perfection as you’ll get from a headphone is brave at best, reckless at worst. Fail and not only do you lose a sizeable investment in expensive materials, but your reputation among the Elite – excuse the pun – takes a solid hit.

    On the whole, I think Dekoni have pulled it off very smartly indeed. They didn’t pretend to make a ‘better original’, rather going the route of ‘different original’. They put their cards on the table, clearly identifying the issues they wanted their pads to solve, and backing themselves with measurements that show where the differences – beneficial or otherwise – sit on the charts.

    For someone like myself, who took a long time to fall in love with the HD800 but when I finally did, fell in love with it wholeheartedly, changing anything about this headphone was never going to be something I did without much trepidation. It took weeks of reading and convincing myself that a ‘serious’ mod like SDR was even fathomable (it turned out to be so easy and also so easily reversible as to seem rather insignificant after the fact), that a pad change was an order of magnitude more intrusive.

    But Dekoni clearly did their homework with this set of pads. Even though removing the pads can induce a sudden bout of nausea, once you’ve done it successfully – by actually trusting the instructions – it’s all smooth sailing. Installation wobbles aside, the fact that Dekoni has created a set of pads that are not only better made than the originals but also use more expensive materials without actually being more expensive (not much anyway, and much cheaper if you’ve opted for Velour), makes them outstanding value and well worth a try even if, like me, you’re married to the original look and feel of the HD800.

    Do I recommend them? Absolutely. There should be at least one of the set that most people will either find more comfortable, better looking or better sounding than the original pads. Whether or not I go back to using a pair of Dekoni Elite pads with my own HD800 remains to be seen. SDR aside, for now there’s just something about this headphone I never, ever want to change, and probably never will.
      baseonmars and capetownwatches like this.
    1. capetownwatches
      Dekoni knew what they were doing when they began sending you products...another superb labour of love review from one of the most erudite contributors to Head-Fi. As always you cover every aspect comprehensively and in a manner that leaves no doubt as to your passion for the subject matter. Even though I don't own an HD800 (not through lack of trying...) I read the entire review because it was so well written and informative, even for those like me who have no vested interest in the products.
      capetownwatches, Jul 3, 2019
      gLer likes this.
    2. zotjen
      Excellent review. I've been thinking about getting the hybrids but one of my concerns with all of the Dekonis is that they might get too warm for me, especially in the summer. How well do they hold up to sweat? I've had my HD800s for almost 10 years and already replaced the stock pads (with another set of stock pads) because they were practically falling apart.
      zotjen, Jul 7, 2019
      gLer likes this.
    3. gLer
      The Dekonis do get a little warmer than the originals because of the thicker material. The velour/hybrids probably a touch more than the leather, with the fenestrated being the coolest of the bunch.
      gLer, Jul 7, 2019
      zotjen likes this.

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