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Pleather vs Leather: Debunking the durability myth.

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by alvincapalad, Mar 9, 2012.
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  1. alvincapalad
    I've practically seen so many claims on different threads that leather is more durable than pleather. As an Industrial Designer, we also study material/component composition. It is a general rule in design to build the skeleton first to support the outer aesthetics. Unfortunately, some manufacturers doesn't follow this to cut costs.
    To answer the question is leather more durable than pleather? No, pleather is more durable, if manufacturers follow the correct manufacturing of pleather that is.
    To cut costs, manufacturer sometimes skips on "cloth lining" manufacturing and simply paints the "pleather" coating over the foam.
    Example of these are the Sony's MDR-V6/MDR-7506 ear pads, pleather is simply pressed into the foam, which in time will flake and crumble like bread. On the otherhand, Sony's XB series has the pleather sewn onto the cloth lining which will make it durable. Manufacturing process is the problem.
    Pleather manufacturing = > PVC and PU made into film (Blow film extrusion) > PVC/PU film combined with cotton and material passed between rollers to make the surface shiny (calendering) > Cooling > Finished.
    Cheap pleather skips the calendering process. Properly manufactured pleather should stand 200,000 rubs or 54 years. While, leather can stand for 100,000 rubs or 27 years. Pleather cleaning only requires wet cloth. Leather requires toxic solutions. Leather is more prone to cracking and sun damage.
    When other factors are considered, PLEATHER becomes the more sustainable choice! Then, why buy leather? Luxury, comfort, and cooling feel on skin (it does get sticky on hot weather)
    Why not Pleather, it is hot on skin and not breatheable, otherwise it is twice more durable than leather and cost less to manufacture. In addition, pleather is a polarizing material which helps control/engineer sound. Leather is not always consistent (quality varies). Not every cow or sheep is the same.
    Durability: Pleather (w/calendering process) > Leather > Pleather (w/o calendering process).
    How do you care for your pleather headbands and ear pads? simply wipe them after use, bringing a soft cloth is very handy. Do not allow them to be soaked in water.
    Maxx134, SodaBoy, quantumhavi and 5 others like this.
  2. TMRaven
    I never actually thought people believed that leather was flat out more durable than pleather.  There's a reason why pleather is the go to choice for headphones-- even the most expensive headphones.  It doesn't require the upkeep as well.
  3. Head Injury
    Also leather sounds fancier.
  4. MarioImpemba
    Thanks for the info.
    I would never buy pleather ear pads for the same reason I would never buy pleather clothing - comfort.
  5. TheGrumpyOldMan
    Perhaps you are technically correct, and at least you point out the different processes. Last time I had anything pleather, it was a pair of Sony full-size headphones which I liked quite a lot until the pleather started crumbling and the few times I still wore them I looked like I had black dandruff leprosy around my ears...
    And since this was before the everything's-on-the-internet-somewhere days, I couldn't get a replacement from the local Sony repair center and out they went. Never again. Even if better quality is available now, it just doesn't feel right.
    Lastly, I'd rather have suede ("vegan pads") or similar pads than pretend leather the same way I don't like plastic devices painted silver to be pretend metal: trying to be something it isn't. Then at least play to the material's own qualities and make something unique but don't try to imitate something else. But that's just me.
    Jazz1 likes this.
  6. alvincapalad
    What I find that is a very good formula is the AIAIAI TMA-1s ear pad, it is a combination of pleather and leather. It is breathable like most leathers, but it also has the toughness of the pleather, since those headphones were designed for DJs in a very demanding environment. But, they do suffer a bit with isolation.
    I'd like to see a manufacturer who would use velours and pleather together, make the polarizing material pleather then the outer-part, velours. That would be interesting and expensive. But for comfort and having a very good sound production why not?
    quantumwave likes this.
  7. GiacomoHoldini
    I've always assumed the big problem with pleather is that it is subject to deterioration from the natural acidity of the skin. Salt and acids eat stuff away. Wouldn't leather be more durable in this specific regard, since it, too, is "skin"? Or am I off base?
  8. alvincapalad
    What weakens pleather is not the acidity of the skin, although it does some damage at a very minimum level. Plastic is very durable in handling acid and pleather is made out of Polyurethane. What actually affects pleather is the heat/dryness generated in long usage and storing in humid places. So if you are going to store them after use make sure you put them with those "silica" gel bags or you can put them in ziplocks for longtime storages. Wiping them after use also helps prolong its life.
    quantumwave likes this.
  9. GiacomoHoldini
    Thanks for the recommendation. I've been wiping the pleather headband and earpads with a damp paper towel to help neutralize the pH and clean off salt. But I'll try the silica gel packets, too.
  10. devouringone3
    Very good topic! Thanks for being so informative, and myth busting
    I keep a bowl of water and a washing clothe, wash my Shure SHR840 and Fostex T50RP calendered plastic leather pads after each use.
    All the velour pads I've seen already have the interior-most quarter of their circumference (when you take a cross section of the dough nut) in pleather.
    d331f1a7_14052012164.jpg  (KimLaroux' pair)
    Razer Carcharias (Chinese-made unknown OEM design):
  11. Baxide
    Saying that, what's the oldest leather item in existence compared to a pleather one?
  12. PleasantNoise
    how does pleather fair in scratch tests, rather than just rubbing wear?
    A big issue with pleather jackets, is that they tend to scratch easily, creating a weak point that then tears over time... obviously headphone pads don't get those pulling, stretching forces applied, but scratched pleater looks terrible imo.

    Other thing is, PVC will always become brittle over time, it was created to use up excess chlorine from manufacturing process' but PVC is unusably brittle, without large amounts of plasticizers to make it subtle enough to use. However the plasticizers tend to migrate out of the PVC, returning it to a useless brittle state.
    can't do much about that... keep them away from excess UV light etc. but they have a limited life.
    Whereas, leather can last much longer if well tanned, and cared for.. judging by the age of some leather products around and in use still (50+ year old belts etc)
  13. nanaholic
    I'm surprised no one seems to have asked the obvious question yet - how do you tell "properly" made pleather apart from the cheap stuff?
  14. IEMCrazy
    This is a really interesting thread!  I too was a victim of the MDR-V6 flaking, thoguh so far my 7506 has been fine.  I'm still looking forward to replacing Denon pleather with real leather though, it's so much more comfortable.
    I agree about scratching versus rubbing and becoming brittle as well.   Most PVC items tend to loose their suppleness much faster than well processed leather, and I've rarely seen pleather that didn't crack or tear within a few years, while I have many leather things that while worn, still perform as new.   I think the difference here is the pleather being discussed is a theoretical or industural-applications pleather, but such a creature is virtually never seen in the consumer sphere.   The Protein Leather(TM) in use by HiFiMan seems to be sold largely for automotive upholstry purposes.  That stuff is probably the real deal, but is probably one of the very few cases of seeing the real thing in the consumer realm.  So for consumers, outside the few cases, "pleather" almost always seems to mean "low grade pleather", while leather usually means "high grade leather." 
    I'm guessing if you see it stitched together, it's probably the cloth backed type, and if there are no visible seams it probably isn't.  But as for good grade or poor grade beyond that, that's a good question.
  15. DefectiveAudioComponent
    I wish my old Peerless MB orthodynamics knew about the superior durability of pleather. Unfortunately, none of them did, and the pleather is now all gone.
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