Full disclosure: Dekoni sent me a full set of Elite Earpads for HD800 in exchange for my fair and honest opinion, with no expectation of a favourable review. The views expressed are my own, based on my personal sound preferences and taste in music, which may well vary from your own.
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, 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 Axel 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?
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.
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.