More linear midrange, greater overall balance, improved imaging performance, more plush and breathable than stock pads
Subjectively lower separation, less midrange clarity
Yaxi’s Alcantara pads offer an immediately more natural sound than the stock pads, making them an easy recommendation for owners looking for a more balanced flavour of MSR7.
Yaxi is a Japanese earpad company who specialize in Alcantara; an exotic material employed by high-performance car manufacturers. In line, their pads have repeatedly impressed reviewers with their unique sound properties and excellent wearing comfort – combining breathability with the hard wearing, sweat resistant properties of a sports orientated material. Their latest design fits the Audio Technica MSR7, a lauded headphone in a modest price bracket yet one that garnered some complaint of splashy high frequencies. Yaxi’s ear pads retail for $39 USD and offer a more comfortable experience in addition to an alternate sound that may economically tickle the ears of those dissatisfied with the stock headphone. You can read more about MSR7 Alcantara pads and purchase a pair for yourselves here.
I would like to thank Yaxi very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the Alcantara pads for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the ear pads free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
The pads are almost identical in dimension to the stock pads, however, they demonstrate a higher level of finish with their heavier duty stitching and slightly plusher padding. The perimeter is traced with fine grain pleather that is softer than that employed on the stock pads while the internal face is Alcantara. It feels similar to microsuede but I find to be more durable long term. Still, those who have experienced any of Microsoft’s new surface products will know that Alcantara will wear over time, however, users won’t experience flaking like pu leather pads nor will comfort decrease.
The pads are a touch plusher and they have a flatter surface that spreads the clamp force of the headphones over a larger area. As such, they are perceptibly more comfortable than the stock pads. Isolation is retained and breathability is markedly improved, much appreciated during Australia’s recent sweaty summer. The padding remains slow-rebound memory foam, however, in line, it is softer than that employed in the stock pads. Nonetheless, they are still heat activated, softening during wear and conforming to the head. They produced no hotspots for my average to wide ears though it’s important to note that neither did the stock pads.
The Alcantara pads offer an immediately more natural sound to my ear – unlike the HD6XX pads that offered a different flavour of sound, the MSR7 pads are undoubtedly superior to the stock units in terms of tone and balance. In particular, midrange linearity is immediately improved, a result of slight treble attenuation combined with a touch of additional lower-midrange and bass body. The result is smooth, well-bodied vocals, reduced sibilance and greater balance between the three core frequency bands.
Bass occupies greater space throughout with the Alcantara pads, which is a positive for the MSR7, that I find to tend towards the leaner and cooler side – thereby achieving greater overall balance. Bass extension is a touch improved, with enhanced slam and rumble. Yet, sub-bass quantity remains very similar so bass isn’t muddied as a result. Meanwhile, mid-bass and upper-bass are brought one notch forward, imbuing a slight warmth into the MSR7’s presentation.
This also helps to fill in the midrange, which previously, sounded rather cool and thin to my ears. Bass quality remains similar, note size is slightly increased yet definition remains mostly unchanged. Control is also comparable so detail retrieval is essentially identical to the headphones with stock pads. The main impact therein lies in the Alcantara pad’s effect on tone and volume, offering a more natural low-end with a smoother texture.
The difference here, in particular, is night and day. Linearity is hugely improved and tone is considerably more natural. Notes are more wholly resolved and timbre becomes impressively accurate for a lower midrange tier portable headphone. Bolstering of the lower-frequencies provides the foundation while a slightly warmer lower-midrange and more linear centre midrange serve to further enhance midrange resolution. Vocals sit more in line with the bass and treble where before treble held most prominence.
Vocal clarity remains high, though subjectively separation is decreased as the alcantara pads push the headphones towards slight warmth as opposed to the clear coolness of the stock units. Sibilance is attenuated, a combination of a smoother upper-midrange and a more integrated treble. Nonetheless, the headphone remains clear and well-separated. Thus, the Alcantara’s strength lies in its ability to dispel any hints of coolness and raspiness of the headphone’s former self while avoiding over-warming, congestion or bass dominance.
While the lower-frequencies receive ample change and the midrange is thoroughly transformed, the higher-frequencies aren’t substantially altered besides a slight attenuation throughout. The quality remains similar as does the emphasis on lower-treble crispness, however, the background is appreciably darker and cleaner and extension is improved a touch, offering slightly higher resolution, benefiting background detail retrieval.
The foreground remains aggressively detailed and instruments such as strings and cymbals are presented with both energy and clarity. Detail retrieval here remains similar, though instruments aren’t quite as sharp as stock and highs are less fatiguing as they occupy a more balanced position within the headphone’s presentation.
By pushing back the background, the Alcantara pads create the impression of a larger soundstage. However, after listening to numerous albums, it’s apparent that the maximum size remains the same. Rather, listeners will be sure to enjoy heightened foreground/background delineation, enhancing the retrieval of finer details due to greater distinction between layers.
Though not as separated due to enhanced warmth and note size, greater linearity produces a sound that is more coherent and imaging that is notably improved as a result. With greater balance and no dominance of any particular frequency, minutia is easier to discern. The cooler sound of the stock pads may strike as more transparent and higher energy, however, the Alcantara pads offer a sound that is more immersive and certainly easier on the ears over longer listening.
Like their Porta Pro pads, I find myself struggling to identify areas of weakness with Yaxi’s MSR7 pads. Being such a subjective hobby, many will still be sure to prefer the cooler, brighter and clearer sound of the stock pads, yet those searching for something more natural and comfortable will want to look towards Yaxi’s Alcantara alternative. From an accuracy point of view, the Alcantara pads immediately offer a more linear, natural and balanced sound.
Equipped, they transform the MSR7 into a very well voiced midrange headphone that can compete, in terms of tonality, with higher priced models. Of course, detail retrieval and resolution aren’t improved by a significant degree. Nonetheless, Yaxi’s Alcantara ear pads offer a sound that is completely more desirable to my ear than stock – making them an easy recommendation for owners looking for a more balanced flavour of MSR7.
The MSR7 Alcantara ear pads can be purchased from Yaxi for $39 USD. I am not affiliated with Yaxi and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.