Huge upgrade to comfort, Substantially more balanced midrange, Much higher instrument separation, More breathable design
None to mention
It’s a wonder why Sony didn’t design their stock pads like these, Yaxi’s Pro M-ST is a huge universal upgrade for the MDR-1ST.
Japanese Yaxi Earpads really surprised me when they first reached out for a review of their Porta Pro foam pads. The pads were simple in construction and application, but also incredibly effective in terms of providing a more comfortable and balanced listening experience. Since, they’ve continued to offer cost-effective custom-tailored earpad solutions for myriad headphones, their latest model addressing the Sony MDR-1ST, a popular studio headphone in Japan.
The Yaxi PRO M-ST Earpads are available for $42 USD from their website here.
I would like to thank Mia from Yaxi very much for her quick communication and for providing me with the Grado ear pads for the purpose of review. I conducted a paid photoshoot for Yaxi, however, all words are my own and there was no incentive for a positive review. Also taking into account that I received the pads free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
If you’ve ever tried Sony’s headphones, you’ll know that the majority are among the most comfortable on the market. Much of this comes down to two factors – an incredibly lightweight design and a sculpted earpad profile that follows the anatomy of the head. The MDR-1ST continues this trend, with one caveat. It has incredibly shallow earpads. This isn’t aided by the plastic waveguide in front of the driver that directly contacted my ears during wear. In honesty, I couldn’t see myself wearing these headphones for more than an hour yet alone an entire professional working day. Headphones in a studio-setting are tools, so all-day comfort is just as imperative as balanced audio.
The Yaxi pads are a great departure, they are almost double the thickness and employ a higher density heat-activated memory foam stuffing that conforms equally well to the head. They also employ more aggressive angulation that places the drivers further from the ear. If you have larger or wider ears, it is likely you’d still struggle. But for my average sized ears, I found that they no longer contacted the hard plastic of the driver enclosure. With no hotspot formation, long-term comfort is a given and they now feel just as effortless to wear as something like the MDR-1A.
The construction of the actual pads is what we’ve seen before from the company, which is to say, very good. There’s the same sweat-resistant Alcantara front face with pleather surround and interior. Stitching quality feels very sturdy and the fabric design grants a softer feel on the ear and better breathability over time and on hotter days. I can’t speak for these pads specifically as I was only given a 2 week window for review. However, based on my experience with their similar designs for other headphones, I can vouch for the longevity. As the pleather doesn’t contact the skin, I have found that Yaxi’s earpads do last longer than pure pleather pads too that are prone to pealing.
The MDR-1ST is not a headphone that I am personally well-acquainted nor was it widely covered online in English reviews. I thought it beneficial to give my thoughts briefly on its stock sound so users can know my preferences and what to expect. This is undoubtedly a headphone that targets some sort of neutrality as you’d expect for a studio monitor. In particular, the both the bass and treble are impressively linear but there’s a slightly bolstered deep to mid-bass that creates a moderately muddy presentation with hazier transients than I’m accustomed to. The midrange is my biggest gripe, the lower-midrange being notably over-forward, shifting focus too much towards room and creating a congested presentation. The upper-midrange is quite even but also a little laid-back relative to that lower-midrange hump. The headphones have quite a sharp imaging performance with great localisation especially, perhaps due to the proximity of the driver to the ear, but it distinctly lacks much width or separation.
The Yaxi pads immediately provided a substantially more balanced presentation. Booting up a sine sweep to compare the exact changes and it’s stunning how specific Yaxi have been with their tuning here. Bass extends deeper, and there’s greater linearity between sub and mid-bass. The midrange is greatly appended, the lower-midrange is still slightly forward relative to the remaining midrange but is now brought down to a level that is more or less even with the bass. The upper-midrange has also been brought forward to match. The signature then extends linearly through the lower-treble again, in line with the upper-midrange. I hear no loss of treble extension either. There’s a similar sense of depth and localisation is about as sharp. Width is subtly improved but not hugely so while separation makes a giant leap over stock, which contributes to the impression of greater space and openness.
The low-end was quite linear in tuning on the stock pads but also relatively congested due to an uptick of deep-bass fullness that increases note size. The Yaxi pads shift the emphasis slightly further down into the sub-bass, extension appears a touch improved, likely due to the greater seal aided by their deeper construction. Furthermore, the mid-bass appears noticeably cleaner and bass more defined on a whole. Notes have a sharper attack and decay slightly quicker. The presentation is more dynamic and slightly more engaging though not a bass response I would call especially exaggerated or engaging in isolation. Though presented with an uptick of slam, the Yaxi pads provide a very noticeable benefit to bass resolution over the stock pads that greatly aids their overall separation and enjoyability.
The key difference here, as aforementioned, is the lower-midrange. This frequency zone appeared at the forefront of the presentation stock, but achieves good linearity here. The headphones remain on the coherent side over contrasted, there is no dip for separation, but also little necessity given that bass isn’t exactly coloured or enlarged. In accordance with the Harman headphone target, I hear admirable balance and linearity, just a little recession around 2kHz and a rise in the upper-midrange to balance it out. Vocal positioning appears accurate on a whole, though male vocals come across as slightly warm and full-bodied while female vocals sound a little thinner and less powerful. They still appear well-balanced with instruments and, in turn, vocal clarity and definition perform at good levels. Timbre and separation are massively improved over stock which is aided here, also by an accurate articulation on behalf of the linear lower-treble tuning. It doesn’t sound perfectly flat, especially in reference to something like the Audeze LCD-1 which sounds very tonally correct to my ears, but an impressive stride over stock.
Stock, the MDR-1ST provided a pleasantly linear but also slightly laid-back presentation. The Yaxi pads do a good job here, introducing a slightly more forward high-end presentation but without introducing any peaks or sharpness either. Attack is slightly more concise than stock and small transients come through clean and clear, skewing neither sharp nor smooth. Instrument body is good, a touch thin so you do lose just a bit of texture and shimmer but nothing that would irk unless in direct comparison to a better performer. The Background is dark and clean but there isn’t huge distinction between background and foreground layers.
I hear a very slightly wider and deeper soundstage but still not huge projection in any direction, certainly not by comparison to an open-back headphone. Imaging remains sharp and accurate, localisation is excellent, both with regards to direction and distance, though layers could be more defined. The prime benefit of these earpads is that they bring a substantial improvement to separation, better utilising the space available rather than simply increasing it. This means cues and small details are easier to pinpoint, fine detail retrieval is enhanced as there is less competition from surrounding elements.
Reviewing earpads is an interesting affair, some butcher the stock sound that the original company spent so many hours tuning while some provide transformative benefit to both sound and comfort. Either way, they are a generally cost-effective accessory that empowers the user to modify the experience to their preference. With Yaxi, however, I‘ve been impressed time and again since the company targets specific models with results that demonstrate great insight into their respective strengths and weaknesses. And then there are certain products like the Pro M-ST that leave me wondering why the manufacturer didn’t initially design the headphones with pads like these to begin with. Yaxi’s solution here offers a substantial boost to comfort and breathability over longer listening. They are more accommodating of a wider variety of ears and meticulously balance out specific frequency zones of contention. They may cost a little more than some of Yaxi’s other pads, but are highly effective for their intended purposes making them an easy recommendation for MDR-1ST owners wanting a generally more comfortable and balanced listening experience.
The PRO M-ST earpads are available from Yaxi (International) for $42 USD at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with Yaxi or Sony and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.