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Sennheiser HD800 Yaxi Pads Review – Smooth, Subtle

Pros –

Further improvement to comfort, Enhanced bass balance and depth, More balanced vocal presentation, Reduction in treble sharpness

Cons –

Less holographic imaging, Vocals sound slightly breathier

Verdict –

What Yaxi has done here is in good taste as the changes aren’t excessive, upholding superb comfort whilst enhancing natural timbre and smoothness without robbing space or openness.

Introduction –

Sennheiser requires no introduction nor does their flagship over-ear headphone, the HD800. This model has earnt legendary status over the years and remains a popular and well-regarded choice alongside its successor, the HD800S. Though the mid-treble tuning and bass extension on both models have proven divisive over the years, the soundstage remains a fantastic performer and they are still among the most comfortable full-size headphones on the market. Indeed, new flagships offer a more well-rounded experience, however, so too do they come in at a substantially higher cost. Given that these two models are getting up there in years, they can now be found at further discounted prices on the second-hand market, increasing their appeal. Yaxi treat yet another model with their magic by introducing the new HD800(S) earpads. These pads share an Alcantara and faux leather BOM with their other designs alongside plush memory foam padding. They offer a little more padding than stock alongside the promise of a warmer and more forgiving sound. As always, earpads are an affordable, fully-reversible way to tune your headphones to your liking.

You can read more about YAXI pads and purchase a set for yourself here.

Design –

With exception of their foam Grado and Koss pads, Yaxi’s remaining models all have a similar design and the HD800 pads are no different. They sport soft, breathable Alcantara on the facing and inner surfaces with faux leather tracing the perimeter. The mounting rings are glued firmly to the pad surface; however, it is still good practice to pull from the ring when removing the pad to minimise the chance of tearing. As we’ve come to expect from the brand, each pad is perfectly symmetrical, and the stitching is neat and even. There’s no loose fabric or other defects that may affect seal or channel balance. The net result is a pad that looks and feels high quality, perfectly complementing the headphones. Relative to the stock pads, there’s a roughly 2mm increase in pad width and they offer more squared off sidewall that provides a larger contact surface with the head.

In turn, if you felt that the stock pads produced a hotspot on the side of the head, these pads would do well to address that as they offer vastly more padding overall despite the modest increase in width due to their squarer profile. Though the HD800 doesn’t have especially high clamp force, this means the Yaxi pads disperse pressure over a larger surface area. The Alcantara material is slightly less scratchy than the velour stock pads though I have no complaints with comfort on either pad. What I did appreciate was the heat-activated memory foam padding on the Yaxi units which provides the sensation of a better fit and seal, especially over time as they conform to individual head shape.

Installation –

The HD800 has a relatively easy to service pad system but it does take some getting used to coming from other headphones. The pads clip onto a mounting ring that runs around the driver. There’s a recess at the rear near the orientation markers where the included tool can be inserted to pry out the first clip. From there, the rest easily follow. Once removed, the new pads can be aligned and pressed into place. I found it best to align the rear and one corner, hold in place with one hand and work my way around the headphones applying pressure to the facial surface of the pad and silver rim of the headphones. You’ll feel a distinct clip and the headphones will be secured. Yaxi always impress with their attention to detail.

It’s no secret that aftermarket parts rarely fit as well as OEM, however, I’ve never had an issue with Yaxi’s pads in this regard. The HD800 pads are no different and imitate the mounting surface of the stock pads well while also doing without the finicky plastic ring that makes the stock pads more difficult to press onto the mounts. This gives the Yaxi pads a more positive engagement on the mating surface, attaching with a more affirmative “click”. On the flipside, the clips are slightly tighter which provides great engagement but takes some playing around with to align each clip and tab.

Sound –

The HD800 is a well regarded headphone especially in the realm of technical performance such as resolution and detail retrieval, and soundstage expansion. However, the tonality has been less unanimously praised due to a slightly scooped lower-midrange, rolled-off bass and some hotness in the lower-treble. These qualities combined give the headphone great separation but also reduced note body and an unnatural timbre to some. The HD800s sought to improve this with a slight uptick of bass quantity at a slight expense of bass quality. Yaxi’s earpads are the next step in tuning out these complaints. The clip mechanism also means you can swap out pads to give the headphones two separate characters for different genres and uses should the listener desire.

Tonality –

The Yaxi pads introduce a slightly more u-shaped character with a more present, slightly deeper-extending bass and also a slight uptick in treble airiness. At the same time, vocals take one step back, becoming smoother and a touch warmer. This is due to both the increase in low-end warmth in addition to a slight reduction of lower-treble presence. The midrange gains a more natural body and tone enabling the headphones to more accurately capture the resonances of string and acoustic instruments. Overall, the sound is slightly more contrasted with a weightier low-end and a crisper mid-treble. Though is it also subjectively less fatiguing due to the reduction in lower-treble sharpness and upper-midrange forwardness.

Bass –

Regardless of pad choice, the HD800 doesn’t provide huge weight and rumble in the sub-bass, it simply appears to be a limitation of the design. What the Yaxi pads do provide is a slightly deeper and more weighted sound in the bass with a slight shift of emphasis from the mid-bass to the deep bass. While extension and slam are slightly improved, it remains a lighter-footed bass that won’t awe with depth and power. With that said, notes are noticeably thicker and, in contrast to the more laid-back midrange, appear slightly more present overall. Subjectively, this provides a greater impression of balance in the low-end, especially on the HD800 these pads were tested on as the S model is noticeably bassier once again. Bass has slightly reduced separation which is to be expected, however, control and texture all appear similar to stock making this a nice, subtle adjustment in good taste and character.

Mids –

I have mixed feelings about the midrange, the changes are overall what many would desire, however, not perfect. For one, there’s a slight improvement in male/female vocal balance as the upper-midrange and lower-treble have been slightly toned down and the low-frequencies enhanced. This gives male vocals a slightly more powerful voicing with an uptick of warmth, body and density. At the same time, the mid-treble bump gives vocals a breathier, more esoteric character. At times, this can make the headphones lack coherence and I did find the stock pads provided a more consistent vocal character track to track. However, you also get a bit less sharpness in vocal articulation. This style of tuning also improves the impression of definition within the midrange. Though female vocals are not as forward, this equates to the midrange sounding clearer on a whole.

Highs –

The different pad design once again shifts emphasis around slightly, producing a different style of sound. Instantly, the lower treble is the biggest differentiator. The stock pads provide more presence here, generating a more aggressive, crisp note presentation. Fine details are sharper and more obviously showcased to the listener. However, this is also responsible for a lot of the hotness that many complain about on these headphones out of the box. By comparison, the Yaxi pads provide a bit more mid-treble presence whilst toning down the lower treble. Detail retrieval is similar overall, though fine details in the lower treble such as the leading edge of percussion are less defined.

This provides the impression of a smoother sound but does not lead to a reduction in brightness as the mid-treble tuning provides greater air and treble instrument presence. Notes are thin with both pads, slightly more forward on the Yaxi pads but also less sharp in their presentation. I feel the HD800 has a relatively challenging top-end to tune. Yaxi has done a good job to maintain the beloved characteristics of soundstage openness on the original whilst reducing fatigue as best possible if not eliminating it entirely.

Soundstage –

Many will be delighted to hear that the legendary soundstage of the HD800 remains very much intact with the Yaxi pads. The level of expansion is excellent and nigh identical to stock. If anything there’s a slight uptick in depth providing a more well-rounded stage. Imaging is distinctly different and I am divided between the two. The Yaxi pads provide better layering and a greater sense of room. Meanwhile, the stock pads provide a sharper sense of direction and a slightly more multi-dimensional image, perhaps owing to the sharper lower treble. In terms of separation, the stock pads have a slight advantage, though as the HD800 remains on the leaner side with both pads this was never a point of contention for me.

Verdict –

The HD800 is a challenging headphone to design an earpad for and I’d suspect this is why the Yaxi pads are dimensionally very similar to the originals. Where some of their pads are immediately superior or sound drastically different, I feel the HD800 pads are subtle enough that it is more a matter of personal taste. This means the sound remains bright and light-footed with either pad and that the overall character of the headphone isn’t drastically changed. Comfort is improved, offering a bit more earcup volume for wider ears and the sound is smoother without sacrificing openness. The increase in bass depth and midrange fullness will be appreciated by most while the reduction in treble crispness will depend on personal preference. So too does this apply to the soundstage which remains large if subjectively less holographic as compared to the stock earpads. It is always difficult to tune for a headphone whose idiosyncrasies also contribute to its beloved qualities; that being, its sharp treble and lean midrange that further enhance its outstanding sense of soundstage scale and direction. What Yaxi has done here is in good taste as the changes aren’t excessive, upholding superb comfort whilst enhancing natural timbre and smoothness without robbing space or openness.

The YAXI Pads can be purchased here. I am not affiliated with YAXI and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.

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