Denon/Fostex Ear Pad Guide
Hello, to preface, I've at one point owned Massdrop x Fostex TR-X00 Ebony, TH-X00 Mahogany, E-Mu Teak, and Denon AH-D2000. To be honest I actually have no issue with their stock pads in terms of comfort, but the reason why I dive into this pad swap journey is because my AH-D2000 is getting old the and old pads are flaking/dying. Denon AH-D2000 is also discontinued so now I'm out of luck finding OEM pads, so I've been trying different 3rd party pads and when I do I'd try them on the other headphones too.
IN SHORT, STOCK PAD HAS THE BEST SOUND HANDS DOWN.
So if you're too lazy to keep reading, basically just stick to stock pads. But if you're curious about what other possibilities you might have (or other failures), read on. Also keep in mind that I don't own EVERY pads out there so some are just from what I read during my research, so feel free to correct me/update me if you know anything I don't know, thanks!
First of all there are 3 types of OEM pads:Denon AH-D2000/AH-D5000/AH-D7000/Fostex TH610: Correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I gathered is that all 3 of the old Denon headphones shares the same pad, and the new TH610 also uses this style of pads, which is a tiny bit thinner and the opening is a little bit wider than the TH-X00 pads. This pad has less vocal intimacy but better sound stage than the TH-X00 pads.
Fostex TH-X00/TR-X00/E-Mu Teak: So all the TH-X00, TR-X00 and E-Mu Teak uses the same pads. As I mentioned earlier the difference between this pad is that it's a little bit thicker and ear opening is smaller than the Denon pads, the good thing about this is that you get cleaner sound and closer vocals, drawback being the TH-X00 series has noticeable less sound stage than the Denon series due to pads (I've tried pad swap to test this out). Again the wood cup also contribute to the sound difference but for the most part this is what the pads do.
Fostex TH600/TH900/TH900 MKII: Denon and TH-X00 series uses angled pads with oval opening, while the TH600/TH900 pads are basically big circular opening (still angled). The trade off is that these get much better sound stage and imaging however you get sharper treble and loses bass impact/quantity when swapping between the pads, vocal is slightly more distanced but not too bad. I'm assuming by default the TH900's driver tuning is enough to offset some of the drawbacks (except sharp treble).
I've tried swapping them around to see if you get better results, the answer is no. The engineers did their homework and the stock pads are designed that way for a reason, so stock pads still sound the best.
Now we gonna talk about 3rd party pads, but before I start there are some general guidelines.
This is a little bit counter-intuitive but in general velour ear pad works better for open headphones and works terrible on on Denon/Fostex headphones. Also in general any pads with bigger opening will increase treble and loses bass impact (though you gain sound stage), any pads that are thick will bloat the bass and will loses vocal intimacy. So effectively any pads that are more comfortable probably will make it sound worse.
But you might ask, is there no pads that are more comfortable but still keeps the same sound? Well I wouldn't say exactly the same but there are a few that's sort of passable.
Brainwavz: I've tried the Pleather Oval Angled, Pleather Oval Flat, and Pleather Round pads so far, the Oval pads are basically too small to fit properly, you can stretch it to fit though. However Oval Angled is still too deep and sounds horrible (remember, thicker = sound bad), Oval Flat is a little bit better and Round pads are exactly 10 cm (same as stock pads) so this works the best, I would say this is the best one from Brainwavz if you really want one from this company. BUT compared to stock there's still noticeable difference. So I'd say Brainwavz pads are a pass for me, just in general too thick.
Dekoni: I've tried Dekoni Pleather, Leather, Hybrid pads for TH-X00. To my ear the pleather sounded the closest, but compare to the stock the sound is still less crisp and vocal a tiny bit further away, but it smooth out the treble so if you're treble sensitive then this is not bad, sound stage widens and bass become less clean/tight. But relative to all the other pads pleather is still the best. Next in line Leather is not bad, it "clean up" the sound but to my ears it just feels like some frequencies are missing, some might perceive it as tightens the sound, though with attenuation ring I find it's close ish to stock sound. Hybrid I don't recommend it reduced the vocal intimacy too much and treble is sharp. Never tried fenestration but from what I read people describe it as "treble murder" so I'd say probably a no go. Don't have experience with any of the Dekoni TH900 pads. Also I've tried their attenuation ring, the only one where I thought it might work is with Leather, any other pads I've tried with it is kind of side grade (you gain something, lose something).
ZMF: Keep in mind ZMF pads are actually 11 cm while Denon/Fostex pads are 10 cm, so it will stick out a little bit. But so far the best I've read (sorry never owned any ZMF pads) is the Eikon pads. Apparently this is the closest to stock sound while smooth out treble and widen sound stage. Sound people previously tried Ori pads but the consensus is that it's still too thick too. I think now there is also ZMF Universe pads which I haven't heard anyone recommend yet so I can't comment on that.
Lawton Audio: Lawton Audio is probably one of the first one to mod Denon headphones, they were like the OG modder company for Denon. However their pads is too thick and opening too wide so you'll lose bass impact (hence a lot of reports saying it kills the bass), I think it's meant to go with their deeper cups so if you throw those pads on stock Denon/Fostex I don't think it would work that well.
JMoney: JMoney pads were also born around the era of Lawton pads, however they're discontinued and impossible to find now, I've heard some good reports of them but can't confirm any of it now.
Mr Speakers: I've heard people using Alpha Pads but from what I've read that ZMF Eikon is better.
Stax: I've read one review mentioning something about Stax pads but I think they were really expensive and I don't remember how good the results are. I'd probably try something else that's more tested and proven.
Chinese 3rd Party Pads: I bought a generic AH-D2000 pads off Amazon and ironically it's actually the best one out of all the other 3rd party pads I've tried (however stock pads still better). If you're really desperate then this is your best choice, the treble is a little bit sharper, and bass quantity is a bit reduced, vocal is a tiny bit less intimate. Since this is the case so even though my AH-D2000 OEM pads is flaking like crazy I still keep using the OEM pads simply because it just sounds better.
So in short, most of the 3rd party pads have their own issues but so far the best from what I read is ZMF Eikon followed by Dekoni Pleather, and if you have Denon then get the generic Amazon/eBay pads.
I'm looking to buy the new Denon AH-D5200, so once I get them I'll update you guys on if they still have the old pads compared to the older Denon series or if they changed it up.
Also in general I'd say the older Denons were probably not as clean but definitely wider sound stage and the newer Fostex while being cleaner/more refined sounding I find sound stack is lacking (due to pads), unless you get the TH610/TH900 then it's probably wider.
Again I'll update this article as it goes, in the mean time feel free to give me any feedback/comment and I'll update the article accordingly. The reason why I'm writing this is hoping you guys wouldn't need to throw that much money down the drain through trial and error like me lol.