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The $20 headphone makeover

The Audiophiliac checks out Brainwavz' HM5 replacement ear pads for AKG, Audio Technica, NAD, Sony and other full-size headphones.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read

The Audio Technica ATH MSR7 headphones with Brainwavz HM5 earpads on the right, stock ear pads on the left Steve Guttenberg/CNET

I found these extra plush Brainwavz HM5 Replacement Memory Foam Earpads produced a huge comfort upgrade for some Audio Technica, NAD and Sony over-the-ear headphones. Brainwavz claims the pads also fit some full-size AKG, Fostex, Hifiman, Phillips and Ultrasone headphones. These ear pads are thicker than stock pads, and the difference in comfort on my Audio Technica ATH MSR7 headphones was dramatic. The stock pads are a little thin, but with the Brainwavz pads I could listen longer, because comfort was so much better. I checked the pads with Audio Technica's hugely popular ATH M50 and M50x , and my NAD Viso HP50 , Sony's MDR-V6 and MDR 7506 headphones. There are lots of replacement ear pads on the Internet, but I haven't found any others that make the difference in comfort the Brainwavz pads do.

I really love the MSR7's sound, but the stock pads are too thin, so I felt the hard plastic ear cups pressing against my ears after a while. Not only are the Brainwavz pads thicker than standard pads, they're also larger in diameter, so they fit around my ears, the smaller stock pads press on my ears. Swapping out the original pads for the Brainwavz pads takes just a few minutes.

The Brainwavz HM5 ear pad on left side of this Sony MDR-V6 headphone, the stock 'pad is on the right Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Not all headphones have user-replaceable ear pads, if you're not sure if yours do, check with the manufacturer. If the pads are removable, twist and pull them off. To mount the Brainwavz pads you'll just insert their pleather flange into the groove that runs around the edge of the headphone's ear cup. If there's no groove you won't be able to attach the Brainwavz pads.

The Brainwavz pads are oval, approximately 4.5 by 3.5 inches (114x90mm), but they're very soft, and so they can also fit round ear cups, and my NAD Viso HP50's rectangular ear cups as well.

Changing ear pads changes the sound of the headphones -- sometimes there's less bass -- but the Brainwavz also opened up the soundstage of my Audio Technica ATH MSR7 and Sony MDR-V6 headphones. The change in comfort is much more noticeable than the change in sound.

I'm using Brainwavz HM5 pleather-covered pads. Brainwavz also offers a velour covered version of the HM5. Both are designed for use with over-the ear, not on-ear headphones.

The Brainwavz HM5 ear pad on the left, the stock Audio Technica ATH M50x 'pad on the right Steve Guttenberg/CNET

While some users claim the Brainwavz pads fit Hifiman HE-400, HE-500, HE-6 and Grado full-size headphones, I did not achieve satisfactory results with those 'phones.

The Brainwavz HM5 Replacement Memory Foam Earpads sell for $19.50 a pair in the US, and £12.50 in the UK.