What’s the Deal with Audio-Technica’s M-Series Ear Pads?

They *look* the same, but they don’t *feel* the same.

Here’s something weird I think about sometimes.

The M50X’s. You’ve probably heard of them. The stock ear pads that come installed on them are often loved or hated.

M50X ear pads. I think they’re *just* big enough, others disagree with me!

They’re made of a softer material than the previous M50 ear pads. They have a thick piece of foam on the back to help tame the treble and cuddle against your ear if it touches the inside of the cup. The leatherette is nice and soft, as is the non-memory foam inside.

And here’s the kicker: the stock M50X pads feel nicer/higher quality than the pads on their lower-priced siblings.

Part of the reason that every review of the M40X mentions replacing the pads is that the M40X pads aren’t quite as nice as the M50X pads. They look very similar. But the leatherette is a little rougher, and the padding is a touch stiffer inside.

I bought some M20X’s recently and I experienced a similar pad quality to the 40's. The pads look like M50X pads, but they feel cheaper overall. The padding isn’t quite as impressive, and the leatherette has a rougher overall texture.

Fortunately the pads on every M-series headphone are replaceable…but then you’ll get changes in the sound. Audio-Technica’s pad design is a key component of their sound tuning. You need the right distance between your ear and the driver, and you need the specific foam at the back of their pads.

Close-up of pad on my M20X. The hole is slightly different in size. The leatherette is rougher. And the padding is just a touch more bad-feeling. You can see little pits in the foam from it being lower quality. They were manufactured in August, so they aren’t that old either.

“Oh that’s nice,” you might say to yourself. “I bought Audio-Technica’s cheapest M20X headphones, and I can replace the pads when they wear out. I’ll just go look at the web site and…”

Audio-Technica sells one model number of M-series replacement pads for the entire lineup of headphones.

One.

In the Q and A section below this item, they tell some folks “we only make one type of ear pad for these.”

NO YOU DON’T!

You make at least two, Audio-Technica! I only own M20X’s and M50X’s at the moment, so I can’t say whether the M40X uses the exact same cheaper pads as the M20X’s. So it could even be three different tiers of pad.

This is obvious even just from glancing at or touching my two pairs of headphones. Heck, it’s obvious if you just scroll through the product photos on their M-series web site.

Several hardcore audio folks like to use the Brainwavz pads on M-series headphones. While I like the Brainwavz pads overall…they totally destroy the sound of the M-series lineup, and I don’t think you should use them.

QUALITY OF REPLACEMENTS

Are the lone M-series replacement pads of the same high quality as the M50X pads?

This is where it gets even more dicey.

I have no idea!

I’ve never bought any myself. They sell them directly on their web site, and through Amazon, and reviews in both those places are tremendously unhelpful.

Some folks say that the pads perfectly match the quality of their original M50X pads. Others claim that their new pads felt stiff and weird and didn’t quite match the quality of the stock pads.

Oh good.

So what’s going on here? Are some of the reviewers crazy? Is Audio-Technica making four different versions of these pads and just randomly throwing some in boxes when people order replacements? Or, are the pad differences I’ve noticed simply the result of factors outside of Audio-Technica’s control, meaning that they really do only make one version and I’ve just happened to get M50X’s with softer pads?

We might never know unless I start ordering replacements.

I’ve never had to replace the pads on a pair of headphones. I’ve only heavily used two or three pairs enough in my life that the pads have worn out, and rather than seeking replacements, I’ve just purchased new headphones.

I know that it’s a cool feature for production headphones to have replacement pads…but I also wonder how many users actually take advantage of it. It probably doesn’t make sense for Audio-Technica to offer replacement variants for all the different models of M-series headphone. I bet they view the lower-priced models as commodity products that they expect people to fully replace anyway, and just included replaceable pads because it was easier.

My advice? Don’t replace the pads on your M-series headphone if you really like the sound signature. I know that they’re a bit small for some users to find a comfy fit, and I know that they aren’t the most isolating in the world, but the headphones really are designed around them.

I don’t understand why Audio-Technica doesn’t just use the M50X quality of pads on all their M-series headphones. As far as I know the M70X’s use them while every other model is stuck on the lower tier.

The cost differences can’t be that much, right? And wouldn’t it be easier if they actually only made one type of pad?

Thank you for going on this weird journey with me.

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