Cost-effective, Higher quality foam lasts longer and feels softer on the ear, More balanced sound with reduced treble peak
Slight reduction in top-end extension, Pricier than S-Cush pads
For an extra $10, the Yaxi pads offer an almost universal upgrade with a higher quality foam that’s softer, plusher and less scratchy, delivering a more balanced sound on top.
If you’ve read up on Yaxi’s earpads for the supremely cheap Koss Portapro, you’ll see just how much difference a little foam can make. Indeed, Yaxi’s earpads are a highly cost-effective way to enhance both ergonomics and sound. In addition, their pads are tailor-made for each headphone model to deliver an optimal sound based on popular feedback. Enter the Grado SR80, possibly the most popular headphone to mod for its simplistic and highly modular design. Though a wealth of pads are offered online already, few are of such high quality as Yaxi’s. Furthermore, comfort was a common complaint with these headphones regardless of pad choice and Yaxi promise improvements here too. Altogether, the Yaxi pads will cost the buyer $19.99 USD, double the cost of the stock pads but still cost-effective for unsatisfied Grado customers wanting a bit more comfort and looking to subtly tailor the sound to their preferences.
You can read more about the Yaxi earpads and treat yourself to a pair 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.
At face value, we’re looking at a design most similar to Grado’s S-Cush pads that come stock with all new entry-level Grado headphones. Subjectively, the S-Cush offer the best comfort out of the options available from Grado themselves, being softer and more accommodating than the firmer L-Cush pads in addition to offering a warmer sound more appetising to the majority of listeners. The Yaxi pads take this one step further, being of similar construction to the Portapro model. The foam is noticeably softer and less scratchy with finer pores than the stock Grado pads. The design is slightly deeper and plusher, permitting them to conform better to the outer ear and these factors combined make a world of difference for long term listening. Where the S-Cush pads formed a mild hotspot on my outer ear, the softer Yaxi pads were noticeable but comfortable for hours on end without discomfort building over time.
They’re also a bit more stable in terms of fit, with a slightly dished design and they hold onto the headphones better with a properly moulded mount – the S-Cush being prone to popping off quite easily once worn in due to retention via elasticity of the foam itself. Simply put, they feel like a considerably higher quality product. Take into account also that the sound signature changes as the stock Grado pads wear-in, which brings the driver closer to the ear and reduced impedance of the sound. This will result in a brighter sound over time. As the Yaxi pads are harder-wearing, they will also preserve the original sound better. The pads are also available in dark purple in addition to the classic black for a clean or distinct look.
The first thing I noticed was that the Yaxi pads were really balanced, and for reference, this was coming from the Hifiman Sundara costing multiples of this combination. Surely, even with the upgraded pads, the Grado doesn’t touch the Sundara from a technical point of view, but from a tonality standpoint, I found this a highly satisfying performance. Where Grado is typically associated with a tendency towards brightness and intensity, the thicker Yaxi pads yielded a smoother, warmer and ultimately more natural presentation. I hear excellent balance bottom to top and a natural/neutral tone all the while retaining that signature Grado separation and strong vocal clarity. Unfortunately, as I have moved towards more IEM reviews, I did cut down my portable headphone collection a few years back, and didn’t have the L-Cush pads to compare. With that said, here are my thoughts in comparison to the stock S-Cuch pads.
As an open-back and rather minimally sealing headphone, it comes as no surprise that sub-bass extension is heavily limited by the design of the headphone itself. That said, there is a noticeably more authority at the very bottom if still substantial roll-off below the mid-bass. In turn, similar weaknesses remain, that being reduced physicality to slam and a tight, defined albeit soft rumble. However, above, this combination will be sure to find many fans. The Mid-bass is punchier with light emphasis before a smooth transition into a slightly dipped lower-midrange.
The result is a delightful natural tonality just a few ticks fuller than stock and a slightly more balanced presence with the mids and highs. Driver control is untouched, and though notes are enlarged, they are defined and well-separated, retaining a good level of detail retrieval. The presentation is altogether more balanced and dynamic while carrying a more appealing tonality to my ears. This will still not be for the bass-enthusiast but will appeal very well to those prioritising a balanced and well-metered presentation.
The midrange is a highlight of Grado’s headphones, offering outstanding clarity, openness and separation. The Yaxi pads do slightly temper these qualities, bringing them more in-line with neutral to achieve a fuller, more focussed presentation with a considerably more accurate timbre. Vocals are clean and very well-defined. They are slightly enlarged relative to stock and carry a neutral tone with just a hint of warmth. Vocal body is neutral, a touch thin on some tracks to my ear. As such, though they are a bit fuller and certainly more natural than the stock pads, a revealing and neutral albeit slightly dry presentation remains.
Vocals also aren’t too forward, retaining ample density and smoothness in the upper-midrange though extension is also improved. The most substantial change to me is vocal articulation which is notably more accurate than the stock pads. With a smoother and more even treble, vocals aren’t quite as hard-edged, lacking sibilance with noticeably reduced rasp and strain. The Yaxi pads mostly retain the tonally clean voicing of the original pads but build upon their presentation with more natural size and body.
I feel this area is most affected, being smoother and more refined but also lacking the sharp attack signature to Grado’s headphones. As such, the sound may initially underwhelm, being neither as aggressive nor as forward in its presentation. However, give it some time and you’ll realise that this is a more even and linear tuning, not quite as lucid but certainly just as discerning. By smoothing off the lower-treble peak, the SR80 gains instrument body alongside a more accurate articulation. Continuing the theme observed in the bass and midrange, its note presentation becomes more natural.
As always, there is a caveat and with regards to a thicker foam, in turn, offering more acoustic impedance so top-end extension does take a slight hit. However, this was never the strength of the headphone to begin with, and to my ear, you don’t lose any soundstage space only a touch of air. The stock configuration is a bit crisper and more energetic delivering a slightly more open rendition suiting acoustic and percussion while the slightly smoother, fuller and more balanced Yaxi pads suit jazz and classical. For all intents and purposes, the Yaxi pads retain an impressive amount of clarity despite their thicker design.
I would posit that the soundstage presentation is mostly unchanged. Width and depth are both quite intimate as with the stock pads. As the presentation is well-layered and well-separated by virtue of its cleaner tuning, it never comes across as claustrophobic or congested. Imaging is a touch better than stock, despite treble being less forward, the more balanced signature provides a more realistic sense of distance and the sound is overall, cleaner and more organised with less glare in the top-end.
Upgrades are harder to justify with cheaper headphones as the cost of the accessory can easily eclipse the price of the unit itself. That said, here Yaxi once again demonstrates strong value, taking full advantage of the simplistic design of Grado’s headphones. In return for an extra $10, the Yaxi pads offer an almost universal upgrade. Comfort is far improved and sonically, while subjective and not quite as night and day as the Portapro pads, Yaxi’s option does offer a more balanced presentation, smoothing off peaks in the high-end and introducing a more accurate vocal body. In so doing, you do sacrifice some openness so take this into account before purchase. Still, these pads undoubtedly offer an appealing overall package and their higher quality construction is sure to last vastly longer than the stock pads, something I can attest to from my experience with their Portapro pads. Yaxi’s earpads breathe new life into the entry-level Grado platform and will also be a treat for former buyers looking for a more balanced and comfortable experience.
The Grado SR60/80 pads are available from Yaxi (International) for $19.99 USD at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with Yaxi or Grado and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.