Last couple of years have been very hard for most of us. The audio industry too saw a few brands parish, a few changing stance and few other required help of outside investor or collaborations and these are big brands with big names. Things have been really tough for smaller brands, really tough, a few had to close doors, some other had to stop operation but the brand in focus of the article is NYCZAJ, formerly known as Shipibo. It makes high quality gimbals, rod blocks, head bands and ear pads for Grado. Basically it makes high quality aftermarket parts for Grado headphones, Shipibo was well known for it which is being carried over by NYCZAJ. I had reviewed the Shipibo Yarara cable last year and they were excellent with build while sounding very good. But due to the pressure and other issues Shipibo had to split, my heart goes out to the owners but still then, they are brave and one of the partners started NYCZAJ. They are parting ways to set out on newer adventures and discoveries. I received a handful of items from them a few months ago. A Grado headphone has to be the subject of this article and mine is the SR80e, an excellent headphone on its own but guess what it’s a bit dry and analytical.
Let me be very clear with the situation here. This is my first full mod on a headphone. It’s simply something I had not been taught of, I am an electrical engineer but yes, you guessed it right, I have not done any soldering in ages and is not very confident about it either. I had to get the drivers soldered from a shop for a very small amount.
What are the parts needed:
To have a full mod you need a whole set of parts.
1. Wooden cups
2. Rod blocks
4. Head band
5. Ear pads
6. Cutting skill and patience
7. Surgical blade to cut the drivers out of the original cups
8. Soldering iron to solder to driver to the cups
Feel free to explore the website: https://www.nyczaj.audio/
Made in Europe, everything that I received from Shipibo/Nyczaj is made with precision and quality in mind. There are no rough edges or raw feeling to any of their parts. Let it be the wooden ear cups, rod block, ear pads, head band or Gimbals, all of them are of superior quality and all these are made in EU. No Chinese products here.
Aluminum SET: Thanks to the ceramic coating on aluminum body of the black set (rod block + gimbals = set), while the white one has satin bead blasted finish. It’s one of the sturdiest headphone gimbals I have ever seen. Use the screw on the sides of the gimbals to tighten the cups if they feel loose.
Some words from the brand:
“This classic gimbals and rodblocks set for Grado has been CNC machined and hand crafted from high quality anodized aluminum.
It comprises of two classic looking rodblocks and gimbals that improve the comfort, durability and looks of your Grado headphones greatly.
Each rodblock have been CNC milled from a single block of aluminum and fitted with three pressure screws – two to control the rod movement ease and smoothness and one to keep the headband firmly in place and to prevent it from falling out.
Thanks to the pressure screws the user has complete freedom over the rod movement in their headphones. They allow precise vertical and horizontal adjustment and guarantee that once adjusted the cups will stay in the desired position, so you can say goodbye to freely rotating cups that keep on twisting the cables – with these rod blocks, cups will only rotate when and how you want them to improving headphones’ stability on your head, and thus the listening comfort greatly.”
Headband: The head band is in line with what we see with premium headphones, mine is the regular one which costs $50 while the wide comfort band is cushionier and costs $10 more. Keep in mind that these bands can’t be on their own as they need a steel spring band to be screwed into the set.
Few words from the brand:
“This Grado replacement headband is made from genuine calfskin leather with soft viscoelastic padding (also known as memory foam) for added comfort.
It is sewn on a sewing machine using strong polyester thread.”
Ear pads :
Named as Nyczaj Earpads these pads are made with open cell memory foam and has acoustically transparent fabric. These pads are compatible with most of the Grado headphones except the GW100 and majority of Aftermarket Grado ear Cups. It is soft and supple but thanks of the slightly textured material used it catches dust particle easily and can be slightly itchy (less than stock pads) with extended listening sessions but thanks to the larger size it is a lot more comfortable than the stock pad. It does sit on my ear but the wider padding makes it super comfortable.
Few words from the brand:
“5 years in development, these earpads are fruit of countless hours of experiments with shapes, dimensions, materials, material combinations and manufacturing techniques. Chosen from over 30 other variants, these earpads reproduce Grado signature sound well while adding a lot of comfort.”
I am not the most experienced guy around but I can tell you how the whole experience was since I kind of had a bit of dilemma and confusion about the process. I didn’t know how to take the drivers out, how I am going to get these drivers soldered, if there are any polarities of the drivers I need to worry about and how to know if there is any.
Let me explain. The drivers are glued into the plastic cups and they need to be cut out, the struggle is the glue is a bit deeper in the body than expected. It needs a bit of patience and a scalpel to do the job. Get the drivers soldered from a local electrical or electronics repair shop and no polarities to worry about, just make sure that you are doing it with the more convenient orientation.
So let’s do it step by step.
1. Removing the stock items except the ear cups are easy, stretch and pullout the cup holders and the cups are free. Then apply some heat to the cups and cut the driver out, yes, you have to apply little bit of force.
2. Putting things together is a bit of a task. The leather head band has a steel band that needs to be screwed into the rod block. It’s slightly tricky as the band kind of get in the way which creates a bit of confusion. I was not sure if I am doing it right but there is only one way to install them and this is it. Align the holes of the rod block and steel band and tighten the screws with the Allen key provided with it.
3. Installing the drivers isn’t exactly difficult. There are two glue strips provided with the cups. Take one layer out and put the strip on the driver. Take the other layer out and push the driver in with a bit of precision and you are done. Installing the cups was a bit tricky too, I made a couple of noobish mistakes on the first attempt. The orientation was wrong. Installing the pads is much simpler. There is nothing much to do. Just push them in and they will stay in place.
OKAY!! All done, looks good, right? So how does this thing feels on the ear..
Are the Gimbals loose? Nope, they are not loose and hold the rod block with good force.
How sturdy are the cups? There isn’t a lot of “vertical circular” movement for the cups but they are very sturdy and stable on the ear thanks to the right amount of resistance for “horizontal circular” movement.
First thing one has to keep in mind is, what are the items that are affecting the sound? First are the bigger thicker pads, 2nd are the cups, 3rd is the solder material used and finally 4th is the cable used.
We all are aware of the effects of ear pads on sound. Most of us switch pads because they are worn out but for Grado headphones changing the pads is kind of a necessity. The stock pads are not horrible but they are bad. They have thin walls and are not very comfortable on the ear thanks to their smaller size.
The pads provided by Shipibo are much better than the stock. It has a knitted body and the best thing is this pad won’t wear out easily since the outer material will last for ages. But yes, this isn’t the softest material on a pad but thankfully it is above average and doesn’t leave my ears stressed after long listening sessions.
How this does changes the sound? Thanks to the thickness this pad introduces good amount of bass body and rumble. While the stock pad makes the lower end thin and flat this pad brings good amount of juiciness and heft. Mid range is the lest affected area, it maintains very similar amount of resolution and details but the slight bit of sharpness experienced with the stock pads are now curbed. Vocals are a bit cooler too. Now they have extra bit of texture and poise to them. Treble I felt is the most affected region of the spectrum. Where the stock pad has it sharp, aggressive and thin this pad reduces sharpness and aggression while making the notes a bit fuller. In different words, yes the treble region is smoother and more musically inclined instead of being hell bent on delivering excessive precision and accuracy. Make no mistake, this still is a Grado and even if it’s a bit tamed it still is excellent with details and clarity.
I am not sure how much these cups change the sound but one thing I can state with confidence is that the change in timber and tonality is because of it. While the plastic cups do not sound bad these Wooden cups have much better timber and tonality. This Grado SR80 now sounds a lot more organic and analogue.
I have been in this audiophile setup for around 12 years. I have seen a lot of things and I can assure you guys that the soldering material used can affect the sound too. Remember when SONY said they are using gold and diamond in their soldering material for better sound? Mine isn’t anything fancy but if you can use fancier material the sound quality might be a bit different. Think of this soldering as piece of connection pipe in the supply chain. It being bigger than the supply pipes will either cause no issues or can slow the flow in some scenarios while it being smaller will definitely restrict the flow.
So the final question, Is this setup an upgrade then? Definitely, yes. This is not dry, kind of edgy and raw like the stock Grado. The stage is bigger and the notes are a less aggressive too.
I was provided with an excellent cable which was made by the other partner at Shipibo. I will review the cable separately but it’s of superior quality for sure. It opens up the stage and give the headphone a bit or warmth that some of us look for. Does this change the sound a lot? Not really but yes, the extra bit of edgy and dry feeling of the OG setup is gone.
I have reviewed a lot of things as a reviewer but this is the first full DIY product for me. Except the drivers nothing else is carried over from the Original headphone and the transformation is surprising. I don’t this anyone can tell that these are Grado SR80, in fact this isn’t Grado SR80 as the only thing used in this transformed headphone are the drivers. This is a more like a NYCZAJ SR80.
Even when it uses the same drivers the sound signature isn’t same and if your Grado headphones are dry and lifeless for your taste, you definitely should try these mods for sure. If not anything else these Ear pads and Gimbals Set are a must try for Grado Modders.
Thanks for your time guys. Enjoy!!