Finding the perfect pair of headphones is a challenge, because often there is no "perfect" headphone for you. Fortunately, you can tweak any headphone to fit your tastes with a little DIY magic. Welcome to the exciting world of headphone mods.
Picture: Will Folsom
You can perform any number of mods on a pair of headphones, and they all have different benefits. Some make your headphones more comfortable, some turn a mid-range pair into a high-quality pair, and others just tweak them slightly so they fit your specific tastes. In this post, we'll detail a few examples for specific headphone models (including your five favourites) to give you an idea of what's out there. If your model isn't listed, be sure to Google around and see if there are any good mods for yours!
As always, be warned: Some of these mods will void your warranty, so as with all things DIY, continue at your own risk! We haven't tried most of these mods, so if you aren't sure, be sure to ask around over at places like Head-Fi from users who have tried them. We'll try to link you to useful threads when applicable.
Mods That Work on Nearly Any Headphone
Let's get a few of the obvious mods out of the way first, shall we? There are some mods that are so useful or popular that they exist for a lot of different headphones, and will improve the comfort -- if not also the sound -- on just about anything.
Add Velour Ear Pads to Your Headphones
We've discussed this one before, but it bears repeating, especially since it affects comfort and sound. Most headphones -- especially the low-to-midrange kind -- come with uncomfortable pleather ear pads on the cups, but you can easily swap them out for anything else. If you can find a pair of velour pads that fit your cups, you can throw them on for a much more comfortable fit.
Difficulty: Easy Cost: Varies Tools Needed: None Reversible: Yes
What It Entails: Usually, removing the ear pads is incredibly easy. All you need to do is gently pull them off (though this varies from headphone to headphone). Then, slide the replacement pads on and you're good go to.
Note that this will change the sound, although often for the better. Leather and pleather isolate sound better than velour, so if you want total sound isolation this mod may not be for you. The Beyerdynamic DT250 velour pads are a good place to start looking, since they fit a lot of different headphones, including the Audio Technica ATH-M50, Sony MDR V6/7506 and others.
Get Clearer Sound From Your Ear Pad Headphones
Some headphones, like Grados, don't have the "doughnut" style ear pads and instead have a flat piece of foam that goes on top of your ear. You can make these more comfortable too (some recommend replacing them with the Sennheiser HD414 pads), but more important is the sound: many people feel like these flat pads muffle the sound. So, you can get a clearer, more forward sound by cutting holes in the pads, about the size of a quarter.
Difficulty: Easy Cost: $0 Tools Needed: Coin, razor blade Reversible: Yes (you can just buy a new pair of pads)
What It Entails: This mod is incredibly simple. Just press a quarter into the center of the pad, trace around it with a razor blade, and put the pads back on. You can find more pictures of this mod in action here. This is most popular among Grado headphones, but has also been known to work on other "flat pad" headphones as well.
Add a Detachable Cable to Your Headphones
If your headphones come with the cable attached to the ear cups, you can often turn this into a detachable cable with a little work.
Difficulty: Difficult Cost: Varies Tools Needed: Soldering iron, cable strippers, dremel tool, heat shrink tubing, heat gun, 3mm phone plugs and micro panel mount headphone jacks Reversible: No
What It Entails: This one's a bit more advanced, and you'll need to know how to solder, but it can be worth it for the convenience it brings. You can find a full guide for Grado headphones here, although you can also do this with the ATH-M50s, the Sony MDR series and pretty much any other headphone you can imagine -- search forums like Head-Fi or sites like Instructables for info on your specific model.
Mods for Specific Headphone Models
Of course, there are a lot of other mods designed for specific headphone models too. Here are some of the more popular headphone mods out there, for some of the most well-known headphone models.
Turn Your Sennheiser HD 555 Into an HD 595
Sennheiser's HD 555 headphones are great and relatively inexpensive compared to some of its more audiophile-calibre headphones. However, it turns out that the Sennheiser HD 595, a more expensive "audiophile" can, is nearly the exact same as the HD 555 -- just without the foam inside the ear cups. So, you can essentially turn your HD 555 into an HD 595 -- and get a flatter, more balanced sound -- by just removing the foam. We've talked about this mod once before, and it's a great one to start with since it's so easy.
Difficulty: Easy Cost: $0 Tools Needed: Small screwdriver Reversible: Yes
What It Entails: All you need to do is open up the ear cups with a screwdriver, pull off the black foam from the vents inside and close them back up. It's extremely easy.
For Full Instructions: Check out this blog post for more info on the mod, and see the YouTube video above to see the entire mod in action. It should only take a few minutes.
Tighten Up the Bloated Bass on Your Denon Headphones
Denon headphones are awesome for bass lovers, but if the bass is a bit too loud and bloated for you, you can tame it just a tad with a simple mod known as the MarkL mod. All it requires is stuffing the ear pads with fiberloft to dampen the bass a tiny bit. This mod was originally designed for the Denon AH-D2000 and D5000, but should work on newer Denon models as well.
Difficulty: Easy Cost: Approximately $20 in materials Tools Needed: Scissors Reversible: Yes
What It Entails: All you need to do is pull the ear pads off of your Denon headphones and stuff them with some rolled-up fibreloft, which you can get on Amazon. Then, you'll cut a ring from a plastic cup and add that in to keep it all in place before re-attaching the ear pads to the headphones.
For Full Instructions: Check out the original mod thread, from MarkL himself, for more detailed instructions. Just follow step one -- he no longer recommends the more difficult half of the mod (stuffing the ear cups themselves).
Give Your Grado Headphones Some Extra Bass
Grado's SR line is one of the most popular headphones around, so it's no surprise that there are countless mods for Grado headphones out there. Many of them deal with making the headphones more comfortable or better-looking, but there are some great sound mods out there as well. Here, we'll look at one in particular -- the "venting" mod -- that gives Grados a little extra bass.
Difficulty: Medium Cost: $0 Tools Needed: Hair dryer, a ballpoint pen or screwdriver, and a pair of tweezers Reversible: No
What It Entails: Grado headphones -- especially the lower-end Grados like the SR-60i -- are well known for their forward mids and treble, but they tend to lack a bit in the bass arena for some people. By poking a few holes in the damping material inside the headphone, you can make the bass a bit more prominent. There are 10 holes, meaning you can add as much or as little extra bass as you want.
You'll need to use a hairdryer or some steam to loosen the glue on your ear cups, which is where the "medium" difficulty comes in on this mod. Once you've done that, you can open them up to get at the damping material. Keep in mind this is difficult to reverse, so start by poking just two or three holes. You can always do more if you want more bass (most people recommend three or four holes total).
For Full Instructions: Check out this guide at Instructables to see it in action, and for more info, check out this venting thread at Head-Fi as well as the full Grado Mods thread. Not only can you find more information about this mod, but you'll find a lot of info about the other mods floating around!
Give Your Koss Porta Pro a More Balanced, Open Sound
The Koss Porta Pro (and its ear clip version, the KSC75) may not look like much, but for around $US35, they're one of the best cheap, portable headphones you can buy. But their sound isn't perfect -- depending on your tastes, you may find the bass or treble lacking. Luckily, a mod from Head-Fi user kramer5150 solves this problem nicely.
Difficulty: Medium Cost: $0 Tools Needed: Small flathead screwdriver, drill with 3mm bit (and other bits if desired) Reversible: No
What It Entails: These Koss headphones have a plastic diffuser in between the diaphragm and the ear pad that affect the sound quite a bit. By drilling small holes in different areas of this plastic diffuser, you can adjust the balance of the bass, midrange and treble, while giving the headphone a more open and pleasant sound.
Taking apart the headphone is relatively simple, but drilling tiny 3mm holes in the plastic diffuser is tough. The video above shows you how, but if you don't have a drill press, it's going to be a bit more difficult (and I'd advise against doing it freehand -- at least put the diffuser in a vice or on an old piece of wood before you drill). Drill larger holes on the outside for stronger bass, or in the center for stronger treble. If you Google around, you'll see a lot of different versions of this mod for different sound preferences, so plan before you drill!
For Full Instructions: You can view the original Kramer mod thread here, but the pictures are sadly lost to time, so check out the above YouTube video for a really good overview of the process (it's the first section of the video, up until about 13:15). For more Koss Porta Pro mods, check out this thread at Head-Fi.
Reduce Vibrations and Reflections on Your Fostex T50RP
The Fostex T50RP is one of the most popular "modder" headphones around, so we had to include it here. What makes the Fostex special is that it's a planar magnetic headphone, which contains a different type of driver. Planar magnetic headphones tend to have very good, balanced bass and lower mids. You can read more about planar magnetics here, but the bottom line is that the T50RP is relatively inexpensive compraed to other planar magnetics, and you can tweak the heck out of the sound with a number of different mods.
Difficulty: Easy Cost: $15-$35 in Materials Tools Needed: Flat head screwdriver, Phillips head screwdriver Reversible: Yes
What It Entails: There are a ton of different mods for the T50RP, so we'll focus on the mods that Head-Fi user AnoteherN00b considers the essentials. They include:
- Adding non-hardening modelling clay to the interior baffles to reduce mechanical vibration
- Adding acoustic foam to the inside of the cups to reduce sound wave reflections
- Swapping out the ear pads for a better pair, such as the Shure SRH840 pads
The mods themselves are very easy to perform; you just need to grab all the materials from Amazon (or wherever you choose) before you start.
For Full Instructions: You can view instructions on taking the headphones apart in this Head-Fi post. It also contains instructions for a bunch of different mods, but I recommend reading AnotherN00b's summary before you dive in. The YouTube video above also demonstrates the mods listed above as well as a few others, so you can see what the general process is like. For a full (huge) list of Fosted T50RP mods, check out this Head-Fi wiki page.
These are just a few examples of popular headphone mods, but there are mods for nearly any model headphone you can imagine, so search around! It's amazing what kind of small tweaks you can make to your favourite pair of headphones, and hopefully this serves as a good introduction to the world of headphone modding. Good luck!