Do headphone driver degrade over time?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by shstrang, Sep 11, 2019.

  1. shstrang

    shstrang Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I'm guess that the short answer has to be yet but here's why I ask.
    I got out my old Sony mdrv6 headphones recently put some new velour pads on them. The same thickness as the original falling apart factory pads.
    Keep in mind that I bought two pairs of these back in 95-96; one to use one pair to "put up" because I loved the sound so much.
    They fell into disuse as I bought several others over the years (jvc hd-a900 on stereophiles list, grado sr80s, audio technica athm50, audio technica atha900x, all sound great) and haven't used them for a while. In fact the last time I used them was before I got married and that's been 21 years.

    They don't sound good anymore. I don't remember them sounding so thin back them. I tried them on several things. Creek headphone amp, yamaha receiver, sony dat recorder, marantz mdr615 etc and all sound thin.

    The only way for them to not sound to tinny is press them against my head which isn't convenient when I want to relax.

    Is it me or do they just sound that way? Do they need to break in again? These are the old made in Japan versions.
  2. Not Insane

    Not Insane You talkin' to me?!

    I've got a pair of Koss Pro 4 AA's that I picked up in the mid 70's. To my ear they sound just like they did back in the day. They don't have the bass of many modern headphones, but then, no headphones really did back then. However, the bass is still amazingly tight, just like before.

    They are amazingly uncomfortable by today's standards, though. I have them for the same reason a car enthusiast may have a classic Ford Mustang in their garage. i.e. not a daily driver. :)

    In answer to your question, a lot of this is subjective, but if you listened to them before replacing the surround and then listened again after, and noticed a difference, it's the surround. Otherwise, it might be that you are just forgetting how bad older headphones sound compared to modern ones. I could be all wet, though.
  3. shstrang

    shstrang Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Actually they sounded the same before replacing the surrounds. I figured the new pads might make them sit on my ear better. And I was wrong.
  4. Not Insane

    Not Insane You talkin' to me?!

    Is it possible that you've just been spoiled by newer, better headphones? Back in the day, we (well, most people) were willing to put up with a lot less bass in headphones and still consider them "good".

    I may just be projecting my 1970's mindset here. I remember good bass seemed virtually unattainable and pressing the headphones against your head would always improve bass. It is what made the Koss ones so special, with their liquid filled surrounds.
  5. Chilli

    Chilli Pretend Engineer.

    Well I’d argue that if ‘Break In’ is a real thing then eventually there must be a similar effect at the end of life. Especially with something that has moving parts.

    Having said that I’ve only found that speakers tend to fail fairly obviously with age, not so sure if it’s more subtle with headphones.
  6. Not Insane

    Not Insane You talkin' to me?!

    When I sold hi-fi back in the mid 70's, a customer brought in a mid-60's pair of AR speakers to listen to. He wanted to see if he should replace them with new speakers. They sounded terribly distorted. I had no idea why at the time, but we didn't know about capacitors aging back then. At least, I didn't...

    He left with a new pair of speakers.
    Chilli likes this.
  7. Uglyversal

    Uglyversal Forum Resident

    Short answer, yes they do degrade. The drivers are a mechanical system with a membrane that starts being very hard, after some time they will sound better and will remain so for a very long time. Then things will reverse and as the material of the membrane wears out or breaks due to movement eventually they'll sound bad.

    Also if you didn't use them for a long time while you were using something better instead that could influence your opinion. What at one time seemed good might not be the case any longer, at least for you.
    Not Insane likes this.
  8. shstrang

    shstrang Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Thanks for the helpful replies. Maybe I should buy another pair of Grados and another pair of AThm50s. I like the swappable cords the new ones have.
    Do they sound the same?
  9. Yes, headphone drivers can degrade over time. How much depends on what material the driver is made of and what the damping material is. For example, the plastic style drivers in the Sony MDR-V6 and Sennheiser HD580/600/650 isn't going to degrade much, if at all, over 30 years. But materials like biocellulose used in headphones like the Sony CD3000 and Denon D2000 can and will degrade over time. After about 30 years the drivers may be on their last legs.

    Other materials like the damping material used around the driver and behind the driver can also degrade. Especially foams. The damping material controls the sound and absorbs or manages resonances and tuning. Deterioration of the damping material can and will greatly affect the sound of the headphone.

    The Sony MDR-V6 has open cell foam around the driver baffle. That foam is for damping and directing the sound. That open cell foam will degrade and turn to mush after about 15 years. I own an old V6. The foam deteriorated after about 15 years. Bits of foam debris also got on the driver and stuck to the surface of the driver. Having a small chunk of foam debris stuck to the driver will very negatively affect the sound of the headphone.

    The ear pads also affect the sound. It's not just the shape and size and depth of the ear pads that are important. But also the material and how that material is made of and how that material is made and sewn. Velour covered pads will sound different than pleather which will sound different than leather. Using perforated pleather or velour will sound different than using non-perforated pleather or velour. It all makes a difference. There is a part of the headphone hobby that plays around with modding ear pads to change the sound of various headphones. Some headphones even come with two or three different sets of pads made of different materials so the user can decide which one they prefer the sound of.
    pscreed likes this.
  10. shstrang

    shstrang Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Well guess? I noticed that getting crumbled when I was putting the new pads on. I removed since it never occurred to me that it make any difference.

    Can I put some in place of it?
  11. The combination of changing to velour pads and the foam on the baffle degrading are the likely reasons for why your V6 now sounds so different. The change to velour pads is likely having the most effect. But the deteriorated foam on the baffle is also going to cause some sonic changes.

    You can consider washing the velour ear pads in water. Put them in a sink and squish them around. Then let dry. The squishing in water may make the foam more compliant and softer which will help the pads make a better seal around your ears. A good seal without air leaks will generally help bass response and get you more bass and a less thin sound. A reason the velour pads have less bass is the velour allows air to escape. The pleather pads seal against your skin better.

    You can try putting some similar type of foam around the driver like the original was. Felt can also be a good material. You can get felt sheets at craft stores like Michael's. Cut a ring of felt and use something like rubber cement to hold it in place.

    This all gets really tricky though. It is difficult to tune things back to normal by ear. The people who do this sort of modding with headphones will have a headphone measurement setup so they can measure how the different materials and mods change the frequency response of the headphone. It's very difficult to do, and get right, just by ear.
  12. shstrang

    shstrang Forum Resident Thread Starter

    They sounded the same prior to the velour pads. And the foam was crumbling under the old pads. Maybe the foam does it.
    I'll try the felt idea and maybe the pads thing you suggested.

  13. Mr.Sneis

    Mr.Sneis Forum Resident

    Phoenix, AZ
    Genuine vintage v6 are worth big $$$.
  14. Not after the foam around the driver degrades.
    I'm not even willing to give my old late 80s era V6 away for free because the foam has degraded. It would be a disservice to anyone getting them and expecting them to sound anything other than bad.
  15. Make sure there is no foam debris on the driver. Any bit of foam on the driver, especially larger chunks, will cause the driver to sound weird or bad. Stuff on the driver can prevent the driver from doing full excursion which will result in problems with the bass (lack of bass and distortion in the bass).

    You have to be very careful when cleaning off the surface of the driver. Very careful. It's very easy to accidentally cause a dent or crease in the driver while cleaning the driver. So be very careful. I will use a rolled and twisted up tissue (rolled to a point) to try to gently sweep away anything on the driver. Or a Q-tip that has extra cotton on the end. Pull the cotton out and twist it to a rolled up point and use that to sweep stuff off the driver.
  16. Not Insane

    Not Insane You talkin' to me?!

    When the paper driver on your woofer has the stiffness of kleenex, it's time to replace it. :D
    Uglyversal likes this.

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