🔷 Lawton Mods for Fostex Biodynamic-Driver Headphones

Damn you @WaveTheory . Making me want to do this even more now that I’ve seen how good Lawton’s purple heart cups look.

Since I’ve done the driver side of the Lawton tune-up I’ll share my thoughts on that. It’s a subtle but noticeable improvement. It really doesn’t change the frequency response but instead improves the technicalities like instrument separation and treble smoothness. The point of the tune up (particularly the driver side) is to kill resonance in the cup and frame that cause distortion, and it does that rather well. It’s only about $45 for the whole tune up kit and it is easy to install. I would highly recommend it, especially for the X00 line as it has basically no dampening on the drivers at all.

Personally I didn’t really care for the cup side (the big foam circle and adhesive backed cardboard thing) as it DOES change the frequency response, is much harder to undo if you don’t like it, and it ruins the “romantic” notion I have about the raw wood being the only thing behind the driver (not totally logical, I know). I can’t comment on the specifics since I only dry fitted the parts with bluetack to try it out and only tried it for a few minutes.

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How easy is it supposed to be to change the pads on a pair of TH610s? Mine are quite stubborn and the pad itself turns independently instead. I’m afraid that if I grip and twist any harder I might snap the hinge or frame.

I haven’t had any trouble. Are you still using stock pads? Probably still just tight from not being moved much. There is a plastic ring at the base of the pad that is pretty flexible. I doubt you break it:

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Yeah you were right, the pads were tight since it was the first time. I pinched the frame up, gripped the pad tightly and pulled down counter-clockwise. Much easier to get off the second time around.

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I have a few very initial thoughts to share on the pad swap to the Lawton sheepskin pads and the “driver-side” mod. I’ll do an in-depth review of the full Lawton makeover after I’ve had more listening time. But, yesterday afternoon I installed the mod in stages to get at least a general idea of what the pads and driver mod does on their own…

PAD SWAP

So this is the sound of a TH-X00 PH with just swapping the stock pads with the Lawton sheepskin pads and no attenuation rings. Quick thoughts:

  • soundstage widens significantly
  • treble and midrange come forward quite a bit, treble most
  • very bright and somewhat unrefined treble
  • the PH bass extension and slam is still there, but is less the focus of the sound signature. The sig shifts toward the brighter
  • midrange timbre still not great but probably slightly better than stock pads

If you’re curious, here’s a pic of the difference between the stock pads (top) and Lawton pads:

The Lawton pads have WAY more ear real-estate and also are mostly flat where they contact the sides of the head. The stock pads are round at the contact points and it feels weird, IMO. Finally, keep in mind that these Lawton mods are built on Fostex-driver headphones. Fostex drivers have HUGE changes in behavior with pad rolling. It might take several pad swaps for anyone to find the sound they’re looking for, but probably can find it, eventually.

LAWTON PADS + DRIVER-SIDE MOD

First, what is the driver side mod? They are damping strips and rings that adhere around the sides of and on the back of the driver: https://www.lawtonaudio.com/fostextuneupinstructions.html

I thought @A_COC0NUT explained what this mod does pretty well. It basically took everything I just described about the pad swap and tightened it up, improving the technicalities on everything. A bit more detail retrieval, tighter imaging, more refined treble, and maybe shifts the sound signature ever-so-slightly back toward the bassy end. For $49 on its own this is an excellent mod to general tighten up the sound of a stock X00.

Still need to listen for a good while on the full mod before I say more about that sound. But here’s a teaser pic because they are just so damn beautiful:

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Let’s talk sound!

I have had some time with the full Lawton modded X00 now, and with a couple of different pads on them. I’ll get some thoughts on how the sound changed up here. I have a logjam of things to write about (first world problems, I know).

Let me first drop some big caveats to this sorta-review-but-more-of-a-long-musing: these thoughts apply specifically to the situation of going from a Massdrop-Fostex TH-X00 Purpleheart to a full Lawton mod with Lawton’s Bolivian Purpleheart chambers (the Lawton term for cups). Mark Lawton offers at least 2 dozen different types of woods for his chambers, each with different sonic properties, so the level of customization attainable here is large. But that also means the results I obtained with my mod are not necessarily generalizable. I can’t say “go buy a Sennheiser HD600 and it will sound like ____” types of statements with this Lawton configuration because there are just too many variables. Therefore, please consider this writeup as one anecdote toward helping you decide whether it’s worth doing a full Lawton mod on your Fostex biodyna-based headphone.

TL;DR:

The full Lawton mod is a stunning transformation. I choose those words on purpose. The bottom line is pretty much everything improved. Soundstage width, imaging and separation, dynamics, punch, clarity, detail, all noticeable steps up from the stock X00. There are two staggering standouts to this transformation, though: extension and timbre. The timbre bests every other headphone I have on hand right now (HexV2, LCD-2.1PF, Elegia, T1.2, DT880 600) and any other headphone I’ve had significant listening time with in the past (includes HD6XX). Then the extension…OMG the extension! The treble reaches way up. The treble can be also be very forward - at times too much - but when it’s controlled it’s also very rich and sweet. And the bass. I’ve never heard bass like this from a headphone. The sub-bass is so deep and powerful it’s almost stupid. It’s hard to put into words just how ridiculous good the bass on this headphone is now. I will try. Read on if you want to know more about all this.

Sound Signature

In emailing with Mark Lawton about what my goals for listening were for this mod, he recommended staying with the purpleheart wood. He said it would maintain the V-sig I liked about the stock X00PH. Once I got the right pads on there (ZMF Ori Lambskin/suede hybrids right now for me), I realized he was pretty accurate. The signature is still V although I would argue it’s sounds like a shallower V. The bass and treble are both extended and more forward than the mids, but the mids don’t sound as recessed as they can on the stock X00PH. The mids sound rich and natural. There’s a very organic quality to them. As mentioned above, the treble also extends but it very sensitive to pad-rolling. I’ll comment on that next.

Lawton Pads

On the Lawton pads the treble was way too hot for me. Everything was bright and sibilant with a metallic shimmer to everything. There was also a sharp edge to everything, not even just on specifically treble sounds like cymbals. I had to put 2 plies of toilet paper over the driver to calm down that treble peak. It helped quite a bit. I started getting hints of the natural, organic timbre I’ve mentioned, but ‘s’ sounds had a weird sibilant quality to them that was a little lower in frequency than the typical sharp ‘s’. Taming that treble did make the mid timbre improve significantly, though. So, this Lawton pad + TP solution worked decently well as I waited for ZMF Ori to arrive.

Stock X00 Pads

The stock X00 pads are not very comfortable, IMO. They also come with a very narrow soundstage. However, they rein in the treble the most and also have very good timbre. However, I personally cannot escape the sense of claustrophobia with these pads - and I don’t suffer from claustrophobia. Everything just felt closed in and tight, not initmate in the way that the Senn HD6?? series can.

ZMF Ori Lambskin-Suede Hybrid Pads

The comfort of these pads is off the chart. They have more control over the treble than the Lawton pads do by a mile, but it’s still a bit hot and sibilant at times. Right now I’m running with 1 ply of TP over the drivers on each side and a set of Dekoni attenuation rings. That seems to do a pretty good job of reducing sibilance and giving the treble the sweet, natural timbre I mentioned. The treble is still a bit forward, but that’s ok, I was after a V-sig. The mids are still very natural and organic sounding; more present than the stock X00 but not forward. And that bass is still killer. I don’t know how it’s happening, but it feels and sounds like I have subwoofers on my head. The extension is astounding. The bass impact…I can literally feel my head vibrate at times and that’s not a joke or hyperbole. And yet somehow the bass is not one-notey at all, it’s tight and tuneful, and nor is it bloated or bleeding into the mids.

Shiver Me Timbres

I bring up the timbre here a lot. I don’t know what to say other than voices sound more like voices, pianos sound more like pianos, drums sound more like drums, and on and on, than other headphones I’ve had the privilege of hearing. You saw my headphone list above, there are cans on there that are no slouches in the timbre department. These Lawtons just sound more real.

Let’s All Applaud Fostex for Their Driver Tech - But Ouch That Treble Sometimes

Yeah. These Fostex biodyna drivers are something special. Their speed, punch, and extension are bonkers. Mark Lawton must have realized this and then did a superb job of designing what is really a top-notch small speaker enclosure for a large driver. The results of the two together can be jaw-droppingly amazing at times. However, the biodyna extension can get in its own way in the treble, IMO. I’ve played a lot with finding the balance of letting the biodyna drivers be what they are up top but also not sending daggers down my ear canals. I’m trying not to let the fact that I have TOILET PAPER in my ~$1K total headphone kit bother me too much, but it does a little. However, if you’re Lawton modding a set of headphones, you’re a tweaker at heart and like putting the work in to chasing a sound. Still, I may investigate and try different foam damping material at some point too.

Any Other Downsides?

That depends on the listener. This is not a relaxed listening experience. The dynamics, detail, and punch are in-your-face all the time. It’s fun, engaging, and even for me can become a bit too much after awhile. Do I enjoy listening to them most of the time? Hell yes! There have been moments when they exhaust me, though. There are moments I still want to listen to music but they are too much. But that’s also partially why so many of us have multiple headphones.

Also they get physically heavy. They are pretty close in weight to the LCD 2. The weight did make the stock headband a bit uncomfortable for me. A ZMF Pilot Pad has cleared that up. However, if you are sensitive to the weight of a headphone these may be too heavy. Final potential flaw, these are still not a true closed-back. The Lawton chambers still maintain a semi-open/mostly-closed design that still leaks a fair amount of sound. In a sense they have to, there’s a lot of sonic energy coming from those drivers that has to go somewhere. But, it’s not office friendly and not super isolating if those are your goals.

Final Thoughts

This Lawton mod was a ton of fun to do and a thrill to listen to. I learned a lot about what physical changes do what kinds of things to the sound. In the end I have one of my favorite headphones. As I mentioned earlier, my collection also includes the HexV2 and I currently have the LCD-2.1 PF on hand. To my ears this Lawton is clearly their superior in overall timbre, dynamics, extension, and bass impact. That’s saying something because both those big planars have pretty prodigious bass extension in their own rights and the Hex V2 also comes with a healthy dose of slam.

So there are some of my thoughts about the sound of a Lawton mod. Unless you get exactly the same combo of thing I have, your mileage WILL vary, so keep that in mind. I know other Lawton users who are after neutrality more than fun and have been quite pleased with the results. The overall experience with Mark Lawton was top notch, though. He is very knowledgeable and helpful. He was also quite speedy and got my order to me in under a week.

OK, that’s enough of my ramblings for now. Enjoy the music everyone! :beer:

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Excellent write up … Sat down with a bucket of popcorn and read it LOL!!! Actually no, but I enjoyed the read and learned some things. This right here above my comment is why I enjoy this friendly forum.
HFG rocks.

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Excellent write up, I’d be very interested to hear what you think of a Eikon and how it stacks up to the lawton mod. Especially since you mention both timbre and sub bass as that is where the Eikon excels imo.

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Me too. How’s the treble on the Eikon? That’s the one potential weakness to my ear on these Lawtons, and not because it’s bad but because it’s just a bit much at times.

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the treble is very good quality, extends decently but definitely not a bright headphone by any means. They are more neutral warm signature as ZMF house sound tilts more to the warm side. where the Eikon really gets enjoyable is the timbre and just overall natural sound of the driver and tuning. The other strong point is the linearity and rich mids imo

i’d say genres that showcase them at their strongest would be; Acoustic, classical, jazz, vocal centric, piano, and a lot of soundtrack stuff. but they are decent all rounders and tend to sound really good with most music.

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While they are a bit expensive, hard to get (you have to email Dekoni), and less comfortable than the ZMF Ori hybrids, the Dekoni X00 lambskins might be an option since they seem to tame the treble a bit more than the Ori. Hopefully I’ll be able to write up my full comparison of all 6 of the pads I’ve been swapping tomorrow, so don’t buy them just yet. I still need to do some final comparisons/tests.

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Addendum!

Another thing I’ve discovered about these Lawtons is how transparent they can be. Let’s return, briefly, to the paragraph above with this heading:

I want to address a couple points in there and elsewhere where I claim the Lawtons are not a relaxed listening experience. The treble can be well controlled AND the Lawtons CAN be a relaxed listening experience. In the process of tube-rolling my Liquid Plat amp I began to realize how much the Fostex BioDyna drivers reveal. The Lawtons, moreso than HexV2, LCD-2PF, Elegia, or DT880 revealed more changes between tubes. I then verified they are more revealing of DAC differences as well. Point is, these Lawtons do an excellent job of taking on the character of the signal chain. If you want aggressive and detailed, you can have it if your signal chain is aggressive and detailed. My comments about at-times fatiguing detail and treble forwardness in the Lawtons was most noticeable - arguably only noticeable - when the Liquid Plat was running with Gold Lion tubes. If you want these Lawtons to sound warm and laid-back, they will! With the stock Electro-Harmonix tubes in the Liquid Plat, the Lawtons are warm, smooth, and pleasant and only sibilant if the recording is sibilant.

Anyway, I thought I should return to these thoughts in the hopes of painting a more complete picture for anyone who might be interested in doing Lawton mods on their Fostex Biodyna-based headphones. You can really tailor the sound to your preferences, both with the cup material you choose AND the signal chain. I think that’s cool.

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Hello,
Interesting insights you have about the Lawton cups.
Well, I love the listener as much as most people who are into modding.
The Lawton mod level 1 is a standard part of my purchase.
I know about the cups can surely be argued.
When I decided to convert my Tr x00 mahogany to ebony cups from Emu, I thought that the Ahg pads with the Dekoni rings would be sufficient.
Unfortunately this was not the case because on the conversion from Denon D2000 to Emu Rosewood the difference was clearly audible that the Ahg pads did not like the Ebony.

There was a lack of power, spatial images, details and all that the Rosewood brought with it was mostly strangely enough for me always a bit set back.
So I found the Yaxi pads Alcantara by chance and they were the right ones for the Ebony mod.
After the arrival of the Yaxi pads and testing with Dekoni Rings and without it was better.
Yaxi pads with rings was exactly what he needed for the Emu mod.

It surprised me how much influence a pad swapping has, I can only agree with you.
The good thing about the driver is that you listen and you notice relatively quickly and you can fix this with a pad swapping without having to tinker.

I have one more remark to yours and also a question.

You have from the Lawton mod level 1 the foam where the cups are glued in, have you ever tried to put them in the Lawton cups and fix them so that you can take them off without damaging the wood if you don’t like it?

You might be able to tame the heights where you have noted as a tip :hugs:.

My question is since you had the Fostex Tr x00 Purpelheart before, the Massdrop mod.
What percentage of gain did you have in comparison after Lawton Mod cups?
Since you actually stayed with the Rosewood, I would be interested in your opinion on what has changed for you.

I’m also asking because in your report the comparison is missing a bit, and the other thing is what Lawton does that Fostex can’t do. we’ve learned that wood is not just wood.:grin:
I also understand that Fostex probably can’t make this reproduction, while Lawton can obviously add a personal touch to his cups, which is really remarkable, but also has its price.

I like the emu cups more because they are quite affordable and a huge improvement over the mahogany and denon plastic cups on the D2000.
Still, I wonder if it can go one level higher after all. :slight_smile:
Or whether it remains in the nuance range.
But it would not be worth it to me if it only remained in the nuanced range, personally speaking.

I intend to get some Lawton cups for myself this Xmas so I’ll let you know how big the difference is. If what others here have said is true though, the Lawton cups are a pretty big change.

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Hi. Thanks for the feedback. Your question here is a hard to quantify. The stock purpleheart already had some pretty potent bass, but I wasn’t prepared for the magnitude of the increase here. I don’t know how it’s doing it, but the bass with the Lawton PH cups is more extended, more in quantity, tighter, quicker, and somehow avoids sounding bloated or interfering with other parts of the frequency range. IMO they are a bass head’s headphone dream come true. I don’t know how to put a % on that so I’ll just say it’s an across the board upgrade. The treble is the most sensitive to amps and pad rolling. With all pads I think the Lawton cups gave some treble extension. The Lawton pads made them very bright and sharp turning them into pronounced V-shaped cans. Too hot for me. ZMF Ori, Dekoni rings, and warmer amps brought that down into clear and detailed but not overly aggressive treble. The mids are a lot less recessed with the Lawtons. The stock PH mids take a bit of a back seat. They come forward more with Lawton PH but still aren’t the stars.

I hope this somewhat answers your questions. It’s really difficult to explain how much these changes are. Happy to answer more questions if you have them.

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Did you do the tune up as well?With my th900, I’m having the full DIY mod coming to me, with type 4 cups(same type as purple heart),Lawton pads, and tune up kit. So interested/concerned about the treble harshness, but def open to other pad swaps.

I did do the tune up. To my ear the tune up had very little effect on frequency response but cleaned up of the overall sound improving detail and enhancing overall clarity. The treble quantity is most linked to pad rolling. I don’t know if you’re treble sensitive but I rec ordering some attenuation rings and ZMF Ori hybrids (or Dekoni sheepskins) to have on hand ready to go in case it’s too hot for you.

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Thanks, yea I may end up doing that. Are the ori pads thicker?

I think so, yes. Ori is a bit deeper and maybe has slightly less angle to it. The Lawton ear opening has more area though and will likely accommodate larger ears better from a fit standpoint. The Ori opening isn’t small, just not Lawton sized. Ori ear opening size falls between X00 stock pad and Lawton. Also, consider a ZMF pilot pad too. The Lawton cups add some weight. I found the Ori and Pilot Pad together go be super comfy.

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Awesome, I’ve used zmf pads in the past, but not ori. Thanks for the tips!