Making an Impact

We recently released a new set of custom earpads, a first for us, which replaces our old Brainwavz Hybrid pads. Let’s talk a bit about why.

Sometimes, you need to change to grow

We’ve been making headphones for just over a year now at Cascadia, and it’s been an interesting ride. We’ve learned a lot – about what people want from headphones, and about how we want to design headphones – but something that has been a known constant from the start is this: ergonomics are priority.

Since the first impressions of the Talos, the reception on comfort has been consistently strongly positive. When sound is discussed, there will always be some variation in opinion – what floats one person’s boat may not quite work for another – but ergonomic impressions cluster much more consistently than sound impressions do, and they really matter. If you’re going to be wearing a headphone for hours at a time – and for some users, it’s 8 hours at work and then six or more when they get home – it needs to be comfortable, otherwise the most beautiful sound quality in the world won’t make you happy with the experience. We’ve been focused on that from the start – every design has to meet an ergonomic standard before we even put the time in to try to optimize its tuning – and it will remain a central plank of Cascadia.

This being the case, one might reasonably wonder why we would mess with a good thing. We’ve been using Brainwavz’ HM5 Hybrid pads since the start, and have received almost pure positivity about them, so there would seem to be little incentive to make a change. We could certainly have stuck with the Hybrids, and it’s probable that most folks wouldn’t have had any problems with them, but we made the change to our own custom design for two reasons.

#1: Getting it just about right the first time doesn’t mean you can stop there

The Hybrid pads worked well for most people ergonomically in most cases, and we’re happy about that, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still room for improvement. The HM5 pad shape was never quite a perfect match for an average pinna, and as a result a number of users reported contact with the sides and/or top of the pads at least some of the time, and the depth of the pad was just shallow enough that more elephant-eared users (including yours truly) would find that the baffle-side damping would exert an uncomfortable pressure on the tips of their ears. The HM5 design is also just small enough that being stretched over the T50RP pad mounting ring exerts enough pressure to cause substantial wear in the mid-term, particularly if the pads are frequently removed or adjusted. A custom design thus lets us address the edge cases where the HM5 pads just weren’t working as well as they could.

The material options were another major incentive. Though the HM5 Hybrids are nice pads, and remain great value at their price point, their pleather surfacing and fenestrated pleather interior, and cheap velour contact surface on top all speak more to “value for your dollar” than “premium product”, and can have a negative impact on ergonomics to boot. The new design, with a softer, more breathable velour on all ear contact surfaces and a sheepskin leather exterior should be more ergonomic even aside from the dimensional changes, last longer, and feel more appropriate to a product of this price class.

#2: The familiar things in life can be the things holding you back

It’s been over a year since the initial release of the Talos without much communication from us, much less an additional product. I’ll step up and admit that Cascadia’s social media management is not its strong point. But a greater share of it has been the time spent in development that ultimately wasn’t pushed to the market, and part of that comes down to the limitations of the frameworks we tried to work in.

The Talos came together so naturally around the HM5 Hybrids that it seemed pretty intuitive to simply make another mod with them immediately, and shortly after the release of the Talos, that’s just what we set out to do. However, we ultimately realized that, among other things¹, our choice of pads was limiting the directions we could take new designs. After several attempts to substitute existing pads as a short-term “patch”, we threw in the towel and started over at the drawing board to come up with a pad that would do everything we wanted and needed it to, a pad we could use for several designs to come.

Little did we realize at the time just how long it would take to go from conceptualization – which started in Q4 2016 – to having the pads on hand for production and sales. Eagle-eyed Cascadia watchers and anyone else who has visited the site in the past two months likely noticed this, as the exhaustion of our supply of HM5 Hybrid pads lead us to discontinue the Talos before its planned successor was ready to release. Nonetheless, though it was a long time in coming, we feel that the new pads were worth the wait, and we hope you all will as well, particularly as the designs they’re enabling us to pursue start to hit the market over the next few months.


1: At some point in the future, the travails and learning experiences of the first 12 months of Cascadia will make good fodder for a series of blog posts.