Akebono vs Brembo vs Wagner: (2020) A Few Remarks

Akebono, Brembo and Wagner brake pads often get compared around car communities, so I thought I’d give my 2 cents on that.

Obviously, all three are respected manufacturers. That doesn’t mean there are no differences between their brakes. Both your car make and priorities – low dusting, less fading, more aggressive bite, should be taken into account.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet based on what I’ve seen so far.

When To Pick Akebono

ProAct pads are one of the lowest dusting brakes out there (check latest prices here). Their intelligent ceramic manufacture (US-made!) also causes as little wear and tear on your brake rotors as possible.

Perfect for daily commutes, but their bite is weaker compared to Brembo.

Akebono ACT787 ProACT Ultra-Premium Ceramic Brake Pad Set (Engineering #ACT564)

Akebono is the best choice for European car OEM replacements too. Just make sure you get their Euro ceramic pads (this type). The only dedicated aftermarket pads for European vehicles.

When To Pick Brembo

As the beautiful red shims show, Brembo is for those into more adventurous driving. Brembo’s brake pads have a more aggressive bite and superior stopping power. Yes, even compared to Wagner or Akebono’s performance lines.

Brembo P56048N Rear Disc Brake Pad

Brembo’s signature red shims are made of a neatly manufactured Elastomer-Steel-Elastomer trio of layers. The result? Less noise and minimized vibrations in more extreme situations. A bit more dusting, however.

When To Pick Wagners

Wagner pads are very similar to how Akebono performs. Smoother bite, incredibly low dusting and if you go for the ThermoQuiet pads (available kits here)…well, you’ll enjoy some very good heat resistance.

Note: Unlike Akebono, you should get all the hardware included in the package!

Wagner QC1324 Ceramic Disc Brake Pad Set

Their biggest benefit is how quiet the TQs are thanks to their ‘one-piece’ pad design. I’ll address this one later in the article. TQs generate the least noise among current aftermarket pads, hands down.

So, if I were to summarize things before I dig deeper into reviewing these three brands:

Akebono, Brembo and Wagner: Let’s Take a Look at Manufacture

I’m not talking (only) about the country where these are assembled. Even though it doesn’t hurt to know that Akebono’s ProAct are made in the US. As far as I know, Wagner and Brembo manufacture around the globe – but with very strict quality control.

Rather, I’d like to talk about the technology that makes these brands’ pads stand out in some departments.

For example, let’s look at Akebono’s ProAct (left) and Wagner’s Thermoquiet (right). Both are ceramic pads focused on a similar niche of drivers: low dust, daily commute, as quiet as possible brake action.

Notice something different?

The ThermoQuiet pads are a universal piece. This is what Wagner call their one-piece technology, their Integrally Molded Sound Insulator.

The friction material, the backing plate and the insulator itself are fuzed into one single component. This leads to good durability, but above all it reduces the intensity of sound and vibrations. Which is why TQs are famous for their ultra quiet, smooth braking.

Where Is Akebono’s Strength, Then?

Well, Akebono manufacture their pads with improved initial effectiveness, which means you need no break-in. Additionally, they’ve lazer-focused on improving fade resistance and above all – reduction of rotor wear and tear or dusting.

Now, be default all ceramic pads have mercy on your rotors compared to anything metallic or semi-metallic. However, Akebono’s manufacture – which I especially recommend for Toyotas, ensures their pads have the least impact on brake rotors. Forget about warping here.

What About Brembo?

Their brake pad beauties aren’t only a pleasure to look at with their scarlet palette. There’s utility beneath this eye-candy:

Two things worthy to talk about.

First, as I mentioned, the shims. The ESE (Elastomer – Steel – Elastomer) red shims outshine most aftermarket makers in their racing utility. Extreme use focused pads often screech unpleasantly.

Brembo’s multilayer shim approach dampens the noise, which is further improved by the sturdy backing plate. Obviously, you’re not getting ThermoQuiet levels of silent braking here, but the uses are completely different anyways.

Second, Brembo pads allow for braking that is easy to modulate. The aggressive bite and this modulation allow for superior response on the road, something that most similarly priced aftermarket brands don’t do as well.

That said, for daily commutes…Brembo remains more expensive, with more dust generation and causing a little more wear and tear on the rotors than optimal. This is because both Akebono and Wagner are tailored and designed for general driving.

For racing purposes, however, Brembo is a pretty good choice. There’s something about European brands and how they take care of your race track needs. Brembo’s competitor here would be EBC brakes, which I’ve praised already.

What About the Different Brake Pad Formulations?

Comparing brake pads can be highly contextual. Are you driving a sports car like a Nissan 350Z? Something tamer like a Honda Accord? Going full offroad and heavy-duty with an F-250?

Are you looking for something to improve your braking performance? Or are you satisfied with an emulation of how OEM brakes feel?

Manufacturers segment their brake pads into different formulations. Akebono has their Premium, Euro and Performance series. Brembo focus on sportsy Performance series, even though they do have some OEM-like pads too.

Wagner is the brand that stands out with a wider range of very specific formulations:

  • OEX for towing and dual-shim design (ceramic + metallic)
  • ThermoQuiet (low dust & silent for daily commuting)
  • QuickStop (OEM replacement that focuses on stopping power)
  • SevereDuty (heavy loads and offroad use)

These four are completely different from each other, and make Wagner one of the most diverse manufacturers of brake pads across driver segments. 

So Are These Three the Best Brands Out There?

I wouldn’t say that there’s an overall best brand with brake pads. First, individual cases matter a lot – for every person loving Akebono, you’d find someone preferring something else.

I outlined in which situations any of these three brands makes the most sense. There are other possible choices. For example, for the generalist who wants simple pads on a budget, Bosch aftermarket parts are a viable choice too.

As I’ve mentioned in my Bosch QuietCast review, though, they’re just…decent. A good OEM replacement for Asian vehicles, but nothing more spectacular.

I’d love to hear about your own experiences with aftermarket brake parts and the various brands out there. Let me know in the comments, my readers will also appreciate it!