As a company Audeze is known for their massive planar headphones with impressive sound quality, offered at what some may consider a high price. However…
I don’t think that $1,200 is a small sum of money, but until I got to play with Audeze LCD-X, headphones never came anywhere close to the experience of listening to loudspeakers. For me, this means that while $1200 is a lot for headphones, it also costs a lot more to surpass this level of sound quality with a home setup when adding up the costs of amplification, loudspeakers, and subwoofer. This leaves the Audeze in a nice sweet spot for value.
|Transducer type||Planar Magnetic|
|Magnetic structure||Proprietary magnet array|
|Magnet type||Neodymium N50|
|Transducer size||106 mm|
|Maximum power handling||5W RMS|
|THD||<0.1% @ 100dB|
|Sensitivity||103 dB/1mW (at Drum Reference Point)|
|Minimum power requirement||>100mW|
|Recommended power level||>250mW|
Specifications from Audeze.com
For this review, I was sent the version that does not include a hard case. Upon opening the box, the headphones sat beautifully and I couldn’t wait to tear them out of the box, but I refrained, choosing to dip my toes a bit and opting to snatch the cable first. It’s a nice, removable braided wire with a hefty feeling ¼” jack. There was only so much time to be wasted, so I pulled the headphones out. They feel extremely sturdy, and I was impressed by the metal they used on the bar for adjusting size. On a lot of headphones, I feel companies use flimsy materials in this crucial mechanism and I think that will be the first point to fail. I’m pretty confident in the longevity of these, and I’m glad they picked a sturdy material to hold these massive open-backed ear cups.
They feel sturdy, and the metal they used on the bar for adjusting size impressed me.
The LCD-X feel a little heavy but throughout testing I never really felt any extra weight, even during long listening sessions. The leather ear cups are soft, and the foam is comfortable. The cable plugs in with a nice click, and there is a button to release from the jack for removal. When I put the headphones over my ears, I could feel them form a seal. When I removed them, I could feel the seal release. I knew I was in for a treat. The Audeze team succeeded in providing a product that looks and feels premium, but you don’t buy them to look at. Excited to see how they perform, I put them through their paces and continued to do so for an unhealthy but rewarding period of time – and it was easy to do.
The cable plugs in with a nice click, and there is a button to release from the jack for removal.
For the purposes of testing, my source materials were lossless Tidal tracks (non-MQA) streamed through Roon on an iMac Pro. From there, the signal was passed to my Monolith by Monoprice Desktop Balanced DAC/Amp with Dual AKM 4493 DACs & Dual AAA-788 Modules via USB.
When evaluating performance, it’s important to try several genres of music with any set of headphones, and I tend to break things down as such during my reviews. I have to say, though, it may not be necessary with these. They don’t have many weak points as you move between vocally focused music, complex musical passages, small ensembles, or bass heavy music. It would be easy to stop the review here and simply tell you that these are the bee’s knees, but what fun would that be?
Enya – Easy Listening
“Wow, Evan! Really starting out with a bang, huh?” Well, perhaps not, but if the goal of listening to evoke raw emotion, Enya delivers. I thoroughly enjoy the mostly instrumental intro tracks on her albums, so I start off with “A Day Without Rain”. Sometimes I find that you can hear the note of a piano, but you can not hear the hammer striking the string. The Audeze do a great job in recreating the natural beauty of the piano, and the ethereal noises and vocals that accompany the keys come through nice and full. The dynamics of the track are just beautiful, and the impact is easily felt coming from the softer passages. It is an immersive experience, and it is easy to be swept into the pleasant ambiance that she has created.
Snarky Puppy – Jazz
While never overly crowded, Snarky Puppy offers a healthy portion of many different instruments. I chose the ever-accessible track “Lingus” for the purposes of this review, a sprawling track that runs nearly 11 minutes. It is very playful, and full of different textures which I found to make a prime example of everything I love of the genre. While the imaging is not what you might expect out of a loudspeaker which might spill a large soundstage into your room, drum fills are easily floated straight through your head. Sound still feels localized to right around your head, but everything is placed in pinpoint locations. You can hear each individual brass instrument as its own defined sound, rather than stacking and blurring while playing over each other. The strings, not unlike the piano in Enya’s track, come through as a plucked string instrument and you can hear all of the palm muting and subtleties that come with it.
Corpo-Mente – Metal/Opera/Electronic
An interesting fusion of sounds, and an absolutely amazing vocalist make this an easy pick. Some people like to ride a more linear path, and others like genre benders. I tend to be the latter of the two. I like the weird and innovative. For this purpose, I have selected the track “Velandi”. I think I have said enough about stringed instruments at this point – the LCD-X can crush them. There is a lot of intentional reverb and interesting buzzing sounds in the song which may come off rather lo-fi, but they complete the feel of the song. In particular, there is an interesting fast-panning buzz that comes in around 1:30 and the Audeze pulls off a neat trick with it and gave my ears a bit of a nice tickle. Though by mid-track the vocals are mixed in such a way that they are somewhere in the middle of the rest of the mix and may not be the main focal point, her voice is absolutely stunning and the Audeze bring them plenty of life.
Adele – Female Vocalist
Before digging in too much on the capabilities of the LCD-X to render vocals, I chose to reserve my statements for Adele. Her powerful voice combined with remarkable recording quality makes her tracks top tier for auditioning new headphones compared to the last track with more recessed vocals. I selected “Million Years Ago” because in this track she really pushes herself to hit and project some rather difficult notes. Even still, the LCD-X is not fatiguing or harsh. You can hear a slight echo of the recording studio after some of her louder notes, which adds a bit of ambiance to the recording.
FKJ – Electronic/Live Instrument Jam
Before venturing into the heavier “bass-slam-centric” electronic music that is coming, I wanted to play with some more refined, smoother electronic offerings. For this, I could think of non-other than “Tadow”. Most of the loops are created by live instruments, which gives a nice smooth feel. The vocals are that of a sexy R&B track. Also smooth. The bass line is nice and natural sounding, and the LCD-X doesn’t struggle to reproduce a – you guessed it – buttery smooth mid to low end. Expect neutral and raw tones.
Freddy Todd – Electronic Party Jams
This fella doesn’t necessarily pack in all of the bass that you can pack into a track, but offers an onslaught of interesting sounds and auditory tricks that I crave. I selected the track “Icendiary” for all of the beautiful imaging and layering. I have heard headphones and speakers alike completely butcher this track. While it may not have loads of bass, what is here is nice and low, and the Audeze are very capable of reaching down into the nethers to provide a well rounded and impressively deep bass note. If you want it to really bang, you can EQ it yourself, but just plan on a nice note without too much slam as-is. All of the interesting textures are presented beautifully giving your ears something new and interesting to chew on. They are placed all over the sound stage, and some sounds feel like they’re being pulled from your ears rather than forcibly jammed into them.
Bass Boy – Bass Test Tracks
For sheer output, I always run to this track. It is mixed a bit more quietly than some others, so I had to really give it some juice out of my Monoprice Monolith Headphone Amplifier with 2x AAA THX amp modules. The Audeze LCD-X really do provide a lot of nice clean bass when it is called for. It isn’t overly pronounced as there is not much of a curve on the response in that region. If the bass is in the mix, it will be produced beautifully without so much as a second thought. It is readily available as deep as one could possibly need out of a pair of headphones, and incredibly impressive.
I did not find much of a fault to the Audeze, so I’m going to nit-pick really hard here. On the cable below the connector that fastens into the cups is some rather cheap plastic… I’m not sure at what point (as no real impact was taken by the headphones to my knowledge and they lived a happy life on my desk) this thin plastic piece did end up cracking, but it did. When the rest of the headphones are built with such incredible attention to detail, it is a shame to see this one flimsy piece plaguing the cable.
Being open backed, there is a bit of noise bleed from these. This is not a fault of the design, rather an inevitable result of not having a closed back to keep the sound in. I do not count this as a ding against the headphones at all, but it is worth noting that depending on your potential usage, these may not work well for your uses. If you are in a crowded office, or plan to use them in transit, open backed headphones are simply not recommended.
Overall, the Audeze LCD-X made a mark on me, and I will recommend them to anyone who asks. They offer remarkable build quality, comfort, and sound quality; everything you would expect for the money.
Is $1000 a lot for headphones? It sure is, but as stated in the intro, when compared to the cost of a loudspeaker-based system to best these, you could save yourself a nice wad of cash just snatching these. Hats off to the Audeze crew! This is a truly remarkable offering, and I will be looking to order these for myself in the future as they are a Top Choice in their category.
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