Audeze LCD-X Planar Magnetic Headphones by Dave Thomas
In comedian Katt William’s 2006 live concert film The Pimp Chronicles, there is a segment where he talks about people who used to brag about owning a Chrysler 300 automobile because it “looked just like a (Bentley) Phantom.” Admittedly, the Chrysler 300, an extremely popular car, did bear a small resemblance to the Phantom. But as Williams pointed out, “… that was until a Phantom pulled up next to it.”
After talking to a co-worker bragging about his Beats By Dr. Dre Studio headphones, I was reminded of this comedic sketch. “I don’t care how much you spend, ain’t nothing like the Studios. Best headphones available at any price.” Now what he didn’t know was that I was about a month into listening to the Audeze LCD-X electrostatic headphones (the Bentley Phantom of headphones, if you will), so I knew that he had not heard them. I decided not to waste precious listening time on his Beats-loving ears and agreed to let him bask in the glow of mediocrity.
Audeze (aw-de-zee) is a Santa Ana, California-based company synonymous with making reference-quality headphones and earphones. They currently have several product lines, each designed for specific applications (in-ear, gaming, over-the-ear, studio monitoring, etc.). But make no mistake, the name Audeze, for me anyway, brings one thing to mind: planar magnetic headphones. I have owned and loved the Magnepan MG20 loudspeakers for most of the past decade, so that “planar sound” is very near and dear to my heart. The LCD-X is an “open back” designed headphones that are known to be a favorite of many studio engineers for their neutrality and ability to allow you to hear deeply into music. They have an excellent transient response, low distortion, and outstanding tonal balance. In short, they allow you to hear music as the artist intended. I couldn’t wait to get a pair in for review.
Saying the LCD-X are substantially built headphones would be a bit of an understatement. Sort of like saying that the Kardashian sisters have a penchant for NBA players. But despite their bulk (each ear enclosure is about 4.5” in diameter and the total headphone weight is about 1.5 lbs.), they are surprisingly comfortable and easy to wear, even for extended periods. The headband is a rugged metal that has a soft padding underneath with holes in it to protect your head yet allow your scalp to breathe (on behalf of us folically challenged brothers out there, I thank you). Unlike other headphones I’ve owned the LCD-X are not designed to be folded up and tucked away in a backpack but if you were so enclined, the mini-XLR cables they use are detachable. This is another nice touch for those of you who love to try out after-market replacement cables. At the end of the cable is a ¼” stereo plug. I didn’t find an adapter for a 3.5mm plug, but I think you can use one for portable devices.
Each LCD-X ear enclosure is brilliantly constructed, starting at the exterior with a metal grill intricately cut to enhance the open-back design. Next is a “Fazor” that helps to guide the sound in the ear enclosure. Neodymium magnets and the ultra-thin diaphragm were smartly designed on both sides of the diaphragm, including another magnet and Fazor. Finally, the earpads are about ½” thick and covered in soft leather (lambskin?). Again, despite their size, these are comfortable headphones.
When I unpacked headphones from their box, I discovered an air travel-worthy black case that came with its own set of keys. But also inside were two plastic cards. One was a Certificate of Authenticity, and the other had the web address where you can download the User Guide and any new driver downloads. It was weeks before I noticed the cards and downloaded the User Guide. When I did and finally started reading it, I came across a warning about letting the magnets get too close to cardiac devices that some people may be wearing in their chests. People like me.
I feel much better knowing about the magnets and can use the headphones safely, but this kind of information should probably be a little more prominent.
Reviewing these headphones allowed me to spend some quality time with my new Classe’ Audio Delta PRE, with its built-in headphone amp. It also has a built-in ethernet connection, so I could connect my router directly to it and access my iTunes library through the JRiver Media Center. The timing was also good because I had to dismantle my reference system while we had some renovations done to my listening room… er; uh, I mean our family room.
I spent a few weeks enjoying a lot of new downloads before I settled in to “get the proper attitude,” as my brother would say. I recently became fond of two musicians from the German record label ACT: bassist Lars Danielsson and his frequent collaborator pianist Leszek Mozdzer. The Danielsson album Tarantella features Mozdzer on piano and trumpeter Mathias Eick, drummer Eric Harland and guitarist John Parricelli. This was already a favorite recording, but when experiencing it through the LCD-X, I fell in love with it even deeper. “Even deeper” is a very apt phrase to use when describing what these headphones do. I can see why they are a favorite of studio engineers. They allow you to hear so deeply into the music that you get a sense of what the performance might have looked like during the recording. On the title track from this album, Mozdzer is the standout. He has one of the lightest touches I’ve ever heard on piano and is simply an exhilarating performer. And speaking of exhilarating performances, Danielsson and Mozdzer combined again on the iTunes Live: Berlin Festival recording of “Easy Money.” This song showcases the strengths of both musicians. The ability to hear Mozdzer not only pour himself into this performance but also frequently listen to him mutter things to himself is amazing. If you enjoy the essential craftsmanship of professional musicians, then the LCD-X is truly the headphone for you.
The following recording that was noteworthy during my listening sessions was the splendid vocalist Gretchen Parlato’s album, “The Lost and Found.” The opening track is a fabulous cover of the Simply Red hit, Holding Back the Years. Parlato’s feather-lite voice almost requires you to use headphones that allow you to hear into the recording. Otherwise, you may not get all of the richness that’s there. But even if you can’t follow every syllable she sings, her band makes up for it. They are incredibly smooth. But while I like the coolness of this tune, it’s the hotness of another track on this album, Miles Davis’ Blue In Green, that does it for me. This dynamic track starts with Parlato’s customary cool vocals but quickly evolves into a fantastic percussion-filled jam. The LCD-X takes you along for all of it.
Listening to music through headphones like these is a different type of experience. It personalizes the music for you and lets you get into it on a completely different level. I had intended to compare some of the other headphones I own, but I quickly realized just how pointless that would be. And not just because the Audeze headphones are more than twice the price of any of my other headphones. The level of design, materials, and performance that went into these headphones puts them in another class. There is simply no comparison to anything I own. They are planars, after all.
One thing that I’ve learned when it comes to high-end audio is that there is always a step-up in class. If you own Paradigm speakers, you can always step up to Wilson. If you own a Rega turntable, you can always step up to a Linn. If you own Rotel electronics, you can always step up to Classe’. I have owned a couple pairs of Bowers & Wilkins headphones and the French-made Adele’ VK-1 headphones, and the bass-loving CEEK VR4 gaming headphones, but the Audeze LCD-X are a definite step up in every way imaginable, and of course, including price. But that is what high-end audio is all about. Oh, and believe it or not, Audeze makes other headphones that are a step up from the LCD-X. So it’s up to you to decide for yourself, will it be the Chrysler 300 or the Phantom? I’m choosing the Audeze LCD-X, and I’m not looking back.
Specifications: Audeze LCD-X Headphones
Type: Planar-magnetic stereo headphones
Style: Open circumaural
Diaphragm area: 6.17 square inches
Optimal power: 1–4W
Maximum power: 15W (200ms)
Impedance: 22 ohms, purely resistive
Sensitivity: 95dB for 1mW
Weight: 600 grams
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