Audeze LCD-1 Review - Audeze sound wherever you go

Overall Score 90/100
Sandu Vitalie Headphones

My Video Review:

There was a time when Audeze was called Audez’e and there was a time when they introduced their first headphones in very limited quantities back in 2009 at CanJam Los Angeles. It was their brain child that was called LCD-1. It was generic looking, but sounded so different comparing to all other dynamic headphones surrounding it, that all LCD-1 were sold in an instant. I’m already imagining being in their shoes and realizing that there is a huge demand for something distinct, for a different type of sound, from a re-imagined type of headphone driver. Planar-magnetic technology just received a massive kick-start and Audeze started working hard on their next iteration. LCD-2 launched two years later and the rest is history.

About seven years ago when LCD-3 were just released, I’ve sent an email to Audeze asking kindly if they will ever release a desktop headphone in the sub $500 price bracket that should fill the gap in the LCD line of headphones. They winked that something is in the works but couldn’t spill the beans for me. EL-8 came later, that were almost there price wise, then Sine came but that wasn’t a desktop headphone. I didn’t abandon hope as the Force is strong in this one. When I’ve seen the introduction of LCD-1 and that a lot of technology was borrowed from its big brother LCD-4, like Uniforce diaphragm, Fluxor magnets and ever Fazor wave-guides were in there too - everything at less than $500, I knew that This is It. So, please meet Audeze’s newest headphone: the LCD-1.

Unboxing Experience

Of course, LCD-1 came double boxed. The black product box is beautiful, it reminded that LCD-1 is still handcrafted in California, inside there is a “Thank You” letter, a certificate of authenticity signed by an Audeze representative with the serial number stamped on it. Surrounded by a pillow of foam sits a small and lightweight hard carry case. Inside it, LCD-1 are folded, surrounded again by foam. The case has a small pocket were a headphone adapter and a detachable cable can be found. You cannot imagine how glad I am that Audeze finally ditched the connectors from the EL-8 line of headphones, those were cool looking but really impractical and could be easily damaged. 3.5mm (1/8”) headphone connectors are more reliable, they have a better grip and finding an aftermarket cable is easier than ever. You can even fit a portable DAP inside the case for a complete music lover travel package.

Build Quality & Looks

First of all, LCD-1 is having some tricks under its sleeve that any other (and much more expensive) headphones in the LCD line are not having. For example, I can lay them flat with the ear-pads touching my table, this way I will not scratch or damage any part of it. They can be folded to fit that small carry case; it can even fit in a small purse so I consider them very portable. The ear-cups can be rotated for about 100 degrees and I can adjust the headband size single-handedly. LCD-1 are scoring high points when it comes to comfort, at just 250 grams (half a pound) I can wear them for all day long without any pain around my ears, without neck pain or on top of my head. LCD-2 to LCD-4 owners know what I am talking about.

I also like that it has elongated ear-cups siting in the right angle with my ears. I was worried that they might sit on my ears and not around them, but that is not the case, they fit like a glove.

The headband is wrapped in a super soft memory foam that distributes the weight evenly. I also like the soft and fluffy lambskin leather ear-pads, filled with lots of memory-foam, they will make sure your listening experience is pleasant and relaxing. I don’t feel any pressure around my ears, so comfort wise LCD-1 are scoring top points.

I like that those ear-pads are user replaceable, gently pull them straight and that’s it. Align them back, apply some pressure and after 4 clicks you will put them back. I wish LCD-4 would have some of that too. When you take off those ear-pads you can see the driver assembly, but most importantly you can see those Fazor elements that were first introduced with LCD-4 and I’m really glad that Audeze put them here too. The ear-cups have the same Audeze pattern forming an A letter which I always believed looked cool. Audeze decided to make it completely open-back, so obviously the sound will be much bigger, airier and deeper, but it will not cut-off all the sounds of the outside world, so if you listen to them outside, you will be aware of your surroundings.

As you might expect, reaching that $399 price level, some sacrifices needed to be made, mostly in terms of build quality. The whole headphone structure is made out of hard plastic with just few metal details here and there.

Of course the cable is detachable, it is super flexible, it is really sturdy and thicker than I anticipated. It has a fabric outer jacket and it’s free of any micro-phonics. Seeing the cable quality, I don’t think many of your will want to upgrade it with something better. The cable is terminated with 3.5mm jacks on both ends, Audeze is suggesting you can drive them even with low-powered devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops, DAPs and so on, will see about that.

Technology Inside

Audeze took their heavy guns as big Fluxor magnets, ultra-thin Uniforce diaphragms and Fazor wave-guides and put them inside their most affordable desktop planar-magnetic headphone. Technology wise, the only thing that differentiates it from the rest of the LCD line is the driver size, from 106 mm on its bigger brothers, it shrunk to 90 mm that has a plus side and a down side. It should be much easier do drive putting less stress on the source at the cost of a smaller sound, with a smaller stage and less depth information.

Audeze used the same high-quality and powerful Neodymium magnets to push that driver and do its work. The impedance is a really friendly one, at just 16 Ohms and having a high sensitivity of 99 dB per 1 mW, LCD-1 should work just fine with all your portable DAPs and even with some smartphones, tablets and laptops.

Sound Performance

I. Sound Signature

LCD-1 sounds like a proper Audeze headphone: bass is there down to the lowest octaves, midrange is sweet and soul-grabbing, treble is extended but inoffensive. It has an extended frequency response, with lots of naturalness and midrange presence. Depth is there too and I could see-through my best recordings with ease and most importantly I could drive them even with my phone. The best part is that I found in them the famous transient response and very low harmonic distortion that Audeze is known for. I can listen to really loud levels without a trance of distortion or weak dynamics. LCD-1 is all about slam in the bass, about speed and impact and it really knows how to increase the mood level of the listener. I am not that shocked hearing them performing much better than Sennheiser Momentum 2, Meze 99 Classics, Erzetich Thalia and even my former Sennheiser HD660s are slower in speed and not that interesting in terms of dynamics.

II. Power Requirements

According to the Benchmark HPA4 and to the microphones inside MiniDSP EARS, LCD-1 needs about 20 dB less compared to LCD-4, to achieve the same sound pressure level (SPL) of 85 dB. This is the easiest to drive planar-magnetic headphone I tested. Erzetich Phobos and Quad ERA-1 were already almost there and weren’t asking for a lot of power to be moved, but LCD-1 is taking that to an extreme. LCD-1 is just by 1 dB harder to drive than Sennheiser Momentum 2 and Meze 99 Classics which I consider as portable headphones. Practically, any headphone jack could drive to pretty loud levels.

I am almost maxed out on my phone and it is already quite loud. With the Shanling M6 DAP, I could never go past 75 out of 100 on the 3.5mm output. With FiiO M15, driving them seems like a super easy task. LCD-1 don’t need that much power and most of the time a dedicated headphone amplifier will be an overkill for them.

When I moved to desktop power as Benchmark HPA4, SparskoS Labs Aries, Burson Conductor 3 and xDuoo TA-30, they would get loud way too fast without going higher than 40% on low gain on most of them. If you already own a decent audio source (read: a dedicated audio source) which has a headphone socket, I’m sure that will be enough to move the LCD-1 to loud levels.

III. Bass

Being a planar headphone, LCD-1 is not shy in showing off that low-end that rumbles, punches hard and that goes really deep, even down to 20 Hz. I give a lot of importance to how low that bass can go, how layered it can be, how much time it can be maintained and most importantly how clean it is. In this regard, all open-back dynamic headphones couldn’t impress an electronica addict. If the quantity was just right, then quality would not be on the same level, or maybe its speed would not impress me. LCD-1 out of a portable DAP playing lots of old-school rave, drum & bass, techno and psytrance moved me and impressed me with its hit & run approach, it has lightning quick transients and carries lots of air with every note. Give them a bit more power and you cannot ask for more in terms of bass.

Listening to The Prodigy – Invisible Sun (The Day Is My Enemy, 2015), even from the 10 second mark I started tapping my feet and at 41 second mark the 20 Hz note was felt clean and defined going really low. LCD-1 could maintain a low intensity note and it will move it away instantly when it ends. It is clear to me that bass quantity and quality is very high and it could be compared even to pricier headphones.

The transition to mid-bass is seamless and smooth and again LCD-1 is showing off its muscles. Mid-bass is not elevated at all, as the low-end, it is very linear and straight, but really clean, defined without being overdone or muddy.

Even listening to blues as B.B. King and older jazz as Django Reinhardt, there is a very defined contra-bass (double bass) that is precise, has a very defined pluck, it goes low even touching the mid-bass area. In terms of mid-bass, it is really layered, detailed, spread-out and it’s firmly controlled.

IV. Midrange

This is an Audeze headphone, right? When you buy an Audeze headphone, you buy it for that controlled and deep bass but most importantly because of that magical midrange that infuses so much joy, that can relax you, that can make you applause at the end of a song, that will send shivers through your spine and will put a smile on your face. LCD-1 is really no different in this regard than 10 times more expensive LCD-4.

Listening to Manhattan Jazz Quartet – My Funny Valentine (1986), instantly changed my mood and my state of mind, from really focused and excited to calm and relaxed. I know this song pretty well, on LCD-1 it presents itself just a tad warmer, more involving, more relaxed. Like it’s trying to tell you to relax and feel good. Those cymbals and bells in the background have just the right amount of zing without spoiling that full-bodied midrange. Piano is difficult to make it sound right, on LCD-1 it sounded clear and defined, it went low and disappeared out of thin air.

When I listened to older but really famous The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Take Five (Time Out, 1959) jazz, unwillingly I raised that volume and closed my eyes to have a better feel. This is a reference recording (at least when it comes to jazz) that has so many things around, even tiny movements in the room can be felt. That piano and treble solo is just magical and always moves my body, I am smiling and I am toe tapping for the rest of the song. Trumpet really stands out, it grabs attention with its flow and easiness. The grain and the background noise of the older recording is still there, I can hear it loud and clean, but it is not bothering me at all. If you are a midrange addict like myself, you need to try the LCD-1, it is the best part of it.

V. Treble

LCD-1 has more than a decent treble extension. I hear those cymbals crashes clean and quite extended, snares have a pleasant kick and definition. On a fist inspection everything seems at its right spot. As with all Audeze headphones, don’t expect any kind of brightness. LCD-1 is free of any grain, harshness and pursues a relaxed performance in detriment of a super extended and linear treble. There are indeed some drops in the treble region that makes everything else pop. I will measure them soon but I presume treble deviation will be minimal (less than 10 dB).

However, thanks to a faster movement of the diaphragm, the treble always keeps up with the music, be it double drums or cymbals, those always sounded clean and outlined, with a clear leading edge and with just a right amount of zing. LCD-1 are not that tiring in the long run and can be listened for long hours. It’s kind of weird, since LCD-1 is sometimes aggressive and sometimes smooth sounding, depending on the track. But it is mostly forgiving and easy going with my music.

VI. Transient Response

I was teasing you even from the start that LCD-1 is all about speed, lightning fast transients and with a good slam in the bass. I just connected them to the Benchmark HPA4 that is being fed by the Matrix Audio Element X and I just felt a massive spike in terms of dynamics and speed. It’s like giving a cup of coffee to a squirrel and watch it go. LCD-1 started going crazy in terms of dynamics and impact to unrecognizable. If speed is your thing, then LCD-1 is impressive from the first second of pressing play. In this regard it is almost on the same level with LCD-4 and this is not a joke.

If you listen to music for few days with an LCD-1 on your head and then move to a pair of Sennheiser HD6xx family of headphones or to a Meze 99 Classics, then the first impression is that something is missing and there is something very wrong with the later ones. I always get that feeling and once I start listening more, I understand that it’s the speed of the later ones that simply cannot keep up with LCD-1. LCD-1 is almost a transient monster how I called the Erzetich Phobos and the Audeze LCD-4 when properly driven, it’s almost there.

VII. Soundstage & Depth

I will not go roses are red and violets are blue for this whole review, right? The Achilles heel of LCD-1 is the soundstage size. To me, LCD-1 presents a decent soundstage, almost on the shoulder level, music is present on all 3-axis with decent amounts of air around the listener. However, it is not a lot of air, with smaller air bubbles between each note and each instrument. LCD-1 is not sounding inside my head like how for example Grado headphones are doing, it is more like a Sennheiser HD650 type of soundstage than like a HD800 type of soundstage. It is decent enough, but not huge, open wide and spacious. LCD-1 is almost never spacious and has less empty space between the left and right channel.

In its defense, I will mention that depth is much better, it is actually one of the main strengths of all Audeze line of headphones. If you close your eyes and while listening to a good record, you can follow the trace of a single instrument, you can focus your mind on just single sound from a crowded track. While you do that, you start feeling a distance between you and that particular note and a different distance with other notes that is creating like a 3D image inside your head. LCD-1 is capable of creating this 3D image quite easily, I can feel how deep is my music and I can move freely inside it. LCD-1 is great in terms of depth and just pretty good in terms of soundstage.

VIII. Detail Retrieval

On Bulls On Parade by R.A.T.M. (Evil Empire, 1996) at the 3 minute and 2 second mark, I can clearly hear how Tom is pressing the pedal and his guitar amplifier is being engaged, it is more like a low intensity hum. While listening to Antonio Vivaldi – The Four Seasons (Chesky Records, 1993) I can clearly hear the foot movements in the room and some small chat in the background, a very clear sign that LCD-1 are capable of rendering small subtleties and nuances or micro-details as I call them. While listening to Allegro Non Molto from the same recording, I can clearly hear the inhale and exhale of the conductor, and really small details that are sending a clear signal about LCD-1 performance in terms of details. LCD-1 is indeed capable of rendering high amounts of details if you power them with a clean sounding source and amplifier.

IX. Measurements

Alright everyone, after giving my full subjective opinion, it’s time for some measurements that will reveal more about their performance. I am curios by nature and I’m looking forward to their FR, driver matching, THD, decay and waterfall. I measured them on the cleanest audio source I tried so far, the Matrix Audio Element X that was feeding the most neutral and free of any distortion - Benchmark HPA4 headphone amplifier. The measurement rig was the MiniDSP E.A.R.S. system that is not following any international standard or certification, but it is more than capable of revealing the best and the worst of any headphone.

I used mostly Original Headphone Compensation (HPN) files for this particular EARS serial number, because I feel that Compensation For Flat EQ (HEQ) files are not very representative. EARS system has big silicon ears but that wasn’t a problem for those ear-shaped ear-pads of LCD-1. Since it is a fully open-back headphone, I tested them in a sealed room and I redid all my tests more than 10 times.

Checking out their RAW frequency response shows how impressive is actually LCD-1 from sub-bass up to the lower treble region. Just a straight beautiful line across that region. Driver matching is really good, the deviation from L to R is minimal and it’s nothing to be concerned about.

Look at that impressive treble region, it is almost as good as that of LCD-4. There is a gentle slope in the 4 to 5 kHz and then in the 9 kHz that will shoo away some of that nasty brightness. Treble region is not that far off from the 84 dB signal, there is a lot of driver movement even in the upper treble which is really nice. All in all, I consider this a reference frequency response that could be compared to much pricier units.

Applying a gentle 112 smoothing doesn’t change much the FR and actually shows how good is the driver matching between both channels. The biggest deviation from linearity is in the 9 kHz area that sees a drop of about 10 dB for a short FR range which is more than decent in my book.

Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) stays at a very safe 0.16% at a loudness of 84 dB and as you can see most of the time it stays between the 0.1 and 0.2%, very impressive reading considering the price of LCD-1.

I do not see any weird driver movement in the Spectrogram, you can clearly see the hot spots in the FR and as I experienced its bass and midrange are just to die for.

As for decay, it is kind of impressive seeing LCD-1 performing as fast and nimble as LCD-4 is doing at 10 cheaper. LCD-1 has a super impressive spectral decay and all other dynamic headphones I’ve tested lately (including pricier ones) are performing worse in this regard.

As for waterfall, you can see that bass lingering just a bit more compared to the rest, normal behavior as all headphones are doing that.

Overall, I just recorded the best measurements for a headphone that costs less than $1000. It measured better than pricier Quad ERA-1, Sennheiser HD660S and better than all midrange dynamic headphones that I have tested of late. I’m mighty impressed!

X. A short Comparison

I wanted to make a comparison with Sennheiser HD660S, but since I listen to a wide variety of music, LCD-1 just impressed me a lot more. It is trouncing the HD660S on every key aspect: it has a (much) better sub-bass performance, a much better slam, impact and driver speed, a more linear and natural midrange, a better treble definition, a better depth, sounds clearer, more detailed and grain free. It also measures better and it is closer to linearity. Soundstage level is basically the same on both headphones but everything else is on a higher level with LCD-1. It is also smaller in size, lighter, more pocket friendly, more comfortable, can be folded or put flat on the table, it is coming with a small hard carry case and it is cheaper. Flawless Victory!

Conclusion

The latest addition to the Audeze premium range of headphones immediately caught my attention. It finally filled a gap in the LCD line and I can finally travel with a lightweight Audeze headphone wherever I go.

I tested a lot of headphones in the sub $500 price category that were good on something particular but not that great on everything else. In all seriousness, there is a lot to love about LCD-1 and I don’t see major shortcomings on this one. I like their looks, I like their comfort level, I’m in love with their sound and I’m very glad about that $399 price point. It’s a proper Audeze headphone that will be driven even by low powered portable devices, just be sure to fed them some nice lossless files and musical bliss with surely follow.

PROS:

  • Lightweight, small, foldable and portable
  • High comfort level
  • Proper Audeze bass with the right source
  • Amazing midrange presence that is always smooth and full-bodied
  • Extended treble response without being harsh and offensive for the listener
  • Very good depth that is creating a nice 3D pin point imaging
  • Good detail retrieval and transparency
  • Amazing transient response, among the shortest decays I measured, great slam with very high dynamics
  • Very easy to drive
  • An amazing value

CONS:

  • Soundstage size is not that big, open or wide

ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT:

  • Sources: Xiaomi Mi9T Pro, Corsair One i160
  • DACs: Matrix Audio Element X, Denafrips Venus, KECES S3, Audio-GD D-28, Burson Conductor 3 Reference
  • DAPs: FiiO M11 PRO, M15, Shanling M6
  • Headphone amps: Benchmark HPA4, SparkoS Labs Aries, Burson Conductor 3, xDuoo TA-30
  • Full-sized headphones: Audeze LCD-4, LCD-1, Erzetich Phobos, Hifiman Arya, Quad ERA-1
  • Portable headphones: Sennheiser Momentum 2, Meze 99 Classics
  • IEMs: FiiO FH7, Moondrop Starfield
  • Loudspeakers: KEF LS50W
  • Interconnects: QED Reference XLR, Aune AL3 XLR
  • Power Cables: Isotek EVO3 Premier (x2)
  • Balanced Power Conditioners: PLiXiR Elite BAC 400, KECES BP-600

Overall score 90/100

Driveability 95/100
Resolution 90/100
Dynamics 93/100
Frequency Response 93/100
Stage Size 80/100
Comfort 92/100
Build Quality 89/100
comments powered by Disqus