Pros: Reference level bass, fantastic midrange, much improved treble, build quality, easy to drive
I’ve owned the HD 800 for about 4 years now and I had the LCD-2 for over two years before I sold them. The LCD-2 were great, but as I improved the electronics around my headphones the HD 800 kept getting better while the LCD-2 hit the ceiling for their performance. When I heard that the LCD-X had specifically targeted the treble area for improvement my interest was piqued. The upper frequencies have always been the HD 800 strength compared to planar magnetic headphones, and I was intrigued to hear what Audeze could do there. Well, now that I’ve had the LCD-X for about a month I can say that the HD 800 are likely to see a lot less use than before.
The LCD-X is producing a kind of crispy and sharp high resolution sound in the upper mids and treble that the LCD-2 just can’t do. It’s doing this without compromising the neutral, but also forgiving character that Audeze is well known for. These don’t sound at all like the HD 800, which is obvious when you have the two side by side and switch. The LCD-X still don’t image anything like the HD 800, so it still sounds like the audio is confined between your ears and near the headphones. But the sensation of resolution and the “depth” that they’re providing makes you forget about this. It feels like you can focus on just about anything in the mix and listen to it without the other elements obscuring details. With the HD 800 you get a much larger stage in front of you with more “air” between instruments and sounds. I believe this has to do with how the HD 800 have carefully designed cups and angled drivers which sit further away from your ears than with the LCD-X. That’s where the years of R&D Sennheiser put into the HD 800 come in. There’s just nothing on the planet that sounds like the HD 800, even now that they’ve been out for many years. You’d think that by now someone would have beaten the HD 800 at their own game, but it doesn’t seem to be easy since nobody has done it.
What you get with the LCD-X is something different from the HD 800, and also a bit different from the LCD-2. The balance is largely similar to the LCD-2, but now that the treble is clearly present it’s a more fully featured package. I found the LCD-2 to be a nice diversion from the HD 800 when I wasn’t in the mood for their treble, but I always returned to the HD 800 after a week or two. The LCD-2 just weren’t good enough in the long run. With the LCD-X I feel things are different. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything when I’m listening to them. Any genre or material I throw at them sounds brilliant, and the sound is never fatiguing no matter how poorly mixed the music is. The bass is deep, hits with good impact when it’s there in the material, while the midrange has resolution that is definitely on par with the HD 800. I’d say the HD 800 still is better in the upper half of the frequency spectrum, and I’d divide it in the middle of the midrange, meaning that the LCD-X is better in the bottom half of the spectrum while the HD 800 is best in the upper half. So depending on the material I’ve heard “things I’ve never heard before” with the LCD-X in some songs, and in others I feel the HD 800 would do better. Still, the gulf between them isn’t as big between them now as it was with the LCD-2 and HD 800. The lower bass with the LCD-X is much better than with the HD 800, while the areas where it’s lagging behind aren’t so far behind that I feel like I have to switch.
One huge new feature of the LCD-X compared to other planar magnetic headphones, and high end headphones in general is how easy they are to drive. The impedance is very low at 22 ohm, and the sensitivity is higher than the LCD-2 and 3. I have three amplifiers available here, which are the HDVD 800, Asus Xonar Essence III and Objective2 built by Epiphany Acoustics. The LCD-X sounds good out of all three, but it clearly sounds best to me out of the Objective2. The HDVD 800 has a high impedance output which is designed for the HD 800, and with the LCD-X the sound becomes a bit “peaky”. It sounds like there’s some slight glare in the mids compared to the Essence III and Objective2. The slightly peaky response shifts the balance in the sound, and it obscures the lowest bass a bit. Overall it’s fine, but I’d avoid using it with the HDVA 600/HDVD 800 if you could. As for the Essence III it sounds a bit boring with it. The balance seems like it should, but it’s lacking in impact somehow. I don’t have any specs on the Essence III amp, but maybe it’s underpowered. With the Objective2 it sounds like there’s ample power to drive them properly. All the impact and detail is where I expect it to be, and with the proper linear balance. This means you can get away pretty cheap when amping the LCD-X. So while the headphones themselves are more expensive than the HD 800 for example, you do get away cheaper if you’re building a complete system. The Objective2 is perfectly adequate for you to hear them properly.
The only major problem with the LCD-X is the comfort. I can wear the HD 800 for 8 hours or more and not feel like I’ve worn them at all when I take them off. Their comfort is simply spectacular. The best I’ve experienced with any headphones at any price point. The LCD-X are simply too heavy to replicate this experience. After a couple hours you’ll start noticing them on your head. There’s no particular point on my head where it hurts or anything, but I can’t forget they’re on my head. I can’t get lost in the material I’m experiencing with them completely because of this.
Of all the high end headphones out there the LCD-X is the easiest for me to recommend. It sounds brilliant with any material you throw at them, and they’re easy to drive. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone being disappointed with them, unless you’ve already got a whole bunch of high end headphones sitting around. They don’t elevate headphone audio to the next level or anything. What they do is deliver it in the most balanced and cohesive way I’ve heard, without any glaring problems at all in the sound. The LCD-2 were close to this ideal, but their treble wasn't good enough, especially not in the r1 version. The LCD-X fix this and give you proper full range sound. There’s still room for improvement here, but I still feel like it’s a meaningful step toward the perfect reference headphone. It’s great.