Pros: Great sound, musically engaging, higher efficiency, stunning resolution, sounds open at times, sonically addictive
Cons: Sorry, don't really have anything to complain about. They could be lighter and smaller! Or can they?
The Audeze LCD-XC has, again, redefined what's possible for me in a headphone, in terms of sonic integrity and musical engagement. In this case I'm talking about music playback through closed cans. My favorite way to experience music via headphones is through open-back designs. They've always been more immediately able to transcend my thoughts about a band on my head and drivers hugging my ears when trying to lose myself in the music. Perhaps I never considered the notion of using closed headphones for anything more than DJing or gettin' on the road because that's what they always were to me: Utilitarian. But Mr. Speakers Mad Dogs changed all that for me, then the Alpha Dogs, and now the LCD-XC from Audeze.
The experiences I've had (and am having as I type these words) with this headphone obligates me to say forget about the senseless "subjectivists" vs. objectivists" debate for a few moments if you can. Ultimately, we're all reacting to music playback. Nobody can argue over whether music is an art form right? Well, we're chasing the music and the sound we love through technology that's also an art form! So all of this is in the ear of the beholder. It doesn't phase me if somebody dismisses this as poetic musings and hyperbole. God, I'm so sick of seeing that word tossed around insulting people trying to express themselves. But it's products like this that help me forget about bit-rates and sample-rates, async and Direct Stream Digital. Sure, I'm pretty certain Audeze's engineering leap with their Fazor technology is responsible for much of the magic I hear in the XC. I've been living with their LCD-3 as my top reference (next to my HD800's) headphone since its release, so I have little doubt that Audeze's technological advancements have rendered a new reference for me. The music through the cans transcends the numbers for me. Now you can do with that what you will, but as much as I love to geek out, I really don't care how I achieve happiness when it comes to hearing my music the way I love it through my cans! That said: I believe it's important to shine the light on two techy aspects of these new closed headphones from Audeze that helped seal the deal for me. Firstly, their increased sound-staging capabilities. The one thing I've always longed for in my LCD-3's was that out-of-you-head soundstage projection of my Sennheiser HD800's. That incredible sense of being surrounded when the sound-field exists far beyond my head. The experience can be akin to listening to loudspeakers in a room. That presence is captivating to hear, and it feels more natural, as that feels closer to experiencing live performances
The LCD-X and XC, thanks to Audeze's newly developed Fazor technology, throws a much deeper and wider soundstage. While listening to atmospheric album's like The-Drum's Contact, Brian Eno's LUX, Radiohead's Kid A and Shlohmo's Bad Vibes the sound is enveloping and open with window-like transparency and holographic imaging. I get so transfixed when I play some of my favorite ambient records through my best tube rigs (ALO Studio Six & E.A.R HP4) and the XC's, it's just like listening to my two-channel in-room system when I close my eyes! I can't wait to hear these on the Cavalli Liquid Gold tube amp! The other new techy change in the XC's is their efficiency. This is pure joy for me. I was always impressed with how well the lil' HRT microStreamer could drive my LCD-3's - but there wasn't much headroom. And as my good friend and fellow Audio360.org scribe @warrenpchi says: "Mercer likes headroom." "That's just how he rolls." Sorry if that sounded like I was talking in the third-person there for a second - but I do like headroom! Less possibility for noise if you don't have to push your amplifier so hard. Now, when I rock the XC's on the microStreamer I barely have to push the amp and the sonic pairing is glorious. I've also enjoyed listening to lots of acoustic recordings with the XC's, specifically singer/songwriter stuff. I love the spaciousness in a bare bones singer/songwriter recording. One of my favorite artists who sits in that genre is Ani DiFranco. I've seen her a few times, and she's never disappointed live. Her albums usually sound great too, as she's into Hi-fi. So I'm sure her reference system kicks serious a__ . I don't know what it is now - but she used to rock Maggies. "Hearse", off her 2012 back-to-folky-roots masterpiece Which Side Are You On? has become one of our songs: My wifey Alexandra and I. It's a powerful and beautiful love song. It encapsulates our love for each other perfectly, with lyrics like "I will always be your lover, even after our atoms have dispersed" and a gorgeous and poetic chorus "and I will follow you into the next life, like a dog chasing after a hearse" - simple, and poignant. When Alex and I play that on our in-room system we just get all choked up and sappy. Well, the same thing happens when I listen to it through a solid source and the LCD-XC's, which is something I probably shouldn't admit here - but I'm listening to XC's as I type this, and the music gets my blood pumpin' when I experience it through em. I feel charged. I get the same feeling when listening to experimental electronic music, which is probably what I listen to most these days. Though my playback is always varied, I've definitely been leaning towards that sound lately. The XC's bring dynamics galore when I'm rockin' Alix Perez's Chroma Chords, Burial's newly released Rival Dealer EP (man it's great) and his first two albums. James Blake's "Limit to Your Love" on the limited 45rpm 9" is lush, airy and delivers wicked sub-bass. That deep warbly Roland TB-303 bassline drips out with abandon, and the XC's handle it with grace and precision.
The better efficiency of the XC's enticed me to try the headphones on a number of amps and DAPs, from the battery-powered ALO International, Pan Am, and Island, to the also battery-powered (AC-powered in my case for this eval) CEntrance HiFi-M8, Audioquest Dragonfly (if you're gonna spend your whole budget on these cans - that lil' beauty can be had for $99 right now), Audioengine D3, MYTEK Stereo-192 DSD DAC/headphone amp, and my Oppo BDP-105. My sources ranged from my iPhone 4S to my Astell & Kern AK120, MacBook Pro/Amarra, and various DAP/DAC/Amp configurations, like my iPod Classic & CEntrance HiFi-M8, Astell & Kern AK100 & ALO International, ALO Island, and iPod Touch & Sony PHA-1: My favorite combo with the XC's, next to the iPod Classic & CEntrance HiFi-M8. So I put them through alot of rigs. After all, being labeled a "Audeze Jihadist" by a commenter on another audio site, I had to be sure I really loved em this much to preach the Audeze gospel (and if you believe that I gotta bridge to sell ya). As I stated in my Writers Choice Awards for Positive Feedback - where I gave the LCD-X and XC awards this year: Since when did brand loyalty in an audio writer become a bad thing? When Audeze builds a product I don't like I'll let ya know. In the meantime, I'm having a blast listening to these cans, and when all the BS has faded away, and you're alone with your music and your gear, isn't that what this all boils down to? I've taken trips with these already, and when I sat down to listen in my hotel room it was as if I brought a high end stereo system with me, but I didn't disturb anybody! Admittedly, that's something I never envisioned caring about years ago when it came to my Hi-fi, but life calls for those situations these days! The XC, especially when accompanied by a capable source, defies every assumption I made about the sonic capabilities and claustrophobic aspect of closed-back headphones. They sound wide open, are dynamically engaging, and damn addictive. Wait a minute, you sure these are closed?
Lookin' for the edge of the audio arts in closed-back headphones?
Check out the Audeze LCD-XC.