Pros: Excellent dynamics, instrument placement, resolution, speed and texture, easy to drive yet scales up nicely with the source and amplifier used
Cons: A bit heavy, headband foam could use some work and the clamping feels tight, especially with eyeglasses
To me the Audeze LCD-2 has a very full sound; they are the closest thing to what well-placed, full-range speakers would sound like if they were put on my head. Everything is there, with plenty of detail and perfect placement. They are extremely well-balanced, and quite agile. Hypnotic even. Also effortless, like you would expect a planar to be. The LCD-2 is both subtle and overwhelming, like attending a live symphony for the first time.
Physically, the LCD-2 is a very substantial headphone. They do feel a bit heavy at first, but their weight quickly becomes unnoticeable. By the second listen they did not seem heavy at all to me. As far as the foam padding for the headband goes, it was not as dense as I was expecting; it is a very fine type of open cell foam, and it slopes away at the ends. I think that it could be a bit denser, like a memory foam, and perhaps contoured into a more convex shape for added stability. And yes the foam could use at least a stretchy fabric cover (I did promise to nitpick in this department after all).
The LCD-2 comes in a classy wood box with a padded velvet lining, but you have to remove the substantial cable to store them in it. The cable is easy to remove and re-attach, however. As far as the cable goes, I suppose that I prefer a softer, more supple type of wire, wrapped in fabric rather than techflex. But this is both personal preference and quite correctable, much like the headband. The clamping around the ears does feel tight, especially with eyeglasses and I suppose that is my only real comfort issue; hopefully the earpads will break in a bit to alleviate this.
Back to the sound. I would say that when you first listen to the LCD-2 the one thing that stands out more than anything is that nothing stands out. No humps or divots anywhere, if that makes any sense. The highs are quite extended and offer all the detail you could want, without being fatiguing in any way. Absolutely everything is quite defined and right where it should be, placement-wise. The lows are extremely detailed and extended as well, without any of the punchiness that I have come to expect from a good headphone.
As the best headphone that I have in my collection prior to acquiring the LCD-2 is the HiFiMAN HE-5, I will be mostly using it for comparison. I remember being surprised when someone commented that the HE-5 had "one note" bass, now I understand. The HE-5 has headphone bass that goes low and punchy like a subwoofer, while the LCD-2 has a more natural, nuanced, and integrated bass presentation. The lows are all there, and they extend nicely with brilliant, realistic texture without distracting from the rest of the overall presentation.
While I really like the HE-5, the LCD-2 is a step up. I had been without the HE-5 for some time and was unable to do a direct comparison right off the bat, but I could still tell that the LCD-2 is a different beast, with a more understated overall musicality that sacrifices nothing. I would go as far as to say that the LCD-2 relegates the HE-5 into becoming a "fun" headphone; when you want to get serious, put the LCD-2 on.
The mids on the LCD-2 are all there as well and quite sweet without any added warmth; the detail is completely present without distracting from the music in any way. Everything is so well balanced on these headphones, while they cannot be called mid-centric you really know there is something special going on in the meat of the spectrum. The highs are not rolled off at all either, they are quite extended and full of exceptional detail much like on the HE-5 but are somewhat smoother to my ears. We're definitely talking minute differences here, and the HE-5 holds up very well in comparison.
You're not going to miss a thing with the LCD-2, but they do seem to focus on what is most important. I have been in a happy genre rut recently, and they seem to have taken me out of that. I am now attracted to the more diverse music in my collection than I have been for quite some time. I really enjoy throwing different things at these headphones, and they are absolutely up to the task.
The soundstage of this "headphone" (I want to call them earspeakers, the first time I have ever had that sensation) is multi-dimensional. Not noticeably wider than deeper, or vice versa but quite present. The LCD-2 offers mid-theater like proximity, without sacrificing any intimacy. They seem to reverberate without adding any resonance as well. If it wasn't for the stiffness of the new lambskin pads against my eyeglasses, I wouldn't even be aware that I was wearing headphones.
The LCD-2 is surprisingly easy to drive, as some have said it is even possible with an iPod, yet they seem quite capable of picking out any flaws in mid to high end systems as well. I am listening to them through my EF5 for now, with a Bel Canto DAC1 processing lossless music files.
After a listening session with a Woo WA22 and a balanced DAC, I have surmised that the LCD-2 is quite capable of "scaling up" in respect to the source and amplification. Soon I will be upgrading the chain with further with a re-clocking s/pdif converter into a balanced source, and I already have a much better balanced amplifier on the way. I also have the mini-XLR connectors en route for the fabrication/modification of a silver balanced cable that I have laying around that was never finished correctly. So this "review" is really a collection of initial impressions, which may well evolve in the future.
I was not blown away at first, but the LCD-2 does seem to get better and better (and better) with each listen. They seem to only want to reveal a bit about themselves at a time. It's like learning to appreciate a fine wine, or the difference that a really good cigar offers; your senses have to catch up to the added nuances. I would go as far as to say that the auditory information offered by the LCD-2 is like seeing the sun set on the water for the first time. It's hard to take it all in on the first observation, or listening session, but you are rewarded with new revelations every time you come back for another look (or listen, as it were).
A week or two after I received the LCD-2 I got my old favorites, the HE-5 back from China. They still sound fantastic to me, and I still think they are great headphones. The LCD-2 in comparison are weightier, from both a physical (putting on the HE-5 is like a breath of fresh air comfort-wise; the pads don't need any breaking in--so I can keep my glasses on while wearing them--and they are much less "hefty" than the LCD-2) and from a sound quality standpoint. Both of these headphones do everything right IMHO, but the LCD-2 keeps the bright top end while also adding some more overall weight, or body, to the sound. They also seem to provide a bit more texture.
The HE-5 in no way sounds anemic, like say an under-amped K701, but the LCD-2 is just a bit more full sounding. The only area that feels out of whack is that it seems like the HE-5 should be easier to drive than the LCD-2, since it sounds and feels lighter, but it's the other way around. The HE-5 never struck me as a physically lightweight headphone but compared to the LCD-2 they seem downright dainty. In a back-alley brawl there would be no contest.
I really was missing the HE-5 when I was without them and the replacements didn't disappoint, they sounded great right out of the box as I said earlier. So great that I had to do some real switching back and forth to be fully convinced that the LCD-2 has a little more to offer. But they do cost almost 40% more; even so the HE-5 really does hold their own against them.
My balanced tube amplifier has taken a detour for now (hopefully I will have it worked out soon), but both of these headphones sound great out of my EF5 hybrid amplifier with a Bel Canto DAC 2. This is Orthodynamic planar goodness at its finest, and I can't wait until it's my turn to demo the HE-6!