I've previously reviewed the LCD-3 when paired with the HeadRoom Triple-Stack Balanced Ultra Desktop Package: (BUDA/UDAC/DPS).
This combo is a very impressive combo, especially for the price and small footprint. It sounds AMAZING! But I've always wondered what the LCD-3 would do with a bit more power.
Enters the The DarkStar by Ray Samuels Audio
I've searched and searched for a good DAC to pair with the DarkStar and settled on the Antelope Zodiac DAC.
- Kit 1:
- RSA Dark Star Headphone Amplifier
- Antelope Zodiac Silver + Voltikus PSU
- Cerius Ceramic Balanced Interconnect
- Audio Grade USB/Optical Cables
- Audio Grade Power Cables
- Kit 2:
- HeadRoom Balanced Ultra Desktop Amp
- HeadRoom Balanced Ultra Desktop DAC
- HeadRoom Desktop Power Supply
- DiMarzio XLR Balanced Interconnects (1.5ft)
- Audio Grade USB/Optical Cables
- Audio Grade Power Cables
- Audeze LCD-3 (With CablePro Reverie Audeze LCD-2 Balanced Cable)
- Denon AH-D7000 (With Cardas Fat Pipe Balanced Cable)
- Xfi Titanium HD
- Buttkicker Gamer
- Listening Preference & Test Movies:
All tests were done using BitPerfect WASAPI for Music and Movies, Games just used BitPerfect.
XBMC for Movies, Winamp/Foobar for Music.
- Rock, Punk, Metal, Dubstep, Techno
- Transformers, Thor, Iron Man (All TrudeHD/HDMA Quality)
3) Build Quality:
- DarkStar :
The RSA DarkStar has very excellent build quality, the PSU is pretty heavy, you have the gold trimmings all around, and very solidly built. Stepped volume attenuator feels solid, and overall very impressive. This amp seems to be built like a tank, and looks really good as well.
- Zodiac :
The build quality of the zodiac is also good, though not as impressive as the DarkStar. The silver model does not have a stepped volume attenuator, but still very good.
4) Sound Quality:
Before I go on to talk about the sonic performance of the DarkStar/Zodiac combo with the LCD-3 I have to mention that that DarkStar/Zodiac pairs very well together. I've tried combing gear I have and did all my tests with each combination.
HeadRoom Buda + Zodiac, DarkStart+HR UDAC, I've even mixed and matched interconnects etc.
In the end, the headroom products did not pair well at all with the DarkStart or Zodiac.
When the HR Udac was combined with the DarkStar, everything sounded thin and underpowered regardless of what Gain I used. When I paired the Zodiac with the HR Buda, things sounded harsh and grainy.
The BUDA/UDAC combo has a special synergy that extrudes with Gobs of sonic performance. Rich creamy bass, buttery smooth mids, and excellent highs.
The DarkStar/Zodiac combo pairs very well and seem to complement each other in a way similar to the HeadRoom products albeit not as synergized. Together the DarkStar/Zodiac combo sounds very detailed, and VERY powerful. The bass with this combo adds a notch or 2 of refinement not found on the UltraStack, and is much more clean and powerful. At first blush the UltraStack seems to extract more bass from the LCD-3, but with prolonged listening on the DarkStar Zodiac I've found bass detail in notes that were not there before, and the UltraStack sounds a bit muddy in comparison. Its noticed most in complicated bass pieces, or large explosions in movies. The UltraStack is by no means a slouch, but the DarkStar/Zodiac combo just has an air of refinement, cleanness and quality that sets it above the UltraStack.
In the treble department, the DarkStar/Zodiac wins hands down. As the level of detail, and refinement is a cut above the UltraStack. Some may find it clinical, as the ultrastack does have a bit smoother sound, But the DarkStar/Zodiac is more accurate and vocals are clear and precise. Female vocals shine on this combo. The DarkStar/Zodiac is by no means harsh. The upper end detail and clarity is there, but you still have a fun engaging sound.
The mids with the DarkStar/Zodiac shine as well, and I'm able to hear notes in the music I was not able to hear on the UltraStack.
All in all, both combos are excellent, and both pair extremely well with the LCD-3.
If you're looking for a fun, engaging, energetic, bassy listening experience, then the UltraStack LCD-3 is an excellent choice, and I highly recommend this combo for anyone interested.
If you have a bit more cash to spare, there is more that can be extracted from the LCD-3 when paired with the DarkStar/Zodiac combo. The DarkStar costs $3500 before shipping, and the Zodiac Silver costs $2,890.00 (I got it for $2,290.00 on Christmas sale), so together this combo costs $6400 ($5800 with discounts). The UltraStack can be had for $3000. Is the extra benefits gained from the DarkStar/Zodiac worth an additional $3000?
If you're looking for the very best you can hear out of the LCD-3 then the answer is yes.
But if you're content with a Extremely Enjoyable and Engaging experience, that's a close 2nd, then the answer is definitely no. The UltraStack + LCD-3 is a steal at the price, and I wont recommend going up further than that unless you really want that last 5-10% of sonic performance.
I'd also like to mention a component that I've added to my rig probably 2 years back. The ButterKicker Gamer. Its excellent for headphone listeners, and adds that missing thump you'd get from speaker/subwoofer setups. Highly recommended piece of gear for headphone listeners, and at around $100, it’s a pretty cheap upgrade to anyone interested in high end headphone audio.
If I had to do it all over again, id probably stick with the UltraStack, but now that I've owned the DarkStar/Zodiac for a couple months, there is no going back.
So I'll be selling the UltraStack paired with the Denon D7000 soon, which also pairs wonderfully with this combo. The UltraStack compliments the Denon Signature extremely well, and makes for a nice punchy, energetic listening experience with more bass than I've heard from any headphones I've owned until the LCD-3. So look out for a sale posting on Head-Fi Soon. The D7000 is tricked out with the Jmoney Leather EarPads and the Byerdynamic leather headband. Both wonderful upgrades for this excellent sounding headphones.
So in closing, the LCD-3 is an awesome headphones, the best I've heard, and once fed with a nice powerful kit, its just…...hard to describe in words…..The DarkStar Zodiac though expensive and not for everyone, is an excellent combo. With a superb refinement throughout the entirety of the audio spectrum, and tons and tons of clean power to drive pretty much any headphones. It was a fun journey to this point of insane price/audio performance. And I think I've finally settled on a Kit that has no discernible shortcomings to my ears. The DarkStar Zodiac LC3 is Perfect. (But like all crazy headfiers, I'm sure at some point in the future ill find some irrational justification to get the lcd4, with some insane tube amp or something lol.)
Alright guys, that's it for now, hope you enjoyed the small review. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to speak up :)
Edited by matthewhypolite - 4/2/12 at 6:43pm