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Introduction and some thoughts on ALO Island/LCD2

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 

Greetings Head-Fi.


Not sure exactly what goes into an "Introduction" post, but I was instructed to make one after registering here, so here it goes:


I've been into Hi-Fi for at least 15 years, but have always had a loudspeaker-based setup. I've currently got 300B SET monoblocks powering high efficiency speakers in the listening room. But, I don't want to go into too much detail, it is head-fi, not speaker-fi, after all. 


I figure I should probably explain my (short) headphone history, though:


I've always just used the cans that came with the Walkman/Discman/Phone/Whatever, but after a while I decided I needed something better, so I decided to buy decent headphones for my phone (can't remember if it was an iPhone or Android or something older) and ended up getting myself a set of Shure IEMs, which I hate. I don't even know if I could find them anymore, but I still have them somewhere. They sounded OK, but  they are the kind that seal off the ear canal and that "something's stuck in my ear!" feeling was just too much. One day, as I pulled the headphones out of my ears, it left one of the rubber boots in my ear canal and I had to use a pair of needle-nose pliers to remove it. At that point I pretty much swore off in-ear headphones.


A few years later, I found myself doing business travel on a fairly consistent basis, and decided I should get some sort of circumaural noise-canceling headphones for all of those long airplane rides. I demoed the Bose QC15s in a Best Buy, and was sold after listening to their test tracks and taking the cans off only to realize that there was a big loudspeaker above my head pumping airplane engine noise right at me. I know I fell for their "trick" but they actually do very good job of isolating you from outside noise, and I'm quite happy with my Bose. They don't sound that great, but they do the noise-cancelling thing very well. I primarily use them as a telephone headset because they are comfy, have a mic, and isolate me from outside noise when I'm on conference calls and such.


But, with both of those purchases, I still never got into the whole listening to music on headphones thing. Headphones were for those instances where I couldn't have a "real" hi fi. (And for the most part, they still are.) 


Recently, I've found myself doing even more business travel. Sometimes I'll be in hotels for weeks at a time. During these times I REALLY miss my stereo. (I mean, what else am I going to do? Watch CNN?) So, I decided to go whole-hog and get myself some REAL headphones and a portable amp so I could listen to my music collection while sitting in my hotel. After a TON of research, but no real listening since it's an hour drive to the nearest "big" city and there isn't even a hi fi shop there, I decided on the Audeze LCD2s and an ALO Island DAC/Amp, which I've now had for 2 days.


So, taking all of that into consideration, you should probably take the rest of what I'm going to say with a boulder of salt. I have little experience with headphones, but do know quality sound when I hear it.


I can't really comment on the ALO Island's sound because I have nothing else to compare it with. But, it doesn't seem to do anything offensive. It has more than enough power to drive the LCD2s to volumes far above what I would ever actually listen to, even on the low gain setting. It's very small. The volume pot seems to be high-quality and I love its size, and it has no problem with any of the hi-rez tracks I have. Ergonomics-wise it's about the perfect "portable" dac/amp. It's small enough to fit in a laptop bag (or the LCD2's road case), it's got the input and output on different ends, so it's a bit like an inline volume control on the headphone cable, and it's all metal and seems rugged enough not to fall apart when traveling with it.   


The LCD2s are pretty darn amazing! In many ways they put my main rig to shame. Bass reproduction is effortless and deep. Bass is a problem for my main rig because of room interactions and because they are high efficiency with the bass rolloff starting around 40 Hz, so the LCD2s really make them seem bass shy. The midrange is very close to my main rig, and that's its strong suit, so this is definitely praise for the LCD2s. The treble is SMOOTH and detailed on the LCD2s. I'm not sure if it's better than my loudspeaker setup or not, but it is definitely different. 


In short, when it comes to fidelity I am EXTREMELY impressed with these cans. I had no idea that a set of headphones could sound this great! But, I do have one issue, and I think it's a problem with headphones in general: soundstage. I'm not sure what it is that I'm missing, but with every set of HP I've ever had, including these LCD2s it always sounds like the singer is inside my head, right between my eyes. Far left or far right panned instruments always remind me that I'm listening to headphones because they sound like they are coming from a speaker on my ear. Maybe I'm just used to speakers? On my main rig, with the speakers 15 ft in front of me, it sounds like I'm in about the 5th row of the audience. With the LCD2s it sounds like I'm on stage and the singer is sitting on my lap. But, the fact that I can pack up the headphones and amp and take them with me when I'm not at home more than makes up for my soundstage concerns. ;)


Next step is going to be to get myself a desktop amp/dac setup. Thinking of the Schiit Mjolnir/Gungnir setup at the moment because I already have a Bifrost Uber and like it quite a bit. I also just realized that with the exception of the Bose QC15s, every other piece of audio gear I have was made in the USA, so I can keep that streak alive with some Schiit. 


How was that for an introduction? I sure hope it was long enough. :D

post #2 of 3
TL; DR, here's the important part:

Welcome to head-fi, sorry about your wallet...

post #3 of 3
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by signals View Post

 with every set of HP I've ever had, including these LCD2s it always sounds like the singer is inside my head, right between my eyes.


Heh, I just realized that this might be the recording, not the equipment. I just learned that Can's "Flow Motion" and "Saw Delight" are binaural recordings, so I gave them a shot on the headphones. Wow, no "right between the ears" sound on those albums (well, at least not unless it was intended to be there.) I guess I have a lot to learn about headphones. I'll probably waste half of my free time reading Head-Fi from now on (and the other half with my eyes closed and the cans on my head.) :)


I think I'll have to see if I can check out some other binaural recordings somewhere. I'm pretty sure I just heard things coming from behind me through headphones. That's pretty incredible!


Welcome to head-fi, sorry about your wallet...


Thanks! Yeah, I suspect my wallet is about to catch fire... Oh well, good sound is worth paying for.

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