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Over-Ear item created by Kabeer, May 6, 2010
Pros - Natural 3D rendering of the performance and the performers. deep detailed bass.
Cons - Not extremely comfortable to wear, at least initially
Immediately, when I put the Audeze LCD-2 on my head, I wasn't floored by the sound. Rather, as my head felt squeezed by a tight clamping force, I was wondering where all the excessive air had gone, that I was used to from the LCD-1. I also missed the pleasantly colored mids of my Yamaha orthodynamic headphone (that I had just sold). But, the LCD-2 have been growing on me for the last week, and the clamp has been softened up, while the pads have gotten more comfy. (To be honest, the initial clamping force is no worse than the terrible clamp of a new Sennheiser HD580)
So, during my time off during the week, I have been enjoying some of my favorite music, on two setups, that are probably unworthy of the LCD-2.
Setup 1: Old Pioneer CD player -> MF XcanV3 hybrid tube headphone amplifier with pinkie psu
Setup 2: Arcam CD73 player -> Old Pioneer A-449 Power amplifier.
Initially, I thought the best thing about the LCD-2 was the deep, yet detailed bass. It was also the most striking difference coming the LCD-2, and the Sennheiser HD580.
But the best part of the LCD-2 to me is how each instrument sounds so natural, and is presented in its own place, in a 3D space. Each instrument and performer can be heard clearly, and yet the music is a whole performance. It is a distinct image, that does not call undue attention to itself. It's unlike the HD800, where at first listen I thought, wow, those instruments and people are far apart on a wide stage.
Listening to the F*** Buttons - Bright tomorrow, the deep bass track, like heart beats, is heard clearly despite being placed in the same spot, in the middle, as the melodic noise track. The HD580 in contrast, could not convey the deep bass sufficiently, making the song unengaging. The same goes for Luomo - the present lover, which needs the deep bass drums to balance the soft song and bright instruments.
However, listening to an old time favorite of mine, Infinity, by Guru Josh, I noticed that some ambient sounds were lower in volume than I was used to. I am honestly not sure wether the sounds were amplified by the LCD1, or if they are held back by the LCD2 (or by the gear I use with it).
I also found the LCD2 to be almost unlistenable when I routed the headphone out of a mac laptop through the xcan. The flaws of the soundcard just ruined the experience like with no other can I have tried, except maybe the old Toshiba HR-X1 electret I used to have.
To sum up, I am really enjoying my music through the LCD-2, even on my more modest setup compared to what some other people here have.
Pros - Astonishingly good sound - among the very, very best
Cons - Comfort is only fair
Wow – another contender in the high-end headphone market! Amazing. I was pretty excited about the emergence of some planar magnetic headphones when I first heard about these and the HifiMan HE-5. I was a Magneplanar speaker guy for many years – until my kids were born. Loved them. Sadly, they were too big a target for the kids, and so they got sold. But I was very excited about being able to get some planar sound in headphones! So excited that I rushed to pay just shy of $1,000 for the privilege…
They are very beautifully made, and ship in a beautiful wood box:
Sources used for this review: VPI Scoutmaster with Benz LP-S > Eddie Current Transcription phono amp, Audio By VanAlstine Fet-Valve Ultra-Dac (from Denon DVD-5900 or iPod and Wadia i170 serving as transports, and Assemblage jitter filter/re-clocking device); Red Wine Audio iMod iPod with ALO VCap dock.
Some observations about the LCD-2 though in terms of their ergonomics/design:
1. They are very attractive
2. They are pretty big
3. They do seem to clamp quite fiercely
4. The leather earpads are awesome
5. The headband though - just a piece of open-cell foam glued to the metal? In a $1,000 headphone? That is absurd. It's comfortable, but there is no way that uncovered open-cell foam will last a year. It's such a pity to mar the beautiful looks with the crummy open-cell foam. Wrap it in some leather, Audez'e! C'Mon! I would much rather have a leather headband and a cardboard box than the beautiful wood box they included. I'm already trying to figure out how I will fix this. Some leather, some snaps, and some trial and error...
Anyway, after some stretching and some adjustments, the LCD-2 are no longer uncomfortable. I would call them "comfortable", but not “very comfortable”, really, but at least they aren't actually UNcomfortable anymore. I can wear them for quite a long while without issue. But they set no benchmarks in this regard.
Another ergonomic issue - I cannot turn my head from side to side wearing these very easily, due to the stiffness of the cable combined with the length of the connector.
Amping the Beast
Well, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that with the Leben CS300X, the LCD-2 is absolutely astonishing. The Leben with the LCD-2 provides a level of sound quality I have not personally experienced before from headphones. I've spent many late hours just excitedly going from track to test track. All of them have been a treat. It really has to be heard to be believed.
Now the bad news - the LCD-2 exhibit, to some degree, a slightly rolled off treble with all of my OTL tube amps. I actually first thought the LCD-2 had a rolled off treble. It doesn't. But when used with OTL tube amps that have an output impedance higher than the LCD-2’s impedance, the treble is rolled off. With the transformer-coupled Leben - no roll off at all. Just open, clean, super-transparent and super-smooth. And I mean WIDE open sounding. Great detail without any etch or force. And the soundstage is astonishing.
Vexed a little by this, I spent some time with the LCD-2 on the Meier Concerto. It has plenty of juice to drive them for sure, and no treble roll off for sure (got to love that 0.1 ohm output impedance). The Concerto and the LCD-2 are a good pairing. The sound is very nearly as good as I described above with the Leben - not quite, as the Leben is the better amp IMO, but for the money, the Concerto is excellent, and the sound from the LCD-2 via the Concerto is open, transparent, and extended as it was on the Leben. The soundstaging is also excellent on the Concerto, although here again I think the Leben has a slight edge.
But not so much on either the Decware CSP-2 or my modded Singlepower Extreme. The LCD-2 sound very good on those amps, but not as good as they are capable of sounding. With the Leben - they are just amazing. The roll-off with the CSP-2 isn't as noticeable as I originally thought. Once I had a lot of time to spend with them, and I was able to try a bunch of different things, I ended up feeling that the LCD-2 are best with the Leben, and second best with the SS Meier Concerto, but the CSP-2 does a pretty good job, really. And just for grins I tried them with the J Sound Lab Headphone, which, while pretty cheap, is transformer coupled, and actually sounded pretty good with the LCD-2 at reasonable levels. The only amp that I have that will not work at all with the LCD-2 is the RSA Stealth, which just distorts at even moderate levels - which I found very surprising, as it did very well with the 70 ohm DX1000. But it is what it is.
So in sum on amps, the Singlepower Extreme and the Decware CSP-2 had enough power for the LCD-2, but with slightly rolled off highs (and probably some other slight frequency response aberrations due to the impedance mismatch that were just less obvious). Just to be clear, all of these amps drive the Beyerdynamic T1 very, very well. But they did a less good job with the LCD-2. Strong solid-state or a high-quality transformer-coupled tube amp will be needed, or an OTL tube amp that has been designed with a very low output impedance (of which I am not aware of very many...) to get the best of what the LCD-2 can offer. The sound with the Decware CSP-2 was plenty good, really – just not what the LCD-2 are ultimately capable of, and if you’re going to pay almost $1,000 for a headphone…you want to get the most out of them.
What's fascinating about the LCD-2 is that it actually requires less volume from my CSP-2 than the HE-5LE does. The LCD-2 also requires more volume from the CSP-2 than the T1, but this does not surprise me. And I was also a little surprised that the LCD-2 brought the Stealth completely to its knees, even though I know that it isn't meant for super-low impedance cans. I need to try my impedance-matching transformer and see what that does.
Quirky beast the LCD-2. Pickiest headphone about amplification I have had. I don't want to overplay this - the LCD-2 still sound good with the SP Extreme and the Decware CSP-2 - just not as good as they can sound. But given that they did not work at all with the Stealth, they will not be a "buy them and use them with whatever amp you own" kind of headphone. Paired with the right amp, though, the sound is remarkably natural and lifelike - very impressively so. So be warned - amp matching will be critical.
I listened several nights WAAAAAY past my bedtime - that combo, the LCD-2 and the Leben was just amazing me - the soundstage especially was the best I ever recall hearing. I wish I had the HD800 to compare - I have a feeling the soundstaging capability of the LCD-2 is even better than the HD800, which formerly is the best I have ever heard. The LCD-2 as heard through the Leben puts a truly holographic soundscape out a little in front of the listener with a depth and width I do not recall getting before, and in an unbelievable natural way. The delicacy of the treble on the LCD-2 is something special too. It has a purity, nuance, and articulate combined with a complete lack of fatigue or etch. It’s pretty special in this regard.
I can say, however, that some people will not like the treble balance. I think it is absolutely spot on, neither soft nor bright, but for people who like their treble W5000-style, the LCD-2 will not play. I, on the other hand, do not like to have the highs forced on me, and so I am like the balance on top. In fact, it's very hard for me to understand how some people who were HD800 fans like the LCD-2 so much. It's definitely a different tonal balance from that. Super-smooth, lots of detail, and ultra-natural sounding, with great transparency. But not at all fatiguing or hyper-analytical. Very subtle instruments, like the triangle strikes in Carbon Leaf’s “Let Your Troubles Roll By” were very easy to hear without being overly emphasized in a way that I felt the HD800 presented that sort of thing. Effortless, and natural – I kept thinking this.
There is something to the planar treble that seems to lack a grain that all dynamics have, even if you don’t realize it’s there. I had thought the Beyerdynamic T1 wad a completely grain-free treble. And while it is indeed very transparent, the LCD-2 is even cleaner and more pure than the T1. The T1 does have a treble balance most similar to the LCD-2 of all my dynamics – but the LCD-2 is slightly more refined and detailed, while being slightly smoother too. A neat trick!
Down low, things are equally as impressive. The bass on the LCD-2 (again via the Concerto and/or the Leben) is really quite something. It doesn't call attention to itself until required by the recording, but then it is reproduced full measure. No lack of texture or definition, either - outstanding performance in that regard, in fact. The bass notes in Goldfrapp’s “Koko” from “Supernature” were powerful, but had great nuance and texture.
I decided to test the bass response of the LCD-2. I tested both the LCD-2 and the Ed 8, using the Stereophile test CD 3, and my SPL meter, set for "C" weighting, which accounts for the Fletcher-Munson roll-off. The LCD-2 was shockingly flat to 25 Hz - measuring right around 72dBC from 200-25 Hz - only the 20Hz tone was rolled off, and even there by only about 4 dB. I could not HEAR 20 Hz from these headphones, but I don't think people can really hear 20 Hz via headphones, because you really feel 20Hz more than hear it, and headphones don't really allow for this. I could hear the 25 Hz tone very clearly from the LCD-2.
By way of comparison, the Ed 8 I felt like I could actually hear 20 Hz a little more, but it might have just been doubling. It measured a little less flat, but still +/- 4 db from 200-20 Hz. Note that I made no attempt here to measure the relative bass levels between the LCD-2 and Ed 8 – I was just measuring the two for bass extension and smoothness.
Here again, however, some people will find the bass from the LCD-2 to be too much. It absolutely does not color the rest of the spectrum, but I have been around head-fi long enough to know there is a large faction that thinks that accurate bass is a lot less bass than I personally think is natural. This is an age-old argument – which part of the hall do you like? The W5000 is front-of-hall – bright treble and very restrained bass. The HD800 is mid-front. The T1 and the LCD-2 are mid-hall. The JVC DX1000 is mid-back. You pays your money and you takes your choice. I’m a mid-hall kind of guy, I guess. But if you think the W5000 have an ideal bass balance, the LCD-2 will not be for you.
And then there is the midrange. It’s just as natural as you could possibly hope for. Again, ahead of my rather esteemed pack of headphones – T1, Edition 8, D7000, DX1000, W1000X – better than all of these, for sure. Amazing transparency, and an almost fascinating degree of naturalness – this was really kind of a revelation, because I didn’t just respect the mids – I loved them – and yet there was no coloration there I could detect at all. The Beyer T1 sounds a tiny bit artificially ripe in comparison, but not in a way that means the LCD-2’s mids are in any way thin – far from it. The T1 are terrific in the mids – but the LCD-2 are slightly better. Female vocals were really wonderful – I was shocked when listening to Nightwish’s “Ocean Soul” – it was almost as if I’d never heard the song correctly played back before. Mary Black’s cover of Richard Thompson’s “I Misunderstood” from her “Shine” record was also enthralling for it’s incredibly unforced, natural presentation.
And oh, the soundstage. So deep, so wide, and so well defined – and not only between the ears, but out in front of the head. No question the best of any of the headphones I have. Perhaps the HD800 is as good or better – since I no longer have them I don’t feel I can accurately say. But the imaging qualities of the LCD-2 are terrific. For someone who really values a holographic soundstage highly, the LCD-2 are sure to please. Listening to some live Alison Krauss was enthralling – it felt so much like the performance was really going on it was a little spooky. This effect was more noticeable with the Leben than the Meier, but it was definitely there with both.
Compared to the HE-5LE, I can confirm that the LCD-2 require less juice from my amps than the HE-5LE do. The HE-5LE do not seem to have the same issue with being rolled off in the treble by my OTL amps, though. As much as I like the HE-5LE, with the right amp, the LCD-2 is a significant step above the HE-5LE in terms of performance (although not ergonomics - I find the HE-5LE to be more comfortable). The HE-5LE are excellent. The LCD-2, talking just about sonics, are superlative. I think the HE-5LE provide a huge taste of planar goodness for a relatively affordable price, and they are highly competitive in their price range. But the LCD-2 are more neutral, more transparent, and more nuanced. That isn’t an indictment of the HE-5LE as much as praise for the LCD-2.
The LCD-2 versus the Beyer T1 is more interesting. The T1 is outstanding IMO. It is also infinitely more comfortable than the LCD-2, again IMO of course (like this whole review!). And the overall spectral balance is somewhat similar. The T1 seems a little lush in comparison, and somehow just slightly less immediate. As mentioned above, it’s also just slightly less transparent. Being 600 ohm, it will mate better with some amps than the LCD-2, and as such, will be a better choice in some systems, and it’s close enough in performance that I wouldn’t toss a T1/high-end amp combo that sounds great in favor of trying the LCD-2. But if you have a great solid-state or transformer-coupled tube amp, then the LCD-2 might synergize better than the T1 – perhaps.
I would rate them for sound: LCD-2 > T1 > HE-5LE - but they are all truly excellent sounding
I would rate them for comfort: T1 > HE-5LE > LCD-2 - the T1 and HE-5LE being very comfortable, and the LCD-2 being just fair (but after some break in no longer truly UNcomfortable).
So what are the LCD-2? A fairly expensive, high-end headphone that offers absolutely world-class sonics, is picky about the pairing amp, looks beautiful, and is only somewhat comfortable. So where does that leave them? I will certainly be keeping the pair I bought. But it’s not a no brainer to plunk down a kilobuck when there are a few gotchas. I suggest trying to find a way to hear a pair – but also to have them on your head for a while, if possible. And you’ll need to read a lot of opinions here on head-fi about what amps will work well. But given these caveats – the LCD-2 is pretty impressive. It has delivered some true musical magic for me.
Pros - Beautiful Design, Velvet top end, tight full bass. Mids to die for.
Cons - There Are None!
I have been reading these forums for over a year now. I feel like I should give back. They have helped me quite a lot. I thank Ken Ball for steering me here. He has been my guru on this quest for digital/personal/audio heaven.
I record and make music for a living. I love great sounding records. There is nothing more frustrating than listening to a great sounding record on a wretched sounding rig. You know it sounds good. It sounded good on your CD player in your car? Ugh. The iPod has been a savior and a demon in one swoop.
The search begins. A lot of you came here looking for it. I imagine a lot of you have been Hi-Fi fanatics since you can remember. This is all a set up just tell you my impressions of the LCD-2's...
It took me years to get to my Ultrasone Edition 8's & my HD800's. I won't go into my rant on the 800's but if you read the reviews you will see why people love or wish they could love them. I think they are a lot of work to listen to. The high end wears me out. The Edition 8's are excellent. They are great when I am flying because they offer some isolation.
For reference I have a AOL RX & The SR71-a. 240gb mod. The cabling is all Ken Ball at ALO Audio.
Ken owns a pair of the LCD-2's and sent them to me for a night to put them up against my cans and The T1 as well.
I pulled the LCD-2's out of the box and grinned ear to ear. Ok these are the coolest retro, vintage, steam punk, DIY Mad Max phones I had ever seen. Like something my Dad would have had in '71 sitting next to his new cassette player. I told Ken in an email. Looks do matter. If we are going to walk around with these big clunky things on our heads we want to look as cool as possible. Ok, that's a small part of it but I bring it up because I pulled the T1's out right after it and was really underwhelmed.
I am a portable guy. I travel constantly. I like to have a lot of different music to listen to & I want it to sound as good as humanly possible.
I plugged the LCD-2's in and I was blown away. Out of the box, the first time ever I just listened to the music. I did not have my attention on the top end or were they bass shy? No, just no. They sounded great!
I listened to the Robert Plant & Allison Krauss record. Warm, lush, defined. I was in it. I felt like I was there in the room with the musicians. I listened to records I had produced. Nothing jumped out at me like so many times before. I seem to always have issues with EQ or the stereo field. Not so here. These phones love electric guitars & vocals. This is where so many phones fail. I went on to listen to Classical, Jazz, World, House you name it. It was all ear candy.
I know this is not a technical review. I will leave that to to the guys who can better explain it. This is for the guys that are turning up to find a way to get those files on their little devices to sound better. Do yourself a favor, do your homework. Get the best that you can get. No scratch that go one more than that. You will save in the long run. I have a drawer of road kill. Pre amps, cables & headphones.
I could say get this amp, get that cable. (Ok, go to ALO & look at Ken's cables) Everyone has different preferences. I bet it will be hard to find people who once have heard these headphones can't all agree that they are some of the best ones out there. For my money the buck stops here.
Funny thing is I don't even own a pair yet but it is not for lack of trying. I am bugging everyone. I want no scratch that I need these headphones.
If you are in the music business I think this is the perfect reference headphone. I think these days a bigger majority of people listen to music on headphones. The people in the business have to start mastering & mixing things with that in mind. Walk down the street. Most the kids you see have a pair of white ear buds sticking out of their head Times have changed. For us bigger kids we have gone past the funky ear bud. We are on to bigger and better things and so are Audez'e.
Line up everyone. These guys are on to something.
I have to amend this review. By some Miracle Alex got me a pair. I had to send Ken's back but here I am right now listening to my own pair. The customer service alone is worth the price. These cans are every bit as good as the ones I had borrowed. Actually better. They are mine all mine.The pair I was sent was a lot lighter than Ken's for whatever reason. So I amend this review they are not heavy in fact quite comfortable. Also I bought ken's modified cable for these and it is genius. Really to my liking. It is a bit more open than the stock cable. Excellent!
Pros - Tonal balance, low level listening, resolution, low distortion, Bass, godlike midrange
Cons - Need to save up..or rob a bank
Caveat I am an unabashed fan of orthodynamic headphones. Have been a dedicated orthohead for over two years now. All thanks to dBel84 for introducing me to some home made SFI driver based headphones at a meet. The Orthodynamic thread soon became a sanctuary and the folks who take part in the thread very close friends. We are dedicated group who share a passion for planar driven headphones and in our ideal world planar headphones would take back their rightful place at the head of the pack in audiophile headphone listening.
I have heard the best that the dynamic and electrostat headphones have to offer in the form of the HD800, T1 (not enough listening time however), PS-1000, Koss ESP950, Stax O2, lambda, SR-404 and they have all fallen short of what orthos can do.
Sonic frontiers TransDAC heavily modded
Assemblage DAC 2.7 heavily modded
Reference headphone - Smeggy built Fostex T50RP woodies aka "Thunderpants"
Music With my review playlist at the ready I sat down to put the LCD-2 through its paces. I listen to every kind of music in nearly every type of digital format. My playlist reflected this. I wanted to see how the LCD-2 would perform in an everyday situation for me rather than just running through some reference discs. Genres from Indie rock to Southern rock, Country and folk to hardrock and metal, from jazz to pop, with western classical and Indian Classical rounding up the list. Their formats ranged from Mp3s, FLAC to XRCDs and DTS-HD Master Audio recordings were.
Initial Impressions When Don informed me that he had the newest Audeze LCD-2 in his possession and invited me over to a listen, I jumped at the opportunity. Being a planar fan through and through I was excited to see what progress Audez'e had made over the promising LCD-1 that I had owned. With Portland's very own M Ward's - Post war at the ready I arrived at his place. As Don brought out the headphones, my jaw dropped at the gorgeous headphones he held in his hand. With the limited time at hand, after ogling at the LCD-2s build quality he set me down with his system with a cup of coffee in hand and left me to run it through its paces. I sat mesmerized for a full 40 minutes listening nearly to the entire album. When I was done all I could remark to Don was, "wow, that is something else". Yes I was a bit at a loss for words unlike today writing this review. I had one of the best vintage orthos tuned by dBel84 and a pair of the Fostex T50RP woody thunderpants. I ran a few tracks again going back and forth between the headphones and came away with the conclusion the LCD-2 was clearly the better headphone. All from within 40 mins of listening to it. I did find a few 'faults' at first with the LCD-2. I commented that I felt the bottom end was a bit flabby and that the high frequencies weren't hot enough to my tastes. But overall the headphones were the first ones that sounded ultra refined with oodles of detail and yet remained musical to me. I thanked Don for the opportunity and reluctantly left.
A couple of days later kwkarth agreed to come over to my place with his review pair of the LCD-2s so I could listen to them on my rig. We spent well over an hour running through some reference material. We also got around to trying the LCD-2 out of a portable amp with an Ipod as a source. The ALO Rx amplifier + Ipod combo did a commendable job here and confirmed to me that the LCD-2s could after all be driven comfortably with a portable amp such as the ALO Rx. This is good news to those who plan on using these headphones on the go as well. The audition was still too hurried to form any compelling impressions and I persuaded Audez'e to let me borrow the LCD-2 from dBel84s for a few days. Much to my delight they agreed.
Build Quality: Soon as I got home, i gingerly brought out the headphones. Like a voluptuous woman pining for some love, the LCD-2 screamed at my hungry eyes for attention, to reach and caress her curves. I admit, I did. The headband foam was nice and soft, the pads were of high quality leather, they had worn in nicely since the first time I tried them on. The mini-XLR jacks is something that all would agree to being made standard on high end headphones. The cable was a far cry from the thick unwieldy one on the LCD-1 and neatly terminated into a Neutral jack. To top it all off, I was ecstatic to see 4 screws in the back which give immediate access to the rear of the driver, the area of most interest for us orthoheads who like to tune and configure orthos to our tastes. The guys at Audez'e had clearly been paying attention to our wish list.
Holding the LCD-2s in your hand, you know its a high end product, the result of quality workmanship and sound engineering.
Does it have 'sachu' bass? I am notorious to be very picky with the low frequency response on any system I listen to. I personally feel most people are only exposed to a flat monotonic bass note on headphones. Orthos opened my eyes and gave me hope that they can reproduce speaker like texturing in low frequency notes. This drew me back into the headphone scene. Whenever i try a new headphone I am instantly focused on the low frequency reproduction capability.
I like the low frequencies to be extended, tight, accurate in tonal reproduction and most importantly textured. Largely, orthos do a fairly decent job in this area albeit after a fair amount of tuning, but still end up compromising on one of the other areas. Having owned and heard the LCD-1 and sold primarily for its lackluster performance when it came to low frequency response I wasn't prepared to accept the fact that the LCD-2s could come anywhere close to the prowess of my reference TPs.
First thing I tried was an Indian Classical piece From the album, The Valley Recalls - 2. The impact of the Ghatam was everything that I expected it to be. The tablas and Mrudangam were sounding surreal, quick with just the right impact. Some orthos veil the notes from how a Tabla or Mrudangam sound but the LCD-2 was a revelation here. I had to convince myself what I was hearing was right. I quickly switched back to my reference headphones and could make out that the "tok" sound on a tabla was sounding off, more like a "tick" on the Fostex thnderpants. back on the LCD-2 I just closed my eyes and enjoyed the amalgamation of 3 ancient Indian percussion instruments fire away in harmony. As the track reached its crescendo, the tabla master Zhakir Hussain furiously thumping way on the tablas while the mrudangam was trying to keep up the tempo, each and every note blended blissfully. I felt I was back in the First Unitarian Church in downtown Portland where they once performed a year or two ago.
Next I tried some Electronica,Pop the Cherry and Currywurst by Aerodromme. Breakbeat drum and bass and electronica usually don't have ultra low frequency material. What i look for here is impact. On the EHHA, the LCD-2s were head pounding but lacking some definition. Switching to the Stacker 2, the definition got back, more tighter bass but the impact was not as great. I stuck with the Stacker 2 amplifier as for the first time, I was able to rock hard to Electronica and DnB and actually appreciate the details in the recordings which i once thought to be non-existent. One only expects the 4 by 4 beat in a DnB track to stand out , but with the LCD-2 it transforms the experience and gets a rave going in your head.
On M Ward's "Poison Cup" and Patricia Barber's Companion album, I could actually feel the pads vibrating on the ultra low bass notes. The double bass was as real and as tactile as it can get. It was like an onion. You can keep peeling away layer after layer of bass. They one upped my much vaunted thunderpants in the low frequency reproduction in everything except the impact levels. The LCD-2 were just as effortless as the thunderpants throughout. Fabulous!
One further thing that I noticed was that some notes sounded stunning different on the two headphones. I don't quite know how to explain this but the notes just sounded real on the LCD-2. I was stunned and disappointed at the same time. As much as I hate to admit it I felt let down by my reference headphones. I again attribute the LCD-2s prowess in recreating tonally accurate notes to its open design, not to mention what appears to meticulously tweaked driver to extract every little bit of ortho goodness available. For a closed headphone my reference headphones are still the best I've heard. But overall, the LCD-2 frankly walked away with the prize. My reference headphones were no competition to be fully upfront.
The all important midrange. Midrange is the stronghold of nearly all orthos. No, your dynamic headphone or stat headphone just don't do it like an ortho and that's a fact. The dynamics lack the emotion while stats sound thin to these ears. Perhaps the only stat to come close to otho like sound in the midrange is the Stax O2 MK1. To date the best midrange I have heard on any headphone has been the ultra rare and venerable Yamaha Yh-1000. It gave me the first eargasm ever listening to Margo sing Sweet Jane. It is very hard to describe the emotional involvement that one goes through when one listens to something so superlative, one that hasn't been experienced before and try to put words to describe the feeling. Its just something you have to hear for yourself. But then the YH1K is so rare a headphone that only a handful have had the privilege. I like my vocals just a bit upfront so I raised my eyebrow when i saw the freq curve on the LCD-2 prior to listening to it thinking, hmm that doesn't look good for the midrange. That 6-10dB drop from 1kHz onwards is significant i felt.
Those first 40 mins laid any apprehensions I had to rest. Now M Ward is a handsome albeit short man with a voice that makes girls swoon. Listening to him sing "Rollercoaster" left me swaying too and thinking I could kiss the man, he is after all singing right in front of me. It felt so real, you could hear each and every breath he took between verses, the backup vocals were something I had never heard on my reference headphones in the "Eyes on the Prize" track, at least not as clearly. I could pick out 3 distinct voices in the background. I was dumbstruck. I knew then, this was it. We finally had a pair of headphones that could go toe to toe with the Yh-1000 and then some. The difference between the two is the ultra low distortion levels. Both have the same emotion and awestruck feeling that they leave in their wake. But, the LCD-2 goes one step further giving you the blackest of black backgrounds.
The track 'Good Ole Boys like me' By Don Williams brought me to tears. His silky smooth yet rough in a complex way reminded me why he was my favorite Country artist. To round up the male vocals test, i played Iron Maiden - Run to the Hills and Pantera's Cowboys from hell. Till date I never knew one could actually discern details in genres such as metal, that one could connect with the normally screeching vocals on an emotional level. With the LCD-2 it wasn't just mindless headbanging, but it was headbanging with emotion.
For female vocals i rifled through Loreena Mckennit - A Phrygian Moon and Mummer's dance first. The lovely Canadian's voice sailed through the blob sitting between my ears. The tonal accuracy is nothing like I have heard. I rang up Rachel Yamagata's "I'll find a way" to hear her Sweet nasal voice sending shivers down my spine just as it did once in a demo room at RMAF. I felt I was back at the Crystal Ballroom a year ago when I saw her perform live (even with a slight case of the flu, the poor dear). The LCD-2 was resolving enough to show some distortion in the music however which I was surprised by. As I had listened to this track so many times in so many high end systems that while it was barely noticeable on them, it immodestly stood out on the LCD-2. Margo is a favorite of mine and naturally any female vocals test I do involves Sweet Jane and Blue Moon Revisited. I felt like I could just die and go to heaven listening to her on the LCD-2. I was on such a high listening to the LCD-2 that i played Lisa Gerrad's 'Elysium' track on the Gladiator OST. One of the most moving pieces of cinema scores ever created and the LCD-2 didn't disappoint as it moved me to my core. To round up the female Vocals test the Companion album by Patricia Barber (XRCD) was played a full 4 times from end to end. Every time revealing more and more details in the midrange. Putting it simply, the midrange on the LCD-2 is godlike.
Man it feels good to get high.. As noted in the initial impressions, i felt the energy in the highs were a tad lacking. However, as I got to spend more and more time with the LCD-2, it was apparent that they in fact extended just as well as the best headphones without adding coloration, being absolutely neutral in reproducing source material as it should be. I did miss the leading edge on tracks like the 'Librarian' or on any of the metal tracks. The strength however lies in the LCD-2s resolving power. I thought my reference headphones were the best resolving orthodynamic headphones I had heard. Boy was I wrong. The LCD-2 made mince meat of them in this regard. For instance, you could hear every creak in "I'll find a way", the cymbals were lifelike. On M ward's 'Chinese translation', his power with an acoustic guitar was there in its fully glory, each string being plucked, his fingers sliding up and down the strings, On Don Williams track too, one could hear the guitar plucks being as close to lifelike as it can get. On My Morning Jacket's " Touch me I am going to scream. Part2" there are at various points where the keyboards come in and while the Fostex thunderpants clouded the consecutive notes, the LCD-2 picked them apart beautifully.
Special mention for the Indian classical track. Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia on the bamboo flute and Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma on the ancient instrument the Santoor (hammered Dulcimer), two living legends coming together to create some of the best pieces of music ever played. Each strike on the santoor and its harmonics were reproduced seamlessly. There is this section of the track where Shiv kumar sharma ramps up the tempo on the Santoor (each strike being as precise and fast as a pinprick) and so does Hariprasad Chaurasia on the flute (increasing the pitch as well) blending the two instruments into something only the Gods could have scripted. The urgency in the tempo one feels yet calmness reverberated by the tonal qualities of the instruments strike a balance that i had never experienced before listening to this track.
Soundstaging This is an area that most vintage orthos are severely handicapped at. I personally am not a soundstage freak. I don't want an area spanning a football field between my ears but enough to give breathing space for all the elements in an orchestra to come through without glazing over is fine. Even this modest task is mucked up by most vintage orthos. The other thing that most headphones and not just orthos suffer from is a fractured soundstaging, its not a seamless transition from left to middle to right.
The only headphone I have heard do this superlatively has been the HD800 and it maintains this advantage over the LCD-2. However the upside on the LCD-2 is that there is actually enough of a soundstage. For example listening to The Battle - Gladiator OST you feel like you are actually there, the opening scene flashes before your eyes, you are there on the battle field, charging at them barbarians yelling "Roma Victor!". Listening to Rachael Yamagata singing "I'll find a way" I was transported back in time just as mesmerized to the Reimyo room at RMAF with the lights dimmed down. That feeling of immersion in the music was something I had never experienced with an orthodynamic headphone before. The open nature coupled with the transducer design is to be credited for this.
Imaging Imaging to me is more important than soundstage. My reference headphones have a problem with imaging well cause of their closed nature. It falls short with complex music where instruments lose their focus and get mixed up. The one headphone that did this better than anything else was the Stax Omega 2 or O2 MK1. The O2 is superlative in this field. I was overjoyed when I could pick out each and every instrument in the Listen Up! DTS master audio recording. This is one of the hallmarks of these headphones and so easily noticeable that I made a comment to the effect to Don about it when I heard it the first time. When Omar Hakim(on drums) goes off on a solo in the dts recording I was spellbound listening to each instrument, the hi-hat, the cymbals, snare, tom toms and the kick drum all in their rightful spaces with room to breathe.
Switching to Loreena Mckennit's "Highway man", the complex jamboree of instruments in the mix filter through the music that made me aware of what instrument was playing where in the scene and importantly how it sounded. My reference headphones just utterly made a hash of it here. I was hearing details in the background that I had never heard before, such as the backup vocals on M ward's "Post war" track.
Conclusion: The LCD-2 was right up there alongside the O2 in imaging.
Hallmarks Low level listening.
The LCD-2 is probably the best headphone I have had the pleasure of using for low level listening. Just for this reason alone I want to buy these headphones. Most headphones if not all that I have heard need to me to up the volume control knob to get full dynamic range reproduction. Not the case with the LCD-2 which translates to safer listening.
The LCD-2s retrieval ability at low listening levels is by far the greatest thing for me. How many times have you had to turn the volume down so your wife or gf wouldn't beat you in the head with your headphones cause you were disturbing her? For me its come close to being atleast once. It is frustrating listening to music at low levels simply because all, yes all headphones that I have listened to simply cannot sustain a full dynamic range at low levels. Some need to be turned up to hear and low frequencies notes at all, others make Margo of Cowboy Junkies sound like those American Idol wannabes.
But in comes the LCD-2, it makes it all seem so effortless at low volumes. There is all the low frequency extension, the shimmer in the highs and maintains that seductive midrange. I was sold on them after they kept me awake till 5 in the morning for two nights in a row of low level listening. This means my ears get to enjoy music without damaging for a very long time..maybe even till I am 40-50 years old.
Nothing even comes close to it in this department.
What does this all mean to you and to me? Staying true to the one and only rule of the audiophile world I will say trust your own ears. But if you don't know what you are hearing, then yeah just take my word for it.
The boys at Audez'e have come a long way since the LCD-1 that they released at last year's Canjam. To think a company's first real headphone product can sound as good as it does, look and feel good as good as it does just blows me away. These guys have undoubtedly put a lot of pain and effort, while all the time listening to the community for feedback and suggestions in bringing out the best they could offer. In my eyes and to these ears, they have surpassed every expectation by light years.
To me, the LCD-2 is the culmination of the end of a 3 decade drought for a true high end planar headphone that is well designed, well thought out, that can hang with the big guns of the stat world and then some. But, most importantly, it is one that has been tuned to perfection just like the only other ortho in my mind, the venerable Wharfedale Isodynamic that performs at its best from the get go. The Wharfedale was a revolutionary product in design and conception, the Audez'e is a fitting tribute to the pro-genesis of othodynamic headphones and is well poised to herald a resurrection of a once forgotten technology.
In Closing While my reference headphones are brilliant sounding albeit being closed ones the LCD-2 comes along and says ..hang on there son..this is how you do it.
The LCD-2 has managed to show me that the rabbit hole indeed goes deeper. When I was feeling secure that my bleeding wallet had been patched up for good by my reference headphones, that I had reached a plateau with regards to how good a transducer can sound, that "this is it. It can get no better", the LCD-2 like an erupting volcano raised the bar into the stratosphere and in process made my wallet shrivel back in fear. I quickly realized that the asking price on these headphones was a pittance compared to the pure audio nirvana I was experiencing. Its a bit like watching Top gear with Jeremy Clarkson yelling "Power!!" while power sliding an angry yet sophisticated Ferrari V12 for the entire show. It brings forth the same fun, finesse and importantly, the soul and passion that the creator put into making these headphones. It makes you feel special. It makes you feel you are at one with the music, an extension of the audience Patricia Barber was singing to. The power of speed, detail, vividness in the low frequencies, the midrange seductiveness, its ability to ensconce you in the event that knocks on your eardrums and then make it all seem par for the course. Truly staggering.
I found myself scrambling through my music collection as the time to return them was at hand. As Jim James emotionally sang the last verses of track 8 on Evil Urges serenading his lady, the librarian, I found myself joining in, serenading the delightful little creature called the LCD-2, promising her that we'll be reunited soon.
"Simple Little Beauty, Heaven in your breath
Simplest of pleasures, the World at it's best"
Pros - Natural, Fast, tonally rich, deep bass, seductive mids
Cons - i have to save up for them.
I felt extremely priveledged to be included in the first group of people to hear the long awaited and much anticipated release of Audeze's LCD2. Some history: I am not new to planar magnetic technology and have been an avid fan and disciple of planar magnetic headphones ever since I was lured into the murky waters by the vintage yamaha orthodynamic headphones. If not for the keen efforts of wualta on HeadFi, this dream would most likely not have been realised. I first heard about Audeze when a friend and fellow discple of orthodynamic headphones discovered this small company in California, managed to make contact with them and establish that initial dialogue which brought to us the LCD1 and now the LCD2. I really liked the LCD1, it was my first glimpse at what modern planar drivers were capable of. The LCD1 was a top performer and finally offered a modern headphone that had better performance than the venerable Fostex T50vx. It did most things that one would want from a headphone but finally didn't have the ability to reproduce the bass notes with the authority that they deserved. The LCD1 was
always aimed at being a market entry headphone with limited production, as it used an off the shelf foster frame and cup the biggest weaknss for these drivers in the end as they were more than capable of superb performance. The LCD2 is finally here to continue the promise from this dedicated company. An aside on Audeze - they have been very open to guidance from the experience of the headphone community and have worked hard to address most peoples concerns/requests in their development
process. I would be remiss if I did not mention the HE5 from HeadDirect. This is another planar magnetic headphone which made a surprise appearance at CanJam 09 and has garnered much popularity amongst headphiles. I have had the opportunity to hear 2 versions of this headphone, the earliest suffered some congestion on the bass and a peakiness in the upper mids, the later version had cleaned up the bass with some damping but the peak remained and although it was still a very good headphone, it still needed some fine tuning. I have not yet heard the HE5LE but this was version is supposed to address the concerns noted in the HE5.
Back to the LCD2.
Music chain - RED BOOK CD - Yamaha DVD1700(SACD) - highly modified Sonic Frontiers Transdac - direct coupled tube hybrid amplifier with class A mosfet output.
My music preference is vocal/acoustic/jazz/rock/blues/classical
Initial impressions on opening the box were very positive. My review sample did not come in the wooden box but that did not detract from my initial impressions. The black grills against the wood immediately caught my eye , not sure if they had me in mind when they were designing these but they sure had my attention. Weighing in at 1/2kg, these headphones leave you with both visual appeal and a tactile sense of anticipation. The overall engineering is rock solid. Steel sprung headband with metal ratchet type arm adjustments allow for a very sturdy feel. No slipping and no movement once they are positioned where you want them. The foam headband has caused a little stir of dissappointment in the community but make no mistake, they are very comfortable. They do not retain the impression of my sophisticted headphone stand ( a large hand clamp). The cups themselves are solid, lovely wood with a simple finish, as it turns out "Hand selected Caribbean Rosewood". The addition of the mini xlr is a welcome addition and offers an elegant solution to custom cable connectors of many manufacturers. The steel rill is attractive and finishes the overall look of these headphones. Someone described them as "steampunk". The grill trills when you drag a nail over the surface but I cannot hear any resonance concerns with them. They also are able to screw off, allowing the more adventurous to modify and fine tune the sound to their liking. The Pads are substantial and offer great support and seal to create the soundscape that enables notes to be be free and create that ever important soundstage. I was a little concerned about how hard the leather was, but the lambskin do not sweat ( a huge negative of the stock O2 pads ) and they are more comfy than I had anticipated. You are most definitely aware that you are wearing a serious pair of headphones, none of this " I forgot I was even wearing them" but after 3 hours, I still felt comfortable.
I was told that these drivers had only had an hour of play on them and thus I anticipated the need for a little burn in. I naturally could not wait indefinately to hear them and I am not completely sold on the idea of prolonged burn in. To me if it takes 500 hours for a headphone to sound good to you, you have acclimated to the sound signature and learned how to appreciate it. But that is a can of worms for another debate. I had a few hours before I could sit down with them so I put on some white noise and let them warble.
The first night I just sat back and listened to them, I can normally pick up on idiosyncracies pretty quickly with casual listening. Nothing jumped out at me and I thoroughly enjoyed the following 3 hours, would I be a prat to say they had PRaT .
The next round comprised listening to some white noise, pink noise and frequency sweeps ( stereophile editors choice test CD ) - subjectively there are no peaks, no inconsistencies, white noise is homogenous , it extends both high and low.
An emphasis on impressions - subjective attributes based on personal preferences.
I like my headphones to present a detailed top end with air and delicacy. This is evident in most all recordings. Live recordings sound just that, live. The acoustic space and pinpoint timing of a Jazz band is reflected in the percussion, ensuring a particularly intimate experience. Is it the most detailed ortho I have heard, no, some of my orthos are damped to enhance the top end and moving from such an orthodynamic headphone to the LCD2, the initial reduction in top end energy is noticeable but that feeling is soon replced by a sense of overall balance and enjoyment. I am sure there will be some who
would like a more pronounced top end, this is afterall a selfish hobby which promotes personal preferences but for me, these headphones offer a perfectly balanced sound.
The mids are what particularly stand out for me. They have a rich tonal balance with no loss or emphasis, sound "organic" yet are not boring. They have a richness of tone that very few headphones or speakers redropuce, without sounding "lush". There is no hint of sibilance and will bring even the toughest logger to his knees if he hears xxx (insert favourite female vocalist here) Not many headphones reproduce the lower mids well as many headphones have a low mid upper bass bump - this directly impacts on the baritone and can often paint a muddled picture in this department. I listened to an assortment of recordings which focus on the voice within an acoustic space, I wish I could share this experience with you. Just breathtaking and absolutely natural.
The downfall of so many great orthos - do you leave them slightly underdamped so that the bass throbs with a little less control than would be ideal or do you tighten it up so that the bass is several dB down but very tight and accurate. The LCD2 has no problem here - it just keeps going down. The acoustic bass of YoYoMa's cello on the Appalachian Waltz reverberates with multilayered bass that it transfixed me for the moment. I initially thought I heard some low bass warble but it turned out after much listening and reflection that I was hearing bass notes in the music which had never featured in my experience
of the music before. This was only on one particular electronica piece of music which I don't listen to ferquently but does extend the bass notes pretty low. Bach's Toccata's and Fugues sound vivid, Ulanji's bass drum virtuoso is thunderous and never did I feel the bass was congested or lacked definition. Tha bass is tight, punchy, fast and layered with all the texture of the mids. Does it sound as deep as the venerable TP , no, the TP's feel like they have greater impact but they are also closed and lose some of that depth and layering as a consequence.
I have been modifying vintage orthodynamic headphones for some time and have a good feel for what I am trying to achieve when I start out with any given model. The LCD2 accomplishes many of these objectives and manages to retain an open soundstage without compromising the depth of bass extention or delicacy of treble articulation and the mids are just "to die for". I knew that my time was coming to an end with this pair of headphones and my final wow came when I listened to a piece of
Scottish Folk music recorded by Linnrecords , William Jacksons CorryVrechan. It is a very dramatic piece of music with wide dynamic swings, drums, bass, bagpipes, pennywhistle, just a lovely shamble of music. It was the perfect note to finish my experience as it left me feeling invigorated and so completely convinced that these headphones were a must have for my collection. I for one am convinced that this is the advance in magnetic planar technology that I had hoped it would be.