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Over-Ear item created by dBel84, Oct 31, 2011
Pros - Sound quality, Audeze customer support and more comfortable than expected!
Cons - Build quality and Value.
I am not a professional reviewer or anything so I'll just write a few words.
I originally had a HD650 which I sold to buy the Audeze LCD3. The LCD3 is by far the best sounding headphone I have ever heard. It sounds amazing.
I'm not happy with the build quality of the headphones. Considering that I paid $2000 I was expecting something built like a tank lolol but they are beautifully built!
In terms of value they are not worth $2000 unless you think it's worth paying that much for the amazing sound quality. I think it should cost no more than $1400 if you compare it to the LCD2.
In terms of comfort they are relatively comfortable but they get very uncomfortable if used for a long period of time, i.e. 3 hours +.
PS: Audeze customer support is by far the best, they even sent me a brand new $80 + shipping costs cable when I accidentally damaged my old cable.
Pros - Tight punchy bass, all around exciting
Cons - Weight is almost an issue
Just got them yesterday and I have to say that these are what I've always imagined high end headphones to sound like. I'm very pleased with them so far. Thought the weight would be a problem but after 3 hours I wasn't fatigued at all. Don't get me wrong, you know they're there but not in a bad way. They actually "feel" like $2000 headphones.
Too early still to give an accurate sound description but ill say that the bass is the best I've heard. One of the few cans whose bass doesn't feel forced. It feels authentic and gives you an "in your face" experience.
Pros - Best bass/mids I've heard and true to life sound
Cons - Not cheap, picky of upstream gear and not forgiving or poor sources
Here's a link to a wiki I wrote about the differences between the LCD-2r.2 and LCD-3s that pretty much sum up my thoughts quite well.
I've had them now for more than 3 months and they still get 80% of my head time. My HD800s/T1s/Ed.8s/HF-2s are sadly not getting the time they rightly deserve since the LCD-3s arrived. I was also able to sell my HE-6s as the improvements in soundstaging and air in the LCD-3s have made the HE-6s redundant in my collection.
Just a few more points, they (LCD-3s) are in fact much pickier of upstream gear than the LCD-2s (as both Skylab and Currawong have pointed out). A good case in point was the LCD-2/Lyr combination. I really liked the pairing very much, but the LCD-3s were quite a bit less synergistic. If I only had the Lyr, I would have been disappointed. But luckily I did have a WA22 (with the right tube combination) fed by my W4S DAC-2 on hand as well and WOW...what a pairing! I can also vouch for the GS-1 as well with the LCD-3s as they are a great match (for a SS option). Funny, I'm finding the LCD-3s as difficult to drive synergisticly as the HD800s.
As well, some of my older rock and jazz recordings that sounded "nice" on my LCD-2 (r.1 and r.2), where significantly worse on my LCD-3s. I don't blame the LCD-3s for showing me what crappy music I was feeding them, but if your collection is substantially populated with poorer recordings and you want a headphone to make them sound better, I'd suggest you look elsewhere. The LCD-3s or HD800s will serve to reveal their flaws and take away from your enjoyment IMO.
Overall though, the LCD-3s are my favourite "go to" headphone three months later, long after the "new toy" luster has passed.
Pros - They have that orthodynamic magic taken to the next level.
Cons - The magic comes at a heavy price.
If there is a more apt example of the Law of Diminishing Returns than these headphones, I'd be surprised. For the refinement over the LCD-2s, the price is double. With the new LOTUS drivers, an acronym that appears to target electrostats ("Light Omega Type") there is a significant improvement in all the areas that the LCD-2s had issues. Complex orchestral music is now no longer a blur; the mildly annoying ringing in the treble has gone and everything sounds more detailed and separate. It is easier to pick out individual instruments in good recordings. The penalty is fast-attack fun of listening to, say, well-recorded pop has been replaced somewhat with a more "analytical" presentation that picks the nits out of recordings and equipment, as now the rest of each note is now more detailed, revealing the texture in a manner that previously was the realm of electrostatic drivers.
The improvements are also of only a degree that they might not be readily noticeable on other than high-end gear, so I'd say if someone had a total rig budget, if getting the LCD-3s was going to result in a significant sacrifice in source and amp quality, I wouldn't bother.
As for the price, lets face it, audio is an expensive hobby to get serious about. If you want to be positive, Sony R-10s, now a decade out of production, cost over $5k on the used market. Even the Stax SR-009s cost around $5000 or more outside of Japan. However, the Stax do still best the orthos for ultimate detail, imaging and being the closest to having a lack of coloration, but less than before.
In the end, I could live with these as the One Headphone at home. That being said, I can only wish this technology would filter down into lower-end headphones. Those who have experienced the inexpensive magic of vintage orthos know that great-sounding headphones don't have to be anywhere near as expensive. LIke other top-of-the-line headphones, the LCD-3s may be a huge win for those who can justify shelling out for them and comparable equipment to get the most from them, it will be how they influence mainstream manufacturers that will end up mattering the most.
Pros - World-class sound
Cons - expensive
REVIEW – Audeze LCD-3 planar magnetic headphones
The announcement was a well-kept secret, and it hit the head-fi community like a ton of bricks. Audeze was coming out with a new headphone, the LCD-3, which would feature a new driver, new pads, slightly uprated cosmetics, and would cost $1,950 – roughly double what the popular LCD-2 cost. Explosions ensued. There were lots of people very upset about the much higher price. I was intrigued. I sought out a pair at CanJam, and having liked what I heard in what was admittedly a very difficult environment to judge open headphones, I asked Alex from Audeze if I could get a review pair sent. He obliged, and here we are.
Audeze made huge strides over the 18 months the LCD-2 were in production in terms of improving ergonomics and comfort, and these are all in play in the LCD-3 – much softer leather earpads, leather headband, angled cable exits, etc. The LCD-3 has a metal cable exit rather than the extruded wood. I think this is a very wise move. Not sure it’s a cosmetic improvement, but given that there were quite a few reports of splits in the wood of the LCD-2’s cable junction, I think this was a wise move.
Personal opinion: I like dark wood, and I prefer the darker wood of my original LCD-2 over the Zebra-wood of the LCD-3. The wood finish is nicer on the LCD-3 to be sure, but I like darker wood. That’s just me, though. Many will like this look better. The dark brown leather is VERY nice looking, and matches the grill color well. Judge for yourself:
As you can see, the LCD-3 comes in a ver nice wood box, and includes some leather conditioner, as well as balanced and unbalanced cables.
I think the LCD-3 are much more comfortable than the LCD-2, also, and this is largely due to the MUCH cushier pads.
Sources uses: RWA Audeze Edition DAC, AVA Vision Hybrid DAC, MHDT Havana DAC, all playing lossless music files.
Amps used: RWA Audeze Edition, Leben CS-300, Trafomatic Head One, Meier Audio Corda Classic; Marantz 2285, Pioneer SX-1980, Sansui 9090DB receivers.
Headphones compared: Audeze LCD-2 R1, Sony MDR-R10, Beyerdynamic T1, HifiMan HE-6
Cables used: ALO Cain Mail balanced, Q-Audio unbalanced
So, before we can possibly tackle the question of value, we have to first decide how the things SOUND. And there is no doubt that they sound excellent. But that isn’t good enough. A high-end headphone must go beyond that. It was OK for the LCD-2 to sound “just” excellent. The LCD-3 needs to sound even better – it has to be at the pinnacle of headphone sound to play at this price point.
And, in the opinion of this reviewer, it is indeed. The LCD-3 has a coherency, transparency and top to bottom consistency of sound that rate it as the very best headphone I have ever heard.
Take just one example – Diana Krall’s “Do Nothing ‘til You Hear From Me” from “Stepping Out”. The bowed cello solo in the middle is the most lifelike reproduction of a cello I have ever heard. The stand-up bass is deep and powerful but with a truly astounding level of definition. And Diana’s vocals are cleanly rendered in a very lifelike way.
That deep bass was very much in evidence again on Mastodon's "The Hunter", by the recent album of the same name. Bass is as deep and powerful as one could even ask for, and actually manages to best the LCD-2 in terms of definition and taughtness while not giving up any weight. This is as good as bass performance gets via headphones. The LCD-3 have no equal that I have ever heard in this regard.
Midrange performance was also absolutely first rate. There is a slight lushness to the mids, I feel - I'm not sure how else to describe it. I know one head-fier has described the LCD-2 as "creamy". I am not sure that's the word I would use, but the mids are surely beautiful, while not sounding colored in any way. I think you can see this in the frequency response chart below, there is a small measured dip at the upper end of the midrange, and I think this is what keeps the mids from ever crossing over into overly-bright territory.
Nonetheless When guitar has bite, the LCD-3's reproduce the bite, but not in a way that's painful - in a way that seems always very natural. "Cosmic Egg" from the Wolfmother album of the same way evidences this nicely.
I think it bears mention that, from the FR chart above, supplied with my review pair, the FR is not markedly different from the LCD-2 FR charts I have seen. Nonetheless, the LCD-3 are more neutral sounding than the LCD-2. I liked the LCD-2’s slightly dark tonal balance a lot, but there is none of that in evidence with the LCD-3. I would definitely not call them “bright” though. In fact, I found them to be so neutral as to be difficult to get a handle on sometimes. I started listening to them on my vintage Marantz 2285. I thought they sounded very good, but thought they were missing something at the top that I was sure I had heard at Can Jam. So I quickly moved them to the Red Wine Audio Audeze Edition, and there it was – that treble extension that I hadn’t noticed before that the vintage Marantz lacks (probably not surprisingly). The RWA AE was much more adept as driving the LCD-3 than the Marantz. The 2285 doesn’t lack at all for power, but doesn’t seem to have the nuance that the AE does. And the LCD-3 laid this very plain, in no time at all.
All that transparency and neutrality isn’t always a universally good thing, though. There was a degree to which the LCD-2 allowed one to listen to sub-par recordings and not immediately be struck by how poor they are. Not so with the LCD-3. The Waterboys “This is the Sea” from the album of the same name came up on my iPod (which goes digitally via the Pure i20 into the RWA AE’s DAC) and I thought “wow that sounds really, really awful” – but that is just how that recording sounds. It’s sinfully bright, and that is how the LCD-3 rendered it. Up right after it was Nickel Creek’s “Best of Luck” from “Why Should the Fire Die”, and that sounded TERRIFIC, as I would expect. All well recorded material sounded really, really good, and in fact, was the best I have ever personally heard from a headphone, including my beloved Sony MDR-R10.
The LCD-3, though, are better than the MDR-R10. They are more even in frequency response, and just slightly more transparent. The R-10 have a phenomenal midrange, and so do the LCD-3. The R-10 have a little peakiness in parts of the treble, though, that I do not hear from the LCD-3. And the bass on the R-10 is also a little pronounced in the midbass and a little lacking in the very deep bass versus the LCD-3. I find the LCD-3 to be a remarkably neutral transducer. I do not hear any obvious frequency-response aberrations with the LCD-3. In this way it departs from the LCD-2 – the 3 is more neutral sounding to these ears, and this is most germane in the treble. The LCD-2 featured a shelved-down treble, which I personally liked, but as such it was not flat from 20Hz-20kHz. The LCD-3 has much less of this in terms of both the measured performance, and even less in terms of what I hear. And yet, the treble is not aggressive or biting, but VERY pure and sweet. Again, the LCD-3 will not hide a recording with a nasty treble though. If it’s there, you will hear it.
And I think that defines the LCD-3 for me. The combination of a very neutral frequency response and an almost startling transparency are its hallmarks. The vast majority of the time I enjoyed listening to music through the LCD-3 more than I ever have with headphones. Alison Krauss’s new record, Paper Airplane, is a terrific recordings, and it sounded just terrific on the LCD-3. Alison’s vocals were beautiful. Same for Steven Wilson’s, on “Postcard” from his new and terrifically recorded “Grace For Drowning”. The song is just haunting, and it sounds beautiful on the LCD-3. Then again, I have some metal records that are super-aggressive sounding, and the LCD-3 laid them bare. Such is life. For those I will probably stick with the LCD-2. But one cannot blame the messenger! I know such recordings are harsh. No surprise the LCD-3 renders them as such.
One result of the combination of the neutrality and transparency is an outstanding retreival of detail and resolution. Other headphones I have heard force detail at you my pushing the mid treble up. That's not what is happening here. The resolution is due to the transparency. This is something I have found in evidence in all planar magnetic headphones (and speakers) I have heard - and it's very much in evidence here. There are some very subtle percussion elements in Opeth's "Death Whispered a Lullaby" from "Damnation" that I had never really noticed before, but that I was able to hear on the LCD-3.
I also spent some time comparing the LCD-3 to the HifiMan HE-6. I find the HE-6 to have just a touch more treble energy than is neutral, although overall I find the HE-6 to be an absolutely outstanding pair of headphones, and I listen to them at work almost daily. The LCD-3 were just better, in every dimension, IMO. Which isn’t to take away from the HE-6, but I found the LCD-3 to be more neutral, and just slightly more transparent.
I spent the majority of my review time listening to the LCD-3 on the Red Wine Audio Audeze Edition, since I felt that it had made the LCD-2 sound about as good as anything else, and wanted to give the LCD-3 a very clean signal. I also played them on the Leben CS-300, the Trafomatic Head One, the new and several of my vintage receivers. I also listened to it on the new Meier Audio Corda Classic, on which they also sounded great (review forthcoming on the Meier). They sounded great on the Pioneer and Sansui receivers, but not as good on the Marantz, as mentioned above, just because the LCD-3 exposed a treble roll-off on the Marantz I hadn’t been aware of. The LCD-3 definitely benefit from the best you can give them, but they sounded very good from everything I listened to them on.
So it also was with sources. The RWA DAC, my MHDT Havana, and my AVA Vision Hybrid DAC all sounded good, and all sounded different. And to a degree I wasn’t quite used to. It was very easy to pick out the differences. The LCD-3 will make a good source reviewing tool! The Havana is the warmest, the RWA the most neutral, and the AVA in the middle. This was plainly apparent.
Lastly, let’s talk about soundstage. The LCD-3 is excellent in this regard, but in this one area I don’t think it is quite state of the art. I think the LCD-3 is better than the LCD-2 in this regard, especially in terms of image specificity. But the R-10 is better in terms of image definition and specificity. The LCD-3 projects the soundstage out in front of the head somewhat, which I really like – it does NOT feel like the sound is just between your ears, at all. The width is outstanding, and so is the depth. But the images are just not quite as well defined as I hear on some other headphones, like the R-10, or even the Beyer T1. That said, I am not an imaging freak, and I value tonality and transparency higher. And so for me, the LCD-3 is as good as it gets. But if soundstage gymnastics are your primary thing, I think I would probably go with something like the HD-800. The LCD-3 is “merely” excellent in terms of soundstaging ability.
So, overall, where does that leave us? I think the LCD-3, as a whole, is the best headphone I have heard. I have never owned any electrostats, but I have had several pairs for review, and have heard quite a few others, and I prefer the meatier sound of the LCD-3 to any of those. But again, that’s not a direct, detailed comparison. Someone else will have to offer that. However, the LCD-3 is a big improvement over the LCD-2, and handily beats the Beyer T1 (which is a headphone I like a lot). I prefer the LCD-3 to the HE-6 as well, and even prefer it overall to the MDR-R10. And folks, that’s saying a mouthful. Does that make it worth the asking price? For me, beyond any shadow of a doubt. But I liked the LCD-2 a great deal as well, and of course, like all reviews, this one is my personal opinion, and nothing more. Only you, dear reader, can decide that for yourself. I sure hope you get a chance to hear a pair, though. I don’t think you will be disappointed. I am buying the review pair. No way am I letting these go.
Pros - a wonderful evolution of design and technology
Cons - do there have to be any?
Where to start? I guess a big thank you to Alex and Sankar for making these available. I finally got to meet the lads at RMAF and the pleasure was all mine - I now have the T-shirt .
On a more serious note , it was truly a pleasure to meet them and speak about the inovation that has been going on behind the scenes. Not only in headphone development but the fact that Dragoslav Colich joined up with them to assist in engineering their superb line of speakers. ( now I will admit bias freely - Dragoslav is a demigod in my eyes as he is a zen master of ribbons and planar technology ) so.... I expect even greater things to come.
This review will be a little different from what some people may be expecting as I will not go into diatribes about how wonderful the LCD3's are with various types of music , just trust me , they are. When I first heard the LCD2 , I thought "this is it" , this is what all the orthodynamic / planar magnetic followers have been looking for - "tactile" music that was both rich and organic, smooth vocals that pull you in and very responsive. "How could this possibly get any better!" well , it just did. How do I know? Tyll said so ( and he never lies. come to think of it , he doesn't drink, never swears and only eats vegans )
On with the show.
The Box: truly a work of art in its own right . Piano gloss finish with the Audeze logo inlaid into the wood.
Inside the box:
1. a graph of the frequency response for the headphones.
2. two sets of stock cable - one TRS terminated and one 4pin XLR for those more balanced than myself.
3. wood care kit
4. last but most definitely not least , the LCD3
Specs from website:
- Planar Magnetic Transducers.
- Custom designed Zebra wood (zebrano) earcups.
- Specially designed lambskin leather earpads.
- Left and Right transducers have matched sensitivity and frequency response within +/- 0.5dB.
- Specially designed self- closing, acoustically transparent magnetic structure with highest grade Neodymium magnets.
- Frequency Response: 5Hz - 20KHz, usable high frequency extension 50KHz.
- Distortion: less than 1% even at full output.
- Impedance: 50Ohms, nominal
- Maximum diaphragm excursion: 2.5mm p- p
- Efficiency: 93dB/1mW - Maximum output: 133dB, 15W
-Transducer active diaphragm area: 6.17 sq. in.
- Input cable: Custom cable with mini XLR connectors
- Weight: 550g, without cable.
Overall design, some love it , some don't care for it. Personally I am a fan. I liked the original foam headband but this one oozes luxury. It is padded and sits comfortably on my head.
The pads are very soft , imo a significant improvement over the original LCD2 pads. They are as soft as my Stax O2 pads but more compressible. The memory foam has good loft and make for a comfortable fit with a great seal. When you first put them on, there is that slight pressure you get similar to a closed headphone. I think this is due to the clamping pressure of the frame and the good seal from the pads. The pressure may be greater for macrocephalics but is no problem for me. I initially thought the stock cable was going to be a little short but it extended the 2 odd meters from my amp to where I listened without a problem and there was enough slack for me to do my thing while listening.
I said I was not going to languish on my impressions of the sound and this sort of sums it all up. I have listened to them at every opportunity for the past week and although I have flitted through much of my music collection, I returned frequently to the demo disc I made for RMAF ( a mix of vocal, acoustic, jazz, rock and then a few familair classical pieces)
Amp - mostly the early liquid fire prototype. I did try it with the mini3 and portatube+ (a real winner for a protable tube amp with a dac)
Bass - everyone knows that these headphones can do bass, but they do more than bass, they flesh out the texture within bass and respond to complex bass rhythms without muddying the lower mids. There is no bass hump and I know that people have described them as emphasizing bass notes that aren't really there ?? not sure what that means but my interpretation is that the LCD3 reproduce a very real , almost palpable bass which some headphones just don't manage to portray acurately.
Mids - more forward voiced than some of my headphones which are probably a little recessed. Vocals (male and female) and acoustics are spellbinding. I had heard some metal at RMAF and as I didn't know what I had listened to , called on a friend for guidance to test these waters. The experience of Katatonia on the LCD3 is quite something. Not sure if this is what the band expected people to listen through but remarkably well recorded. Overdriven guitars without additional distortion and lightning quick response to some really complex harmonies. I have heard this about metal on the Stax O2 too.
Top end - this was a criticism by many of the LCD2 but I never found the highs to be particularly rolled off. Thus when the rumours started that the highs were to be more extended with the LCD3, my concern was that they would be too bright and not to my listening preferences. They do have more extention but they are not bright. They have an almost ribbon feel to their top end which is crisp and airy but never bright or overbearing.
A couple of things that stood out - single miked recording in a London cathedral - the "room acoustics" are incredible, eerie vocal placement and staging , the goth metal - hard to believe that everything didn't just collapse into itself to produce annoying noise, Edgar Meyer's bass lines in YoYoMa's Apalachian journey were deeply stirring. an exerpt from one of the Linn Recordings "soulful magic next day tragic" made me think of all the folk who would get to sample a sense of the brilliance of the LCD3 at various meets around the world, only to have to walk away unless they could be fortunate enough to own them.
Is this the best headphone ever ? I am sure there will be many more praise worthy products from various manufacturers , I have no interest in an electrostatic set up and my brief listen at RMAF was enough to cement my opinion that my needs would more than be met by the LCD3 and decent front end equipment. I will not say that my journey is over as I will always be tinkering with vintage planars and should Dragoslav encourage Alex and Sankar to delve into making a true ribbon headphone, who would I be to discourage them at such an early stage by making bold statements such as the "best" has been achieved.
Thanks Alex & Sankar and all the team who made this possible, I am a totally biased believer.