Audeze LCD-3 Planar Magnetic Headphone

General Information

Edited from webpage: "LCD-3 professional reference headphones. No compromise when it comes to the quality of sound. It provides the highest level of audio quality, unsurpassed bass extension, exceptional treble and the best mid-range. The LCD-3 is packed with many innovative technologies and new approaches. The all new LOTUS diaphragm that uses a special alloy for conductive traces gives us greater control, lower distortion.

Translation - Music that sounds like original studio recordings."

Latest reviews

Pros: Musical, euphonic presentation; excellent liquid bass; works with every genre; beautiful aesthetics
Cons: Heavy; Lacks resolve around 6-8k; slightly congested soundstage; braided cable can be frustrating
I've been a Head-Fi'er for almost 10 years now, and during that time I've seen orthos explode in popularity and variety. When the LCD-3s were released, Hifiman, Audeze, and Fostex seemed to be the only manufacturers of planar magnetic headphones I heard about. Now we've doubled the offerings, both in what models manufacturers produce - look at how Audeze has expanded their line - and the price range and no. of manufacturers (Rosson audio, Monoprice, Empyrean, etc.). Nonetheless, my heart has always belonged to Audeze - the LCD-2's timbre is just that well-suited to my tastes. I've always wanted an LCD-3.
The LCD-3s had a troublesome start: the price was twice that of its brother; there were an unsettling number of driver failures; Head-Fi'ers were reporting cracking at the XLR connection and a noticeable veiled upper midrange. I'm pleased to see how much Audeze has improved since then: angled metal connectors, the Fazor mod, pre-treated wood, vastly improved balanced cable quality, to name a few.
I purchased an Audio-GD D-27.28 in August of 2019, which had been my first major upgrade since I bought the NFB-10SE in February of 2012. Not long after, I saw a pair of like-new Audeze LCD-3s for $1245. I haven't seen that steep of a discount before or since, so I 'had' (read: I had lots of disposable income at the time) to pull the trigger.
Presentation and Build Quality
The presentation of these headphones is beautiful: soft brown leather pads, luxurious wood, in a very sturdy travel case (I miss the black glossy wood cases, but engineers are a practical breed too). They're heavy in the hands, much like their predecessor, but the suspension headband mitigates that well. The LCD-3s exude craftsmanship, like an antique wooden chair. The leather on the pads is kind of flimsy for a headphone of this caliber - I'm getting wear after 7 months of gentle use. There are no nitpicks for a headphone that retails for $2K.
Caveat: the braided cable is lightweight and stylish, but Audeze could definitely learn something from Sennheiser in designing balanced cables. Every time you take the headphones off, the cable twists slightly and it doesn't take long for it to be a tangled mess. I wouldn't mind a stiffer, heavier cable if it means I'm not constantly unplugging my headphones to fix the tangle. I have to take off a half star for the cable and pads.
Comfort and Isolation
They are ~450 635 grams, which is quite heavy for most cans. The suspension headband mitigates the clamping force somewhat but they're not as comfortable as the HD800S (which I will be reviewing in time). That said, the leather pads are excellent and earn their praise. There's no isolation, but that's to be expected with completely open headphones.
Sound
I've been listening to these through an Audio-GD D-27.28 so I can't speak to how they'd sound on a lesser amp but I've heard they scale extremely well. The overall sonic character, even with a no-nonsense unit like the NFB-27, makes the LCD-2 sound dry and uptight by comparison. Everything feels so effortless and relaxed it makes the most complex and chaotic passages a joy to listen to. I was in shock the first time I listened with them to The End by Demon Hunter - a song I thought I was intimately familiar with. Cannibal Corpse feels like someone turned on a blast furnace in your skull (in the best way possible) while Coltrane is like a relaxing summer day.
Bass
Wow. The power, precision, and depth of the bass on these cans is phenomenal. It can handle slam, but it's also got speed and refinement. It is somewhat behind the HD800S in terms of precision, but it wins by a great margin in musicality. Hate Eternal feels like an elder god shaking the Earth, while Takuya Kuroda is liquid and refined. The bass is just right.
Mids
Vocals, male or female, are mind-blowing. Voices are natural, pristine, and musical. Diana Krall is an angel and the male vocals in Heilung are haunting and gripping. The LCD-2 seems dry and edgy by comparison, and I previously crowned them king of mids. The HD800S is analytical and precise in its vocal presentation, which has its own merits in very well-recorded music, but the LCD-3s are so much more euphonic. One minor caveat, however, is a troublesome loss of clarity at around 6k. Certain string notes and cymbals lack the definition and presentation that's clear in the HD800S.
Treble
The LCD-3 have much improved treble over the LCD-2. It's more relaxed,sparkly, and well-executed than the LCD-2 and certainly not as bright as the HD800S. Higher registers on classical music remain pleasant and listenable. The LCD-3 does everything with impressive ease and competency, even though the treble is the weakest.
Soundstage and Imaging
Like the LCD-2s, the LCD-3s are very intimate headphones. They work best with well-recorded jazz and metal because they lose some of the coherency and separation required for orchestra once the soundstage gets wide. They aren't terribly far behind the HD800S in the size of the soundstage and they're notcieably superior to the LCD-2 but the former might be a reflection of diminishing returns. Most importantly, they work extremely well for the music I typically enjoy. Instruments are well-defined, well-textured and present themselves in a realistic manner by and large and it's not a forceful or grating presentation. The sonic character of the LCD-3s is so pleasant that you can simply relax into any music and enjoy it. I wouldn't call the presentation laid-back or relaxed like the HD650, more that the headphones have achieved mastery and everything feels effortless.
Summary
The LCD-3s are a welcome upgrade to the LCD-2s in every single way. They aren't the last word in imaging and detail like the HD800S, but they have a liquid and euphonic presentation appropriate for every genre and mood. The pads still need work and the cable is frustrating, however, and the dip around 6K can make some string passages lose definition. Can we get Audeze on making detachable pads? I'd pay extra for the pleasure of not using those applicator rings when I inevitably replace the pads.
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boxster233
Great review. I agree. The vocals on Lana Del Rey’s 2019 release are haunting on lcd-3.
Sayed2020
Sayed2020
Thanks for the review Dogathur, please note they do not weigh 450g. Audeze say 635g, so quite a bit heavier. After owning 200 headphones across 10 years, the pre-Fazor LCD-3 has the most pleasing mid range I've ever heard. Sublime tonality, happy listening : )
Pros: Jaw-dropping mids and bass. Natural, liquid timbre. Dynamic. Easy to listen to. Oddly forgiving of imperfect recordings. Also, just look at that wood!
Cons: Comfort may be an issue, especially with the old band. The treble does have a slight peak at 8k, which can come across as harsh to some (granted, the peak is inline with the mids and bass, so how much this peak sticks out will vary per person).
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About me: I am no audio professional, nor do I have/had a super-extensive collection/experience with sound gear. However, I am a long-time musician, having played in church, school bands, and a lifetime student of the piano. So my perspective is one of a pianist, and also of someone who just loves music (I listen to all genres with preferences changing with mood). I am slightly treble sensitive, and generally prefer a neutral sound with a slightly dark tilt. I value natural timbre and precision of attacks/decays, and is the first thing I listen for in headphones.

Packaging

The case is very nice and seems like you can throw it off a multi-story building with no damage to the contents (I didn't test that). Opening the case reveals the headphones. Underneath the headphone tray is a space for accessories. My particular LCD-3, as mentioned in the title, were manufactured in 2016, so they came with the flat cables and old headband (also, it has the brown pads/band).

Construction and Comfort*

The headphones themselves appear to be very well made and give off a vibe of being high-quality; the construction being mostly of wood, metal, and leather. They are very heavy (haven't weighed them myself), which might contribute to the quality feel.

However, the weight does make them somewhat difficult to wear for long periods of time with the old band. The top of my head where the band touches gets fatigued and I have to adjust. The leather pads are slightly warm (because they're leather), but otherwise are very comfortable. I have not personally experienced any neck pain, but I do think that this can be a problem for those of slender necks.

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However, if you have the new suspension band, comfort is vastly improved and the only real factor for comfort will be the physical weight of the headphones themselves. The suspension headband does an excellent job in distributing the weight evenly across your head and I personally have had no issues with wearing the headphones for hours on end.

The adjustment mechanism for the headband is a little bit fussy but once adjusted you never have to worry about them moving on you.

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Sound

The words that come to mind when describing the sound of the LCD-3 is powerful, dynamic, and liquid. It has fast, accurate attacks and great dynamism, but retains a liquid quality throughout its range that makes it smooth, addicting, and easy to listen to. This headphone matches my preferences nearly perfectly, and are versatile enough to play every genre well.

  • Bass: Bass extension is excellent, and its quality is fantastic. There may be slight bloom in the bass, but this might just be a product of its smooth sound combined with its dynamism. At any rate, bass drum hits have good definition and resolution, while bass instruments like the tuba are reproduced with faithful timbre.
  • Mids: Liquid. This is where the LCD-3 really shines; the tones just flow together in a beautiful symphony. Cello reproduction in particular really impressed me; the LCD-3 was able to reproduce that slightly airy, wood quality of sound that good cellists make. Vocals are slightly recessed (in comparison to the Sennheiser HD 650), but are even with the instruments and the vocal quality was able to give me chills whether it was Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli, Thirty Seconds to Mars, or Aerosmith.
  • Treble: Although it is dipped slightly from the very upper mids/low treble, the LCD-3 mostly neutral here as well. There's a slight peak at 8k, but the peak is inline with the bass and mids and thus doesn't really stick out to my ears. The treble then rises and is elevated in the 10k+ area, which makes it have some sparkle and air. As odd as this is to say, the LCD-3 is actually the most neutral stock Audeze that I've heard.
Soundstage* is moderate in size, maintaining naturalness. I never felt that it was overtly intimate or large. Imaging is reasonably precise, with clearly identifiable placement of instruments. On initial listen it will suffer from having a stage that appears to be split between left/right on the ears (not uncommon among planars in my experience), but after brain burn-in this trait disappears.

Conclusion

The 2016 LCD-3 is a tremendous performer in the world of headphones, and seems overlooked in favor of the LCD-4 and LCD-2. After trying it out, I think it deserves a second look from serious audio enthusiasts who like dynamic, slamming cans. These have plenty of both and retain good detail retrieval and liquidity in its sound that makes it very nice to listen to.

With its slam and dynamics, I can't help but think that these are somewhat muscle car-like; large, heavy, and powerful. Definitely worth a shot if you can find a pair to audition!

That being said, I have to knock off half a star due to the potential annoyances in its comfort. Those with the new headband may find them more comfortable, but the weight will definitely remain an issue for some.



Edit 11/31/2018: Added another picture
Edit 12/3/2018: Added soundstage and imaging notes.
Edit 12/6/2018: Updated comfort notes.
Edit 5/9/2019: After gaining more experience, I modified the sound section. It's clear to me now that these are overall still slightly tilted warm a la Audeze house sound, but these are the most neutral headphones I have. I still think they're superbly liquid and dynamic; just don't expect a dark sound at all.
Viper Necklampy
Viper Necklampy
Congrats, great review! I find All your descriptions in my pair..
Pros: Reference mids, great bass, Zebra wood looks great, vocals sound very good too
Cons: Heavy, comfort, price, not the most detailed or clearest cans
My audio connective trail and setup:

16 & 24-Bit WAV lossless files,

Foobar2000 with WASAPI event output,

Digital optical toslink cable,

Gustard DAC-X10 (with a HiFi Tuning internal fuse) connected to a custom solid core silver power cable,

custom pure silver XLR cable/Oyaide Neo d+ class B XLR cable,

S.M.S.L SAP-10 amplifier connected to a custom SOLID CORE PURE SILVER 99.999% 5N 2MM 12 AWG power cable,

all connected to a custom Russ Andrews Yello power mains extension with a Supra gold plated UK mains plug with a gold plated AMR fuse inside.


My LCD-3 is a pre-fazor version and I’ve heard them with a custom silver-plated copper XLR balanced cable.

They are interesting cans…

They’re still heavy and still uncomfortable for 1 hour or more but it’s a bit lighter than the LCD-X.

Sigh…

I won’t repeat myself as I have expressed my opinions in my LCD-X review but seriously, Audeze must make lighter and more comfortable cans as soon as possible.

These cans are not cheap so we should expect much better.

I do like the look of the Zebra wood and the can feels solid.


Onto sound.

The treble is decent but this can definitely lacks extension and resolve.

These are not the most detailed, clearest or airiest cans. That is for certain.

It can get muddy, congested and muffled at times.

They could be described as slightly dark and veiled.

Their tonality is warm, they are generally forgiving cans but weirdly, they can sound harsh when pushed.

But these are not bright cans.

They have a large sound stage and image well.


I’ll just go out on a limb and say these probably have reference mids, probably the best I have ever heard.

They are meaty and very well defined, some say lush and organic sounding.

Rock music may be the best I have ever heard it, very enjoyable.

Listening to Maggie’s Farm by Rage Against The Machine was almost a visceral experience, it’s like the bass guitar is playing right next to your ears such is the detail and power of the mids.

Vocals are very good but on rare occasions they can sound a little small in comparison to other sounds.


The bass is very good with great slam and impact, you can feel the air blasts sometimes.

There is a smoothness and fullness to them but it is not the deepest bass nor does it have reference low extension.


So in the end the pre-fazor LCD-3 is a different kind of animal, with audio qualities rarely found in other high end headphones and I know it will appeal to many people, not just audiophiles.

It is expensive, no longer manufactured, heavy and definitely not the most comfortable cans.

It is a relief taking them off sometimes but it is very, very enjoyable leaving them on : )
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Sayed2020
Sayed2020
Thank you, they are pretty special sounding cans for sure.
volly
volly
This review is such a breathe of fresh air to read, did not feel bias to read or too damning either. Short, sharp and shiny, perhaps a few pic's but either way a great read! Thank you!
Sayed2020
Sayed2020
Thank you volly, I really appreciate it : )
From my experience there are a few great all round open back cans that I would highly recommend but so far, none from Audeze.
I do really do really like the LCD-3 pre-fazor though.
I would like to try their LCD-MX4 AND LCD-4Z cans but they are too expensive at the moment.

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