TLDR; The LCDi4 paired with the Cipher cable and a music cloud storage service like Vox, represents an alternative future for hifi headphones. *This is not a review of the LCDi4. As my sonic impressions generally agree with what’s already been posted online, there isn’t much value in merely repeating what’s already been said. However, others may be intrigued by this product, and how it represents the direction head fi is heading. For starters, this is the first headphone I’ve used that sounds better out of an iPhone than high performance audio equipment. For further reference, see @crinicle’s IEM ranking list (https://bit.ly/2z0va2z) as I agree with his LCDi4 assessment. Preface In the hifi industry, innovation is exceedingly rare. On occasion we are treated to new technology, such as the tube system in the Cayin N8 DAP, or the new M Scaler system by Chord Electronics. However, more often than not, new products are often repackaged versions of older technology. We can observe this with the recent trend of R2R DAC’s popularizing the market. DSD technology, while being pushed as a cutting edge music format, was in fact developed by Sony and Philips in the 90’s, and is based off a patent dating back to 1954! In recent years, it seems major innovations in high end audio occurs in the home theater space with high end headphones not fully realizing major technological strides found in other industries. So when Audeze came out with their iSine and LCDi4 in ear headphones, no one quite knew how to react. image credit: Audeze About Audeze We can trace the LCDi4 all the way back to the founding of Audeze in 2008 when Sankar Thiagasamudram, Alexander Rosson, Pete Uka, and Dragoslav Colich joined to create the worlds best planar magnetic headphones. For those who haven’t read my interview with Sankar (CEO of Audeze), I recommend to read it first, as it gives an understanding of how the company is motivated and what their north star is (https://bit.ly/2yLcHHb). As covered in our article, Audeze calibrates their headphones against custom in house recordings with the goal to create a headphone that best recreates planar magnetic floor standing speakers. This is a tall order, and throughout the years Audeze has expanded their LCD series as their reference headphones line for both professionals and audiophiles. With each successive LCD headphone comes a refinement or redevelopment of cutting edge planar magnetic technology, which ultimately led to LCD4, a result of the 10 year effort to develop the best reference class planar magnetic headphones in the world. LCD4 brought new technologies such as their Double Fluxor technology, which subjects the diaphragm to 1.5 Tesla of magnetic force. In addition, Audeze developed a nano grade diaphragm specifically for LCD4, a diaphragm that is thinner than a white blood cell. Such a thin diaphragm allows LCD4 to convey intricate detail along with Audeze’s signature thunderous low end. However, the LCD4 was still relegated to the rules of hifi headphones, as it required a DAC and an amplifier. In the world of Headfi, it’s enough for a company to develop a flagship class headphone for the litany DAC’s and amp’s we dedicate numerous threads to. But creating the best flagship Audeze headphone to date wasn’t enough for the company. Move fast and break things Around the time the LCD4 was released, there were rumblings in the tech sphere that Apple was planning to do the unthinkable, remove the headphone jack from the iPhone. Of course, many people balked at this idea, and the tech industry suddenly held aloft numerous entry class hifi headphones as the reason Apple shouldn’t move forward with this decision. Others argued this was a wise move that would give the wireless headphone industry the push it needed to deliver high quality bluetooth headphones. Looking back, we can appreciate Apple’s bold move, as the wireless options today offer audio quality that is not only near indistinguishable from their wired counterparts, but wireless technologies are now high quality enough to enter the audiophile space. Paul Brooks (@Brooko), a discerning audiophile, has published a review of the FiiO BTR3 bluetooth receiver (https://bit.ly/2OrEzoT). His review highlights a personal revelation of how Bluetooth audio has reached level of quality that is compelling, and can be used on a daily basis. image credit: Audeze During the period of uncertainty and before Apple controversially dropped the headphone jack with the iPhone 7, Audeze quietly released the Cipher cable for the EL8 headphone in 2015. The Cipher cable is a Lightning based cable, which contains a module with both the amplifier and DAC chips built in. The Cipher cable allowed Audeze to have full control of the sound pathway from the digital source. This gives the listener the best sound quality possible as the amplifier and DAC is handpicked by the Audeze research team and tuned to the headphone. During my interview with Sankar, he relayed to me “In the pursuit of the best audio quality for the iOS user, we were forced to use Lightning. When Apple dropped the headphone jack in the iPhone, news publications took notice of Audeze lightning headphones and ran multiple stories on it. We received an unbelievable amount of publicity because we moved fast with Lightning, and were one of the first companies to deliver audiophile grade headphones for iOS”. What most folks didn’t realize however, was that the Cipher cable served an important part of Audeze’s future vision of hifi headphones. The Cipher cable is central to Audeze’s strategy in using DSP to push a new future of hifi headphones. There’s a great talk from RMAF 2018 on how DSP is being used and its value to the future development of hifi headphones (https://bit.ly/2QrGewg). Mark Cohen from Audeze reveals (17:45 in the video) how DSP plays an important role in Audeze products, as their in-house developed plugins allows a consistent target response across all of their headphones. It’s a fascinating talk, and I highly recommend to watch the talk, and if not, at least Mark’s segment. Sep 1st 2016 marked the day when Audeze released the worlds first in ear planar magnetic headphones with the iSine 10 and iSine 20. Audeze applied their experience from planar magnetic headphones, and miniaturized it into in-ear form. This in ear headphone (IEH) had the sound of full size open back, but could be transported in a coat pocket. When paired with the iSine Cipher cable, one could take an audiophile grade system anywhere, not need to deal with bulky equipment, and all at an affordable price. My journey of Headfi actually began with the iSine 10’s. Hearing my favorite tracks with the iSine’s was a life changing moment for me and started me down this perilous path of Headfi. Audeze continued to break expectations, and marketed planar magnetic headphones to iPhone toting consumers, a market many audiophile companies regarded as lost causes. I remember sharing my iSine 10’s with a my Beats buddies, and they were flabbergasted at what they heard. Two of them ended up buying the iSine’s. Audeze even created an Apple Store limited edition version of the iSine 10’s to demonstrate Audeze’s enthusiasm for the Apple consumer. Back to the future Fast forward to early 2017, some of us on Headfi often wondered, what if Audeze made a ‘cost no object’ version of iSine’s? The answer to this question was about to be answered with the introduction of LCDi4’s. Initially called the LCDi3, it was renamed to the LCDi4 as much of the technology in the LCDi4 came directly from the LCD4. With this product, Audeze promised flagship class audio in an impossibly small form factor. Many of those who found success with the iSine’s were intrigued at what the LCDi4 had to offer, however the best part was yet to come. A few months after the first deliveries were made, Audeze complemented the LCDi4 with the introduction of the i4 tuned Cipher cable. It is at this point Audeze ceased selling a headphone, but were selling a system. The LCDi4 system. No longer did customers need to carry around amps, DACs or DAP’s to make the LCDi4 sound as intended. The team at Audeze spent countless hours adjusting the DSP to match the amplification from the Lightning powered Cipher system. This results the Cipher+LCDi4 combination being the most synergistic amp/DAC pairing ever achieved, with both the hardware and software working together in an Apple like fashion. Did I mention it can fit it in a coat pocket? When I began using the LCDi4 with the Cipher, I realized within the first 5 minutes this is the future of Headfi. A complete system, fine tuned to deliver the best sound possible with plug and play simplicity. I can take this anywhere, wear it for hours, minimal leakage (in an office setting) and no one bats an eye at the headphones I’m using. What has been achieved is a masterstroke of portability and sound quality and Audeze’s investment in DSP and miniaturizing planar magnetic technology has paid off in spades. I will let you read reviews of the LCDi4, there are plenty, making an informed decision is paramount. Most people love Audeze’s house sound, but there are some who don’t. You decide if it’s up to you, after all Audeze has a generous 30 day no questions asked return policy, and their customer service is first class. Up in the clouds The LCDi4+Cipher is a fantastic system, however iPhone isn’t exactly known for its file management system or swappable memory cards. How can one compensate for those lack of features? Enter the cloud, or more specifically, Vox Music Cloud (VMC, https://bit.ly/2RFZ9UA). image credit: Vox Music VMC is a cloud storage service aimed at audiophiles. It allows subscribers to store an unlimited amount of songs at full quality in the cloud (DSD is hit and miss) for $4.99 per month, however it does go on sale occasionally. VMC does have a few checkboxes to fill, and their desktop app needs work as it’s a bit minimalistic on features. It’s no Audirvana, however it shines on the iPhone. VMC’s iPhone app is the best lossless music player on the App Store due to its simplicity and feature set. Once you set up a premium account, you have a variety of EQ presets (custom as well), parametric EQ, playback FX and gapless configuration. With the Cipher, you don’t need to dial in any EQ presets, just upload your music and start playing! If you need offline access to your music, just download as much as your phone storage allows through the app. I always have a Wi Fi connection or LTE connection on hand, so I haven’t needed to fill up my iPhone storage just yet. I’m sure when I travel abroad soon, that feature will come in handy. As a whole, VMC with LCDi4+Cipher is an incredible system that has no business being as good as it is. For those who can’t stomach the $20 per month for Tidal, this is a fantastic alternative. Forget strapping amp/DACs and fiddling with the Lightning USB adapter, just use the LCDi4 as you would use a pair of EarPods. To be able to walk around the house, library, office, or cafe have audio quality that surpasses many home systems is indescribable. When I bought my first iPhone in 2008 and used it, I knew it was the future. I have that same feeling when I use my LCDi4+Cipher with VMC. To infinity…and beyond! I’m not sure what Audeze has in store for the LCD series, but I would be greatly surprised to not see a LCDi5 in the future. This LCDi4 feels ahead of its time, and my other desktop flagship class headphones feel so archaic in comparison. It’s like using a Tesla with Autopilot, then stepping foot in a Lexus. Sure, the Lexus has leather and is nicely appointed, but the Lexus feels like it was designed with the last century in mind. The LCDi4 doesn’t have the expectations of the last 60 years on its back. Instead, it’s designed to set the trend for the next 60 years.