Audeze LCD-2 (2016 Edition)

Audeze LCD-2 (2016 Edition)

I would like to thank the guys over at Audio Sanctuary in New Malden, London, for lending me their display unit of the Audeze LCD-2 for a review. Check them out at https://www.audiosanctuary.co.uk/ and do visit their brick-and-mortar outlet if you are in the area for a terrific selection of high-end headphones and speakers.

Specifications

Style:  Circumaural - open

Transducer type:  Planar magnetic

Magnetic structure:  Proprietary self-closing design, acoustically transparent

Magnet type:  High-grade Neodymium 

Diaphragm excursion:  2.5 mm peak to peak

Transducer active diaphragm area:  6.17 sq in

Sound pressure level (SPL):  130 db (maximum)

Housing:  Renewable Shedua composite or Caribbean Rosewood

Ear pads:  Specially designed acoustically shaped foam inserts with premium lambskin or super suede cover

Frequency response:  5 Hz - 20 KHz, usable high-frequency extension of 50 KHz

Total harmonic distortion (THD):  Less than 1% throughout entire frequency range

Impedance:  60 Ohms, purely resistive

Efficiency:  90 dB/1 mW

Maximum power handling:  15 W (for 200 ms)

Optimal power requirement:  1-4 W

ADZ6SE Cable (single-ended):  ¼” TRS to 2x4-pin mini XLR

Cable length:  2.5 m or 8.2 ft

Weight:  490 g (without cable - Bamboo Composite)

Weight:  522 g (without cable - Rosewood)

Build Quality, Comfort & Features

Despite what it says in the official specifications above, this particular LCD-2 weighs 548g. I must admit that I have not felt this level of discomfort from the stock configuration of a headphone since the days when I owned a Hifiman HE-500. The weight itself is not a bother, my ZMF Eikon is over 600g by comparison, but I find the distribution to be poorly handled. I am told that some purchase a Lohb strap to assist this matter, while others stretch out their headbands to reduce the clamp (also an issue, the lower back of my ears would get considerably strained after prolonged listening) – but I was not going to attempt these methods on a review loaner.

The LCD-2 is also the first full-sized headphone that I have encountered in which I have to completely maximize the headband adjuster to be as loose as possible. I have a large head, but not quite that large (if other headphones are anything to go by) so this was surprising to me.

As for the build quality itself, it seems quite sturdy in the hands – with the wooden cups standing out in a fetching manner. However, I do feel that the joints that connect the frame to the cups is a weak point – with it creaking and snapping whenever I stretched it open to don it.  

The headphones use the same 4-pin mini-XLR connectors that all the LCD series do, as well as some other headphone manufacturers like ZMF. I find these connecters to be preferable to many, as they lock in place and are sturdier than simple plug-and-play push-in variants. I’m not sure if I agree with Audeze’s choice to have the connection on the earcups jutting forward as they do, but it does add to their unique design.

The headband has very little padding and, in my opinion, could greatly benefit from the use of a strap to even out the weight. Adding a Lohb strap would do the trick, but I specifically would need to buy the extended yoke rods that Audeze sell for $30 – a worthy investment in comfort, but one I have not tried personally.

Those looking to spend a little more can opt for the LCD carbon fibre headband, the one used by the flagship LCD-4 and the recently unveiled LCD Pro – retailing for $200 in the official store. This floating system utilizes a leather strap in its design.

Sound

The LCD-2 is quite the friendly headphone, injecting a warm hug of musicality in each piece of music listened to on it. Laid back and chilled, the headphone does not attempt speed, aggression or forwardness in either bass or treble. Soundstage is quite intimate but does not feel stifling and the imaging is adequate – making do with the space available in impressive fashion.

To further the topic of warmth, this headphone is not at all harsh to my ears in any region. It is neither supremely airy like the Sennheiser HD800 nor a bass cannon like the Fostex TH-X00. In truth, I hear a sense of comfortable clarity throughout the headphone – but some might get the sense that the headphones are veiled due to this. I find such a characteristic quite in line with the Audeze LCD series, with the LCD-3 having the most sparkle and crash from all of the open variants that I have tried (including the LCD-4). I would actually say that the LCD-3 had the most dynamic and impactful sound, but at the cost of the friendly nature that exists in the LCD-2 and, to a more refined degree, the LCD-4 200 ohm edition.

I’m told that the bass of the LCD-2 is one of the areas that has morphed considerably since the pre-fazor days of years past. Essentially, the clarity and dynamics of the headphone were increased at the cost of some sub-bass extension and overall bloom in the low end. Indeed, I have not heard a pre-fazor LCD-2, but I do find the bass to be more than adequate on the 2016 version. It extends decently low but does not have an immensely controlled nature – nor is it particularly fast. I find the speed decent enough to keep up with the transients of double-bass drums, but not if the tempo reaches Slayer levels. Despite being laid back, it is no slouch though – handling all genres that I throw at it with some ease – and only really being out of its element in the earlier mentioned example or in the electronic sub-bass usage in James Blake’s Limit to your Love. Overall, I find the low-end to have the sub-bass and mid-bass amount to make this an effective all-rounder for listeners – within reason. What’s left as a deciding factor now are the other frequencies.

The midrange of the LCD-2 is smooth. Not entirely liquid in nature like the Hifiman HE-500, but possessing a level of soft clarity that makes vocals have body and presence. It should also be noted that, although the midrange performance of the LCD-2 as a whole is smooth, it does not lack in detail – nor is it completely rolled in air. I can confirm that, to my ears, the transition between the bass to midrange is quite transparent and clean. The bloom on the lower midrange is minimal but what exists serves to accentuate the character of warmth that these headphones possess. Male vocals are quite well served, even gritty and guttural vocal tones ringing out clearly with the body and edge needed. The upper midrange is a bit dipped, but not drastically like the Focal Elear – meaning that while female vocals feel a little further away than male, they don’t sound thin or tonally off.

I must commend this headphone for being as forgiving as it is with some genres and recordings. A reference point that I have is an album that I think is mixed quite horribly – Master of Puppets by Metallica. Insisting on speed despite having a scooped guitar tone, while generally being mid-bassy all around, the album makes many high-end headphones fall flat on their face as they don’t quite know how to reproduce it effectively. The Focal Elear is by far the best headphone in my possession for this endeavour, but the LCD-2 comes in second place – possibly tied with the Sennheiser HD800 (which is lacking in guitar crunch). For the purpose of review context, I’ll detail what I mean with pairing this album in the comparisons below.

The treble of the LCD-2 has a nice amount of air around it, making cymbals pop a fair amount and injecting a slight sense of slight snappiness to the overall sound reproduction. High strings, like violins, and wind instruments like the tenor saxophone sound quite well represented – not overly airy or shrill and maintaining a good sense of tonal balance and depth. Even with songs that absolutely murder me with the HD800 (even SD-modded), I don’t get the same sense with the LCD-2.

Again, I am told that the treble characteristics of the LCD-2 2016 iteration is because of the fazor driver innovation plus a reduction of a more bloated low end – making the headphone possess more micro-detail than before. Even without a pre-fazor unit to compare, I like this change because while I do appreciate a sweet, dynamic but warm sound – I would not have wanted the LCD-2 to sound like laggy. Being laid back and chilled out is a characteristic, being laggy is a flaw – and this headphone is not the latter.

Overall, besides being warm, the LCD-2 feels like a very wet headphone – in stark contrast to the dry and analytical likes of the HD800 or even the less-dry but still starker ZMF Eikon. I find the headphone very enjoyable to listen to with a multitude of genres, but never really edging out any of my other headphones in anything particular. It has shimmering detail where the ZMF Atticus is a little glossed over, but has less aggression and shout than the Focal Elear. It sounds like it uses a wall of reverb to its advantage, making all music listened to take on the Audeze sound that I have heard in their other headphones – but for a price that could be considered entry-level to their lineup.

Amp Pairings

Based on how this sounded from my warm and syrupy Cavalli Liquid Carbon, I would not recommend it or a similar amplifier for it – unless you really want to pursue such a sound signature on purpose. To me it felt a little sluggish, and was better served by the powerful but neutral balanced output of the Audio-GD NFB28. Bass was more controlled too and the shimmering detail was very pronounced, to what I suspect is the best level the headphone has to offer, using the Schiit Gungnir Multibit as a DAC. I have not tried this from a tube amplifier, as I do not have one on hand, so I cannot say regarding that pairing.

Also, as it is a planar magnetic headphone, it does require a decent amount of power to drive – something that should be considered when selecting an amp for it.

Genre Pairings

As an all-rounder, the LCD-2 is firmly in that jack-of-all-trades area for its pricerange. Ironically, it is able to handle more genres of music than my other headphones (barring the Focal Elear, which does this better if you are a fan of its shouty and aggressive sound signature). From jazz to classical, from metal to pop – the LCD-2 envelopes music with its own characteristics and presents a pleasant listening experience that has a lot of body due to the low end.

Electronic music may lack bass slam compared to the likes of the Fostex TH-X00 or ZMF Atticus – but it is still not thin-sounding like the HD800. Bass guitars fall right into the range that is well-represented by the low end of the LCD-2, but do not have the sharp and precise nature of the HD800. I could continue down this path, but it is needless – this is just a nice-sounding headphone and definitely one you can expect consistent performance with if you like how it sounds - with any genre of music.

Headphone Pairings (DAC: Schiit Gungnir Multibit)

Sennheiser HD800

The former Sennheiser flagship is placed firmly in the drier and analytical side of things when it comes to headphones in this pricerange. It pairs extremely well, to my ears, with the Cavalli Liquid Carbon, which I don’t find the LCD-2 to do quite as much – but it is quite a picky headphone to pair with amps due to its somewhat harsh 6k treble spike. Bright and even some neutral amplifiers exacerbate this and sound piercing and shrill to me with most genres of music. The HD800 also has the widest soundstage and most precise imaging of all headphones mentioned in this comparison section.

Switching from the LCD-2 to the HD800, you feel like the floor has fallen in a bit – that is how noticeable the absence of the Audeze’s low-end is. You also miss a warmth in the midrange, removing a lot of body from vocals and guitars alike. I would not call the HD800 a V-shaped headphone for this reason, but it definitely sounds a little recessed in this region compared to the Audeze.

What it outright wins at is reproduction of detail. A solid choice for a reference headphone, the HD800 is quite brutally honest and exposes poorly mastered recordings to the listener – whether in highlighting recording faults or becoming shrill in the face of mastering hack jobs. The LCD-2 is more welcoming of all recordings, particularly the above-mentioned Master of Puppets album – which sounds like the guitars are distant on the HD800, while the drums and cymbals are thin and piercing.

The HD800 is considerably lighter than the LCD-2 as well, coming in around 371g to the Audeze’s 548g.

ZMF Atticus

Switching from the LCD-2 to the Atticus is revealing of just how much (the 2016 model anyway) emphasizes the availability of the shimmering detail hidden in the Audeze’s treble. Phrasing it like this would have you believe that the Atticus is completely lacking in such aspects, which is untrue, but it definitely is not as even in revealing its capabilities – requiring the right genre pairing to do so. What the Atticus has is bass, in abundance, and bass slam. It does not shy away from the electronic genres that the Audeze might be a tad laid back for, and it certainly does not mind introducing hefty low end into just about any recording.

However, this isn’t without its detriments. Master of Puppets is one album that the Atticus suffers on, due to the reliance of a midbassy sound in the mixing falling square in the region that the ZMF headphone emphasizes heavily – making the entire album from start to finish sound a bit bloated. The Atticus hits back, and hard, in electronic pop music – with its bass slam and smooth midrange going hand-in-hand to showcase the headphone’s energetic nature. The Atticus is a more “awake” experience than the LCD-2, which sounds veiled by comparison – but the LCD-2 is able to work with more genres due to its less bassy nature.

One area in particular that the LCD-2 is able to succeed, compared to the Atticus, is in older and warmer recordings – such as those by Led Zeppelin. It does quite well with guitars both electric and acoustic, while the Atticus relies on the mix and can sound a little overwhelmed with such pairings – as Led Zeppelin are from an era without snazzy modern production.

The cherry Atticus and this particular LCD-2 are almost alike in weight, 546g and 548g respectively.

Focal Elear

The Elear’s take-no-prisoners sound, consisting of fantastic dynamics and speed among other aspects, puts it directly across the aisle from the laid back and smooth LCD-2. Both are what I would consider all-rounders, handling most genres with ease if you are a fan of their sound signature. With the Elear, I prefer hard rock, metal and electronic genres while smooth jazz, classical and live recordings sound better to me on the LCD-2. The midrange of the Elear is also aggressive and a bit shouty, while the LCD-2 simply is not.

The Elear also has a snappier sound, to my ears, possibly due to a sudden upturn around 9k-10k after a considerable dip in the upper-midrange – making cymbals and snare drums hit hard. Grand pianos are also tonally superior and more realistic on the Elear. Vocal reproduction, both male and female, are handled better by the LCD-2.

Ultimately, it comes down to preferences. I would not recommend the Elear if you want something for easy listening and are looking to relax – whereas the Audeze fits perfectly into that scenario.

My Elear weighs 448g while the LCD-2 weights 548g. The weight distribution, I must admit, is handled far better on the Elear too – a very comfortable headphone with its headband padding and soft earpads.

Conclusion

Comfort issues aside, the LCD-2 does so much right in its pricerange that it is hard not to recommend to those seeking a relaxed and warm tone in their audio. Once again, I have not heard the previous iterations so I can’t comment on the differences – but I really do feel that it strikes the right balance between warmth and sparkle while maintaining a rich midrange.

It is a distinguished sound, not offering heaps of technical brilliance nor magnified microdetail – but rather an effective zone-out tool that just allows you to listen – and that should always be appreciated in this hobby, where sometimes gear is listened to rather than the music.

ZMF Atticus

ZMF Atticus

Aune S7

Aune S7