LCD-X Headphone Review
Company & Product Overview
Many audio companies have sprung to life from a single, simple idea. Audeze is no different. When two friends met up with an engineer who had been working on designing some super thin, yet flexible circuit materials for NASA, a light bulb went off. This material might be great for a headphone! In 2008, they sought out Dragoslav Colich, who held 10 patents and had years of experience with planar drivers, to help them develop what has become Audeze’s signature driver. Colich joined up and soon after, Audeze was born with the release of the LCD-1.
Today, Audeze is a thriving company with more than 50 employees. All products are handcrafted and designed at their home office in Santa Barbara, CA. In a world of offshore manufacturing, they buck the trend. They have grown from a single headphone to 17 models and have even ventured into the world of pro audio with some serious microphones for the recording industry. Speak to anyone on their team and you will immediately understand that they have a real passion for producing the best possible sound.
Today we’ll be reviewing the Audeze LCD-X, which sits in the middle of their top-end LCD range of headphones. It is an open-back, planar magnetic design, but is designed in a way that does not require as much power to drive as many of their other headphones. It can easily be run with a modest headphone amplifier or even a smartphone.
Packaging, Design & Build Quality
The LCD-X comes supplied with a solid carrying case made of a tough plastic material. If you’re not interested in the case, currently there is a limited edition Music Creator Package that only costs $1,199 but doesn’t include the case.
The case is almost as much a tackle box as it is a headphone case, and looks very similar to the Pelican brand cases that people use to transport delicate electronics. You’ll never have to worry about your headphones getting damaged while they are in this case. However, you will also need a pretty large bag for it. The LCD-X itself is pretty big, and the case is bulky at 14” wide by 12” deep by 6” tall.
Included with the headphones is a detachable multi-conductor headphone cable. The business end that connects to your headphone jack is one of the most solid headphone plugs we have ever seen. It has a great strain relief that ends in a hard rubber connection with a massive, solid metal sheath that houses the gold-plated full-sized headphone plug. The box also includes a mini plug adaptor. Similar to the Grado adaptor, it has a solid female end for the ¼” standard plug that is gold plated, a short length of cable, and a gold-plated mini plug. We like this idea because if you added a standard solid adaptor, you would have a lot of stress on your mini jack since the standard plug is so massive.
The cables that connect to each ear cup are detachable and provide a solid connection, with a tiny button on the side to unlock them from the headphones. Our only gripe is that determining which is the right or left cable almost requires a magnifying glass! The part of the connector where the R or L is located is solid black, as is the letter, which is tiny and barely raised. We understand that they are trying to keep a clean look, but perhaps a better way would have been to have the inner connector color coded.
The LCD-X itself does pass our earcup left/right identifying test as the sides of the headband are clearly marked. Plus, once you get to know them, you won’t even need to look because the earpads are tapered in a way so that they are much larger towards the rear.
Like all of the LCD headphones, the X uses a single planar magnetic driver. The material that creates the sound is less than the thickness of a human hair! This single driver does need to be pretty large to move enough air to create sound, so the LCD-X is a pretty large headphone. The active part of the driver itself is about 2” by 3” diameter.
Build quality on all Audeze products is exactly what you would expect to see from a luxury product. All of the materials used are top notch, with a fit and finish that should provide years of enjoyment.
Take one look at the LCD-X and your first impression might be that these are all about performance, not comfort. The fact is, the design team had the deck stacked against them. The driver is large, so the ear cups are huge. The magnets inside the drivers are extremely strong, causing each driver to weigh 5.4 oz., not including the enclosure.
With all of this adding to greater performance, it would have been easy to just let comfort fall by the wayside. Instead, the team at Audeze stepped up! The super plush ear cups are large enough to completely cover just about any sized ear. They are wrapped in a soft leather that holds what is probably the softest memory foam we have ever encountered in a headphone. The combination just feels super luxurious against your head.
The way the ear cups connect to the headband is rather unique. The headband attaches to the ear cups off-center and more towards the front. The thick pad on the ear cups is tapered and much thicker at the back than the front. This combination takes a headphone that weighs in at a little over 22 ozs and makes it rather comfortable.
Adjustability on the headband is done with the “click” method. It takes a bit of effort to move from one click to the next, assuring you that once you have them where you want them, they are not moving. Little indentations on the post allow you to easily tell where you are so that you can line up each side evenly.
We have to give Audeze credit for making a pretty heavy headphone very easy to wear. They’re not as comfortable as something like a Focal Clear, which is similar in price, but they weigh about 50% more than the Clear, which is a totally different design.
Features & Technology
Audeze’s claim to fame is their patented planar magnetic driver. The diaphragm is almost four times larger than what you see in most headphones, yet is thinner than a human hair. Audeze uses a two-sided magnet array to power this single driver. By driving it from both sides, distortion is reduced to almost nothing. The very lightweight driver responds incredibly fast, which allows it to reveal all kinds of subtle details in the music. A planar magnetic driver like this is also super linear in its frequency response which yields a very natural sound across the entire spectrum.
Audeze developed another patented technology for the material used on either side of the driver. They call it their Fazer Element system. This looks a bit like an open set of Venetian blinds. These guides help reduce resonance and give the LCD-X its amazing, open sound.
With their relatively low impedance of 20 ohms and their efficiency of 103db, the LCD-X can easily be driven by a smartphone. While this will allow you to use them while traveling, we would hope if you got such a great sounding pair of headphones, you would pick up something like a Chord Mojo, AudioQuest Dragonfly Red, or Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital to really see what they can do.
We set up our testing of these with a couple of our favorite headphone amps. On the high-end, we used the Chord Hugo 2, and on the other, we used the Pro-ject Pre Box S2 Digital. Each of these had no trouble driving the LCD-X to volumes far louder than we would ever recommend listening.
Audeze deserves kudos for pointing out on their website that you should protect your hearing and listen at reasonable levels. We have the exact same philosophy. With a headphone this efficient, you can do some serious permanent damage to your hearing if you listen for even a minute or so at excessive levels.
When you listen to some of your favorite tracks with these for the first time, we guarantee you will hear all kinds of things you have never heard before! Unless you had something like this in your system before, be prepared to spend hours going through your music library.
We played a wide variety of music on them, using both Tidal and Roon to access our own library. We spent about 4 hours of constant listening and we never got any sense of fatigue.
From top to bottom, these headphones are just extremely linear. You might expect a planar driver to have a top end emphasis, but not so with the LCD-X. The top-end does extend out way beyond the range of human hearing, but it is just super sweet in its presentation. Voices sound very natural. When you hear a deep bass instrument, it is full, rich, and it reaches incredibly low.
Perhaps the most impressive part of their presentation, however, is just how big they sound. You will almost feel like you are listening to speakers with a wide soundstage that allows each instrument to stand out on its own.
One great example of this is on the Rolling Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” It is most revealing if you have the version from Hot Rocks HDTracks remastered in Hi-res. At the beginning of the song, there is a choir, followed up by a french horn solo on top of the choir, all the way over in the left channel. Right at the very end of the last note from the French horn, a trombone comes in on top of it. On the $700 headphones we had on our desk, you could hear this, but barely. On the LCD-X, the distinction was so apparent that it made the other headphones sound broken!
In fact, they’re so good that they will reveal any issues with the recording or gear you may be pushing them with. When comparing MQA to non-MQA, then comparing those same tracks from HDTracks that were on our NAS drive, you can clearly hear each level of improvement.
Another very interesting thing we liked was how they are set up to interact with Roon. Roon is a great music management system that has the ability to do digital signal processing. Audeze worked with Roon to create profiles for all of their headphones. In their search for perfection, Audeze found they could improve the linearity of their sound a bit more by adding a little DSP. This curve is pre-set inside Roon for each model. While the difference is not night and day, we loved the improvement offered by this cool Roon setup. It took Bob Seger’s Greatest Hit album from 1994 to a whole new level and had us tapping our foot through the entire album.
If you love to hear all of the tiny subtle details in your music and enjoy a super wide headphone soundstage, the Audeze LCD-X may be just what you’re looking for. With its incredible efficiency, you can enjoy them with your phone on the go or really make it shine by pairing it with a great headphone amp. Like many good things in life, it comes at a price both from a cost and weight standpoint, but their luxurious build means they will still feel pretty comfortable, and they just sound awesome.
If you don’t need the case, don’t forget about the Audeze LCD-X Music Creator Package, which is an incredible deal.
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
The LCD-X is so efficient, it can be driven by a smartphone. The super powerful magnets in their planar magnetic design allow this audiophile level phone to be enjoyed on the go.
Neutral Open-Back Sound
We have yet to hear a wider soundstage than we hear on the Audeze LCD series. Plus, unlike some planar headphones, the sound is extremely neutral which makes for a very pleasant long-term listening experience.
You’ll Hear All of Your Music
Learn why recording engineers are starting to use Audeze headphones for mixing. You will simply hear every single nuance in your favorite tunes. But beware, it is addicting so plan to stay up all night listening when you first get them!