The Audeze LCD-X, Fazor, and a Fresh Listen to the Current LCD-2 and LCD-3

Prolog
While covering the Munich High-End show for Stereophile last year, I was hanging around outside the MOC convention center just shooting the breeze with some folks when I saw Alex Rosson, CEO of Audeze. I'd been thinking quite a bit about planar magnetic cans and how they might be improved and had a couple ideas I wanted to run by Alex.

"Hey Alex! Got a minute?"

"Sure Tyll, what's up?"

"Well, I been thinking about planar magnetic cans and some of the problems I see in the measurements. I think those big magnets are creating some problems with the acoustics around the drivers. I was wondering if you've thought about shaping the magnets so they present less acoustic impedance around the diaphragms and maybe clean up the leading edge of the impulse and square wave response?"

Alex pauses and looks at me with a bit of the squint eye...

"Good thinking," Alex says, "but you'd have to stop by the factory and sign an NDA...then I could tell you what we're up to."

Cool. Obviously I had struck a chord with their developments at the time...and now we know about the "Fazor" assembly in the LCD-X. (We'll talk about it in just a minute.) But I had another idea regarding planer-magnetic headphones, which I explained and asked about.

Alex gave me another squint eye.

"Damn, more good thinking Tyll, and again I'd have to have you sign an NDA."

I won't mention the idea, because it didn't show up in the LCD-X and it's one of those "very far away if ever" ideas, but having hit two interesting and sensible (to me) ideas in a row, I've got to guess that Audeze's sleeves are ample in size and quite a few surprises are up them as we travel into the future. Good stuff.

The Audeze LCD-X ($1699)
All Audeze open-back headphones are quite similar in size, shape, and weight. These are fairly heavy headphones, which may be one of the few significant draw-backs with planar magnetic headphones. Differences in weight between the various Audeze models are fundamentally due to differences in the driver magnet structure and the headphone capsule material; the LCD-X is the heaviest in the line due to the aluminum capsule housing.

  • LCD-2 Bamboo Composite - 490 Grams
  • LCD-2 Rosewood - 522 Grams
  • LCD-X Anodized Aluminum - 600 Grams
  • LCD-3 Zebrano Wood - 548 Grams

Earpad size and shape is ample providing plenty of space for your ears; the padding and cover materials are extraordinarily soft and comfortable. Given the weight, size, and softness however, I find the headphones can move around on my head while active and feel a little insecure. This is a headphone for serious listening though, and I don't find this a problem at all while listening in a stationary position...and all these headphones are likely to stop you in your tracks.

Three different pads are available: black lambskin, dark brown premium lambskin, and medium brown micro-suede (non-leather). Black lambskin is the stock offering for the LCD-2 and LCD-X, and the dark brown premium lambskin pads come as stock with the LCD-3. All headphones can be ordered with the leather-free micro-suede pads. Spare pads are available ($80 for LCD-2 LCD-X, $100 for LCD-3) and are user replaceable. Attachement is done by a double-sided adhesive ring, so don't try to remove your pads just for a look as you'll need a new adhesive ring to replace them. Audeze headbands are also constructed with the three different materials to match with each model as shipped.

The earpads have a significant angle on them to place the drivers slightly forward on your ears with the planar wave front hitting your ears from a slightly forward angle. This configuration is believed to provide more natural reflections as the sound enters your ear. A number of other headphones have angled drivers (Sennheiser HD 800, Sony MDR-1R, for example), but usually the driver is angled in the housing; I see nothing wrong with the angled pad approach, however.

Accessory deliverables with all the Audeze headphones is excellent. All Audeze headphones use an 8-foot "Y" cable terminated with a female 3-pin mini-XLR at each headphone capsule (see here for pin-outs) and a 1/4" stereo headphone plug on the other end. The LCD-X and LCD-3 include a second cable terminated with a four-pin male XLR for balanced operation. All headphones come stock with a very cool Pelican case for storage and transport; the LCD-3 can be purchased with a very nice wooden presentation case alternatively. A 1/4" to 1/8" short cable adapter is included with all cans; a wood care kit (cloth and small bottle of wood care oil) is included with wooden models.

Audeze_LCDX_Photo_InBox

Audeze Product Differences Over Time
In this review I am going to try to put the LCD-X in context with its sibling headphones as they are currently being produced. There have been a lot of changes over time to the LCD-2 and LCD-3...a lot! This, in my opinion, is a good thing.

Like the guys at Audeze, in most headphone companies small and large product management is almost universally done by what I would term as "professional audio enthusiasts". In fact, I can think of no other identifiable group of people that I would call more enthusiastic about audio than the people responsible for bringing us the products we hobbyists enjoy. They fall off our radar as hobbyists when they cloister themselves behind corporate walls, but they are, I can assure you, enthusiastic about audio and rabid innovators, just as you or I would be in their shoes. Corporate environs differ from place to place, and the pace of their innovation gets throttled in different manners, but I guaranty you successful companies are continuously changing their product. They're forced to both by the internal drive to innovate and the external pressures of customer input. A company would be dumb not to have a culture of ongoing product improvement.

Audeze has had a lot of opportunity to improve their product over time. They've only been at this for five years, so a lot has been, and will continue to be, learned. They've grown at an extraordinary pace over that time. They've changed production methods a number of times, and they've recently moved into a new facility where they now control the entire manufacturing process. My impression both from experiencing Audeze product over time and from conversation with the principals there, is they've been working smart and hard on continuous product improvement and, as a result, today's models are better headphones than those of old. As a headphone enthusiast I appreciate that...but yes, I know it can be a little frustrating at times. For example, even though I had models made last November, I had to significantly delay this review so that I could get my hands on the most current LCD-2 and LCD-3 with Fazors to compare with the LCD-X. If I had purchased those cans in November only to find out the Fazors were added a month later I would be bummed, but it's not like Audeze has done anything wrong. It's just the way things are. (Note: Fazors can be retrofit for an additional charge onto more recent LCD-2 and LCD-3, so Audeze is doing all they can to deliver improvements to existing customers when possible.)

When I ran HeadRoom we were continuously investigating and implementing changes both small and large to our amps. I have a Kawasaki KLR 650 motorcycle, a model that's been in production for more than 20 years. But changes have been ongoing and my 2001 is a better bike than those before it...and not as good as current models. The two year old MacBookPro I'm typing on is not quite as good as the ones in stores today. This is the way of the world: Most products are continuously undergoing change. When I see people on the forums bitching and moaning about how this or that manufacturer is changing product over time it makes me just a little bit crazy. Would you want to stop manufacturers from being innovative with current product? If you were a manufacturer wouldn't you desire to contually improve your product? When you buy a product from a manufacturer, you're buying their best effort to date. If you want next year's model, you need to wait until next year. If you buy this year's model, you need to understand that it may be improved upon.

Lastly, on the subject of product changes over time, I hope the reader understands that I cannot go back and try to resurrect a timeline of all the changes to all the models in Audeze's stable for this review. I will make a couple of generalizations about the older models, but for the most part this review is to capture a snapshot of the LCD-X in the context of the Audeze family at this current time. To do so I will be essentially reviewing the LCD-3 and LCD-2 as I compare them with the LCD-X. It is important to know that the current LCD-2 and LCD-3 now ship with Fazors (an acoustic waveguide assembly attached to the magnets), and are somewhat different sounding than previous models. So please be sure to understand that when I talk about the current LCD-2, for example, it may not sound like the LCD-2s you have heard in the past.

The Fazor
Audeze_LCDX_Photo_Fazor

Photo shows Fazor assembly attached to the back of the outside magnetic structure of the LCD-X. Another Fazor can be found on the other side of the driver. The way to tell if your Audeze headphones have a Fazor is to rub your finger on the inside of the ear-cup to feel the ridges of the Fazor through the grill-cloth.

One of the problems with planer-magnetic headphones is the large magnet structure to either side of the diaphragm, which tend to produce acoustic problems as sound radiates through them. One recent trend is to use single-sided magnetic structures (Abyss AB-1266 and soon-to-be released HiFiMAN HE-560) that significantly reduce the acoustic obstruction to the diaphragm. But these designs do have to make trade-offs as magnetic field strength and structure are significantly altered. To the best of my knowledge, single-sided magnetic structures will not produce the iso-dynamic magnetic field (where field strength remains exactly equal over the entire excursion of the diaphragm's conductors) needed to keep diaphragm response perfectly linear. (See more on this subject in Abyss AB-1266 review.) The distortion produced, however, tends to be strongly even-order (which tends to sound good) and may be preferable to the acoustic problems associated with a bulkier magnet structures.

Audeze's solution to the problem is to keep the two-sided magnet structure, but add the patent-pending Fazor assembly to provide acoustic impedance matching. The diagram below is for illustrative purposes only and is not drawn to any particular scale, or with any particular frequency in mind. I've drawn it simply to give you an idea of where the Fazor is in the driver assembly, and to give you a rough idea of what's going on. I have no knowledge of the exact workings of the driver and Fazor assembly.

Audeze_LCDX_Diagram_Fazor

You can see in the drawing above that the Fazor assemble acts to allow sound to escape the driver assembly in in a way that is less problematic than without. The question is: What are the real world results?

Audeze_LCDX_Graphs_300SQCompareIn the 300Hz square wave plots to the right, I show responses from the LCD-2, LCD-2 w/Fazor (LCD-2F), LCD-3, LCD-3F, and LCD-X. One of the things I've always noticed with dual-sided planar-magnetic drivers is a significant second blip after the first leading edge overshoot. In both the LCD-2 and, to a lesser extent, the LCD-3, you can see a significant second bump after the initial leading edge spike. It's my opinion that headphone imaging is strongly helped by a very clean leading edge spike with little subsequent information. I think this gives the ear clear edges to get needed timing information for good acoustic localisation and therefore imaging.

In my listening tests, it did seem that the Fazor models did provide a slightly better sense of image than those without, and I would add that they also sounded just a little more refined and clear. It seems clear to me that the Fazors are doing a good job of providing an incremental improvement to these headphones, but I would definitely characterize it as a modest improvement compared to the overall changes these cans have seen over the last four years.

Fazors are identical on all current models and can be retrofitted to your later model LCD-2 or LCD-3 product at moderate cost. Please contact Audeze for details.

Alrightythen, flip the page and we'll talk a little bit about the differences between the three models, and how they all sound.

COMPANY INFO
Audeze
10725 Ellis Ave, Unit E
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
info@audeze.com
(657) 464 7029
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Jazz Casual's picture

I've auditioned the Audeze LCD 2 and LCD 3. I found that both suffered from treble roll-off. The leading edge of notes were blunted, the overall presentation sounded closed-in and lacked air. Music sounded very smooth but lacked energy and bite where you would expect to experience it. The midrange and bass were their strengths, which seems typical of planar magnetics. But the deal breaker was the form factor. They were heavy and with the very thick earpads, I felt like I was wearing a motorcycle helmet. It was a claustrophobic listening experience. I've not felt inclined to try Audeze since. I look forward to your review of the Oppo PM-1 though.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I think their onward march has brought some more mid and upper treble into the picture.
Jazz Casual's picture

No I haven't and that's due in part to the design and weight of the headphone, which Audeze hasn't redressed. Having said that, the changes in sound signature that you've described are welcome. I might give them another listen some time, but I honestly can't envisage owning a pair unless Audeze introduce a lighter, slimmer version.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
...is future musings. No doubt in a direction that many are cogitating. The Oppo ergos are sweet, and the HE 560 is light. Things is happening.

But I do recommend another listen to the new cans...just for fun, eh?

Jazz Casual's picture

Sure - happy to give them another audition some time.

thelostMIDrange's picture

instruments and not an issue for electronic or highly processed compressed music which is ubiquitous after 1985. It's likely an inherent issue with the planar technology as compared to a dynamic. When anyone reviews audio gear, a reviewer would be wise to have taken stock of his basic assumptions about sound and rank his priorities and list them at the head of each review. For me, accurate instrumentation in terms of timbre and attack is THE most important aspect of music while bass and treb extension, spacial qualities, etc rank lower. I don't see how any musician of traditional instruments can hear the Planar as being accurate in terms of presence when compared to a good dynamic. You can't wring blood from a stone so it may as well just be accepted and acknowledged along with all the excellent properties the LCD does have regardless of make model or iteration.

thelostMIDrange's picture

imagine that. Something being too good. It goes against the grain to suggest such a thing, along with the other assumption- that gear always progresses and gets better with each release. Just look at windows 8 for a recent example of this fact.....My point is that presence is possibly a kind of distortion. In music gear, it is minimal and needs to be just the right kind in the right place (usually only upper mids- as distortion elsewhere does seem to take away and not add to natural accurate sound). What does a percussion symbal, guitar string or horn do when it's struck loudly or played with vigor, it distorts, either the wave or your eardrum or both, but it's not some pure scientifically isolated signal. The over resolution of the LCD (and other good planars) might be both it's finest attribute and achilles heel. Something to consider at least imo. The 2 basic assumptions - evolution(progress)as always being in the right direction, and the assumption of a total ban on distortion should be looked at. It relates to this review in as much as it's ok to suggest the LCD is not perfect for every type of music or demanding listener. It depends on his priorities and bass and treble qualities seem to figure much more into reviews here and elsewhere than the accuracy of sonny rollins selmer or jimmy pages' Martin acoustic. I scarcely hear such things mentioned in any past review here now that I think of it. So, it's safe to assume it's not tyll's no 1 priority/

thelostMIDrange's picture

certain we haven't mis-calibrated our measuring tools a little, and what we measure as low level distortion is acutally something like a negative distotion, a concept we aren't even aware exists and so it hasnt't been named, like before we knew 'dark matter' or curved space existed. Or maybe there's a nano sized elf inside every song that acts as a gatekeeper and if it senses this negative distortion (what we measure as near distortionless) it puts a mild voodoo spell on the sound because it senses the designer was only searching rationally when he made the amp/dac/etc and in it's infinite wisdom, as nano elf's may have, it forgoes the spell on gear with just the right minimal level type and placed distortion, leaving it more musically pleasing. Sure it sounds crazy but so does everything about exisence we have learned and take for granted. The point is, for some reason, when gear gets past a certain point of perfection, it starts to shoot itself in the proverbial foot and this fact, even though it appears to contradict our seemingly strict flawless logic, may be real and for who knows what reason and explanation. I use this to illustrate in a different way the possibility that there may exist such a thing as, too much of a good thing' and that maybe it's possible to have too much resolution.

thelostMIDrange's picture

read and followed this thought line so far, and done in the spririt of frank Zappa, "without deviation from the norm (real) progress is impossible". (The deviation being the holding up in our mind of the possibility that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing).......it's not that I'm suggesting the LCD is 'too perfect', but that inherent to the planar mag technology exists a quality which tends to result in an aspect of the music being a bit too perfect (and then a lack of upper end presence). The way of audio judo would suggest an acnknowledgement of it, and a limit of it's impact, while trying to make up for it elsewhere with adjusting some other quality of sound or earphone design. The triangle shaped wave defractor is an example in another area of the headphone. A designer could imagine where else in the headphone, or which other abvailable variable, could be tweeked to give the feeling of more presence. The result will likely not be as good as that which can be achieved in a dynamic however because the opposite phenomenon is going on over there. namely that a dynamic tends to give this natural presence (or musical distortion) by it's nature and the task in that sense is to tame and guide it. Which Sennheiser 800 went to far with, as engineers can do sometimes. German ones more easily than italian.

Another issue that seems to be inherent to the planar is a kind of overlinearity of the bass instruments, which brings us back to the accuracy of a headpone in terms of its ability to render traditional instruments correctly in terms of timbre, dynamics and a general, yeah that sounds right kind of thing. A dynamic driver tends to round out the tone of a bass guitar or kick drum for two examples, more honestly than the planar. Speaking as someone who plays bass guitar in the real world and is not a closet basshead. There's more to quality of bass than measurements of course and accuracy should be 'measured' the same there as elsewhere in the sound, measured by its ability to most closely approximate real world sound in a live real room such as your den or the local pub.

zobel's picture

I wonder if I could hear these cans there in Bozeman at the Headroom store downtown? It would be a good outing, and the possible beginnings of actual ownership somewhere down the line.
When the Sennheiser HD 600 came out, I talked my wife into a trip to Peach Street to see you and Todd, and those cans. I brought along my Sony MDR V600 and it was easy for you to show me, (and my wife) just how much better the Senns were. I loved them. I told my wife I thought they were just a bit too costly, and we left your shop with a complimentary coffee mug, and a warm handshake. When we got home my wife called you and ordered the Senns. After replacement pads and many many hours of great music I still love them.
I don't know if another trip to Bozeman will be as fruitful, but I'm going to have to check out those Audeze cans, and my wife likes road trips, so IRIE!

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Lemme know if you come up and we'll try to get together for lunch or something. If they don't have the cans downtown (pretty sure they do) I have some you can play with.
tony's picture

Hello Tyll ,
Again , another insightful analysis , Thank You .

These headphones are not expensive , people keep on that pricy idea but it's kinda wrong in concept .

I submit that a lowly Sennheiser HD 580 ( used ) combined with an Asgard is a fine music system , a comparable High-End System would fetch staggering prices and probably be nearly impossible to sell-off when upgrading .
Starting off at the HD 580 level and moving up , a person can purchase with the comfort of knowing that these things will sell on ebay for 80% of new purchase prices , no problem at all , $2K for a headphone is hardly a stumbling block considering it as a rental in the que of transducers on the horizon , ( more lovely things coming every next year , can't wait , it's an exciting hobby ) . Of course we need our Tyll to continue pointing out fresh considerations , don't we . My thank-you to all the Manufacturers for sending you all this stuff for us to read about and contemplate as we trudge thru the drudgery of our everyday lives .
As a past participant of the High End Audio Industry I must say that these Headphones and their matching little Amps are superior transducers to any offerings of the Big Boys that manufacture the stuff that sits in living rooms for impressing guests .
Thank you and your peers for enlightening all of us , we are transitioning into an accessible world of great music reproduction , finally and at affordable price points .

audioops's picture

If you've reached the point where you think $2000 doesn't constitute an expensive headphone, then you've become so enmeshed in the hobby that you've lost grips with ordinary reality. You might find that spending $2000 on a pair oh headphones justified because of your unusual level of interest in headphone performance, but if you're actually suggesting that regular people are mistaken for thinking a $2000 pair of headphones is expensive then you're delusional.

tony's picture

I feel a person can achieve a Superb music Headphone system for $700 : an Odac , Bottlehead & HD580's ! This system will reproduce the vast world of 16/44 CDs into wonderful sounding music , no doubt about that , in fact there might be little or no reason to advance any further , unless a person hopes for a bit more of a magical experience , in which case he could pursue one of these special headphones , which he could purchase with the knowledge that he could recover his investment from a resell on ebay . The part you may be correct about is Delusion : here we , or should I say I , am contemplating the concept of being in Superb but hoping to glide into the Dopamine Cloud of these $2,000 devices .
I may be delusional to think that regular people could consider this level of investment but that dilution comes from actively working in High-End where most of the products in that group are well over $2,000 MSRP and mostly have horrible re-sale value . In reference to your entire letter , I suspect my Wife would agree with you entirely , so there probably is accuracy to what you say .
Bon Vivant
Tony

Fenderf4i's picture

My LCD-2's were made on December 17. Audeze told me that they started putting fazor's in them on December 18th. What a bummer!

Claritas's picture

I wonder how LCDX would measure (and sound) without the Fazor.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
:)

Just joking.

My guess is that you'd start to see a second bump on the 300Hz square wave, and you'd hear it as a little poorer imaging and fine detail resolution.

gavtron's picture

Hi,

Thanks for the review. Audeze have offered to upgrade my LCD-3 with the new fazor wave guide, but keeping the old drivers (50ohm). Do you think that this will result in less bass, as you have posted, or is the drop in bass due to the 110 ohm impedance in the updated drivers?

Thanks,

gav.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
....no idea.
gavtron's picture

no worries - I have read on HF that the 50 ohm upgraded version does in fact reduce bass a bit as your measurements show, so I guess it's to do with the fazor tech.
http://www.head-fi.org/t/588429/audeze-lcd-3-appreciation-thread/2625#po...

theinvertedsky's picture

Just wondering when you are going to be reviewing the v moda xs?

Thanks

Tyll Hertsens's picture
...but their in the house and on the block for review soon. Got the Oppo PM-1 and BottleHeadphones in the loop as well. Within the next month or so for sure.
NickS's picture

I completely agree with you that it is a good thing that Audeze does running upgrades to their line. However, Audeze needs to do more to protect consumers.

The fact that they don't clearly label the products with a revision number is a big problem for consumers. For example, Benchmark does revisions and they label the product with a letter code to indicate a change has been made. Without this, it make it very difficult for a consumer to know what they are buying or even what they already own. It also makes selling used Audeze headphones more difficult. I don't see any benefit to Audeze from this secrecy. In fact, I think they probably lose out on a lot of upgrade sales.

Audeze should consider a trade-in/trade-up program. It would go a long way to helping buyers who feel disappointed by an upgrade being introduced after they made their purchase. It would also be consumer friendly for them to announce revisions a month or two before putting them in production, so buyers are aware.

I think that Inner Fidelity should include a box score in each review that covers all of the above, warranty info, return policy, customer service, online presence, etc.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I wouldn't characterize it as "secrecy" necessarily, probably more like growing pains.

On your last point, I think putting a believable objective score on those kinds of things is awfully difficult and time consuming. It's hard enough just to grade the headphones.

NickS's picture

I'd love to see a future review that compares the LCD-X vs the LCD-XC. Some reviewers have said that the XC is the best in the line. If it is true that their closed headphone is as good or better than their open headphones, it is quite ground breaking.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Reviewers say a lot of things.
NickS's picture

Thats why I'd like your opinion. :-)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I'm going to decline comment except to say I don't think it's the the best in their line.
o153n's picture

I'm the reverse of Fenderf4i, I attended some meets and listened to LCD-2 rev. 2, saved my coins the was looking forward to the incredible bass extension that the LCD offers. My pair has Fazer, and as your review points out, better imaging, less bass. Not what I thought I was buying. I canned my Audio-gd amp for a Lyr trying to get some impact, and now I'm down to tube rolling trying to find some freaking bass response. My previous (and still current) rig is HD-600's with Bottlehead Crack. For the most part at the moment (sans some Lyr tube rolling...) the 600 is the winner. Better treble, and dare I say it, better bass impact. I don't hear any better imaging in the LCD. My question to Audeze would be, can you remove the fazer and give me back the LCD-2 rev 2?

Tyll, thanks for the great reviews. Once again, this review matches exactly what I hear with my own setup.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Could be other things as well. You'd just have to try it. Or just EQ...the Audeze cans respond well when tweaked that way.

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