The Spectacularly Yummy Audeze LCD-2 and LCD-3

Introduction
Alexander Rosson and Sankar Thiagasamudram were just a couple of headphone enthusiasts a few years ago when they decided to have a go at building a new generation of planar magnetic headphones. They showed their first prototype driver design shoe-horned into another headphone housing at CanJam LA 2009. By October of that year, Audeze was showing their first complete product, the LCD-1.

Audeze_LCD2LCD3_Photo_09LCD1

Sankar (left) and Alex show off the LCD-2 prototype at CanJam at RMAF 2009.

Eight months later, I brought my headphone measurement system to CanJam Chicago 2010. When the guys from Audeze brought in their latest creation, the LCD-2, for measurement I was stunned with the results. In a number of ways it was the best headphone I'd ever measured. The bass extension was simply extraordinary.

In the years since, the LCD-2 has evolved: pads changed; the wood of the housing has changed; the headband has changed; and even the driver has evolved to the point that a new model, the LCD-3, emerged with a significantly thinner diaphragm. Through it all, one thing remained the same: these headphones were very good, and becoming tantalizingly closer and closer to world-class performance. But there was always a "but..."

Initially, the pads were too stiff, somewhat uncomfortable, and provided an unreliable seal for some. The treble was a bit too rolled-off as well. Then the pads were fixed, which improved the sound and comfort somewhat, but the wood housings would sometimes crack. The headband changed, connectors were added to prevent wood cracking, and pads were improved again. When the LCD-3 first came out, some problems with consistency and reliability arose.

Response to the problems and rapidly evolving Audeze products within the headphone community was predictably raucous. But I have to say, it's not that other companies don't have their own troubles as well. HiFiMAN, which was also developing competitive planar magnetic designs during the same time period had a rapidly changing product line and problems of its own. I've measured Beyerdynamic models that change significantly during the introduction period. And even Sennheiser lofts bloopers into the market every now and then (e.g., the new HD 700). But the guys at Audeze were one of our own, they had a great sounding can in the works, and dag nub it, we all wanted to see them pull off the miracle. Flames and exploding heads on the internet is encouragement of a kind...isn't it? Bottom line: I think a lot of the vocal reaction to Audeze's efforts, both positive and negative, were due to the fact that the headphone geeks really wanted Audeze to succeed, and it rankled when they struggled to hit the mark.

Through it all, however, to their great credit, Alex and Sankar kept their noses to the grindstone and worked tirelessly to respond to customers, made good on the promise of a quality pair of headphones, and continued to improve the quality of manufacture and performance. Today, I would argue, these two gentlemen have indeed arrived at a place where they can say with confidence that Audeze makes world-class headphones.

The Audeze LCD-2 ($995) and LCD-3 ($1945) Planar Magnetic Headphones
The thin and flat plastic membrane of planar magnetic headphone driver differs significantly from the domed diaphragm and voice coil of a typical headphone driver, which is more like a traditional cone speaker. The planar magnetic driver membrane has a serpentine pattern of conductor bonded to its surface, and is immersed in a very strong magnetic field provided by rare earth bar magnets within the driver housing.

The magnet structure of some HiFiMAN planar magnetic headphones, which are similar to the Audeze design.

The advantages of this design is that--like electrostatic speakers--the force moving the diaphragm is distributed over the entire surface, and it tends to move with a clean piston motion and with very little chance of modal break-up. The magnets are very strong, and the electro-motive force moving the diaphragm is very efficient and moves the diaphragms with significant force--here it has an advantage over electrostatic designs where the electrostatic force used is significantly weaker. However, a disadvantage of planar magnetic drivers is that the magnets and support frame for the magnets tend to be rather large and provide some acoustic interference--unlike electrostatic speaker stators which can be thin and more acoustically transparent. (For a complete description, see my InnerFidelity article "How Planar Magnetic Headphones Work")

Another disadvantage to the current crop of planar magnetic headphones from Audeze (and HiFiMAN) is that because of the size and weight of the drivers the headphones are large and rather heavy. Fortunately, Audeze has worked hard on the headphone ergonomics and despite their heft, the LCD-2 and LCD-3 are quite comfortable. No dancing though, these are headphones for sitting and listening.

Let's talk about the build...

COMPANY INFO
Audeze
10725 Ellis Ave, Unit E
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
info@audeze.com
(657) 464 7029
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COMMENTS
Alondite's picture

I've yet to hear either of these cans (something I hope to soon rectify), but by the sounds of it if I were going to throw down the big bucks on a pair of cans it wouldn't be either of these two. Now that's not to say I would turn either of them down! That would be plain foolish.

"Liquid" is not a quality that I look for in sound (at least by my definition of the word). I prefer a snappy "live" sound with an aggressively textured midrange. When I think of what "liquid" sounds like, I imagine a smoothed-over sound, like using a surface blur in Photoshop. I love to hear all the grit and rasp in the vocals. 

Bass is also the least important part of the audio spectrum for me. If anything, I prefer a bass response that is slightly under neutral. I find that it lends itself to cleaner, less "cluttered" sound and a slightly cooler midrange, which I also prefer. It could be due to my rather "busy-sounding" genre preferences (various brands of rock and metal). 

Would the HD800 be more my cup of tea then? Or something entirely different maybe? Because I'm starting to think that instead of spending a few hundred dollars every year of so on different/upgraded headphones, that I should just save up for a AAA pair.

dalethorn's picture

By your description you might want to try the Shure 1840. Leaner bass than HD800 (not by much though), less of the brightness but plenty of detail and grit.

AGB's picture

Alondite,

Since you haven't heard the Audeze's, I suggest you get yorself the freebie given away with iPods. From your description we "get it."

Ferraris are not for everyone.

$5000 DACs are not for everyone.

Or Rolexes...when the Timex keeps on tickin.'

Go hear it and then you can recommend for yourself what you really need and like.

You don't know what you'd like either...

For without the experience, you can't know.

Now you can go drink your cup 'O tea.

I'll stay with a good brew of coffee thank you.

And the Audeze.

star's picture

anyone exhow lcd 2 compare to dt 880 ?p

MacedonianHero's picture

Fantastic write up Tyll. Our comparisons of the LCD-2/LCD-3 and HD800s seem to match up quite well. Agreed that the LCD-3s are my desert island headphones as well...simply magical. They easily get 70% of my listening time over my other 3 headphones (HD800, T1s and W3000ANVs). Thanks!

 

BTW, as I've said before, I love those headphone stands!

mikemercer's picture

Tyll

NAILED it....

Alondite's picture

I've never really been particularly fond of the Shure sound. After I bought my Vsonic GR07, a friend insisted that I should have gotten the Shure SE535 instead because they sound "so much better," despite the fact he'd never even heard of the GR07. Well, I listened to his 535s, and for one they were very clearly inferior to my GR07s, but they also had a "thick" midrange I didn't care for. From what I've heard, that is the Shure house midrange.

Also, the supposed superior imaging of the HD800 is very enticing. 

dalethorn's picture

Shure is a world unto itself, that's for shure. But I had a HD800 for 3 years, and like a few people have mentioned, I enjoyed some of the listening and used it to compare a lot of audio qualities, but in the end it wasn't completely satisfactory for long-term music listening.

Alondite's picture

Given my tastes, I think I may be able to use them long-term. I want hyper-analytical, with absolute transparency, and the HD800s by most, if not all accounts, are just that. I want to miss no detail, and I want to track represented exactly as the artist wanted me to hear it. 

Frankly, I see headphones that intentionally color the sound in one way or another as being an insult to the artistic integrity of the music. "I think this would sound better with more bass." No, it wouldn't. It has exactly as much bass as it's supposed to have, and it has that much for a reason. Changing it is like paiting penises all over the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

I want to hear the artist's intent, not the headphone's interpretation of it.

dalethorn's picture

I can say this about the HD800 - you get a really good amp for them and then compare to other dynamics. When some of those upper harmonic details on other headphones sound a little indistinct or dull, the HD800 will often resolve them into their individual details with a sparkle and tone color that may surprise you.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Quote:
Frankly, I see headphones that intentionally color the sound in one way or another as being an insult to the artistic integrity of the music.

I think the LCD-3 is probably closer to neutral in terms of frequency response than the HD 800.  Bass is flatter, fewer peaks in the highs. Resolution and imaging is better on the 800s for me though.

Dr.Phil's picture

Did you experiment with swaping the pads ?

Folks are reporting improvement on the LCD2 sound with the LCD3 pads, stating it sounds better and actually closer to the LCD3.

I would like to hear your report on this.

mward's picture

Loved the LCD-2 when I had a loaner set for about six months. Honestly, I think just about anyone would love them. They might like the Sennheiser HD 800 or some other world class headphones more, but the I think they would find the LCD-2 (and presumably LCD-3) completely appealing, regardless of their preferences. 

 

I miss them. But if I'm going to drop a grand on headphones, I'll get some custom IEMs, which I will get much more use out of. 

wilzc's picture

Whats your take on the HD700 Tyll?

Your sonic tastes are almost akin to mine therefore I'd love to hear your opinion on them before cutting off or succumb to this lust of mine for them.

I know you've heard them at meet conditions and therefore not really reliable. But maybe you've got your hands on a pair now.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Had one in for measurements. It sounded tizzy and thin to me.

wilzc's picture

My take on them actually is sliiiiightly thick. Lush but not loose. Like a serious version of the HD650.

Do try to get one in for more than a quick measurement!!

Draygonn's picture

I should have bought LCD-2s last year when I was looking for a compliment to HD800s.  I'll give them a long listen at the upcoming LA meet.  I like the new connectors and appreciate the way Audeze keeps improving their product and listening to their customers.

burnspbesq's picture

See you then, Daygonn. The rest of the signal chain will be MacBook Air/Amarra/Ayre QB-9/Luxman P-200 or Bryston BHA-1.

I could easily live with either as my only headphone. I narrowly prefer the HD 800, for its sound-staging and overall clarity. I tend to listen analytically, and the 800 lets me farther into the music. But oh man, the bass on the LCD-3 is to die for.

The best sound-bite summary of the difference: id vs. superego or tool vs. toy. take your pick.

bernardperu's picture

Hi Tyll, I own the LCD-3s based on S Gutt's recommendation and other info I found online. I drive them with my Schiit Lyr but it seems like they need a different amp to outshine my Hifiman HE-500s. 

I just purchased the new balanced Schiit amp. I live overseas and have to take leaps of faith when it comes to audio purchases. 

For pre-recorded music, Would you recommend a balanced amp for the LCD-3? What do your ears tell you?

Congratulations on your great site! I have been following it for a while but this is my first post.

 

Bernard

 

 

Mike Birman's picture

Several months of listening to my HD700s have not diminished my enthusiasm for them. I consider them a viable alternative to the strongly analytical/superbly imaging HD800s. There may be some forthcoming data that supports Tyll's characterization of them as one of Sennheiser's "bloopers" but I'm more of a subjectivist when it comes to headphones. And even empirical data must often be subjectively analyzed, so we can never totally escape the murky world of psychoacoustics. The Audeze LCD-3s are a superb headphone but given their lofty price one would expect no less.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Quote:
There may be some forthcoming data that supports Tyll's characterization of them as one of Sennheiser's "bloopers"

I've measured them, and there's a significant ringing.

Purrin's measured them ... and there's significant ringing.

How they sound is more important, but we're not measuring something that's not there. And I can hear problems fairly clearly. Glad you're enjoying yours, though, have no problem with that.

dalethorn's picture

Purrin's comments and comparison graphs illustrating smoothness in the treble are helpful. It's too bad we can't get a few normalized high-freq. curves on at least the top models, since it's hard to evaluate them intuitively. There must be a way.... On the smoothness thing, it's even more important if you wanted to apply just a little bit of EQ, so you don't make peaks and dips worse.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Doesn't work like that, Dale. The solution is in the design. They make a great headphone or not. Sometimes there's stuff you can do to help, but it's really up to the manufacturer to get it right. 

heycarnut's picture

Why would a warm, but dead, audiophile care?

I think you meant dyed... smiley

Thanks for the review, one of my favorites is my 3.

 

Rob

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Me go fixie.

AGB's picture

Just a curiosity I cannot satisfy.

Once I had installed the Moon Silver Dragon wires for my LCD2s, the characterizations for the LCD3 I saw in print seem to be closely related to the LCD-2/Moon wires combo AFTER I had used the parametric EQ  on the Fidelia player.

Can someone who actually has access to both please run a listening test and let us know your impressions?

I got much better detailing, resolution, transparency, more tightness and character in the bass and more extended treble with the Moon/Fidelia.

But also, and this is rather important, some players (I use Audio Engineering's FIDELIA advanced) has three parametric EQs with which I can "create" flat at the ears...as opposed to what flat may be theoretically on another planet. In other words, I think - and this is pure speculation - that I can match the sound of the 3 with the 2 - or close enough.

In this sense I am using the Parametric EQ - and not lightly either.

I suggest for those who think they are hearing flat, don't fool yourself.

You'll know it when you hear it...and you'll hear it ONLY after using parametric EQ.

Mike Birman's picture

The data is incontrovertible, no question. The ringing is significant. Yet it has not (at least thus far) impinged on my listening: which may be a function of my own personal treble roll-off and an inability to discern unwanted resonance. Or perhaps variability in manufacturing (not unheard of, though pretty unlikely). One would think something as significant as this would not escape Sennheiser while developing the HD700. One would think ....

What is interesting is that I also don't hear the 700s as thin. To my ears they sound rather full and are given to fast volume increases that require vigilance. Thin and tizzy vs. full and loud. Some headphones are prone to controversy, I suspect the HD 700s may also acquire that dubious distinction. And it certainly highlights the subjective component when evaluating something as inherently personal as headphones. I also wonder if ingesting acoustic data alters one's perception of what they are hearing. Now that I've seen the data on ringing, will I hear what I previously missed? It's possible.

Kabeer's picture

Great article Tyll. Im really enjoying my LCD-2's thanks to you!

Just one little thing, the photo you have labelled as LCD-1 is actually the LCD-2 prototype that was demo'd before the LCD-2 commercial release where they totally revamped the design. The prototype was an in-house design too.

The LCD-1 had a greenish/gold oem housing.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Glad to hear you're digging the cans!

StudioGuy's picture

Hi Tyl,

How do you compare the LCD-2 to the HD-600\650 (or other sub 995$ cans) for proffesional Mixing applications?

Does they worth twice the price of the HD650? (I know, deminishing returns and what not, but still..) 

How do they compare in terms of comfort, esspecially for long term sessions?

I wish I could check the LCD-2 for myself, but there aren't any stores that sell them in my country.

Thanks a lot!

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