The Spectacularly Yummy Audeze LCD-2 and LCD-3 Page 3

Sound Quality
As you can see from the graph above, the overall measured performance of the LCD-2 and LCD-3 is quite similar. Listening to these to cans confirms the measurements: both these cans sound cans sound very similar...and great! One quick note: Audeze headphones have changed in their sound quality quite a bit over time (see graphs on measurement page of this article), the listening impressions here are with current (June 2012) product, and differ somewhat from my experience with previous iterations of these headphones.

The first thing you'll notice with Audeze planar magnetic headphones is the gloriously tight and well extended bass. Seemingly both in proper balance with the whole and compelling your attention, the Audeze bass notes thrill with both texture and Adam's apple wobbling impact. There's a tendency for me to want to say the LCD-2 has a slightly tighter bass presentation, but after a lot of listening I've come to the conclusion the LCD-2 bass is just slightly more apparent due to the somewhat less lively presentation of these cans when compared to the LCD-3. My impression is that the LCD-3 has a more articulate and well textured bass by a small amount, my measurements indicate the LCD-2 would have better impact. Whatever. The bass on these headphones is as good as it gets.

The mid-range on the Audeze planar magnetic cans is marvelously well-balanced. I'm pretty sick of headphones that either have an overwhelming bass or a forward mid-range. It does seem like finding a headphone with with excellent bass-to-mid balance is as hard today as ever, but Audeze nails it with certainty. That said, I do hear the LCD-3 as having a smoother, more liquid mid-range. The LCD-2 just seems a bit dry and grainy in comparison. Mind you, the LCD-2 would seem smoother and lusher in the mids than just about any other headphone but for the LCD-3, which just excels in this department. Yummy and yummier describes it best for me.

Treble response is the one area where I find the Audeze headphones slightly lacking. The LCD-3 does better than the LCD-2, but when compared to the lightning speed of the Sennheiser HD 800, the Audeze cans just seem a little sluggish and blurred. This lack of the last bit of treble air seems to reduce the ability for these headphones to image as well as the HD 800 or Stax SR-009, for example. On the other hand, I hate harshness in headphones, and the Audeze cans seem to reproduce treble at about the right level, with almost no sense of glare or bite. I've read some comments promoting the idea that LCD-2 and LCD-3 headphones are gentle on the ears and will play bad recordings more satisfactorily than some of the other ultra-high-performance cans. Boy, oh boy, do I heartily agree! I've also heard it said that the LCD-2 may turn this trick better than the faster sounding LCD-3, but I spent a lot of time listening to poor recordings and streaming audio for this review and I tend to think the lush and liquid sound of the LCD-3 is slightly better for edgy source material than the slightly drier sound, as I heard it, of the LCD-2.

I generally listen at fairly low levels, but I always do a little listening at high volumes to see if a headphone can maintain its composure. Both the LCD-2 and LCD-3 do extraordinarily well in this department. These headphones play clean all the way to ear-bleed levels.

A Note For Audio Pros
Most audio pro headphone use requires sealed headphones. In those instances I like to recommend the Beyer DT1350 or Sennheiser Amperior/HD 25-1 II for location recording and ENG work, and the AKG K550 for a full-size can in the studio. But there are applications where open headphones can be used, and high prices can be tolerated for headphones that deliver exceptional performance in professional applications. My go-to recommendation is the Sennheiser HD 800--there's simply nothing in the mix that will escape detection with the HD 800. They're the audio microscope; great for mastering work. The problem is, they're not much fun to listen to. They lack bass extension somewhat and they have a glare-y spot at about 6kHz (this mod can help), and if you mix with them you might end up with a bit of bass boost and laid-back mid-treble.

Though not the microscope that the HD 800 is, in many ways the Audeze LCD-2 and LCD-3 are the more neutral sounding cans. I think the LCD-2 is perfectly adequate to the tasks of general audio recording and production work, but the slightly quicker and livelier sound of the LCD-3 is probably a more accurate representation of what's on the tape (or hard drive). I think I'd trust either of the Audeze cans for general balance and mixing over the HD 800, and I'd certainly prefer them for pleasurable listening. OTOH, the Sennheiser is cooler (temperature-wise) and more comfortable to wear for long periods, and it will let you hear low-level tweets and glitches more clearly.

Overall, I found the sound of these headphones powerful, liquid, engaging, and just downright fun to hear. At twice the price of the LCD-2, is the LCD-3 twice as good? No. There's always a diminishing returns curve in high-end audio, and it's at work here as well. The common number bandied about the forums currently is something like the LCD-3 is 20% better than the LCD-2. A ridiculous assertion, but one I'll agree describes the magnitude of the difference adequately. But while I'd argue one might analyze the performance of the LCD-3 as 20% better, those improvements gain more traction in the purely subjective experience. Audiophilia is a game of barely audible inches, and the LCD-3 is a clearly audible foot or two ahead of the LCD-2. The LCD-3 is a worthy purchase for the dyed-in-the-wool headphone audiophile willing to spend the big bucks on a headphone and an amp. I'm not ready to start making high-end amp recommendations yet, so I'll just refer you to this thread. Sorry about your wallet.

However! If you're not one of those kinds of folks who can play willie-nillie in the rarefied air of mega-buck audio purchases, and find yourself stretching to afford the LCD-2, worry not, they're a great headphone as well. If there were no such thing as an LCD-3, I'd still be touting the LCD-2 as a world class headphone and the one I would prefer to enjoy my music over all others. An LCD-2 and a good little amp like the Apex Butte or JDS Labs O2 will make for an exceptional listen.

Both these headphones are bound for InnerFidelity's "Wall of Fame." The LCD-2 clearly bests the Sennheiser HD 800 for listening pleasure, and at a lower price. The LCD-3 is an audibly, though not dramatically, more pleasing headphone than the LCD-2, and it's pleasing in a way that pushes all my buttons. The Audeze LCD-3 is my desert island headphone...I love it!

It's really rather a large miracle what Audeze has accomplished in the last few years, producing not one, but two of the world's best headphones in the span of a just a few short years. Great job, guys!

Measurements next, and worth a look.

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