Audeze LCD-1 Review

I’ve given up the ghost a bit by naming this InnerFidelity’s Product of the Year already, so it might be helpful to think of this review in the context of ancient Greek theatre, where the audience already knows how the story will end, but comes to appreciate the details of the journey. And much like Antigone, whose name can be roughly translated as ‘worthy of one’s parents,’ I feel the product at hand is indeed worthy of its predecessors.

My first step when receiving a product is to look at the product webpage, and Audeze’s LCD-1 headphone came as a bit of a surprise to me, not by virtue of its existence, but by virtue of its branding. Audeze has always occupied a somewhat more premium price point, even with the new classic and closed-back versions of the LCD-2 headphones. They came in at a sub-$1k USD price point, yet remain quite dear for the enthusiast of more modest means.

The $399 LCD-1 is by no means branded as an enthusiast’s headphone however. If you’ve browsed Audeze’s website in the past few years you’ve probably noticed an increasing emphasis on the separation of audiophile, gaming and professional audio, the latter of which they’ve targeted specifically with their ‘Reference’ line of headphones that includes the LCD-MX4, LCD-X, LCD-XC, and now the LCD-1. These products have two distinguishing features: Relatively high sensitivities for planar-magnetic transducers and a ‘reference’ tuning. From my experience, Audeze’s reference curve adheres to a tuning that is similar to the Olive-Welt Over-ear curve, with slightly less bass and a somewhat more relaxed presence region. The result is a headphone that sounds mostly flat, but won’t be fatiguing or bright for long listening periods. For producers, mixing and mastering engineers, the long-term listening component is key.

Comfort for the long haul – a mixers delight.

Audio professionals can spend hours and hours doing critical listening and minute tweaks, and we need headphones that have enough detail for us to work, but won’t leave our ears ringing. Gear that balances these two factors is, frankly, rare. Going along with this, the sensitivity of a pair of headphones is actually a pretty major factor, particularly for those pros like myself who travel regularly. While my home studio is kitted out with plenty of excellent amplifier choices, on the road I’m lucky if I can fit a small interface and maybe a small external head-amp. In a pinch, I’ve even had to use my laptop’s headphone output when space is at a premium.

Related to this fact is that a headphone cannot merely sound good on a high-end, high-power setup, it needs to behave close enough to the same tuning out of all these sources, and major impedance curve dips or peaks can be deal-breakers. It needs to sound good on as many setups as possible. Turns out, these are all things that make for an excellent enthusiast’s headphone as well.

Build and construction

Solid construction and design execution throughout.

The packaging on the LCD-1 is relatively understated compared to a lot of the headphones I’ve reviewed this year, and it’s a refreshing change. The box is a simple affair, black and marked with an Audeze logo. Open it up and inside is a bit of paperwork and the carrying case with the headphones, cable, quarter-inch adapter and airplane-style dual-mini adapter. The case is a half-size clamshell hard-case the headphones fold neatly into and is one of the more compact enclosures I’ve seen this year.

The LCD-1 unit itself is equally understated and simple, made mostly of black plastic, with stainless steel headband sliders and memory foam ear pads and headband. I don’t think the looks will excite or offend anyone particularly, and while it doesn’t feel as bulletproof as an LCD-X, I had no issues with build quality or mechanical reliability during the review period.

Comfort on the LCD-1 is good, it’s probably the lightest Audeze headphone I’ve yet encountered. Combined with the soft memory foam ear pads and headband, it makes for a pretty lightweight and comfortable listen. My ears are on the smaller side, and I had no problem with the size of the ear cups, though if you have larger or more horizontally-inclined ears, you may find them a bit compact. I do get a bit of discomfort from the top of the headband after particularly long listening sessions, but since the headphones aren’t particularly heavy I would characterize this discomfort as manageable and minor compared to some of the truly hefty full-size headphones I’ve used this year. Overall, the comfort is what I would describe as totally adequate. On to the part you really want to hear about though - the sound.

Tuning

Tuned with Audeze's 'reference' curve in mind.

Audeze’s LCD-1 is my favorite expression of Audeze’s reference tuning. If one were to look at a compensated curve, the sound is essentially designed to be flat from sub-bass up to about 2kHz, after which there’s a gradual rolloff and the treble flattens out after about 6kHz but remains at a reduced level compared to the bass and midrange. The LCD-1 doesn’t have the deepest sub-bass of the larger models but gets pretty darn close. The upper midrange presence region around 2-4kHz is probably just a dB-or-two lower in level than what is truly ‘neutral’ according to a number of Olive-Welti-style curves, and the treble doesn’t rolloff as quickly, but it is generally free from huge peaks.

I do detect what I hear as a bit of a dip at 6kHz and again at just under 8kHz, but the treble is remarkably even up into the highest musically-useful frequencies. The very slightly-relaxed presence region doesn’t dip below the treble shelf, and this plays a big part in helping the treble sound very clear without sending things out of wack. Upper midrange/lower treble dips can sometimes make the higher treble sound too bright by comparison, but the evenness of the treble on the LCD-1 doesn’t have this issue. The slight dips I detected at 6kHz and other treble frequencies may help with with the simultaneous feeling of clarity and relaxedness of the LCD-1. The detail of this presentation is very good, though I can see some trebleheads craving a slightly brighter one just to feel they’re getting a last scooch of detail. I personally prefer a more even treble, and the LCD-1 delivers that in spades. The slightly relaxed upper midrange I mentioned also helps this feeling of simultaneous clarity and warmth.

COMPANY INFO
Audeze LLC
3412 S. Susan St, Santa Ana California 92704, USA
support@audeze.com
(714) 581-8010
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COMMENTS
Matt Foley's picture

Any plans to review the Aeon 2’s? I’m coming from Hifiman HE-400s and was planning on the Aeon 2 Closed. Your review of the Audeze LCD-1 give me pause due to the cost and praise about them possibly besting other headphones under $1,000. I am unable to try either of these before purchasing which is why I am asking.

Grover Neville's picture

Trying to get my hands on a pair of Aeon 2, I'll keep you posted. I liked the Aeon 2 Closed I've heard a lot so far... but the LCD-1 is just so well tuned AND much more efficient. For me the tuning and ability to run off anything is really a big plus. I see the LCD-1 as more of a daily-driver do-all, while the Aeon2 is a more serious commitment to portables or a good desktop amp.

Matt Foley's picture

Thanks Grover - I’ll be ordering one of these really soon. Great review and it’s great to see so much available at $500 with the LCD-1.

Martin.'s picture

I sorta feel that you're hesitant to compare, but if you'd indulge me, do you think, as an owner of the LCD2Classic, that there might be something in LCD-1 that I don't get from the LCD2Classics? Thinking of how you weren't fond of the Elears/Clears, but enjoyed the Stellia/Elegia sound.

Grover Neville's picture

but I from what I recall, I like the tuning of the LCD-1 better. The 2classic has better dynamics, scale resolution, etc. I'm big on the best tuning I can get first and most other things second. If you like those other things first though, then the LCD2classic might win out for you. That's just my hot take off the top of my head.

Jazz1's picture

Me too. I’m wondering how they might compare?

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