Preliminary Investigation of the Audez'e LCD-3 and LCD-2

Audez'e LCD-2 Rev.2 ($995) and LCD-3 ($1945)
I'm calling this a preliminary investigation because I like these headphones quite a bit and I want to give them a glowing review. But under the current circumstances, I just can't.

Currently, there's a lot of controversy about the Audez'e LCD-3 in this thread at Head-Fi. There have been some driver failure problems, which Audez'e seems to have been quite responsive in addressing. But more worryingly, the idea has been developed that the LCD-3 comes in two flavors: veiled and not veiled. I was quite skeptical, so I decided to measure as many as I could get my hands on to see what turned up in the data. I've now had five pairs of LCD-3 headphones through the lab and have measured most of them at least three times each. Something, indeed, did turn up.

Before I dive into a bunch of graphs, however, I'm going to preface this post with a caution. This investigation into the differences between a single model of headphone has me questioning the repeatability of my measurements system. I've been talking with Head-Fi member Macedonian Hero, who has a great deal of knowledge about how to characterize the accuracy and repeatability of measurement systems, and we've decided to run some experiments. First experiments will be about the basic repeatability of measurements. We're going to use the Sennheiser HD 800 because in my experience it's the most repeatable headphone to measure. I mention this because as I've been measuring the LCD-3 headphones, I've also been measuring a pair of HD 800 occasionally as part of the system characterization.

Here's the cautionary note: I'm not going to be able to explain some of the things I'm seeing in the THD+noise data. I am seeing some strange things with the LCD-3 THD+noise measurements that seem rather random. I have not seen similar artifacts with the HD 800 measurements that have been taken during the same period as the LCD-3 measurements. I don't really know what to make of it. Regardless, I will be showing you the data. My point is that while I may pose some possibilities, I'm not going to jump to conclusions ... and neither should you.

I have compiled a pdf booklet of all the measurement sheets so you can follow along looking at the full data sheets. You'll find it here.

Frequency Response
Let's first look at the frequency response data. Measurements are labeled with the serial number and then a capital letter. The letter indicates subsequent measurements of that particular pair of headphones. All measurements of the same headphone happened at least one day apart. At no time did I look at the previous measurement when performing new measurements.

First, I'm going to show you graphs of each headphone's multiple frequency response measurements on the left then right channel. Keep your eye out for headphones that have a little step downward between 3kHz and 4kHz.

Audeze_LCD3_graph_2312341Left Audeze_LCD3_graph_2312341Right Audeze_LCD3_graph_2312454Left Audeze_LCD3_graph_2312454Right Audeze_LCD3_graph_2312260Left Audeze_LCD3_graph_2312260Right Audeze_LCD3_graph_2312476Left Audeze_LCD3_graph_2312476Right

You'll notice that 2312260 and 2312476 the step between 3kHz and 4kHz is much less pronounced than with 2312341 and 2312454.

Let's look at the THD+noise measurements ...

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
johnjen's picture

I wondered why there wasn't any activity on this site for a while

Now it's become clear as to why...

A conundrum and a tantalizing brain teaser all in one.

JJ

Tyll Hertsens's picture
... a heck of a lot of measuring and listening in that lot.

Especially for it all to come to the conclusion I can't write a review yet.

Too much work not to write something, though.

Stuck in the middle with you.

:)

MacedonianHero's picture

Good stuff Tyll. Really interesting. Looking forward to the data and trying out other headphones too. Makes me wonder just how much product to product variation there is out there for headphones in general?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Human endeavors, like humans, are remarkably variable.

You know well how much work it takes to really get rid of the variations. Tricky stuff.

Maxvla's picture

While the THD numbers are not great, for sure. I'm more concerned with how poorly the drivers are matched.

Audeze does have wood throwing a curve on every headphone they make, but Hifiman and Beyer don't. Their phones are entirely metal or synthetic meaning a near perfect match for every headphone. Wood, as I know as a violin luthier, can be drastically different from one piece to the next. I'd still hope to see better numbers than this though.

Thanks for this piece. Great work you do here, Tyll.

dyl1dyl's picture

Hey Tyll, great write up. However, could I just check, so far from your experience with the various LCD-3s that you have, are you able to hear differences in blind tests between the various units?

gurubhai's picture

From the experience in modifying vintage orthos reported in the 'ortho' thread at head-fi, the usual changes associated with damping done at the back of driver are tighter bass,increased upper mids & treble and a 'cleaner' sound overall.
The observations which support the underdamped state of some LCD-3's are:

1) Dip in upper mids
2) Less treble
3) Higher THD
4) reports of some pairs of LCD-3 sounding congested in complex passages.
5) Purrin's report over at head-fi in which he preferred his pair of LCD-3 after increasing damping with paper.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Purrin does excellent work. His thread about the toilet paper mod is here.
khaos's picture

Did you get to try to measure the TP mod?
Not that it's actually necessary since purrin provided the measures himself.

Reticuli's picture

That looks like a deeper-bass, darker-sounding Ortofon O-One response, but without the Ortofon's de-emphasis of the lower mids.

Only 1 in 6 of these drivers appear to be functioning properly from the THD measurements? Ouch.

What do the impulse response and square waves look like?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Impulse response and square wave are in the pdf I mentioned:
http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/LCD3measurements.pdf
schalliol's picture

So infrequently do we see detailed exploration of this nature, and it's great to see your passion for audio is taking you here. Rather than just provide what you can completely explain, it takes courage to present what you know and listen for other thoughts from the crowd that could help to develop a more complete explanation. What do I need to do promote this research? Click links? Subscribe to something?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Thanks.

Viewing pages is the main thing, I'll try to keep that interesting.

Clicking on ads certainly doesn't hurt.

The Monkey's picture
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AGB's picture

Always enjoying your work Tyll...downright revolutionary in this particular field. And the other fellow at Head Fi, our Hero, also deserves accolades.

I should not care why a particular technology or design sounds good. Or bad. But I do care. Inquiring minds want to know.

It seems that measurements might give us some clues, at other times not much. And then we have the frustrating variability where the product reported on is not the product the consumer reading the review is listening to. Making fools of us all.

The fact is, the LCD-2 with its relatively minor shortcomings, is one of the most satisfying products I had ever heard - and evidently the minor shortcomings are EASILY cured by two items: the dragon slayer Silver Dragon wire from MOON, creating more presence, transparency, dimension and clarity, flattening the response by seemingly extending the top; and the parametric equalizers built into the iZotope engine of certain media players: Amarra and Fidelia come to mind, I'm not sure about the others.

Judiciously adjusted, the combination of the Dragon and media player may get the LCD-2 very close to the sound quality of the LCD-3... and you may be in the position to check me out on this issue.

While I can't speak for the potential of the LCD-3 but salivate at the thought, I do know that the potential of the LCD-2 cannot be achieved but by listeners trying out my suggestion above. The positive changes wrought to the LCD-2 (and I agree that the original sounded dark, although hardly veiled), is dramatic and real.

Anyhoo, it is trying, let me rephrase that, BORING, to listen to the disingenuous, lying Nattering Nebobs of Negativism - we know who they are, trolls - who don't own either product denigrate what they don't have (and likely never heard in their own systems), and of course, foolishly attempt to diminish those listeners who do.

These useless egoists just don't know how to enjoy life... and envy those who do.

Keep up the good work Tyll. Your arrival on the scene was just in time as this segment of the audio industry is heating up.

Jazz Casual's picture

this is a comments thread not a "Team Audeze" or "Audeze Fan Club" thread. It follows Tyll Hertsen's preliminary investigations into claims of inconsistencies in the sound and frequency response of Audeze LCD-2 and LCD-3 headphones.

These claims are being made predominantly by the owners themselves and not by "disingenuous, lying Nattering Nebobs of Negativism", "trolls" and "useless egoists" as you so colourfully misrepresent them.

Fanatically barrack for your Audeze LCD-2, shower your "Hero" with bouquets and believe in the transformative powers of cables if you must. However, I'd like to think that a website devoted to headphones and ancillary gear would allow for the expression of rational critical and yes, contrary opinion, without summarily despatching the dissenters to a virtual gulag.

Otherwise, let's dispense with the charade of having comments threads and forums altogether and form fan clubs instead, where we can feel certainty in an uncertain world and take comfort from our shared belief that at least we own the "best" headphone in all of headphonedom, and bask in its reflected glory.

And again for the upteenth time AGB, I have heard the LCD-2. I was impressed with some aspects of its performance, but not enough to want to buy one. Nor do I envy those who have, including you.

LFF's picture

Awesome job Tyll!

I can't say I have heard an LCD-3 that I have liked...but this is a great service you are providing to the community.

Keep it up!

thune's picture

Tyll,
Does your setup produce any raw data (audio files) from the THD frequency sweeps? If so, I (and others probably) would like a crack at extracting more information from them, to get a better understanding at what is going on with these LCD3 "THD+noise measurements that seem rather random" and answering questions such as "Maybe it's even-harmonic distortion?".

Nellerer's picture

Hi Tyll,

First, thank you for all the great writing and testing you do. I own a pair of LCD-3s from the first batch that shipped, and (like many other LCD-3 owners and potential buyers) I'm very concerned about the reports of significant sound quality variances between units. Your investigation will hopefully help us get to the bottom of the problem.

I have no background or knowledge from which to interpret your data, so please forgive my ignorance but I'm confused by some of the data and how they reinforce or contradict what you hear during listening tests.

You said that the 2 LCD-3s with a more pronounced dip between 2-3kHz are the same ones that sounded "more present" with female vocals. Wouldn't the headphones with a larger dip in the upper midrange have vocals that sound more recessed/veiled?

Also, the other 2 headphones you tested have more significant THD+noise peaks, but their frequency response graphs are smoother (especially in the 2-3kHz range). What, if any, noticeable effect on sound quality would a high THD+noise peak have on the sound? Are THD+noise and frequency response totally unrelated?

Finally, are the pictures of the LCD-3 cups that you posted on page 2 of the report from different units, or the same headphone? It looks to me as though the earpad on the right cup is substantially thicker. There is some talk now on Head-fi that the difference in earpad foam thicknesses may be to blame; what do you think of this theory?

Thanks for any explanation or clarification you can provide.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Maybe I wasn't cear enough, but the feature that's most easily seen in the FR curves is the drop between 3kHz and 4kHz. The drop happens because those cans are carrying more energy between 2kHz and 3kHz --- making them sound a little more present. The green and orange traces in this graph.

"What, if any, noticeable effect on sound quality would a high THD+noise peak have on the sound? Are THD+noise and frequency response totally unrelated?"

Harmonic distortion typically has a harsh, annoying sound. But the THD+noise measurement could be odd-harmonics; even-harmonics; and/or noise from a variety of sources. The point is there's no telling from the curve what the effect on the sound will be. It's just elling us there some extranious sound that shouldn't be there ideally.

The headphones in the picture are the LCD-2 on the left and the LCD-3 on the right. THe LCD-3 has thicker and softer pads. Pads do have significant effect on the sound. My tendency is to think the erratic results I got in the THD+noise measurements is unrelated to the pads. My guess is that it's more driver related.

Jazz Casual's picture

post #3829 of 3850 2/17/12 at 8:28pm

Audeze
Sponsor: Audez'e

offline
17 Posts. Joined 5/2009
Location: Santa Monica California
To the Head-Fi Community,

We apologize for our lack of communication while we have researched what caused a small percentage of our LCD-3 headphones to fail. Our headphones are fully warrantied and we will replace these failed LCD-3s at no cost to our customers. Part of the reason why our headphones are expensive is the cost of materials, craftsmanship and intricate technology that goes into each and every product we make. Our headphones are built for the discriminating listener, who demands impeccable quality. As such, the moment we heard that there had been failures, we halted LCD-3 production and spent the past several weeks examining every material and process in detail to find and eliminate the issue. Having found and fixed this issue, we are restarting production and will deliver replacements to our customers who have experienced problems. As part of our attempts to address the issue, we are also extending the warranty on our LCD-3 to three years.

We were deeply distressed to find that a small portion of material we received from one of our vendors ended up having imperfections that, despite our extensive quality control processes, we could not detect at the time. While the headphones performed flawlessly in the lab, a combination of rough handling and rapid changes in temperature and pressure during shipment caused some units to fail. These failures occurred either immediately or, in a few instances, shortly after a customer's first use. The relatively low failure rate and the combination of circumstances necessary to cause this type of failure made locating the problem a much lengthier process than we would have liked.

We have since discarded all the components in the defective batch, and have developed a new process for vetting vendor supplies to prevent this problem from recurring. We have also completely redesigned our quality control procedures. As we bring our LCD-3 production back online, we will be able to deliver replacements for those in need.

We stand by our product and want to ensure that you are completely satisfied. Working at the extreme edges of technology and performance is difficult, expensive and time consuming. Our company is owned and run by audio enthusiasts like you, and we deeply regret the problems any of our customers have experienced. While the majority of LCD-3s work properly, to demonstrate our faith in our product and to allay any further concerns, we have extended our warranty for the LCD-3 to three years from purchase. If you have experienced any issues, or are concerned about the performance of your LCD-3, please contact us at support@audeze.com so that we may be able to immediately rectify the situation. As always, we value this community and thank you for your continued support.

Audeze

Anonymous's picture

So in summary, should I get LCD-3 or it's not worth double the price of the LCD-2?

Alina's picture
johnaldwin's picture

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