The Technologically Impressive LCD-4 Planar Magnetic Headphone Page 2


Sound Quality
A lot of good technology in these cans, but sound quality is where the rubber hits the road. Let's see how the LCD-4 faired in listening tests.

Bass - Most open headphone have troubles getting good bass extension; many sealed headphones get good extension, but few do so without some lack of coherent clarity. The LCD-4 pretty much nails it in the bass. Tight, clean, flat, and extended. Of course, I tend to like a little (3dB or so) bass elevation below 120Hz, but no open headphone that I know of can even draw a flat line below 100Hz, much less have a bit of boost. The quality of the LCD-4 bass is so good that it will easily take any EQ you want to throw at it. EDMers beware: You can knock a tooth out with this headphone.

The Sennheiser HD 800 S with its slight bass distortion and typical roll-off down low for a dynamic headphone is no match at all. Relative the the HiFiMAN HE1000, Mr. Speakers Ether, and Audeze LCD-3/X the call was closer, but I found the LCD-4 doing a better job of producing a natural transition from bass to mid-range. During an acoustic bass solo, the other cans seemed to disconnect the low note itself from the higher frequency sounds of finger plucking and strings clicking against the fingerboard. With the LCD-4 these sounds came together to become the connective tissue portraying the entirety of the whole instrument.

Mid-Range - From roughly 250Hz to 4kHz, the LCD-4 follows the gently rising Harman target response almost perfectly. This profile, in my experience, does wonders to properly portray the human voice and its overtones. When this rising profile is not present, vocals sound slightly distant and less rich and natural.

In addition to a terrific tonal profile through the mid-range, I found the dynamic control of the LCD-4 quite special. Pianos were not only properly percussive, but the touch and dynamic modulation of the pianist was clearly obvious. Latin congas too took on this extra-dimensional character that seemed to allow me to sense size of the drum, the tension of the drum head, and the intensity of deflection imparted by the human hand.

The HE1000 was soft and lacked dynamic punch in comparison. The HD 800 S faired much better in this comparison, besting the LCD-4 in dynamism through the mid-range, but it was not nearly so well integrated into the low notes as it began to loose its punch and clarity.

Treble - All this good stuff...and then, sadly, troubles with the trebles. I've always had trouble with LCD series headphone treble, but I never really got a good grip on what I was hearing. Then the LCD-4 comes along having a somewhat cleaner response than previous models, and all of a sudden the exact problem with the treble became to speak.

Most all LCD headphones I've measured in the past have a distinct drop in treble response starting at 4kHz and going up to about 8kHz. Notches in response are harder to hear than spikes in response, and previously I didn't hear it as a distinct problem. I suppose it was obscured a bit by low level distortions or resonances in the neighborhood.

Further, quite a few headphones have this notch, and in the specific case of the Philips Fidelio X2 I was told by engineers the notch was implemented because engineers found that this 4-8kHz region can be particularly unpleasant if not really well controlled. It also happens to be the area where a lot of modal break-up occurs. So, in the past, I've not been to terribly critical when I see a notch there.

Well, the problem is the LCD-4 to my ears does so well in the bass and mid-range run-up to this frequency that when it all of a sudden goes missing (it's about 8dB down from where it ought be) it begins to stick out like a sore thumb. I have to say that all my commentary on the bass and mid-range performance was burdened by having to evaluate while being very conscious of this missing octave. When I switched form the Sennheiser HD 800 S to the LCD-4 it was like someone draped cloth over my ears...sort of.

I say "sort of" because the treble has another problem: the energy above 10kHz is too strong. In past LCDs (of which most all have a similar response) the presence of this added top octave juice seemed to blend in a bit with the treble as a haze making the treble problems not as obvious to spot. But with the LCD-4, which is fundamentally cleaner, this extra energy is quite apparent and separate from the mid-treble notch.

I'll give you a couple examples of when I can hear these two problems clearly: When a drummer hits a cymbal right at the center with modest force, you hear a "tang" sound followed by the shimmer of the cymbal. The "tang" is at a lower frequency than the shimmer, and has a somewhat bell-like quality. With the LCD-4, the initial mid-treble "tang" is suppressed some, and the subsequent higher frequency shimmer is more accentuated. The result is a breathier, less melodic sound. I have a track where the drummer spends quite a few bars making the rounds of his cymbals in this way. A little dancing about architecture here, but it sounds sort of, "Ting, tang, tong, ting, tang." Through the LCD-4, and with a bit of literary exaggeration, it sounds more, "Tisss, tasss, tosss, tisss, tasss."

As another example, I have a Latin conga track with lots of percussion going on at once. While the LCD-4 does a great job with the dynamism of the fundamental tones of the drums, it has a hard time recovering the sounds of the fingers tapping and sharpness of a stick hitting a wood block. It's hard to describe what the 4-8kHz notch and accentuated 10-20kHz region does to this track; it's sort of as if the conga players have cotton fingers coated in fish scales. The balance just isn't right and the result lacks the organic, natural character I hear with these sounds that the HD 800 S does so well.

So while the LCD-4 does the bass-through-mids transition better than the headphones I used in comparison, the other cans did quite a bit better job handling the mids-to-treble transition. In previous LCD headphones I think I heard this mostly as a lack of imaging and depth—a closed-in, hazy feeling. The LDCD-4 also seems to lack depth and feels closed-in compared to the other cans—and its added clarity makes the actual source of the problem more obvious.

The LCD-4 does, however take an EQ quite well due to its very well behaved nature. Once the treble tonality is sorted and integrating into the whole of the tonal balance, the LCD-4's very good bass through mid-range performance shines. It never resolves as clearly as the HD 800 S, and the imaging doesn't magically get much better. But tuned up a bit with EQ it becomes a fine listen.

Without EQ though, to my ears the HiFiMAN HE1000—while having its own unusual soft and gentle sonic presentation and measurements with more obviously weird artifacts—ended up a more musical listening experience. The new Sennheiser HD 800 S was both cleaner and more musically satisfying by a clear margin to my ears.

Couple the above treble troubles with the $4000 price tag and the LCD-4 becomes a hard headphone for me to recommend. If you're a big fan of the Audeze sound you may become quite taken by the improvements to this headphone—which are very real compared to previous models. But if you can only afford one end-game headphone, stay away. If you've got a shit load of money and love and collect headphones, have at it. It'll be going to people doing great engineering work.

Boy, it pains me to write this review, I do so admire the work done by the folks at Audeze. Fortunately, they also sent me the new SINE in the process of moving gear around for this review. The good news? Yes, the SINE might fare much better in a future InnerFidelity review. Lots of learning and technological development for the LCD-4 ended up in the SINE, and it, so far, seems to have come together in decent and price-realistic fashion.

The LCD-4 is a clear improvement over previous LCD models both technically and musically with better clarity, and bass through mid-range control and evenness. Audeze LCD line fans will be tickled pink with the LCD-4. But the added clarity make all the more obvious to me that a notch in response between 4kHz and 8kHz, and elevated response above 10kHz throw off treble balance and cause cymbals and other high-frequency sounds less snappy and more breathy. At this price, I would steer others looking for an end-game headphone in the direction of the Sennheiser HD 800 S.

I very much appreciate the work done by Audeze so far in the development of planar magnetic technologies; I see them at the forefront of this work. But I don't think they've yet got the difficulties of treble reproduction quite in hand.

I'm not going to be putting the LCD-4 on the "Wall of Fame", in fact, I will be raising the bar and removing a few more headphones off the circumaural, open acoustic page. This is the category that should eventually deliver the best sounding headphones in the world, and it's time to remind headphone manufacturers they have a good distance to go in achieving that level of performance. I'll take a good hard look and listen to the cans over the weekend and do the rearrangements next Tuesday.

View at YouTube.

Audeze home page and LCD-4 Product page.
SBAF threads here and here.
Head-Fi reviews here, and threads here.

Audeze LLC.
1559 Sunland Lane
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 581-8010

ADU's picture

Thanks for yet another great review, Tyll. Couple questions...

Could the imbalances in the LCD-4's treble be corected with some EQ-ing? And is the laid-back response in the mid-treble more of an aesthetic choice, or a technical limitation of the Audeze designs in your opinion?

The technology in these headphones is (to borrow a phrase from Mr. Spock) fascinating! Lookin forward to the SINE review as well.

Tyll Hertsens's picture my rush to meet my personal deadline, I forgot to include my EQ profile. I shall fix this and update the article tomorrow.
ADU's picture

Seeing the EQ adjustments is very helpful.

Can you measure a headphone's FR after an EQ function has been applied to see how it effects the response curve?

tony's picture

Geez, we used to say things like this about the Magnaplaners that we loved so much. Magnapan even went to ribbon technology to solve things.

I liked all the Audeze I tried ( except the 8 Open that I impulse bought ) but they are wayyy too heavy for me. These 4 versions only need 1 milliwatt so no problem driving them.

Planers can be Devine and Wonderful as long as a person isn't too fussy yet Bob Katz seems to be enamored with the OPPO type.

Your elaborate description of these 4 transducers is very similar to what Dave Wilson says in describing all Planers.

I've owned and sold every type of Transducer device, I'm a Dynamic driver believer as a result. Nothing is perfect but dynamic's 'end-cost' is usually about one third.

I have to say that Planers have tons more "Sales-Sizzle" than most other types making them easier to sell to the "Ultimate" type of Audiophile.

Recorded Music moves the needle more than subtly improved headphone performance, ( from my point of view ). I just got in some Mercury Living Presence recordings from the 1950s and 1960s which are superb. Simon Trpceski just performed the Lizst Piano Concerto 2 with the Detroit Symphony, a recorded performance, it is also superb.

I'm chasing well done Recordings now.

Great Reviewing from Montana, again.

Tony in Michigan

ps. Audeze owners will like that fancy hard Case when they show-off their stuff at the Meets.

Jazz Casual's picture

Interesting read as usual thanks Tyll. I've auditioned the LCD-4 and liked what I heard very much overall. However, I did think that the treble sounded "hi fi" in the sense that it seemed accentuated in a way that made it sound a bit artificial. That's just a minor criticism of the first Audeze headphone that didn't sound veiled and closed-in to me. It combined saturation with clarity if that makes sense, and I preferred it to the HD800S which like the HD800, remains an uninvolving listen for me.

dan.gheorghe's picture

Indeed. Actually I think they are very clean, transparent sounding offering excellent clarity. Also I do find them often more involving and tactile than HD800.

dan.gheorghe's picture

Very informative and thorough review. Thank you for your time.

I have a review unit for almost 3 weeks already. While they might not be the most linear and detailed in the treble and upper midrange, I found them extremely potent in the rest.

For me, they offer the most real life like experience I've heard in a headphone. The bass and midrange section is the best I've ever heard.

Beside that, the transients are explosive, fast and natural to my ears. The LCD-4 hit hard on every note and have a very tactile presentation.

I cannot use dull near LCD-4 because of that, especially when compared to the soft HEK which I personally consider dull because of that very reason.

I would use another term instead of "dull" for LCD-4 which is often heard under amped and thought to be dull (soft sounding) because of that reason.

Beagle's picture

Tyll, is it possible that the excess energy above 10kHz is helping to provide the clarity and articulation in the bass and midrange? And if it were to be eliminated, might the bass and mids revert back to 'LCD-X/3 territory'?

I mention this because it is quite common for mixing engineers to boost the upper treble (10k to 14k) to eliminate murk and "clean things up" in the lower ranges of recordings.

Again, I mention this only because, like EQ itself, there always seems to be trade-offs in headphone voicing.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I think it doesn't work quite that way on this headphone because there's so much clarity despite the uneven treble response. I think the LCD-X works kind of as you said, but because the frequency response anomaly is somewhat masked by low level distortion from diaphragm resonances so the elevated top octave can act as a proxy for the missing 4-8kHz. With the LCD-4 there's so much right going on, the the treble anomaly sticks out as a problem more clearly.
ericg's picture

Hi Tyll, i really enjoyed your article but one thing struck me as an understandable mistake here. The use of the word -symbol- where you must have meant -cymbal-. Otherwise excellent piece!

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Damn rogue lysdexic brain cells. Thanks for pointing it out. Fxt.
mithrandir39's picture

I know you like and respect Audeze, so writing a mixed review like that can't be too much fun. But I really respect your integrity in telling it like it is. I spoke to Sankar at Canjam last weekend, and he said these are selling like hotcakes-and I told him I still preferred the 2 and 3 overall. On a side-note, I love the headbands! Very comfortable and they distribute the weight much better. They should come standard on all the LCD models.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
....and your right, it's not any fun at all.
moopster's picture

Tyll, thanks for your review, I like how you can turn a phrase, "You can knock a tooth out with this headphone." My perception of the strengths of this headphone mirrors yours quite closely. One of the things I found most interesting in your review is that your perception of cymbals on this headphone is the polar opposite of mine. I find cymbals to sound particularly engaging, natural and lively, so much so that I seek out music with lots of cymbal work. As the drumstick impacts the cymbal I hear a nearly instant attack, the bell-like ting of the metal simultaneous with the wooden click of the stick, followed closely by a shimmering sizzle that fades with even, linear decay. I have one of the early, 100-Ohm versions of the LCD-4, I wonder if that's where the difference is. Could be personal preference, too, as in Bob Katz saying the LCD-4 "sound just about right without any EQ at all" and not liking the HE-1000. At any rate, I enjoy the LCD-4 immensely, the fast response makes other phones sound dull and artificial.

ar's picture

I was gonna mention that too...

I heard the early version of the LCD-4 and the thing that struck me was that it didn't have the mids missing, like LCD3, and how much of an improvement 4 was.

I suspect it's the difference between the 100 and 200 Ohm version as well.

May be worth to check it out, Tyll.

Laurence Wayne's picture

Hey Tyll- Just a comment and a heresy or two. Having met Sankar and after several conversations with him and Dr. C, I just want to add "true gentlemen" to the their scholar description. They were both cordial and responsive at all times. There is no doubt that they desire to create the finest headphone experience possible. And now the heresies-even though I know your predilections on both issues:
After 70 hours of break-in on my LCD-4 I noticed a definitive smoothing out in the frequency range you mentioned-and I agree with your assessment until that time.
And, although the stock cable was fine, switching to Cardas Clear definitely widened the sound stage and added a bit of detail overall as well.
I am thoroughly enjoying the superb musical experience (and the comfort of the new headband) provided by Audeze LCD-4.
Judge Laurence Wayne

logscool's picture

I know in the past you have said that you have all of the data in your current measurements to create CSD's and now I hear you saying that you think the visual readability is drool worthy. Does this mean we will soon be seeing innerfidelity CSD's?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
..but someday.
tony's picture

Do you suggest Customer Service Desk


Cat Scratching Disorder ?

Google has 138 meanings for CSD

Tony in Michigan

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Cumulative spectral decay plot.
tony's picture

Hmm, sounds like something I've got, I'll ask my Cardiologist next time around.

Thanks for explaining!

Funny how Audio stuff can have this, spectrum seems like a Visual description as in degrees Kelvin or wavelength.

By the way, I met a drummer that claims that it's been impossible to properly record cymbals ( and maybe even symbols ) because the microphones and electronics can't handle the intense dynamic range. I wonder what the "K"-Man has to say about it? Anyway, drums are recording engineering problems, maybe we shouldn't expect too much .

Thanks for responding,

Tony in Michigan

zobel's picture

Some hearing loss is normal for those of us with some years on our ears. You could call it cumulative loss, but we're not decaying yet (I hope).
Yep, recording the full dynamic range of most percussion instruments is problematic, since the average overall recorded level has to be so low to keep the peaks clean. Lots of dynamic compression is often used on cymbals and drums, along with physical damping of the instruments in the studio. I'm a drummer with a recording studio in home, so I always run into this issue.

I think you are wise, with the gear you already have, to looking for recordings now, and new tunes, with your audio bucks. After all, that's what its all about to begin with, right?

Be well,

tony's picture

Hello Mr.Zobel,

Again, it's nice hearing from y'all.

Music is my important pursuit but I suspect that quite a few have gear as their "most important", god bless em, plenty of outfits are eager to build $5,000 solutions to what seems to me to be a $500 problem ( they manage to sell their stuff to their loyal following ).

Our Nation is on a Technological tear, just now. I'm seeing Furnace Manufacturers making 98% efficient furnaces for the typical home ( the darn things also heat the water ), LED lighting for residential applications is now a reality ( great efficiencies easily within reach ), self-driving 50mpg Cars are about one decade away ( expect a 30 year service life on these ), politically we have a "Socialist" tearing up the "Field" and a Woman running for President, Phew! ( and that's after we had a Black President for 8 Years ).

It all started with Ben Franklin and the Lightning Rod, about 250 years ago.

Our headphone success began with the iPod and iTunes ( I think ), was that only 10 years ago? Back then I owned the Stax Earspeakers for headphones ( which were too fussy for me ).
My headphones haven't gotten better but the Amps have, ( I love my Asgard 2 ).

If my Bernie does well at the Convention I'll finally get to see Montana ( once or twice ) I hope to get out and about for a bit of bicycle riding in Billings and that other town ( are there more than 2 ? ), maybe I'll get to stop in and see TTVJ & his $10,000 record player ( betcha he makes me buy one of his Amps ).

Tony on the Road again

zobel's picture

Tony, King of the the Road;

Didn't headphone success start with Sennheiser HD 414? I still have mine. First open headphones, not much bass, smooth mids and soft treble. Still the best selling headphone to date, with over 10 million sold. 1968. >>FF 2016. Now...HD414 don't hold a candle to anything. 48 years has seen great improvements in headphones, but like you said, so much more in recordings.

You're better off riding your bike in three forks, home of TTVJ, than in Billings, IMO. I don't know about that other town you almost mentioned.

If you visit Montana, it is good to know the two things important to us here:

1) Don't sweat the petty things
2) Don't pet the sweaty things

That is all you will need to get by here.

Be Happy

johnjen's picture

Dam fine write up…
I can read the disappointment between the lines…
And so close, yet, not quite there, just yet.

At least for 4K$ it has moved the SotA up a notch, which is always a good thing.

I wonder if EQ could 'compensate' for the top end's misdeeds.


ADU's picture

I wonder if EQ could 'compensate' for the top end's misdeeds.

I wondered the same thing. The revisions on page 2 pretty much answer this question...

wbh's picture

A year ago, there was that $$ burglary at the Audeze Calif HQ. Huge set back #1.
And now, almost a year later, the same pathetic company gets it's top-end model shot down by none less than Tyll the Mack-daddy of IF.
Methinks the SINE will get a better review with WoF status. That's the way the review-journalism engine works for main-streamers like Stereophile/TEN.
Not sure what the political/marketing strategy is for these smaller niche headphone manufs.
Maybe v2 of the LCD-4 will remedy Tyll's gripes. But it took even Sennheiser almost 9yrs to officially fix the 800.
C'mon Audeze ... you can do it 9 weeks!

ADU's picture

I haven't heard any of the Audeze headphones, so can't really comment on the pros/cons of their treble response. But all of the LCDs seem to be a little laid back in the mid-treble on the FR graphs (and perhaps also a little aggressive in the upper treble).

I wonder if that's how Audeze wants them to sound though. Or if the treble will "even out" with time/usage as someone else suggested.

Jim Tavegia's picture

I have a number of cans and even the Focal Spirit Pros from your review pushed me that way. But I thought they were pretty dull sounding, but that is MY problem with hearing loss over 6K due to my age a Mary firing range damage.

I believe that bob Katz has been right on about find a great set of cans you like, but be prepared to EQ based on what EACH OF US HEARS AND OUR HEARING PARAMETERS and stop thinking that if you have to EQ it is a bad thing as it is not.

I continued to work on EQing my Focals and now really like them. It amy take some time or not much at all depending up one's taste, but doing this really softened the blow from spending $350 on a pair of cans I was not going to use as much, but now I do.

In my home studio I don't use them for tracking, but for mix downs and general listening I use them as much and now use my AKG K701s for my high res usb computer dac listening.

You site has been a great read and those of us who listen in cans a lot have learned so much from you. I also agree that your assessment of buy the right headphones first, agonize over your source components, and then the amp. You have to start at the front and work back to get the most out of your listening experience, just like, to me, speakers are the most important part.

sunnydaler's picture

I'm waiting for your review of Audeze SINE. I like their smooth and resolving nature but think they take some edge off distortion guitars in rock music and tame the atmosphere a bit.

Jim Tavegia's picture

The problem with the files we listen to is that we often don't know what the source bit depth and sample rates were, what mics, mic pres, did who ever do the tracking really agonize of this stuff; and finally did the musicians care?

I can tell you that in my own recordings tracking at no less than 2496 has made a huge difference in the final product. I also don't use my computer to do any conversions as I do that from my tracking into my mix down mixer into a second recorder into the format I or my client wants; either 2496 or rebook. To me this process and keeping it out of the computer until burning has made the best sound and files for me. I will not go back. Both Sony Sound Sound Forge and CD Architect have been excellent and my next step will be to hope that the next version of Tascam's DR-680 (Mark 3) will have 6 tracks at 24/192 for tracking. You can link two of them up for more tracks (12 total). Anyone doing needle drops should give this unit a try. I love it and so do my clients due to the sound quality. It will also do 2 tracks of 24/192 and they are excellent to me for simpler recordings. I use Cirlinca for burning my 2496 files to DVD-A or DVD-V.

Many love the 2-track Tascam DA-3000 which adds DSD, but since I can't deal with those files, 24/192 PCM is still almost as good to me as DSD and a huge improvement over redbook. I feel bad for those who still claim that there is no sonic difference between high rez or rebook, but as a math teacher I understand it, and even at my age can hear it. It is not a small difference. To buy cans of this quality and not listen to high res is really missing something IMHO. Maybe their gear can resolve it, but my gear is not that great and it is obvious to me.

I think what a nightmare to lug around a Teac 3340 back in the day, not counting the tape issues of drop outs were. This little DR-680 MK2 is one of the most amazing audio buys I have ever made. Now I can put my Focal Spirit Professionals into that group with just some EQ.

xp9433's picture


Enjoyed your honest review as it has made me more cautious about which "ultimate" headphone might suit. I hope Audeze can sort out the treble anomaly quickly. No chance it was unit variation?

However, I am also interested in which amps were used in the review, and which one you feel was a best match for the LCD-4.
Comment possible?


maelob's picture

Tyll you were into something, just read on today that AUDEZE is planning to revise the drivers on the LCD line including LCD 4.

"The biggest news to my ears however, was a subtle update of the LCD line which nearly flew under my radar at the show. According to Mark, every driver from the LCD collection is receiving an update, including the recently-released LCD-4 ($4k) we reviewed [here]. The overall augmentation is a thinner, more responsive film sandwiched between the magnetic planes. Mark also shared that the biggest shift in voicing will likely belong to the closed-back LCD-XC ($1,799) which now promises a slightly more linear feel via a small adjustment in the frequency response. The rest of the LCD sound signatures should remain relatively close to their respective origins."

Torq's picture

I wonder if the referenced update to the LCD-4 is the driver change that it just got ... or if this will be the 2nd change to that model's driver since it launched (not so long ago).

I'm all for continuous improvement, but I would like to know that the headphone I buy today isn't going to wind up sounding meaningfully different a few months down the road if a repair is required ...

maelob's picture

Totally agree, they should give more info and clarification on what is the update, and probably offer the upgrade to existing customers.

Torq's picture

Audeze had made a statement, I think surfaced on Head-Fi, that for the LCD-4 any future improvements would be offered, at no cost, to existing customers. Assuming that's true, it's a laudable position.

My bigger concern is, the first driver update changed the signature (opinions are mixed as to which version is better) and also resulted in the new driver requiring 2.3x the power to reach the same SPL. The power change wasn't a problem for me (Ragnarok and WA5 LE as my primary amps), but I still don't want to buy into a $4K headphone that suddenly changes its signature, even slightly, when the gamble is that I won't like the new signature as much as what I originally had.

holynebula's picture

i'm not much a audiophile who measure sound graphic ect ...
just want a good headphone ...
as much as i like to hear music , i like to see movie

and for quite an expensive headphone, let's not be polite anymore : LCD-4 SUCK
it is what mr.tyll describe it, everything like there is a piece of cloth between ur ear

better go with hd800 + hdvd 800 , what a nice pair ... it was doing what it supposed to do
soundstage , imaging & micro detail .. gladiator ''u can hear russel crowe chopping head with bone cracking sound '

seems a drag that i have to return LCD-4, looks very beautiful , but not as expected