Audeze LCD-1 Review - lightweight planar headphones with heavyweight performance

Review written by Chrono

This Audeze LCD-1 was loaned to me for review by Headphones.com, and I will be returning it to them after this review is published.

Introduction

I have recently been listening to the LCD-1, and I must say that it has recently thrown me for a loop–and that is a good thing.

It was not too long ago that I reviewed the HiFiMan Sundara and was sincerely impressed with the performance level it achieved; so much so that I declared my personal pick for music listening under $500. The Sundara was an all-around great performer that possessed both a delightful sonic tuning and great technical capabilities. However, now that I have tried the LCD-1, I can say that there is a real contender for my go-to pick in the sub $500 price range.

Sources and Music Used in Listening Tests

The Amplifier/DAC used in this review was the JDS Labs Element II connected via USB to my desktop computer. For the listening tests I used music from a wide variety of genres including Rock, Jazz, Classical, Acoustic, Hip-Hop, and latin. I played tracks from my own FLAC library as well as from Tidal streaming service (HiFi/Master Quality).

What’s in the Box?

The LCD-1’s packaging is simple, but includes everything you need. Included as part of the package is a black, Audeze-branded travel case. The case itself is zippered, compact, and sturdy; I would feel very comfortable taking the LCD-1 around with me in this case. The included 3.5mm to dual 3.5mm reversible connector cable and ⅛” to ¼” adapter are also very nice. Despite being braided and somewhat thick, the cable is actually very flexible. It measures two meters in length and I find it very comfortable for both mobile and desktop usage. Lastly, an Audeze certificate of Authenticity is also included in the box.

Power Requirements

No headphone that I have tested thus far has been as efficient as the LCD-1, which is unsurprising given that they have an impedance of only 16 ohms and a sensitivity of 99dB. Regardless of which device I tested these on, I had plenty of volume headroom and their sound quality was never compromised. I am not going to list an amp as necessary for the LCD-1.

Build and Comfort

Because they were designed with portability in mind, the LCD-1’s design is a significant departure from the rest of Audeze’s LCD line. They are extremely light weight (250g), and they feature a very compact and foldable design. Their body is composed mainly of plastic, but they do have a very rigid metal headband. For the most part, they feel very sturdy. There is nothing in the design or construction itself that would make me question their durability. However, I do have to mention that the unit I received has pretty severe creaking issues. Even when I am not moving my head, I will hear the plastic creak, and I can hear it over the music I am listening to at times. I asked other LCD-1 users if they have had a similar experience and it seems like this issue pertains only to the unit I received for review; I still thought it was worth mentioning.

Comfort on the LCD-1 is surprisingly good. At first glance, they look like on-ear headphones, but they are actually over-ear headphones. Admittedly, they are not the biggest ear cups out there, but I did not have any issues getting my ears to fit completely inside the pads. After about two hours of continuous usage I could start feeling pressure slowly building up on my ears, but it was never really that bad; this was quickly alleviated by taking off the headphones for a bit or shifting them around a little. The lambskin pads themselves are very nicely padded with what feels like a medium-density memory foam, making them rest very nicely on my head. The only real complaint is that the headband design they went with here occasionally caused a hot spot at the top of my head depending on how I put the LCD-1 on. I think that for build and comfort these were not as good as the Sundara, HD 600S, or DT 1990 Pro, but I did not have any major issues with them anyways.

Sound

I must admit that as soon as I began to listen, the LCD-1 really impressed me. By no means are they perfect, but straight out of the box I found myself seriously enjoying the way they sounded; very different from the experience I had with my beloved LCD-2s. Although it definitely benefits from it, the LCD-1 is a headphone that does not really need EQ. For this sound section, I will be going over the LCD-1’s performance while also comparing it to some of its competitors–namely the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro, Sennheiser HD 660S, and HiFiMan Sundara

Bass

For the most part, I think that the bass on the LCD-1 is good. It extends in a mostly even fashion down to 20hz, and it has very good speed and definition. It does a very good job at reproducing the nuances in the bass region. However, the bass on the LCD-1 has very little presence starting at around 130hz. This is not to say that it rolls off, as I mentioned it extends very well; it is just that the actual volume level of the frequencies under 130hz is very low compared to the rest of the mix. Additionally, the bass dynamics on the LCD-1 are a little lacking, as they really do not do much in the way of punch and slam. For comparison, I think that the LCD-1’s bass is not quite as detailed as the bass in the Sundara, but I think that for definition and extension it does outperform the DT 1990 Pro and HD 660S.

Thanks to their low total harmonic distortion (THD) it is possible to EQ the LCD-1’s bass closer to my personal target by applying a fairly aggressive low shelf at 115hz. Once the bass level is raised these have a very deep and rich low end. It still does not slam very hard, mind you, but it is very enjoyable and for me it is some of the best bass in an open back under $500.

Mids

The mids on the LCD-1 are excellent, and they are actually very similar to the Sundara’s mids in both tuning and resolution. In terms of frequency response, the only issue I had with the mids is that there is a fairly large dip at around 2k that would thin out the mids and make instruments like electric guitars disappear a little bit from the mix. Regardless, I found the mids on the LCD-1 to have a great tonality. The mids’ timbre was also excellent, as it was very natural-sounding to me; even more so than the timbre on the HD 660S, DT 1990 Pro and Sundara. For their price, I think that the LCD-1 have a very good level of detail in the midrange. I think that they are on par with the Sundara in this category, but they get out-resolved by the DT 1990 Pro and HD 660S.

When using EQ it is very easy to correct the dip at 2k, and that brings the midrange on the LCD-1 almost perfectly to my personal target. I also like to add a very slight reduction at around 3.5k because I am a little sensitive upper mids, but I really do not think that most people will need to make that adjustment on the LCD-1.

Highs

The LCD-1’s highs are what really blew me away. I do not think that I have heard any other headphone under $500 extend this well into the frequencies above 10k. Also, The resolution and level of detail that the highs achieve is outstanding for the price point that the LCD-1 retails at. To me, the LCD-1 out-resolved the DT 1990 Pro, HD 660S, and Sundara by a considerable margin in the highs. I think that their level of detail is actually closer to that of the HiFiMan Ananda, which is roughly twice the LCD-1’s price. Additionally, the highs on the LCD-1 are pleasant and tonally accurate; the only change I make via EQ is that for my preference, they need a little more energy at around 6k.

Soundstage and Imaging

Unfortunately, the soundstage on the LCD-1 is incredibly small. It has a very “in your head” type of sound, and is about on par with the 600-series Sennheisers in terms of width. The imaging these have, though, is actually very good. There were no gaps between left and right, it was very easy identifying the direction from which sounds originated. Even though the soundstage was extremely narrow, I still felt like they were alright for online games because their imaging was still very precise.The instrument separation on the LCD-1 is also very good, it was very easy to distinguish the individual layers and elements that made up tracks in the music I listened to.

Dynamics

Like the soundstage, I found the dynamics on the LCD-1 to be a little lacking. As I previously mentioned, they do not do much in the way of delivering that immediate impact for low notes. Similarly, I found the micro dynamics to be on the weaker side–sounds such as piano keystrokes and guitar strings do not carry the same level of weight and tension behind them as they do on other headphones.

EQ

The LCD-1 does not really need much EQ, but the bass and mids see improvement from it. Adding a bass shelf adds much-needed energy to the LCD-1’s low end, and a couple of peak/dip adjustments bring the midrange closer to target. I will include my custom EQ for the LCD-1, but I also recommend that you check out the Audeze Reveal + plugin preset for these as it also sounds great. This is my custom EQ, and you can input it into your equalization software of choice:

  • Low Shelf at 115hz, +4dB Q of 0.7
  • Peak at 2000hz, +3dB Q of 1.41
  • Peak at 3500hz, -2dB Q of 1.2
  • Peak at 6000hz, +1.5dB Q of 2

Conclusion

Despite their ultra-compact form factor, the LCD-1 outperforms most headphones in its price range and even some above it. Its slick design, low power requirements, and technical performance make the LCD-1 an ideal travel companion for anyone who wants to have access to serious audio on-the-go. While I think that it is also a top performer for desktop use under $500, I would personally still prefer the Sundara for that application because their long-term comfort was better than on the LCD-1. Nonetheless, I find that what Audeze achieved with the LCD-1 is very impressive as they met their goal of creating a truly portable planar-magnetic open back headphone that delivers enjoyable, reference-class sound.

-Chrono

Check out the video review here:

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