Audeze LCD-2 Review - "Some Assembly Required"
Written Review by @Chrono
As suggested by the title, this article will be a review of Audeze’s LCD-2 planar magnetic headphone. Before getting into the actual review, there are some things I would like to clarify. First and foremost I would like to specify that this is a 2020 model of the LCD-2. As a 2020 model, it features a lot of the revisions and improvements that Audeze has been making, not only to the LCD-2, but to a lot of other Audeze products.
Compared to its original 2009 counterpart, this LCD-2 houses the mini-XLR jacks separate from the wooden rings, as that could cause the wood to crack in the original models. In 2014, Audeze’s Fazor technology (triangle-prism-shaped waveguides on the magnets), were added to--according to Audeze--improve imaging and detail. This LCD-2 also features the 2016 driver revision, which greatly improved their detail retrieval capabilities compared to the original driver Audeze used. In 2018 the headband was updated to the suspension-style headband seen here, which greatly improved comfort, as it distributes weight more evenly. Lastly, in 2020 they redesigned the grill on the outside of the driver, with a metal mesh being seen on the inside, rather than foam.
Now onto the review!
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 a variety of music that featured genres like Rock, Jazz, Classical, Acoustic, Hip-Hop, and latin, as well as others. These were played from either my own FLAC library, or from Tidal (HiFi/Master Quality).
The LCD-2 has an impedance of 70 ohms and a sensitivity of 101dB. In practice, these are actually quite lenient on the power necessary to drive them properly. I will list an amplifier as a requirement, but I really do not think it has to be the most powerful one.
Build Quality and Comfort
The build here is consistent with the rest of Audeze’s full-size LCD series: a combination of premium materials beautifully put together.
Just about everything on this headphone is made of metal. The only omissions to this are the obvious ones, such as the earpads, wooden wings, and suspension headband strap. The wood here seems to be coated in what feels to me like a very durable and high-quality lacquer that is reminiscent in feel and finish to the nitrocellulose lacquer of high-end guitars; I think that the rings will be fine for several years with little maintenance. The pads are made of lambskin, and I think that they will last for a while before needing a replacement. I have seen some concerns online regarding the headband stretching and touching the metal part above. Even with me using these for a month and upwards of eight hours daily, I have not seen or felt any stretching of the headband. These also include a very sturdy hard case. While it may not be the most portable case, it is sure to keep your headphones safe.The only flaw in the build is that, as a result of using strong and premium components, these come in at the rather heavy weight of 595g. With that sort of weight, I am sure some are concerned as to what comfort is like with these.
For the first week I had these, comfort was a bit of a struggle. While it would seem like the weight would be the main issue, I felt as though it was actually the clamp force that was the most problematic. For that first week, the clamp force was very high which put a lot of pressure around my jaw. However, after that first week of adjustment the clamp on the LCD-2 eased up quite a bit and have since become very comfortable. While I still think weight might be an issue for some, the new suspension headband really does a great job of distributing that weight, so I have not really had any issues with it. The ear pads are massive, provide a lot of room for your ears to fit in, and are very soft on the skin.Overall, I think these are very comfortable after you break them in a little; I have had no issues wearing these for very long periods of time.
Sound is definitely what I find the most interesting on the LCD-2. Normally, I would not like to begin a review by talking about EQ, but I feel like it is really necessary to do so when reviewing the LCD-2. More than any other headphone that I have tried, these really transform, and drastically improve with some EQ. If you are interested in these headphones, I encourage you to keep an open mind about utilizing EQ or at least using the great tool that Audeze provides in the Reveal + plugin, as these can bring out the headphone’s full potential.
With that being said, I will review the sound of the LCD-2 in a slightly different way. I will still divide sound into bass, mids, and treble, but for this review I will sub-divide those into “Without EQ” and “With EQ.” For the “With EQ” section, I will be using the EQ that I came up with for the LCD-2, and I will explain why I made the changes you will see in the EQ. If you want to try out my EQ, you can input these settings and values in your EQ software of choice:
Low Shelf at 100hz, +1.5dB Q of 0.7
Peak at 1000hz, -3dB Q of 2
Peak at 3000hz, +2.5dB Q of 2
Peak at 4500hz, +4.5dB Q of 1.8
Peak at 6000hz, -6.5dB Q of 1.6
Peak at 9000hz, +4.5dB Q of 4
The bass here, even without EQ, is fantastic. When you look at graphs of these, you can easily see that they extended in an almost perfectly linear fashion down to 20hz, and it definitely sounds that way. The bass here has an incredible sense of depth and presence. However, the bass here is never overpowering or intrusive of other frequencies in the mix. It is simply extremely defined, detailed, and well-textured. Additionally, they have a good and satisfying sense of punch and slam in the bass.
The bass here is fantastic without EQ. I would say the only reason for adjusting the bass here is to fine tune it to personal preference. I personally like to add a bass shelf of +1.5dB below 100hz, but if you prefer a more harman-like bass shelf of +5dB, you can definitely do that with these as the total harmonic distortion here (THD) is extremely low.
“This is where the fun begins.” - Anakin Skywalker, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
The mids on the LCD-2 are definitely what throw off their tonality the most; I find them strange, really. They do not have the problem of being forward or recessed, but they have a small peak at around 1k and a severe dip between 3k-5k. This messes with a lot of different aspects of the LCD-2’s sound. The most noticeable effect is that as a result, the mids’ tonality and timbre sounds unnatural. There is a very noticeable lack of presence and body in the mids, all while having a very somewhat “boxed-in” and “congested” timbre. On top of the strange tonality, these features in the mid range make the perceived resolution of the LCD-2 to be much lower than it really is.
So obviously, the mids here are problematic. However, they are extremely easy to fix with EQ. After toning down the peak at 1k, and giving the frequencies affected by the upper mids’ dip a slight boost the LCD-2’s mids sound fantastic. With those problematic areas removed, the timbre and tonality improves drastically. The mids here become very natural and rich-sounding. Using EQ in this region of the LCD-2’s FR also brings out a lot of the detail that was perceived to be lost. Overall, the mid range of the LCD-2 with EQ is actually quite fast and tonally accurate--it just needs some tweaking.
The LCD-2’s highs are, for the most part, very good. They have great extension, are well articulated, and have very nice air qualities above 10k. The highs here are by no means bright, but they are very well-defined and smooth. If you are treble-sensitive, like me, you should have no problems with the LCD-2’s highs. The only concern here is a slight peak at 6k that adds the slightest bit of glare and sibilance. More importantly, though, is that this peak further emphasizes the dip in the upper mid range that precedes it.
Whilst I think the highs are very good, they can use some adjustment. First, I reduce that peak at 6k, which I think further cleans up the highs a little bit and complements the adjustments made to the mids. Additionally, I add some extra energy with a peak at around 9k to give an emphasis to the overtones of brass instruments and cymbals--made them sound more natural to me.
Soundstage and Imaging
The sound stage here is very good. Some people have described the soundstage of the LCD-2 as narrow, but I have to disagree. I think that they are at least as wide as a Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro, which I consider to be fairly wide. Imaging here is also fantastic, I have no issues distinguishing where sounds are coming from. Obviously, it is not their intended use, but gaming in these was fantastic. The soundstage provided an immersive experience in open-world games like World of Warcraft and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild; whilst the imaging was precise enough to keep up with games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, where the direction of audio cues is crucial to staying competitive. Very important to mention is that the instrument separation and layering here is fantastic. Even in music where multiple instruments and vocals were recorded in one track, I had no issues telling apart the different lines that composed complex passages.
As I mentioned in the bass section of this review, the dynamics here are very good. The LCD-2’s have a very good sense of punch and slam. However, what I found to be more impressive were the microdynamics. The micro dynamics of the LCD-2 do a lot in faithfully recreating the pressure of instruments and the intensity with which they are played. As a guitarist, I often listen out to how guitars are played, and as dramatic as it may sound, you can hear whether a guitar is plucked with a guitar or finer on these. Similarly, you can listen out for the pressure behind keystrokes on pianos. This quality in the microdynamics gives instruments a very realistic presence and quality in the mix.
I am sure you are tired of me saying this, but after EQ the LCD-2 is really an incredible performer. It leans more towards a warm tonality, but it does not sacrifice any detail in doing so. They are amazing with high-quality recordings, but are quite forgiving of the not-so-high-quality ones. Across the board they perform incredible across a wide range of genres, but I particularly enjoyed rock and Jazz with these. Revisiting The Beatles’ Abbey Road and listening to Arne Domnérus Jazz at the Pawnshop was a delightful experience. I am sure that there are certainly people out there wondering whether or not a headphone like this is worth it over something like the DT-1990 Pro, Focal Elex, Sennheiser HD 600-series, or HiFiMan Sundara. I cannot determine whether or not it is something that is worth it for you, as we all have different values and preferences. However, what I can say, is that there is a very noticeable performance gain over those other headphones; one much larger than what I had originally expected. In the future, I hope I will be able to try other Audeze products. I would also like to compare these against something like the HiFiMan Ananda and the Dan Clark Audio AEON 2 Open, which are similarly priced.