Audeze Headphones

World leading planar headphones for the discerning music lover from USA
Audeze’s goal is to re-create sound exactly as the artist intended.
Audeze removes the boundaries between artist and listener. Our products combine revolutionary acoustic engineering and beautiful craftsmanship to provide the very finest listening experience. Our headphones’ best-in-class accuracy makes them an irreplaceable tool for those requiring the most transparent audio reproduction available. First discovered by audiophiles, now professional engineers and music producers are using our headphones as their new reference.

Manufactured in the USA by a specialty audiophile headphone company, Audeze headphones are a planar-magnetic driver design (aka 'Orthodynamic') delivering richly detailed, full-toned accuracy that makes it highly attractive to audiophiles employing superb sources and headphone amps in their audio arsenal.

Quote - "Deep imaging, dead-accurate transients and a simple transparency that sounds great with any genre or recording makes the LCD-2 / & LCD-3  one of our favorite headphones ever" -  HeadRoom. 

Our headphones are engineered with the latest innovations in material science, producing crystal clear sound and unparalleled sonic performance.  The Audeze team includes a diverse set of entrepreneurs and engineers with years of experience in audio, material science, and digital media. Our commitment to research and development is reflected in our products, which are manufactured in the U.S.A.

AWARDS
“A Game Changer... Redefining the state of the art.” - CNET Audiophiliac
“The best sounding headphone on the market.” - CNET Audiophiliac 
“The best headphones in the world?” Steve Guttenberg,
“The Audeze headphones are the closest thing to a high quality studio monitor that I’ve found in a headphone.”
Erick Labson, Grammy winner and Senior Mastering Engineer at Universal Mastering Studios

EL-8 COLLECTION
The EL-8s are a remarkable achievement in engineering, comfort and style. Its performance surpasses anything on the market in its price range. The iconic industrial design is by BMW DesignWorksUSA. The EL-8 features many of our technologies including Fluxor magnetics, Uniforce diaphragms and Fazor elements delivering deep bass, an engaging midrange, and a sweet, detailed top end. The closed-back model has all the sonic benefits of the open-back model and provides a quiet listening environment, even in noisy areas, to fully enjoy music with virtually no ambient noise. The EL-8 is sensitive enough to be driven directly by portable players and sounds even better with an external amplifier.

LCD COLLECTION
The award-winning LCD Collection, acknowledged by many as the best in the world, defined Audeze as the number one manufacturer of ultra-performance headphones. No competitor can match our powerful bass and flat response down to an amazing 20Hz, subtle dynamic gradations, ultimate detail without stridency, superb separation, or the enormous sense of

space that sounds more like speakers in a room than drivers next to your ears.
Each LCD is individually tested and measured and, upon product registration, users may request their frequency response chart. Audeze headphones are handcrafted in the USA.

The LCD-2 

is the legendary headphone that made Audeze an industry leader. Continuous evolution and the addition of Fazor technology have enhanced its transparency and overall performance. Known for their tight, extended bass response, smooth, inviting midrange, and warm high frequencies, the LCD-2 headphones offer a listening experience that makes believers out of even casual music listeners. For the best performance The LCD-2 requires a high quality external headphone amplifier.

The LCD-X
 is one of the most efficient headphones on the market and extracts the maximum drive out of low-powered amplifiers and portable devices. It’s also the most neutral of all the LCD Collection explaining its popularity with audiophiles, recording engineers and musicians alike for its clarity and fast, accurate dynamics. With 20 ohms impedance the LCD-X is sensitive enough to be driven directly by a laptop or mobile device, however as with all headphones, a high quality external amplifier improves results.

The closed-back LCD-XC 
was created based on our core customers’ feedback. It delivers all the benefits of the LCD-X while isolating the listener and reducing ambient noise for a private listening experience, a significant achievement due to the inherent challenges of enclosing our planar transducers. The LCD-XC is the finest closed-back planar available, sensitive enough to be driven directly by portable players and mobile devices, but a high quality external amplifier produces better sonic results. 

The LCD-3
Our flagship headphone has been called the best in the world. At the pinnacle of our LCD Collection, the LCD-3 delivers the highest resolution music experience of all our headphones. It’s sound is always musical, spacious, ultra-realistic, with powerful bass, a rich and engaging midrange, and a top end that pulls you into the music. For the best results Audeze recommends pairing the LCD-3 with a high quality external headphone amplifier.

THE INTERSECTION OF ART AND TECHNOLOGY
At Audeze we remove the boundaries between artist and listener. Our products combine revolutionary acoustic engineering and beautiful craftsmanship to provide the finest listening experience.

Our headphones’ best-in-class accuracy makes them an irreplaceable tool for those requiring the most transparent audio reproduction available. First discovered by audiophiles, now professional engineers and music producers are using our headphones as their new reference.

We’re proud to present our product guide that briefly covers some of our technology and specifications. However, no product guide can ever do our products justice. The only way to truly appreciate our headphones is listening to them. 

DESIGN AND COMFORT
Our award-winning headphones are known for their signature sound created by our advanced transducer technology allied with the finest craftsmanship and hand-selected woods.

Employing unique design and advanced transducer technology, our headphones provide total comfort for hours on end. Combining legendary style with the world’s most advanced planar magnetic technology, delivering the ultimate listening experience.

HANDCRAFTED WORKMANSHIP
Audeze’s advanced manufacturing process combined with the latest materials and technology produces extremely accurate and incredible sounding headphones. The LCD Collection, handcrafted in the USA, delivers the listener into a new world of music, full of rich detail, bass clarity and overall accuracy.

THE WORLD LEADER IN PLANAR MAGNETIC HEADPHONE TECHNOLOGY
Implementing unique designs and patented technologies, Audeze is widely recognised as the industry leader, offering headphones with unparalleled performance. We achieve this by pushing the limits of technology, materials science, and engineering – always striving for sonic perfection.

The planar magnetic transducer is the heart of the Audeze headphone and has significant advantages over other designs:

• A flat, ultra-thin-film membrane creating amazing sound quality.  We have the lowest THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) of any headphones available.
• Proprietary internal damping of transducers and headphone components effectively  eliminates unwanted resonances for much clearer sound.
• Oversized magnetic structures deliver the greatest flux density of any headphone  available. The greater the flux density, the better the planar membrane is driven  resulting in better transient response.
• We match our drivers to within ±1 dB for the most accurate imaging and lower distortion.
• The impedance is purely resistive without fluctuation, making it an easy load  for the amplifier or portable device for better performance.
• Audeze has the flattest, most accurate bass response of any headphones.

FLUXOR ™ MAGNETIC STRUCTURE
With new, patent-pending Fluxor magnetic technology introduced in the EL-8, Audeze delivers nearly double the magnetic flux density of the highest-grade neodymium magnetic circuits. This remarkable achievement results in reduced weight with greater efficiency to work with mobile devices.

FAZOR ™ ELEMENTS
Patent-pending Fazor technology, introduced in the LCD Collection, is also integrated into the EL-8. Fazors are special acoustical elements positioned on either side of the magnetic structure that enhances transparency by influencing sound waves generated by large planar diaphragms. Benefits include extended frequency response, improved high-frequency extension, phase response, and lowered distortion with better imaging.

UNIFORCE ™ DIAPHRAGMS
The EL-8’s patent-pending Uniforce diaphragm employs an industry first; variable trace widths in the voice-coil that effectively capture variations in the magnetic field within the magnetic gaps by equalising the forces of the individual traces, creating a uniform driving force across the diaphragm surface. This results in dramatically reduced distortion, higher resolution and improved imaging.

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AD 01 HA DECKARD
NZ$ 1,295.00 (incl. GST)
"Audeze make some very stylish headphones, but what you might not know is that they dabble in amplifiers too. The Deckard (if you don’t catch the reference, then let us Google that for you) is a slab...
AD 01 HP ISINE10
NZ$ 675.00 (incl. GST)
NEW - iSINE10 In-Ear Headphone - the iSINE 10 sounds and looks like no others, an innovative design without a care for the same old status quo of balanced armature or dynamic driver designs. The...
Planar magnetic drivers for better dynamics and frequency response Premium materials for style and...
EXTENDED REVIEW: Every now and then a company comes out with a “world first,” which is getting a...
AD 01 HP ISINE20
NZ$ 995.00 (incl. GST)
PROS Excellent audio performance with robust lows, clear highs, and wonderful dynamics. Includes two detachable cables, one with inline remote control. Utilises Lightning port on iOS devices....
Planar magnetic drivers for better dynamics and frequency response Premium materials for style and...
EXTENDED REVIEW: I’m ready to crown this the best IFA of this decade. In a show already highlighted...
AD 01 HP LCDI4
NZ$ 3,995.00 (incl. GST)
LDC-i4 - NEW PRODUCT RELEASE AVAILABLE FOR DEMO IN OUR SHOWROOM:Our goal when designing the LCDi4 was to make the absolute best sounding in-ear experience. We took our award winning LCD-4 design and...
LCD4 film technology - only 0.5 microns thinVibration dampening magnesium housingFluxor magnets and...
AD 01 HP SINE LT
NZ$ 895.00 (incl. GST)
World’s First On-Ear Planar Magnetic Headphone
Planar magnetic drivers for better dynamics and frequency responsePremium leather for style and...
AD 02 HP EL8
NZ$ 1,195.00 (incl. GST)
EL-8 Open-Back HeadphoneThe world’s most advanced planar magnetic headphone. Featuring patent-pending Fluxor™, Uniforce™ technology.
Package Includes1.2m Audeze headphone cable3.5mm to 1/4in stereo adapter Patent-PendingFazor...
EXTENDED REVIEW: When I was given the opportunity to review the newly released open pair of EL-8...
AD 14 HP LCD4
NZ$ 6,995.00 (incl. GST)
LCD-4 - The New Reference Standard Planar Magnetic Headphone. The LCD-4, Audeze’s new reference headphone, is the result of dedicated research and development and advancements in...
Package Includes 1/4in to dual 4-pin mini-XLR Premium LCD Headphone Cable Professional travel...
EXTENDED REVIEW: Even though headphone manufacturer Audeze has only been around for a relatively...

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Headphones & Headphone amps

AD 01 HA DECKARD
NZ$ 1,295.00 ea (incl. GST)
"Audeze make some very stylish headphones, but what you might not know is that they dabble in amplifiers too. The Deckard (if you don’t catch the reference, then let us Google that for you) is a slab...
AD 01 HA KING
NZ$ 6,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
THE KING - Class-A Hybrid Tube/MOSFET Headphone Amp THE KING Class-A Hybrid Tube/Mosfet Headphone Amplifier
Dual ¼” unbalanced jacksTrue SPL power meters calibrated for specific headphonesClipping and...
EXTENDE REVIEW: My passion for listening to music through headphones is fueled by the enhanced...
AD 01 HP ISINE10
NZ$ 675.00 ea (incl. GST)
NEW - iSINE10 In-Ear Headphone - the iSINE 10 sounds and looks like no others, an innovative design without a care for the same old status quo of balanced armature or dynamic driver designs. The...
Planar magnetic drivers for better dynamics and frequency response Premium materials for style and...
EXTENDED REVIEW: Every now and then a company comes out with a “world first,” which is getting a...
AD 01 HP ISINE20
NZ$ 995.00 ea (incl. GST)
PROS Excellent audio performance with robust lows, clear highs, and wonderful dynamics. Includes two detachable cables, one with inline remote control. Utilises Lightning port on iOS devices....
Planar magnetic drivers for better dynamics and frequency response Premium materials for style and...
EXTENDED REVIEW: I’m ready to crown this the best IFA of this decade. In a show already highlighted...
AD 01 HP LCDI4
NZ$ 3,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
LDC-i4 - NEW PRODUCT RELEASE AVAILABLE FOR DEMO IN OUR SHOWROOM:Our goal when designing the LCDi4 was to make the absolute best sounding in-ear experience. We took our award winning LCD-4 design and...
LCD4 film technology - only 0.5 microns thinVibration dampening magnesium housingFluxor magnets and...
AD 01 HP SINE
NZ$ 795.00 ea (incl. GST)
World’s First On-Ear Planar Magnetic Headphone
Planar magnetic drivers for better dynamics and frequency responsePremium leather for style and...
AD 01 HP SINE LT
NZ$ 895.00 ea (incl. GST)
World’s First On-Ear Planar Magnetic Headphone
Planar magnetic drivers for better dynamics and frequency responsePremium leather for style and...
AD 02 HP EL8
NZ$ 1,195.00 ea (incl. GST)
EL-8 Open-Back HeadphoneThe world’s most advanced planar magnetic headphone. Featuring patent-pending Fluxor™, Uniforce™ technology.
Package Includes1.2m Audeze headphone cable3.5mm to 1/4in stereo adapter Patent-PendingFazor...
EXTENDED REVIEW: When I was given the opportunity to review the newly released open pair of EL-8...
AD 02 HP EL8 CB
NZ$ 1,195.00 ea (incl. GST)
EL-8 Closed-Back HeadphoneThe world’s most advanced planar magnetic headphone. Featuring patent-pending Fluxor™, Uniforce™ technology. The same extreme performance in a closed-back model for...
Package Includes1.2m Audeze headphone cable3.5mm to 1/4in stereo adapter Patent-PendingFazor...
AD 02 HP LCD2
NZ$ 1,750.00 ea (incl. GST)
 "A game-changer. Redefines the state of the art." – Steve Guttenberg, CNET - The Audiophiliac The Audeze LCD-2 is a state-of-the-art planar magnetic headphone with every component engineered...
Each LCD-2 comes with:ADZ6SE Cable (single-ended 1/4"): 1/4” TRS to 2x4-pin mini XLR1/4" to 1/8"...
"No matter who your favorite vocalists are, this is a test that the LCD2s can ace." ……JEFF DORGAY...
AD 06 HP LCDX
NZ$ 2,795.01 ea (incl. GST)
The reference-level LCD-X is an exciting addition to our LCD planar magnetic headphone collection. The LCD-X features a newly-developed and processed transducer made of a thinner and lighter...
Each LCD-X comes with:ADZ6SE Cable (single-ended 1/4"):  1/4” TRS to 2x4-pin mini XLRADZ6B4...
AD 09 HP LCDXC
NZ$ 2,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Our first foray into closed-back design, the LCD-XC has been in research and development for several years. Now featuring exclusive Fazor technology, we’re proud to release the XC, a fully-enclosed...
​Each LCD-XC comes with:ADZ6SE Cable (single-ended 1/4"): 1/4” TRS to 2x4-pin mini XLRADZ6B4 Cable...
AD 13 HP LCD3
NZ$ 3,250.00 ea (incl. GST)
The BEST in the WORLD -Our flagship headphone has literally been called the best in the world. At the pinnacle of our LCD Collection, the LCD-3 delivers the highest resolution music experience...
Each LCD-3 comes with:ADZ6SE Cable (single-ended 1/4"): 1/4” TRS to 2x4-pin mini XLRADZ6B4 Cable (...
“A joy for those seeking clarity, detail and an intimate relationship with the music.” – POR EMILIO...
AD 14 HP LCD4
NZ$ 6,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
LCD-4 - The New Reference Standard Planar Magnetic Headphone. The LCD-4, Audeze’s new reference headphone, is the result of dedicated research and development and advancements in...
Package Includes 1/4in to dual 4-pin mini-XLR Premium LCD Headphone Cable Professional travel...
EXTENDED REVIEW: Even though headphone manufacturer Audeze has only been around for a relatively...
AD 15 HP ACC LCK
NZ$ 45.00 ea (incl. GST)
AD 15 HP ACC LEP
NZ$ 175.00 pr (incl. GST)
AD 15 HP CAB RCA
NZ$ 145.00 ea (incl. GST)
AD 16 HP CAB XLR
NZ$ 145.00 ea (incl. GST)
AD 17 HP ADP XLR
NZ$ 145.00 ea (incl. GST)
AD 18 HP EL8 SC
NZ$ 75.00 ea (incl. GST)
AD 19 HP EL8 AC
NZ$ 99.50 ea (incl. GST)
A COMPLE TE 24-BIT HIGH RESOLUTION INTEGRATED AMP/DSP/DAC WITH LIGHTNING CONNECTOR Audeze’s exclusive Cipher cable with Lightning connection provides Apple iDevice users with true high resolution,...

Reviews

The best headphones in the world?
Steve Guttenberg

The engineers and musicians at the session all took turns checking out the LCD-3s, and they were all knocked out by the sound. They weren't audiophiles, but they all heard the difference great headphones can make. 

To put the LCD-3's sound in perspective, I borrowed the engineer's Sennheiser HD 650 headphones ($650), and it was really shocking how much better the LCD-3s were. The HD 650 is a great set of headphones, but it sounded small, thin, dynamically compressed, and its stereo imaging was relatively flat next to that of the LCD-3. Both headphones were played with the same Grace Design m901 headphone amplifier.

The LCD-3's dynamic punch is simply the best I've heard, bass definition and power are phenomenal, stereo imaging is remarkably open and spacious. No dynamic headphone at any price comes close to the LCD-3's sound. Some audiophiles think the Stax SR-009 (US$5,250) is the best sounding headphone on the market; I don't agree...... the Stax SR-009 lacks the LCD-3's power, dynamics, natural midrange, and potent bass.

Audeze LCD-3 headphones are made in the U.S.A., and like the best cars, clothes, and everything else high-end, they're expensive.
 
I've written about the Audeze LCD-2 headphones in this blog before, but now I'm going to cover the LCD-3 model, Audeze's best headphones. At first glance the two don't look all that different, but the LCD-3s sport real zebrawood earcups and have thicker and softer real lambskin leather cushions to coddle your ears. This is a fairly heavy (550-gram) set of headphones, but they're comfortable to wear for hours at a time. Details of why the LCD-2s and LCD-3s sound different aren't forthcoming from Audeze, other than the drivers, which use similar technology, are different. I can't say the two sound hugely different, but the LCD-3s are definitely more transparent and clear. Are they worth double the price? No, the LCD-2 model remains in the line and gets you 80 percent of the LCD-3's sound, but if you want the very best, get the LCD-3s.
 
Rather than use standard headphone drivers that operate like miniature woofers or tweeters, the LCD-3s, like the LCD-2s, use a large, 6.17-square-inch thin-film planar magnetic driver to make sound. The Audeze circular flat diaphragm is sandwiched between rows of neodymium bar magnets. When audio signals pass through the diaphragm it moves in and out to produce sound, but thanks to its large size and superlow mass the planar magnetic drivers generate significantly lower distortion than conventional headphone designs. The LCD-3's headphone cable is detachable, via locking connectors, and is therefore user-replaceable. 
 
During the course of the review I brought the LCD-3s to a recording session to use as monitors, and they blew my mind. As impressive as they were at home -- and they are exceptional -- it was great to have the opportunity to hear the sound of a blues band playing live in the studio, and then hear their music over the LCD-3s. I have never heard a set of headphones that got even remotely close to the sound of live music the way this one does.

To put the LCD-3's sound in perspective, I borrowed the engineer's Sennheiser HD 650 headphones ($650), and it was really shocking how much better the LCD-3s were. The HD 650 is a great set of headphones, but it sounded small, thin, dynamically compressed, and its stereo imaging was relatively flat next to that of the LCD-3. Both headphones were played with the same Grace Design m901 headphone amplifier.

 
The engineers and musicians at the session all took turns checking out the LCD-3s, and they were all knocked out by the sound. They weren't audiophiles, but they all heard the difference great headphones can make. 

Back at home I used Schiit Lyr and Hifiman EF6 headphone amps for the bulk of my listening tests. The LCD-3's dynamic punch is simply the best I've heard, bass definition and power are phenomenal, stereo imaging is remarkably open and spacious. No dynamic headphone at any price comes close to the LCD-3's sound. Some audiophiles think the Stax SR-009 (US$5,250) is the best sounding headphone on the market; I don't agree...... the Stax SR-009 lacks the LCD-3's power, dynamics, natural midrange, and potent bass.
They "bring you closer to the music, with an exponential increase in detail and subtlety."
Eric Hetherington
his is a lot of money for headphones, but you can purchase these and be sure that while there might be other great-sounding headphones out there, any change would simply be lateral at best. Like me with my bike, I think one can purchase these headphones and not have to worry about needing or wanting a replacement. But, also like me and my bike, I think this makes the most sense if you are going to spend a lot of time using the LCD-3s. These headphones and an associated amp will be a substantial financial investment; if you only use headphones occasionally, they may be more than you need.
 
he Audeze headphones did what the best audio equipment does: they made me want to listen to more music, not only revisiting old favorites, but searching out new discoveries. Sometimes, towards the end of a review cycle, I start to look forward to the departure of the equipment. I start to long for my own equipment -- the things I’ve chosen to live with -- and the comfort of just listening to music without critical appraisal. And sometimes just the opposite happens -- I start to think that the equipment under review really shouldn’t leave. The LCD-3s fall into the latter category.
 
My first audio love was a pair of headphones. As a geeky teenager, I would religiously buy records, record them to cassette and play them on my Walkman during hikes that lasted hours. I loved being both alone and out in the world simultaneously. The Walkman headphones kept me apart from both the forests and town streets I would traverse and insulated me from the rain and cold -- with New Order, the Cure and Stravinsky. Years later, as a graduate student in New York City, I had little room for a proper stereo, but I desperately wanted better sound than I had. Between hours of studying, I found burgeoning headphone websites like HeadWize (before the arrival of Head-Fi) and online manufacturers and retailers like HeadRoom. I soon had sophisticated headphones (Grado SR60s, AKG K501s and Grado RS2s for starters) and a dedicated headphone amp (a HeadRoom Little that I now regret having sold -- for nostalgic reasons if nothing more). Even now, when most of my listening is through speaker-based systems, I retain a keen interest in in-head hi-fi. I still like escaping into a private aural world that is mine and mine alone, somewhere I can be lost without ever leaving home.
 
The last decade has been good for the headphone fanatic. The proliferation of iPods, iPhones, iThis and iThat, along with laptop computers has put headphones in nearly everyone’s ears. Tweens and teens the world over tune out their parents with simple white cords dangling from their ears. Audiophiles and music lovers have discovered the ease of digital music collection and the excellent cost-to-performance ratio that headphones can bring. In pop culture, headphones are cool -- just ask my twelve-year-old son.
 
Savvy companies have jumped at this market and filled it with every kind of headphone, headphone amplifier and accessory you can imagine. One significant development is the growth, both in terms of available models and sales of expensive (greater than US$1000) headphones. It used to be that $400 would get you just about the best headphones money could buy. Now several manufacturers have models that top $1000 -- some of them by quite a distance. The Audeze LCD-3 headphones are well into that latter group -- their retail price is $1945. When the opportunity to review these headphones came up, I was both excited and skeptical. I wanted them to offer clarity, resolution and musical engagement far beyond any other headphones I had heard. But I wasn't sure that any headphones could be worth nearly $2000. I still think my initial skepticism was warranted. Warranted, but wrong.
 
The LCD-3s are visually striking. The earcups are made of hand-selected zebrawood and the earpads are covered in buttery-smooth lambskin leather. Audeze does not claim any particular sonic attributes for these luxurious choices, but the wood is beautifully finished and the leather was very comfortable on my head. The headband seems to have the same leather covering and, after time, this was equally comfortable. Initially, the headband was a bit tight, but this could be by design, ensuring that the LCD-3s won’t become loose on a listener’s head. At 550 grams (almost 1.25 pounds), the LCD-3s can’t be considered a lightweight. You’ll never forget you have them on your head, and moving around while wearing them can cause annoyance. I often felt like the headphones wanted me to sit down and sit still -- I couldn’t even think of looking down with the 'phones on my head or they’d fall forward. If I wore my glasses along with the LCD-3s, after an hour or so I would face a choice: remove the glasses or the headphones. The LCD-3s were tight enough to make the arms of the glasses dig into my temples.
 
The LCD-3 headphones use planar-magnetic transducers that have an active diaphragm area of just over six square inches. Audeze states that the transducers on each pair of headphones are matched to within 0.5dB, have a frequency response of 5Hz to 20kHz, an impedance of 50 ohms, an efficiency of 93dB and a maximum output of 133dB (which is far, far above the volume at which anyone should listen). These specifications are not that different from those reported by John Crossett in his review of the Audeze LCD-2s, although the LCD-3s are claimed to be slightly more efficient.
 
Each earpieces on the LCD-3s are fitted with mini XLR connectors to attach a headphone cable. Audeze supplies two cables with the headphones: one that ends with a 1/4" plug and another with an XLR connector. The cords are flat rather than round and, while not stiff, are not as pliable as other cords. (The champion in this regard are the cords supplied with my AKG Q701s -- they are very flexible but heavy enough to keep from sliding or unraveling if coiled.) The only minor quibble I have is the lack of a cord or adapter that ends with a 3.5mm (1/8") plug. Even if we assume listeners will be using the LCD-3s at home, there are several products (e.g., HeadRoom Total BitHead, Wavelength Audio Proton, TTVJ Slim) that perform admirably as headphone amplifiers but only have 3.5mm inputs. A 1/4"-to-3.5mm adapter is an easy and inexpensive fix but, since it is easy and inexpensive, why not include it with a nearly $2000 product -- or even better, offer a 3.5mm termination option on the supplied leads?
 
I currently have four headphone amplifiers in regular use. My Rogue Audio integrated was hot-rodded by Rogue so that I can switch between speakers and headphones. The sound from this output offers clarity and astonishing authority, resulting in holographic sound. But as a reviewing tool it is a non-starter. No matter how great it sounds, if readers have no access to it, then it is meaningless as a benchmark. I have a HeadRoom Total BitHead that I use on my travels, but its portable nature seems incompatible with the Audeze design. For years I have had a Benchmark Media DAC-1 that has served me ably, but in recent months I have been enjoying the ADL GT40 USB DAC with phono stage.
 
 
ichael Kiwanuka’s debut CD, Home Again [Polydor B0016954-02], consists of eleven soulful, acoustic songs reminiscent of early-seventies Bill Withers, tracks that secured Kiwanuka first place in the BBC’s Sound of 2012 poll. The LCD-3 headphones gave me a stunningly detailed impression of the music, keeping instruments tonally separated from each other and spatially located. During the closing chorus sections of "I’ll Get Along" there are several instruments and voices, but the LCD-3 'phones kept the delicate flute and acoustic guitar both distinct from each other and from being overpowered by the louder percussion and voices. Delineation? Oh, yeah. On songs with simpler instrumentation, like "Home Again," the LCD-3s gave Kiwanka’s voice three-dimensionality that complemented the tonal accuracy of the acoustic guitar. It became clear during repeated listening that the LCD-3s have no distinctive sound themselves; they offered the most natural, pleasing headphone sound I’ve ever experienced.
 
The Audeze ‘phones were equally at home with horn-heavy jazz. On Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners LP [Analogue Productions AAPJ 037], the title track starts with Sonny Rollins’ tenor and Ernie Henry’s alto sax taking over from Monk’s opening piano part. On lower-resolution headphones, these two instruments become one indistinct sound. The Audeze ‘phones kept the instruments separated tonally; they played together but did not become one. Even greater sonic confusion can result on John Coltrane’s Ascension LP [Impulse A-95], which features seven horn players contributing to a composition that some listeners find beautiful, others think cacophonous, and many believe to be both. The energetic playing presents some listening challenges. If a system is unable to delineate the horns from each other (and the other instruments), the record becomes a noisy mush that can quickly become unlistenable, even to diehard Coltrane fans. This is one record where a system’s limitations can really impair enjoyment and understanding of the music. Even on good systems it sometimes takes effort to listen for instrumental lines as the record plays, but this was not the case with the LCD-3s. I was able to listen to the instruments without concentration. This record can also be overly demanding of headphones. If the presentation of the music is too forward it can simply become too overbearing to listen through the complete piece (I’ve found this true with Grado headphones, for example). This was not the case with the LCD-3s; the presentation of the music felt physically removed from my ears, so that I did not feel as if I was on stage with the musicians, but rather a reasonable distance from them, a distance that allowed me to study the sound rather than be overwhelmed by it.
 
The success of the LCD-3 headphones was not limited to acoustic music. Listening to "26 Basslines" from Benga’s debut CD, Diary of an Afro Warrior [Tempa CD010], was like hearing the music for the first time, even though the album has been a favorite in recent years. The bass played exceptionally deep and tight, while allowing the electronic shading of the various lines to be clearly heard. Halfway through the song there were parts of the composition that I had never noticed before (sounds almost like droplets of water, if water were bass). The deep bass did not affect the articulation of higher frequencies, which were also detailed with precision in both sound and space. Unlike with "26 Basslines," part of the appeal of Burial’s "Archangel" from the CD Untrue [Hyperdub HDBCD002] is that the sounds and voices (often pitch shifted and/or stretched) all run together, making it difficult to discern where one finishes and another begins. Instead of separation, the beauty here is in the way the sounds lie on top of one another. The LCD-3s made the percussive sounds pop, the ethereal voices float and purposeful static sizzle below the surface. They just seemed to move me closer to the kind of sound these electronic artists wanted to produce.
 
The ease with which one can amass a collection of headphones is both a boon and a curse. A boon because it is great to have a variety of listening options that can be easily stored and used at a moment’s notice, at home or out and about (even those of us with large listening spaces would be hard-pressed to keep three or four world-class speakers on hand; and if someone does it will certainly take more than a moment to switch from one set to the other). A curse because it is possible to become nearly addicted to the accumulation of headphones. Once you have a very nice amplifier and source, it isn’t hard to think every six months, Well, why not one more pair? After all, given the relative cost against other audio gear, headphones seem a bargain.
 
I place no judgment on those who want to collect things rather than listen to music, but the accumulation of headphones can become a hobby in itself -- leaving the music listening by the wayside. I have at times been infected by this affliction; I have owned more headphones than any other kind of audio equipment. I would like nothing more than for there to be one pair of headphones that met all my needs. The Audeze LCD-3s are without a doubt the best-sounding headphones I have used, but that doesn’t mean they are the best headphones for everyone -- or every situation. For instance, these are not commuter headphones. When I’m headed to NYC for the day, I’ll grab my Shure SE315s (or, if I’m really lazy, the headphones that came with my iPhone). You won’t be shoving the LCD-3s in your pocket, briefcase or daily backpack; the bulk and weight are just too much. But, leaving the LCD-3s at home will also mean leaving behind the spacious soundstage and tonal accuracy across the sonic spectrum that they provide. The Shure ‘phones, even when situated in my ears just right, tend to emphasize bass in comparison to the Audeze, losing the bass clarity and accuracy of the LCD-3s. This added bass can actually be helpful in loud environments (the subway or the gym), but it isn’t what I want for my more serious listening. On the other hand, you’ll gain a significant amount of isolation and portability with headphones like the SE315s, while no one will be able to peg you as an overly dedicated headphone enthusiast on the subway.
 
The LCD-3s are not casual headphones. Sometimes I want background music while I write, read or surf the Internet. I found the LCD-3s so demanding of attention that these other activities suffered. The Shure ‘phones don’t work for me in this context either -- they isolate too much and share a touch of that demanding quality of the LCD-3s. Both the Sennheiser PX200s and Grado SR60s work perfectly for me in this situation. To be clear, they aren’t in the same sonic league as the Audeze ‘phones, but the Grado SR60s provide a lively if unrefined sound in a package that allows me to hear outside sounds and easily remove the 'phones when I need to engage with others. They don’t deliver any of the things that make the Audeze 'phones so enjoyable, but they make up for their sonic shortcomings by their versatility and success as utilitarian headphones.
 
The Audeze LCD-3s are serious headphones. Since they’ve been with me, I haven’t used any other headphones for serious or dedicated listening, except to write these comparative remarks. The AKG Q701s appeal to me because their sound is not up front and forward, but they provide a soundstage at a comfortable distance. You are not in the first row or amongst the musicians, but sitting comfortably in the best seat of the house. The LCD-3s move you slightly further from the band but bring you closer to the music, with an exponential increase in detail and subtlety. Most notable in this improvement is an increase in the gravitas of voices. Vocals through the AKGs sound believable, but through the Audeze headphones they sound present. The AKG 'phones sound natural, but in direct comparison it is clear to hear that everything gains physical weight through the LCD-3s. While listening to the AKG 'phones in isolation it won’t be noticeable, but switching back to the Audeze 'phones there is a noticeable increase in the blackness between voices and instruments. Imagine inking a pencil drawing with a darker, though just as delicate line. 
 
Chances are that if I’m not at home reading, writing or listening to music, I am out on my bicycle doing my best to climb the steepest hills I can find, and this leads to an analogy. Because I spend more hours than I care to count on my bike, I’ve recently had a custom road bike built. On the one hand, it was a rather indulgent purchase; on the other hand, I won’t have any urge to buy a new road bike for years (if ever). I can stop wondering if next year’s bikes will be lighter or faster -- none of them will fit me as well or be as dialed into my aesthetic, my cycling wants and needs, as my new bike.
 
I have a similar reaction to the Audeze headphones. This is a lot of money for headphones, but you can purchase these and be sure that while there might be other great-sounding headphones out there, any change would simply be lateral at best. Like me with my bike, I think one can purchase these headphones and not have to worry about needing or wanting a replacement. But, also like me and my bike, I think this makes the most sense if you are going to spend a lot of time using the LCD-3s. These headphones and an associated amp will be a substantial financial investment; if you only use headphones occasionally, they may be more than you need.
 
he Audeze headphones did what the best audio equipment does: they made me want to listen to more music, not only revisiting old favorites, but searching out new discoveries. Sometimes, towards the end of a review cycle, I start to look forward to the departure of the equipment. I start to long for my own equipment -- the things I’ve chosen to live with -- and the comfort of just listening to music without critical appraisal. And sometimes just the opposite happens -- I start to think that the equipment under review really shouldn’t leave. The LCD-3s fall into the latter category.
 
In summing up the sound of the LCD-2s, John Crossett wrote that they "produced a relaxed yet detailed and natural sound that just seemed to unite my ears and brain" and "the LCD-2s are easily the finest headphones I’ve yet heard, and, even with taste being what it is, they are among the finest headphones available today." I know exactly what he means. I’d say much the same about the LCD-3s -- if he hadn’t beaten me to it! Are the LCD-3s worth the nearly $1000 premium over the LCD-2s? I can only suggest that answering that question by spending a weekend comparing the two would make for a very enjoyable time.
The LCD-2s are easily the finest headphones I’ve yet heard, and, even with taste being what it is, they are among the finest headphones available today. If you endeavor to hear a pair, be sure you're ready to buy them.
John Crossett

Clearly, the Audez'e LCD-2s pushed all the right sonic buttons for me. Those planar drivers produced a relaxed yet detailed and natural sound that just seemed to unite my ears and brain. The LCD-2s are well made and beautiful -- I love that real wood -- and they're comfortable to wear, making long listening sessions possible and all the more rewarding. If you're lucky enough to own a pair, you won’t feel the need to upgrade anytime soon -- if ever.

Audez’e is headquartered in Las Vegas, not exactly a hotbed of consumer-electronics activity, the once-a-year Consumer Electronics Show notwithstanding. It was founded by "a group of like-minded friends with a common interest in music," to quote one of the company's founders, Alexander Rosson. The company launched by designing several prototype headphones, choosing what they felt was the best one to modify. All this happened around the time of CanJam 2009, Head-fi.org's annual listening meet, so the Audez’e crew took their 'phones to the meet in Los Angeles and solicited feedback. Apparently the feedback was uniformly positive, and Audez’e the company was born, launching with sales of 25 pairs of LCD-1 headphones.
 
The LCD-2s were the company's answer to the challenge of making an even better set of headphones. They are an open-back, push-pull, planar-magnetic design with a 6.17-square-inch diaphragm made out of extremely thin film and laminated with aluminum. Audez’e manufactures nearly every part used for the LCD-2s. They etch the aluminum themselves and mount it on the drivers. They use twelve neodymium magnets for each driver, which creates a powerful flux within which the diaphragm lies. It also allows Audez’e to keep tolerances for each driver within +/- .05dB.
 
The LCD-2s come with a twin-mini-XLR plug-in cable, which connects at the base of each earpiece. This makes swapping out cables for different ones of your choice an easy option. And here lies one of the few nits I’ll pick with the LCD-2s as they come from the factory. While sonically more than acceptable, the cable that comes stock is aesthetically unwieldy. Its fabric is somewhat inflexible, and when it rubs, as it often does, it creates noise.
 
Audez’e's own measurements of the LCD-2s indicate wide frequency response of 5Hz-20kHz, impedance of 50 ohms, and sensitivity of 91dB, with a maximum output of 133dB at 15 watts and 1% THD at maximum output. These impressive specs mean the LCD-2s should be an easy load for almost any amp -- a fact borne out by the diverse group of amps I used to drive them successfully.
 
Due in part to the materials used, such as genuine lambskin for the circumaural earpad covers, real wood for the driver chassis, and metal for the grilles and headband, the LCD-2s are not light, weighing 19.4 ounces. They also clamp tightly to the head (though less so with new pairs, due to customer feedback). Yet, even with all that, they don’t feel particularly heavy or uncomfortable. I will even go so far as to call them quite comfortable, the equal of many 'phones that are their competition.
 
The sound of the Audez’e LCD-2s was very different from that of the dynamic headphones I’m used to. Instead of thrusting the music outward, they floated it, creating a relaxed presentation that made me want to listen all day long.
 
The very first thing I noted was how smooth, sweet, silky, and relaxed the sound was. The music was just there, not forced in any way. If it wasn’t for the slight clamping of the LCD-2s on my head, I could have believed I was listening to my old Magnepan MG1.6 speakers. There was a coherent, whole-piece, complete sonic presentation with well-defined instrumental separation and absolutely no smearing of notes.
 
I’ve been blessed to have as a good friend former Loggins and Messina drummer and now recording engineer Merle Bregante. Through him I’ve been sent one-off 24-bit/96kHz or 24-bit/48kHz DVD-A burns of albums he has engineered. I have his wife Sarah Pierce's Cowboy’s Daughter and one by singer/songwriter Eric Hanke, Factory Man. I listen to them frequently. With the LCD-2s, the presentation was full-bodied and rich, and the singing, whether it was male or female, was nothing short of realistic. Both recordings are packed with acoustic instruments -- captured with little or no compression -- and they sounded quite realistic as well. From the finger-on-strings sound of the acoustic guitars, to the snap of the stick on the snare-drum head, all was according to Hoyle.
 
There was fullness to the lower frequencies that was quite astounding. Full, deep, tight bass was the norm via the LCD-2s. I put on the Stanley Clarke CD East River Drive [Epic EK 47489] and dialed up the tune "Lord of the Low Frequencies." And, Lord, the LCD-2s certainly were. There was almost perfect purr from Clarke's electric bass, along with well-defined sound that extended to the lowest reaches of his electric guitar. The bass, while deep, clean, and precise, didn’t have quite the forceful drive that some dynamic drivers can offer, but, on the other hand, there was nothing boomy or bloated -- just weigh and depth.
 
The Audez’e LCD-2s have a typical planar midrange -- quick-paced, smooth, sweet, and utterly natural. Here, too, there wasn't anything forced about the presentation -- just music that seemed to flow from the headphones to my ears. Russell Malone’s hollow-body electric guitar from his CD Playground [MaxJazz MXJ 601] was a perfect example. I could hear both his hands on the strings and the way the strings excited the body of the guitar -- along with the full sound coming from his amp. This made for suspension of disbelief -- a very rare thing with any headphones.
 
Another aspect that emphasized the midrange naturalness was the way the LCD-2s captured the totality of each note, which was individual, a separate entity that trailed off into silence. There was neither foreshortening nor prolonging, only what I would expect to hear from a great pair of speakers -- or live music. The opening guitar plucks from Eleanor McEvoy’s cover of Marvin Gaye’s "Mercy, Mercy Me" from the album Out There [Moscodisc MOSACD303] were amazingly clear, clean and precise. It was a real guitar playing in real space through these headphones. I could easily understand why the LCD-2s were being used in recording studios despite being open-backed. Engineers want to hear exactly what was laid down, and that's what the Audez'e 'phones provide.
 
The top end of the LCD-2s was also well handled. High frequencies seemed to float in space in a manner that sounded more realistic than with most dynamic headphones. Cymbals had the requisite shimmer, with the decay of each strike wafting off, just as I hear when listening to a drum kit live. However, the highs, while in keeping with the overall frequency balance, didn’t sparkle quite as much as with some other 'phones. Does this mean that the LCD-2s sound too smooth and perhaps even soft? Not to my ears. I'll take their ease over aggression any old day.
 
Another strong point is the way the LCD-2s handled dynamic swings. After Eleanor McEvoy finishes the mid-to-slow tempo of "Mercy Mercy Me," she launches into a far more up-tempo tune, "Quote, I Love You, Unquote." The LCD-2s handled that jump in tempo and its corresponding dynamic swing without a hiccup.
 
Along with dynamics, the way the Audez’e 'phones presented detail was first rate. Oh yes, all the detail was there, but what was truly impressive was that it was not presented as simply detail for its own sake. Instead, it was part of the music's fabric. It was there if I wanted to focus on it. I admired this about the 'phones. They addressed both the music lover and picky audiophile in me.
 
During the review period, I was blessed with having the US$10,000 Apex Pinnacle headphone amp also in for review. Along with the amp, Pinnacle creator Todd Green -- aka Todd Vinyl Junkie -- sent me some of his personal stash of headphones to use with the amp. Thus I had a cornucopia of high-end headphones, including Grado PS1000s, Sennheiser HD 800s, and Beyerdynamic Tesla T1s to go along with my AKG K-701s -- and the Audez'e LCD-2s, of course.
 
While I definitely heard a few broad similarities among all of the headphones -- chief among them the ability to resolve copious amounts of musical detail -- each pair had its own unique take on the music. I was surprised to find that the Grados offered a sound that I could very easily live with -- I've never been a Grado fan -- sounding clean, relatively neutral and evenhanded. The Beyerdynamic 'phones were a tad darker and a bit more closed in than the Grados. Even for an open-backed headphone, they didn’t leak a lot of sound into the room. The Sennheisers were my least favorite. They were just too dark, rich, and heavy in the bass for my tastes.
 
As for my reference AKG K701s, the LCD-2s take everything I like about them and add deeper, tighter bass, cleaner highs, and a more sophisticated and tonally accurate midrange. In fact, none of the top-fight headphones I had on hand came close to equaling the manner in which the Audez’e LCD-2s reproduced music. They took the tonal balance of the Grados and went a step further. They sounded far more open and airy than the Beyerdynamic 'phones, and they seemed to offer just as much bass as the Sennheisers, but with a more even low-frequency balance. And they displayed the overall neutrality of the AKGs, adding a sense of ease that only they achieved, even among this rarefied group of peers.
 
In regard to amps, all of the ones here had enough oomph to drive the LCD-2s, but, yes, the Apex Pinnacle was the best of them all by a Grand Canyon-sized margin. If you’re just getting started in the headphone world and the LCD-2s are in your sights and budget, my suggestion is buy a pair of them and the best amp your budget will allow. As time and funds permit, upgrade your amp. The LCD-2s will always wring the most out of it.
 
Clearly, the Audez'e LCD-2s pushed all the right sonic buttons for me. Those planar drivers produced a relaxed yet detailed and natural sound that just seemed to unite my ears and brain. The LCD-2s are well made and beautiful -- I love that real wood -- and they're comfortable to wear, making long listening sessions possible and all the more rewarding. If you're lucky enough to own a pair, you won’t feel the need to upgrade anytime soon -- if ever.
 
The LCD-2s are easily the finest headphones I’ve yet heard, and, even with taste being what it is, they are among the finest headphones available today. If you endeavor to hear a pair, be sure you're ready to buy them.
the LCD-3 a headphone that's become the top choice for many of today's personal audio enthusiasts.
Michael Berk

the LCD-3 doesn't even really require additional amplification beyond whatever your source device of choice is capable of providing; sensitivity (93 dB/1mW) is high enough that you can drive it with an iPod, 

they have a handmade feel that says "old-school radio engineer." They're certify handsome, and quite comfortable as well: the pads really do a great job of supporting the heavy cans, and they keep a good amount of airspace between your ears and the drivers, perhaps contributing to the perceived spaciousness of their sound.

I'll just come out and say it: this is certainly among the best headphones I've ever heard, and perhaps the best, handily outdoing old personal favorites like the Denon D7000, with which it shares an uncanny ability to render room ambiance and recreate a convincing soundstage, but with more controlled bass and just plain better sonics across the board.

An audience with the world's least likely reference headphones 
 
One of the most interesting success stories of the new wave of headphone audiophila is Audeze. The company, which specializes in planar magnetic headphones with wooden ear cups, luxurious appointments, and you're-got-to-hear-it-to-believe-it sonics. We got a chance recently to spend some time with their flagship, the LCD-3 a headphone that's become the top choice for many of today's personal audio enthusiasts. Obviously, we needed to hear why.
 
 
Audeze, founded by Alex Rosson and Sankar Thiagasamudram, who met working on the tech side of the film industry (they still do — their company,  amazingly enough, remains a side project; the two remain busy with their careers), was initially launched to build line arrays, but the pair turned to headphones after realizing how high the barriers were to entry in the speaker market; having already developed a planar magnetic driver for that application, a miniaturized version was a natural choice for their first experiment with a headphone; a retrofitted pair of off-the-shelf cans they dubbed LCD-1. 
 
That headphone, despite its unassuming appearance, made quite an impression at CanJam in 2009, and Rosson and Thiagasamudram sold their run of 25 units quickly — and decided to make Audeze a going concern. 
 
The company really came into its own with the LCD-2, which has sold upwards of 5,000 units (an impressive number for a pricey 'phone from a small firm) over the past couple of years. Audeze has no interest in trying to wow consumers with a headphone for every market segment — they're looking to perfect their craft, improving their line and introducing new models only when the time is right.
 
The LCD-2 saw a mid-run revision in 2011, with an improved driver, but the LCD-3 (introduced earlier this year) features a wholly new, thinner planar maggetic driver design that proved significant enough that it warranted a new model designation. And with that came even more luxurious earcups and band, and a significantly higher sticker price, despite which it has since become the talk of the headphone enthusiast town. If the LCD-2 was a defining pair of cans for the Head-Fi crowd, the LCD-3 may have marked the entry of some of that scene's most valuable players in the game of serious audiophilia.
 
But you know what? You do — sometimes — get what you pay for.
 
I've been auditioning a pair of LCD-3s (helped out by PopPhoto tech editor Philip Ryan), listening to a variety of program material, alongside, for comparisons sake, two other excellent -- if less luxurious -- planar-magnetic models, the HiFiMan HE-400 and HE-500, as well as another quite different luxury headphone housed in exotic woods and bridging the gap between headphone enthusiasm and traditional audiophilia, the Logitech UE Personal Reference Monitor.
 
Setup
You can order the LCD-3 with either a Pelican flight case or an elegant wooden box. Either way, you get balanced and unbalanced cables; they connect to the headphones themselves via a very secure locking mini-XLR jack at the base of each earcup. The balanced cable terminates in a 4-pin XLR connector; a little soldering should whip up an adapter to bridge the gap with the source of your choice. And as you might expect, there's a thriving market in aftermarket cables (many in exotic materials,  some approaching the cost of the cans themselves) so you should be able to pick up something ready made if you like. The supplied cables are quite substantial and performed perfectly well; I had no complaints.
 
They're huge — the plush, angled leather pads and wooden housings make for a large overall earcup volume — and they have a handmade feel that says "old-school radio engineer." They're certify handsome, and quite comfortable as well: the pads really do a great job of supporting the heavy cans, and they keep a good amount of airspace between your ears and the drivers, perhaps contributing to the perceived spaciousness of their sound.
 
All of that makes for a look that is somewhat polarizing ("The only problem I had with the LCD3s," Phil told me, "was worrying if someone was going to see me wearing those huge things.") These simply aren't for anyone who puts fashion first. Wearing the LCD-3, you'll look like you take your headphone listening very seriously, no more, no less. And that's a good thing, since not only does the LCD-3 provide little isolation from external noise, it leaks pretty significantly, so keep in mind that you'll be sharing your music, audibly, with whoever might be hanging out around you.
 
In the box you'll find a frequency response chart for your pair; if it's anything like ours, you'll find it unremarkable -- a flat line, for the most part,  with few deviations. We couldn't help but do our own measurements, of course, and we'll tell you all about those later in this post. But suffice it to say that these sound as good as they look like they sound. Which is good. Really good.
 
Performance
I'll just come out and say it: this is certainly among the best headphones I've ever heard, and perhaps the best, handily outdoing old personal favorites like the Denon D7000, with which it shares an uncanny ability to render room ambiance and recreate a convincing soundstage, but with more controlled bass and just plain better sonics across the board.
 
It's not as detailed and bright as something like the Denon or the Sennheiser HD-800, but then again it isn't trying to compete, say, with detail-oriented audiophile flagships. And given that, it avoids the strident harshness that some hear in the HD-800. Rather, it's voiced a bit warmer, as are many of the current crop of planar magnetic headphones (though I'd say HiFiMan's line is worth a look if you want things a little brighter) — if you're thinking Sennheiser, it's more in the mode of the HD-600/650, but with more impressive soundstage and resolving power. The LCD-3 may be warm, mind you, but it still reads as neutral -- it's simply not designed a clinical studio monitor like many of the old flagships; rather, it gives you about the most convincing simulation of good speakers in a good room I've experienced from any headphone aside from electrostatics...and that without any need for fancy, specialized amplification.
 
Here's where its worth turning for a bit to the history of Audeze -- to my mind, it's key to understanding the sound, and likely an important component of the success of the LCD-3 and its precursor, the LCD-2.
 
Rosson and Thiagasamudram aren't traditional audiophiles by any stretch of the imagination. Rosson, in particular, is primarily interested in electronic dance music (as if he wasn't busy enough, he runs a small specialist label, Play Me), spa, not accurate reproduction of acoustic ensembles -- a big part of the reason for the LCD-3's tightly controlled , yet warm, forward bass, -- and, perhaps, the explanation for why Audeze's most visible celebrity wearers are an interesting mix of studio types like Michael Lockwood and Erick Labson and DJ/producers such as Goldie). 
 
It's tough to reproduce subsonic bass, do justice to a wide range of samples, and cover the immense sonic range of synthetic sound — possibly as difficult a task as the traditional audiophile gear mission of placing a recorded orchestra in a realistic acoustic environment. And the fact that the Audeze LCD-3 does so well with such a wide variety of material is testament to the care the company takes in the voicing of its products. And they managed to make the things pretty easy to drive as well — you can just as easily run it from a smartphone as you can with your exotic balanced reference rig.
 
But enough meandering. This thing just plain kicks ass. Pick your poison: Autechre or Andrew Hill, Gorguts or Glenn Gould, and these deliver the goods. I've been listening fairly obsessively lately to the piano, namely Andras Schiff's recent, crystal-clear take on Bach's Das Wohltemperierte Clavier for ECM (24/44.1 FLAC) and Pierre-Laurent Aimard's recordings of Debussy's Preludes for Deutsche Grammophon (also FLAC, at 24/96). I know the LCD-3 wasn't necessarily designed with this sort of listening in mind, but it reproduces these two exceptional piano performances (by masterful players with incredible control of the instrument) almost startlingly well; the pianos seeming as present in the room as I've heard from any headphone; the clarity of the complex decay of the instruments into room tone a particular highlight. A rather different approach to the keyboard, from Egberto Gismonti, made me take particular notice — as his final piano chord decays into room noise and applause at the close of Garbarek/Gismonti/Haden's "All That is Beautiful" (from Magico, on ECM, in a 24/48 FLAC), you really do feel — silly as it is to write — like you are in the room.
 
Phil Ryan — checking out the Thirteen Pictures Charles Mingus Anthology — was also impressed by the Audeze's ability to create a sense of acoustic space. Cueing up Charles Mingus' 'Wig Wise' and 'Better Git It In Your Soul', Phil commented that "Mingus's bass is reproduced with a full range of dynamics and tone. The brass sounds rich, full bodied, and complex, like a top notch red wine. In those moments of full orchestral madness that Mingus is so good at composing, the LCD-3 presents the material with a  nuance that is rarely achieved in headphones. Indeed, with music recorded to sound as though it's being performed live — as so much jazz of Mingus's era was — the LCD-3's give a real sense of being present in a performing space. This also means that it jarring when a coworker comes along and you have to transport yourself out of that lovely world and back into reality. What sad moments those are."
 
As mentioned earlier, the LCD-3 doesn't even really require additional amplification beyond whatever your source device of choice is capable of providing; sensitivity (93 dB/1mW) is high enough that you can drive it with an iPod, somewhat improved over the LCD-2, which could also be driven by portables. Phil gave them a workout with his Corda Stepdance2 portable headphone amp, using an iPod Classic as a source. "It did," he said, "require a lot more of the amplifier's power to drive them compared to my Shure SE535 in-ears, but the LCD-3 didn't require anywhere near the limits of the amp." Audiophiles with an adventurous sense of style should be cheered by this, since at least theoretically the LCD-3 could be your out-and-about pair 
LCD-3 Planar Magnetic Headphone - I am a totally biased believer.
dBel84
Pros: a wonderful evolution of design and technology
Cons: do there have to be any?

Vocals: male and female and acoustics are spellbinding. 

Top end: They have an almost ribbon feel to their top end which is crisp and airy but never bright or overbearing. 
Bass: everyone knows that these headphones can do bass, but they do more than bass, they flesh out the texture within bass and respond to complex bass rhythms without muddying the lower mids. 
Room acoustics:  are incredible, eerie vocal placement and staging ,
Where to start? I guess a big thank you to Alex and Sankar for making these available. I finally got to meet the lads at RMAF and the pleasure was all mine - I now have the T-shirt ;-) . 
 
On a more serious note , it was truly a pleasure to meet them and speak about the inovation that has been going on behind the scenes. Not only in headphone development but the fact that Dragoslav Colich joined up with them to assist in engineering their superb line of speakers.  (now I will admit bias freely - Dragoslav is a demigod in my eyes as he is a zen master of ribbons and planar technology ) so.... I expect even greater things to come.  
 
This review will be a little different from what some people may be expecting as I will not go into diatribes about how wonderful the LCD3's are with various types of music , just trust me , they are. 
 
When I first heard the LCD2 , I thought "this is it", this is what all the orthodynamic / planar magnetic followers have been looking for - "tactile" music that was both rich and organic, smooth vocals that pull you in and very responsive. "How could this possibly get any better!" well , it just did.  
 
The Box: 
truly a work of art in its own right . Piano gloss finish with the Audeze logo inlaid into the wood. 
Inside the box: 
     1. a graph of the frequency response for the headphones. 
     2. two sets of stock cable - one TRS terminated and one 4pin XLR for those more balanced than myself. 
     3. wood care kit
     4. last but most definitely not least , the LCD3
 
Overall design,
Personally I am a fan. I liked the original foam headband but this one oozes luxury. It is padded and sits comfortably on my head. 
 
The pads are very soft , imo a significant improvement over the original LCD2 pads. They are as soft as my Stax O2 pads but more compressible. The memory foam has good loft and make for a comfortable fit with a great seal. When you first put them on, there is that slight pressure you get similar to a closed headphone. I think this is due to the clamping pressure of the frame and the good seal from the pads. The pressure may be greater for macrocephalics but is no problem for me. I initially thought the stock cable was going to be a little short but it extended the 2 odd meters from my amp to where I listened without a problem and there was enough slack for me to do my thing while listening. 
 
I said I was not going to languish on my impressions of the sound and this sort of sums it all up.  I have listened to them at every opportunity for the past week and although I have flitted through much of my music collection, I returned frequently to the demo disc I made for RMAF (a mix of vocal, acoustic, jazz, rock and then a few familair classical pieces) 
 
Bass: 
everyone knows that these headphones can do bass, but they do more than bass, they flesh out the texture within bass and respond to complex bass rhythms without muddying the lower mids. There is no bass hump and I know that people have described them as emphasizing bass notes that aren't really there ?? not sure what that means but my interpretation is that the LCD3 reproduce a very real , almost palpable bass which some headphones just don't manage to portray acurately. 
 
Mids: 
more forward voiced than some of my headphones which are probably a little recessed. Vocals (male and female) and acoustics are spellbinding. I had heard some metal at RMAF and as I didn't know what I had listened to , called on a friend for guidance to test these waters. The experience of Katatonia on the LCD3 is quite something. Not sure if this is what the band expected people to listen through but remarkably well recorded. Overdriven guitars without additional distortion and lightning quick response to some really complex harmonies. I have heard this about metal on the Stax O2 too. 
 
Top end: 
this was a criticism by many of the LCD2 but I never found the highs to be particularly rolled off. Thus when the rumours started that the highs were to be more extended with the LCD3, my concern was that they would be too bright and not to my listening preferences. They do have more extention but they are not bright. They have an almost ribbon feel to their top end which is crisp and airy but never bright or overbearing. 
 
A couple of things that stood out - single miked recording in a London cathedral - the "room acoustics" are incredible, eerie vocal placement and staging , the goth metal - hard to believe that everything didn't just collapse into itself to produce annoying noise, Edgar Meyer's bass lines in YoYoMa's Apalachian journey were deeply stirring.  an exerpt from one of the Linn Recordings "soulful magic next day tragic" made me think of all the folk who would get to sample a sense of the brilliance of the LCD3 at various meets around the world, only to have to walk away unless they could be fortunate enough to own them. 
 
Is this the best headphone ever ? I am sure there will be many more praise worthy products from various manufacturers , I have no interest in an electrostatic set up and my brief listen at RMAF was enough to cement my opinion that my needs would more than be met by the LCD3 and decent front end equipment. I will not say that my journey is over as I will always be tinkering with vintage planars and should Dragoslav encourage Alex and Sankar to delve into making a true ribbon headphone, who would I be to discourage them at such an early stage by making bold statements such as the "best" has been achieved. 
 
Thanks Alex & Sankar and all the team  who made this possible, I am a totally biased believer.
World-class sound - the LCD-3, as a whole, is the best headphone I have heard. No way am I letting these go.
Skylab

The LCD-3 has a coherency, transparency and top to bottom consistency of sound that rate it as the very best headphone I have ever heard.

The stand-up bass is deep and powerful but with a truly astounding level of definition.  And Diana’s vocals are cleanly rendered in a very lifelike way. 

The mids are surely beautiful, while not sounding colored in any way.

When guitar has bite, the LCD-3's reproduce the bite, but not in a way that's painful - in a way that seems always very natural.  

The combination of the neutrality and transparency is an outstanding retreival of detail and resolution.  

All well recorded material sounded really, really good, and in fact, was the best I have ever personally heard from a headphone, including my beloved Sony MDR-R10. 

The LCD-3 handily beats the Beyer T1 (which is a headphone I like a lot).  I prefer the LCD-3 to the HE-6 as well, and even prefer it overall to the MDR-R10.  Does that make it worth the asking price?  For me, beyond any shadow of a doubt.  

Introduction:
 
The announcement was a well-kept secret, and it hit the head-fi community like a ton of bricks.  Audeze was coming out with a new headphone, the LCD-3, which would feature a new driver, new pads, slightly uprated cosmetics, and would cost roughly double what the popular LCD-2 cost.  Explosions ensued.  There were lots of people very upset about the much higher price.  I was intrigued.  I sought out a pair at CanJam, and having liked what I heard in what was admittedly a very difficult environment to judge open headphones, I ordered a review pair, and here we are.
 
Audeze made huge strides over the 18 months the LCD-2 were in production in terms of improving ergonomics and comfort, and these are all in play in the LCD-3 – much softer leather earpads, leather headband, angled cable exits, etc.  The LCD-3 has a metal cable exit rather than the extruded wood.  I think this is a very wise move.  Not sure it’s a cosmetic improvement, 
 
Personal opinion:
I like dark wood, and I prefer the darker wood of my original LCD-2 over the Zebra-wood of the LCD-3.  The wood finish is nicer on the LCD-3 to be sure, but I like darker wood.  That’s just me, though.  Many will like this look better.  The dark brown leather is VERY nice looking, and matches the grill color well.  Judge for yourself: The LCD-3 comes in a ver nice wood box, and includes some leather conditioner, as well as balanced and unbalanced cables.
 
Review parameters:
 
Headphones compared:  Audeze LCD-2 R1, Sony MDR-R10, Beyerdynamic T1, HifiMan HE-6
Cables used: ALO Cain Mail balanced, Q-Audio unbalanced
 
Sound:
 
So, before we can possibly tackle the question of value, we have to first decide how the things SOUND.  And there is no doubt that they sound excellent.  But that isn’t good enough.  A high-end headphone must go beyond that.  It was OK for the LCD-2 to sound “just” excellent.  The LCD-3 needs to sound even better – it has to be at the pinnacle of headphone sound to play at this price point. And, in the opinion of this reviewer, it is indeed.  The LCD-3 has a coherency, transparency and top to bottom consistency of sound that rate it as the very best headphone I have ever heard.
 
Take just one example – Diana Krall’s “Do Nothing ‘til You Hear From Me” from “Stepping Out”.  The bowed cello solo in the middle is the most lifelike reproduction of a cello I have ever heard.  The stand-up bass is deep and powerful but with a truly astounding level of definition.  And Diana’s vocals are cleanly rendered in a very lifelike way. 
 
That deep bass was very much in evidence again on Mastodon's "The Hunter", by the recent album of the same name.  Bass is as deep and powerful as one could even ask for, and actually manages to best the LCD-2 in terms of definition and taughtness while not giving up any weight.  This is as good as bass performance gets via headphones.  The LCD-3 have no equal that I have ever heard in this regard.
 
Midrange performance was also absolutely first rate.  There is a slight lushness to the mids, I feel - I'm not sure how else to describe it.  I know one head-fier has described the LCD-2 as "creamy".  I am not sure that's the word I would use, but the mids are surely beautiful, while not sounding colored in any way. I think you can see this in the frequency response chart below, there is a small measured dip at the upper end of the midrange, and I think this is what keeps the mids from ever crossing over into overly-bright territory.  Nonetheless When guitar has bite, the LCD-3's reproduce the bite, but not in a way that's painful - in a way that seems always very natural.  "Cosmic Egg" from the Wolfmother album of the same way evidences this nicely.
 
I think it bears mention that, from the FR chart above, supplied with my review pair, the FR is not markedly different from the LCD-2 FR charts I have seen.  Nonetheless, the LCD-3 are more neutral sounding than the LCD-2.  I liked the LCD-2’s slightly dark tonal balance a lot, but there is none of that in evidence with the LCD-3.  I would definitely not call them “bright” though.  In fact, I found them to be so neutral as to be difficult to get a handle on sometimes.  I started listening to them on my vintage Marantz 2285.  I thought they sounded very good, but thought they were missing something at the top that I was sure I had heard at Can Jam.  So I quickly moved them to the Red Wine Audio Audeze Edition, and there it was – that treble extension that I hadn’t noticed before that the vintage Marantz lacks (probably not surprisingly).  The RWA AE was much more adept as driving the LCD-3 than the Marantz.  The 2285 doesn’t lack at all for power, but doesn’t seem to have the nuance that the AE does.  And the LCD-3 laid this very plain, in no time at all.
 
All that transparency and neutrality isn’t always a universally good thing, though.  There was a degree to which the LCD-2 allowed one to listen to sub-par recordings and not immediately be struck by how poor they are.  Not so with the LCD-3.  The Waterboys “This is the Sea” from the album of the same name came up on my iPod (which goes digitally via the Pure i20 into the RWA AE’s DAC) and I thought “wow that sounds really, really awful” – but that is just how that recording sounds.  It’s sinfully bright, and that is how the LCD-3 rendered it.  Up right after it was Nickel Creek’s “Best of Luck” from “Why Should the Fire Die”, and that sounded TERRIFIC, as I would expect.  All well recorded material sounded really, really good, and in fact, was the best I have ever personally heard from a headphone, including my beloved Sony MDR-R10. 
 
The LCD-3, though, are better than the MDR-R10.  They are more even in frequency response, and just slightly more transparent.  The R-10 have a phenomenal midrange, and so do the LCD-3.  The R-10 have a little peakiness in parts of the treble, though, that I do not hear from the LCD-3.  And the bass on the R-10 is also a little pronounced in the midbass and a little lacking in the very deep bass versus the LCD-3.  I find the LCD-3 to be a remarkably neutral transducer.  I do not hear any obvious frequency-response aberrations with the LCD-3.  In this way it departs from the LCD-2 – the 3 is more neutral sounding to these ears, and this is most germane in the treble.  The LCD-2 featured a shelved-down treble, which I personally liked, but as such it was not flat from 20Hz-20kHz.  The LCD-3 has much less of this in terms of both the measured performance, and even less in terms of what I hear.  And yet, the treble is not aggressive or biting, but VERY pure and sweet.  Again, the LCD-3 will not hide a recording with a nasty treble though.  If it’s there, you will hear it. 
 
And I think that defines the LCD-3 for me.  The combination of a very neutral frequency response and an almost startling transparency are its hallmarks.  The vast majority of the time I enjoyed listening to music through the LCD-3 more than I ever have with headphones.  Alison Krauss’s new record, Paper Airplane, is a terrific recordings, and it sounded just terrific on the LCD-3.  Alison’s vocals were beautiful.  Same for Steven Wilson’s, on “Postcard” from his new and terrifically recorded “Grace For Drowning”.  The song is just haunting, and it sounds beautiful on the LCD-3.  Then again, I have some metal records that are super-aggressive sounding, and the LCD-3 laid them bare.  Such is life.  For those I will probably stick with the LCD-2.  But one cannot blame the messenger!  I know such recordings are harsh.  No surprise the LCD-3 renders them as such.
 
One result of the combination of the neutrality and transparency is an outstanding retreival of detail and resolution.  Other headphones I have heard force detail at you my pushing the mid treble up.  That's not what is happening here.  The resolution is due to the transparency.  This is something I have found in evidence in all planar magnetic headphones (and speakers) I have heard - and it's very much in evidence here.  There are some very subtle percussion elements in Opeth's "Death Whispered a Lullaby" from "Damnation" that I had never really noticed before, but that I was able to hear on the LCD-3.
 
I also spent some time comparing the LCD-3 to the HifiMan HE-6. I find the HE-6 to have just a touch more treble energy than is neutral, although overall I find the HE-6 to be an absolutely outstanding pair of headphones, and I listen to them at work almost daily.  The LCD-3 were just better, in every dimension, IMO.  Which isn’t to take away from the HE-6, but I found the LCD-3 to be more neutral, and just slightly more transparent.
 
I spent the majority of my review time listening to the LCD-3 on the Red Wine Audio Audeze Edition, since I felt that it had made the LCD-2 sound about as good as anything else, and wanted to give the LCD-3 a very clean signal.  I also played them on the Leben CS-300, the Trafomatic Head One, the new and several of my vintage receivers.  I also listened to it on the new Meier Audio Corda Classic, on which they also sounded great (review forthcoming on the Meier).  They sounded great on the Pioneer and Sansui receivers, but not as good on the Marantz, as mentioned above, just because the LCD-3 exposed a treble roll-off on the Marantz I hadn’t been aware of.  The LCD-3 definitely benefit from the best you can give them, but they sounded very good from everything I listened to them on.  
 
So it also was with sources.  The RWA DAC, my MHDT Havana, and my AVA Vision Hybrid DAC all sounded good, and all sounded different. And to a degree I wasn’t quite used to.  It was very easy to pick out the differences.  The LCD-3 will make a good source reviewing tool!  The Havana is the warmest, the RWA the most neutral, and the AVA in the middle.  This was plainly apparent. 
 
Lastly, let’s talk about soundstage.  The LCD-3 is excellent in this regard, ........the LCD-3 projects the soundstage out in front of the head somewhat, which I really like – it does NOT feel like the sound is just between your ears, at all.  The width is outstanding, and so is the depth.  But the images are just not quite as well defined as I hear on some other headphones, like the R-10, or even the Beyer T1.  That said, I am not an imaging freak, and I value tonality and transparency higher.  And so for me, the LCD-3 is as good as it gets.  But if soundstage gymnastics are your primary thing, I think I would probably go with something like the HD-800.  The LCD-3 is “merely” excellent in terms of soundstaging ability.
 
Summary:
 
So, overall, where does that leave us?  I think the LCD-3, as a whole, is the best headphone I have heard.  I have never owned any electrostats, but I have had several pairs for review, and have heard quite a few others, and I prefer the meatier sound of the LCD-3 to any of those.  But again, that’s not a direct, detailed comparison.  Someone else will have to offer that.  However, the LCD-3 handily beats the Beyer T1 (which is a headphone I like a lot).  I prefer the LCD-3 to the HE-6 as well, and even prefer it overall to the MDR-R10.  And folks, that’s saying a mouthful.  Does that make it worth the asking price?  For me, beyond any shadow of a doubt.  But I liked the LCD-2 a great deal as well, and of course, like all reviews, this one is my personal opinion, and nothing more.  Only you, dear reader, can decide that for yourself.  I sure hope you get a chance to hear a pair, though.  I don’t think you will be disappointed.  I am buying the review pair.  No way am I letting these go.
My favorite thing about these headphones is the way they do female voices.
Mike S. from San Antonio,

I hated these when I first got them because I was using Tesla T-1's before. If you listen to these right after the Teslas they sound dark but I kept coming back to them because the Teslas bump in the high midrange fatigued me ears.

It's almost like you have to change your views of what a headphone should sound like if you are used to headphones designed to "sparkle". I have been through many headphones and always thought that highs that "sparkled" made listening fun but there was always a recording that had too much sparkle and hurt my ears. You will not have that problem with the LCD-2s. The highs are there but don't have that high midrange spike that some other phones do.

I finally decided to give these a really good listen after putting them away time after time t....everything sounds balanced now. The bass is very good but does not get so sub-woofer like that it overpowers everything else. (I had that problem with Denons on some recordings)

The longer I listen to these and get farther away from the Beyerdynamic sparkle the more I like them- especially for rock because I can crank them up louder than the other phones I have owned. (Probably a bad thing actually- I will have to fight the urge to do it)

I like the soundstage- instruments are pinpoint placed. It is also wide enough for my tastes. 

Another thing I really like- great recordings sound awesome but bad recordings are also OK especially stuff that has lots of highs that kill other headphones designed to bring highs out. 

My favorite thing about these headphones is the way they do female voices. Absolutely buttery sounding once I got the midrange adjusted to my preference. Alison Krause's "Forget About It" album is really good through these.

the LCD-3, as a whole, is the best headphone I have heard..... I don’t think you will be disappointed. I am buying the review pair. No way am I letting these go.
Skylab

One result of the combination of the neutrality and transparency is an outstanding retreival of detail and resolution.  

The LCD-3 were just better, in every dimension, IMO.  Which isn’t to take away from the HE-6, but I found the LCD-3 to be more neutral, and just slightly more transparent.
 The LCD-3 definitely benefit from the best you can give them, but they sounded very good from everything I listened to them on.  

I prefer the LCD-3 to the HE-6 as well, and even prefer it overall to the MDR-R10.  And folks, that’s saying a mouthful.  Does that make it worth the asking price?  For me, beyond any shadow of a doubt. 

Introduction:
 
The announcement was a well-kept secret, and it hit the head-fi community like a ton of bricks.  Audeze was coming out with a new headphone, the LCD-3, which would feature a new driver, new pads, slightly uprated cosmetics, and would cost $1,950 – roughly double what the popular LCD-2 cost.  Explosions ensued.  There were lots of people very upset about the much higher price.  I was intrigued.  I sought out a pair at CanJam, and having liked what I heard in what was admittedly a very difficult environment to judge open headphones, I asked Alex from Audeze if I could get a review pair sent.  He obliged, and here we are.
 
Audeze made huge strides over the 18 months the LCD-2 were in production in terms of improving ergonomics and comfort, and these are all in play in the LCD-3 – much softer leather earpads, leather headband, angled cable exits, etc.  The LCD-3 has a metal cable exit rather than the extruded wood.  I think this is a very wise move.  Not sure it’s a cosmetic improvement, but given that there were quite a few reports of splits in the wood of the LCD-2’s cable junction, I think this was a wise move.
 
Personal opinion: I like dark wood, and I prefer the darker wood of my original LCD-2 over the Zebra-wood of the LCD-3.  The wood finish is nicer on the LCD-3 to be sure, but I like darker wood.  That’s just me, though.  Many will like this look better.  The dark brown leather is VERY nice looking, and matches the grill color well.  Judge for yourself:
 
As you can see, the LCD-3 comes in a ver nice wood box, and includes some leather conditioner, as well as balanced and unbalanced cables.
 
I think the LCD-3 are much more comfortable than the LCD-2, also, and this is largely due to the MUCH cushier pads.
 
Review parameters:
 
Sources uses: RWA Audeze Edition DAC, AVA Vision Hybrid DAC, MHDT Havana DAC, all playing lossless music files.
Amps used: RWA Audeze Edition, Leben CS-300, Trafomatic Head One, Meier Audio Corda Classic; Marantz 2285, Pioneer SX-1980, Sansui 9090DB receivers.
Headphones compared:  Audeze LCD-2 R1, Sony MDR-R10, Beyerdynamic T1, HifiMan HE-6
Cables used: ALO Cain Mail balanced, Q-Audio unbalanced
 
Sound:
 
So, before we can possibly tackle the question of value, we have to first decide how the things SOUND.  And there is no doubt that they sound excellent.  But that isn’t good enough.  A high-end headphone must go beyond that.  It was OK for the LCD-2 to sound “just” excellent.  The LCD-3 needs to sound even better – it has to be at the pinnacle of headphone sound to play at this price point.
 
And, in the opinion of this reviewer, it is indeed.  The LCD-3 has a coherency, transparency and top to bottom consistency of sound that rate it as the very best headphone I have ever heard.
 
Take just one example – Diana Krall’s “Do Nothing ‘til You Hear From Me” from “Stepping Out”.  The bowed cello solo in the middle is the most lifelike reproduction of a cello I have ever heard.  The stand-up bass is deep and powerful but with a truly astounding level of definition.  And Diana’s vocals are cleanly rendered in a very lifelike way. 
 
That deep bass was very much in evidence again on Mastodon's "The Hunter", by the recent album of the same name.  Bass is as deep and powerful as one could even ask for, and actually manages to best the LCD-2 in terms of definition and taughtness while not giving up any weight.  This is as good as bass performance gets via headphones.  The LCD-3 have no equal that I have ever heard in this regard.
 
Midrange performance was also absolutely first rate.  There is a slight lushness to the mids, I feel - I'm not sure how else to describe it.  I know one head-fier has described the LCD-2 as "creamy".  I am not sure that's the word I would use, but the mids are surely beautiful, while not sounding colored in any way. I think you can see this in the frequency response chart below, there is a small measured dip at the upper end of the midrange, and I think this is what keeps the mids from ever crossing over into overly-bright territory. 
 
Nonetheless When guitar has bite, the LCD-3's reproduce the bite, but not in a way that's painful - in a way that seems always very natural.  "Cosmic Egg" from the Wolfmother album of the same way evidences this nicely.
 
I think it bears mention that, from the FR chart above, supplied with my review pair, the FR is not markedly different from the LCD-2 FR charts I have seen.  Nonetheless, the LCD-3 are more neutral sounding than the LCD-2.  I liked the LCD-2’s slightly dark tonal balance a lot, but there is none of that in evidence with the LCD-3.  I would definitely not call them “bright” though.  In fact, I found them to be so neutral as to be difficult to get a handle on sometimes.  I started listening to them on my vintage Marantz 2285.  I thought they sounded very good, but thought they were missing something at the top that I was sure I had heard at Can Jam.  So I quickly moved them to the Red Wine Audio Audeze Edition, and there it was – that treble extension that I hadn’t noticed before that the vintage Marantz lacks (probably not surprisingly).  The RWA AE was much more adept as driving the LCD-3 than the Marantz.  The 2285 doesn’t lack at all for power, but doesn’t seem to have the nuance that the AE does.  And the LCD-3 laid this very plain, in no time at all.
 
All that transparency and neutrality isn’t always a universally good thing, though.  There was a degree to which the LCD-2 allowed one to listen to sub-par recordings and not immediately be struck by how poor they are.  Not so with the LCD-3.  The Waterboys “This is the Sea” from the album of the same name came up on my iPod (which goes digitally via the Pure i20 into the RWA AE’s DAC) and I thought “wow that sounds really, really awful” – but that is just how that recording sounds.  It’s sinfully bright, and that is how the LCD-3 rendered it.  Up right after it was Nickel Creek’s “Best of Luck” from “Why Should the Fire Die”, and that sounded TERRIFIC, as I would expect.  All well recorded material sounded really, really good, and in fact, was the best I have ever personally heard from a headphone, including my beloved Sony MDR-R10. 
 
The LCD-3, though, are better than the MDR-R10.  They are more even in frequency response, and just slightly more transparent.  The R-10 have a phenomenal midrange, and so do the LCD-3.  The R-10 have a little peakiness in parts of the treble, though, that I do not hear from the LCD-3.  And the bass on the R-10 is also a little pronounced in the midbass and a little lacking in the very deep bass versus the LCD-3.  I find the LCD-3 to be a remarkably neutral transducer.  I do not hear any obvious frequency-response aberrations with the LCD-3.  In this way it departs from the LCD-2 – the 3 is more neutral sounding to these ears, and this is most germane in the treble.  The LCD-2 featured a shelved-down treble, which I personally liked, but as such it was not flat from 20Hz-20kHz.  The LCD-3 has much less of this in terms of both the measured performance, and even less in terms of what I hear.  And yet, the treble is not aggressive or biting, but VERY pure and sweet.  Again, the LCD-3 will not hide a recording with a nasty treble though.  If it’s there, you will hear it. 
 
And I think that defines the LCD-3 for me.  The combination of a very neutral frequency response and an almost startling transparency are its hallmarks.  The vast majority of the time I enjoyed listening to music through the LCD-3 more than I ever have with headphones.  Alison Krauss’s new record, Paper Airplane, is a terrific recordings, and it sounded just terrific on the LCD-3.  Alison’s vocals were beautiful.  Same for Steven Wilson’s, on “Postcard” from his new and terrifically recorded “Grace For Drowning”.  The song is just haunting, and it sounds beautiful on the LCD-3.  Then again, I have some metal records that are super-aggressive sounding, and the LCD-3 laid them bare.  Such is life.  For those I will probably stick with the LCD-2.  But one cannot blame the messenger!  I know such recordings are harsh.  No surprise the LCD-3 renders them as such.
 
One result of the combination of the neutrality and transparency is an outstanding retreival of detail and resolution.  Other headphones I have heard force detail at you my pushing the mid treble up.  That's not what is happening here.  The resolution is due to the transparency.  This is something I have found in evidence in all planar magnetic headphones (and speakers) I have heard - and it's very much in evidence here.  There are some very subtle percussion elements in Opeth's "Death Whispered a Lullaby" from "Damnation" that I had never really noticed before, but that I was able to hear on the LCD-3.
 
I also spent some time comparing the LCD-3 to the HifiMan HE-6. I find the HE-6 to have just a touch more treble energy than is neutral, although overall I find the HE-6 to be an absolutely outstanding pair of headphones, and I listen to them at work almost daily.  The LCD-3 were just better, in every dimension, IMO.  Which isn’t to take away from the HE-6, but I found the LCD-3 to be more neutral, and just slightly more transparent.
 
I spent the majority of my review time listening to the LCD-3 on the Red Wine Audio Audeze Edition, since I felt that it had made the LCD-2 sound about as good as anything else, and wanted to give the LCD-3 a very clean signal.  I also played them on the Leben CS-300, the Trafomatic Head One, the new and several of my vintage receivers.  I also listened to it on the new Meier Audio Corda Classic, on which they also sounded great (review forthcoming on the Meier).  They sounded great on the Pioneer and Sansui receivers, but not as good on the Marantz, as mentioned above, just because the LCD-3 exposed a treble roll-off on the Marantz I hadn’t been aware of.  The LCD-3 definitely benefit from the best you can give them, but they sounded very good from everything I listened to them on.  
 
So it also was with sources.  The RWA DAC, my MHDT Havana, and my AVA Vision Hybrid DAC all sounded good, and all sounded different. And to a degree I wasn’t quite used to.  It was very easy to pick out the differences.  The LCD-3 will make a good source reviewing tool!  The Havana is the warmest, the RWA the most neutral, and the AVA in the middle.  This was plainly apparent.
 
Lastly, let’s talk about soundstage.  The LCD-3 is excellent in this regard, but in this one area I don’t think it is quite state of the art.  I think the LCD-3 is better than the LCD-2 in this regard, especially in terms of image specificity.  But the R-10 is better in terms of image definition and specificity.  The LCD-3 projects the soundstage out in front of the head somewhat, which I really like – it does NOT feel like the sound is just between your ears, at all.  The width is outstanding, and so is the depth.  But the images are just not quite as well defined as I hear on some other headphones, like the R-10, or even the Beyer T1.  That said, I am not an imaging freak, and I value tonality and transparency higher.  And so for me, the LCD-3 is as good as it gets.  But if soundstage gymnastics are your primary thing, I think I would probably go with something like the HD-800.  The LCD-3 is “merely” excellent in terms of soundstaging ability.
 
Summary:
 
So, overall, where does that leave us?  I think the LCD-3, as a whole, is the best headphone I have heard.  I have never owned any electrostats, but I have had several pairs for review, and have heard quite a few others, and I prefer the meatier sound of the LCD-3 to any of those.  But again, that’s not a direct, detailed comparison.  Someone else will have to offer that.  However, the LCD-3 is a big improvement over the LCD-2, and handily beats the Beyer T1 (which is a headphone I like a lot).  I prefer the LCD-3 to the HE-6 as well, and even prefer it overall to the MDR-R10.  And folks, that’s saying a mouthful.  Does that make it worth the asking price?  For me, beyond any shadow of a doubt.  But I liked the LCD-2 a great deal as well, and of course, like all reviews, this one is my personal opinion, and nothing more.  Only you, dear reader, can decide that for yourself.  I sure hope you get a chance to hear a pair, though.  I don’t think you will be disappointed.  I am buying the review pair.  No way am I letting these go.
“the headphone sounds extraordinarily smooth and evenly balanced from the lowest bass notes right on up through the middle of the midrange.”
Chris Martens

Audeze’s LCD-2 is hands down one of the five best headphones Playback has ever tested. What is more, recent driver revisions from Audeze may mean that the versions you would buy could sound even better than our review samples did, which is saying a mouthful. If you are shopping for a true top-tier class headphone, you owe it to yourself to hear this one before making a final decision.

I first heard Audeze LCD-2 planar magnetic headphones about a year ago at a Can-Jam event organized by our friends at head-fi. When I visited the Audeze demonstration table, I must say that I experienced a veritable flood of favorable impressions, one right after another. Let me take you through that experience step by step.
 
Even before hearing the LCD-2 I was struck by its beautiful appearance. What caught my eye were both the LCD-2’s lovely Caribbean rosewood ear cup housings, and also the precise fit of the headphone’s metal parts and leather ear pads. Even from a quick glance it seemed obvious that the headphones had been built with care and terrific attention to detail.
 
Then, after putting the headphones on, I couldn’t help but be wowed by the sheer levels of comfort the Audezes provided. Though the LCD-2’s have quite large ear cups, their well-designed leather ear pads do a great job of making them feel lighter than you might expect and of pampering the listener. Frankly, these headphones feel the way that the interior of a Rolls-Royce automobile looks—in a word, sumptuous.
 
Finally, as I began to play reference musical material through the LCD-2’s, my attention was drawn—as if by a tractor beam—to their sound. After a few minutes of initial familiarization, I thought to myself that the LCD-2 was perhaps one of the very best headphones I had ever heard (an impression reinforced, no doubt, by the fact that the Audezes were being powered by an early prototypes of Cavalli Audio’s spectacularly good Liquid Fire headphone amplifier). Although I perceived their voicing to be slightly on the warm (or dark) side of strict neutrality, I found the LCD-2 seemed for the most part to provide smooth and accurate frequency response, and that it had an uncanny ability to retrieve low-level sonic details without ever sounding as if it were working hard to do so.
 
Given all of these favorable first impressions, I of course requested review samples of the LCD-2 for Playback, with results I am pleased to report in this review.
 
FEATURES
 
A Home-Grown Product: Audeze’s LCD-2 has been designed and manufactured entirely in the U.S.—a factor potentially of great importance to some buyers.
 
Fit and Finish: 
Everything about the LCD-2 is finely finished, including its presentation case, which is made of Caribbean rosewood, as are the open-back ear cup housings of the LCD-2. Alternatively, buyers can forego the wood presentation case and instead opt for a well-made travel case.
 
Planar Magnetic Drivers: 
The LCD-2 features planar magnetic drivers that differ substantially from the voice coil-driven, piston-type drivers found in most headphones.
 
In a traditional driver a voice coil/magnet assembly serves as an electromechanical “motor” that drives a cone- or dome-shaped diaphragm forward and backward to produce sound waves. Because the voice coil exerts force on the diaphragm either from its center (as with a cone) or from its outer edge (as with a dome), traditional driver diaphragms must, as a matter of practical necessity, be strong, stiff and rigid—qualities that ultimately limit how low the mass of the diaphragm will be.
In contrast, planar magnetic drivers use ultra thin, membrane-like diaphragms whose surfaces feature etched circuits that—in essence—serve in the capacity of “voice coils.” The entire diaphragm, complete with embedded circuit traces, is suspended in a magnetic field (typically created by magnets positioned in a precise pattern and attached to a flat, open, grid-like frame), so that when audio signals are present the whole diaphragm surface moves forward and backward, producing sound. Since the diaphragm is effectively driven over its entire surface area it can be made incredibly light, thin, and responsive. Audeze points out that, “the mass of the (LCD-2) diaphragm is very light and is comparable to the mass of the air it moves.” The result, according to Audeze, is a drive unit that offers several compelling benefits relative to traditional piston-type drivers.
 
Planar magnetic driver benefits:
 
More precise, piston-like driver motion with lower distortion. According to Audeze, these benefits are “due to the even application of force by the magnetic field surrounding the diaphragm, which reduces distortion effects. “
Toughness and durability: As Audeze notes, “the diaphragm is mounted on all sides, reducing fatigue points; Planar Magnetic speakers employ a tough polymer as the base material, which makes it much more durable than cone diaphragms.
Responsiveness: Audeze observes that, “because the diaphragm is very thin, it is also more responsive, leading to more faithful sound reproduction and the crispness of sound that is the hall mark of good quality speakers.”
Superior cooling and reliability: Audeze point out that “because (they are) flat, planar magnetic drivers can dissipate heat more quickly using the large surface area of the diaphragm itself, which dramatically reduces the chance of burn-out. “
Relatively high sensitivity and efficiency: Unlike some planar magnetic headphones, the LCD-2 is comparatively easy to drive, thanks in part to what Audeze terms a “very strong magnetic field” created by a grid of 12 very powerful Neodymium magnets per earpiece (hence, a total of 24 such magnets are used in each headphone).
Transient speed: According to Audeze the LCD-2 strong magnet assembly “creates a linear force that moves the diaphragm back and forth with extremely low distortion” and that “also results in extremely fast transient response.”
Unit-to-unit consistency: Audeze claims that the response curves of all LCD-2 driver units match one another to within ± 0.5 dB.
 
Very important note: Just before this review was finalized, Audeze announced the release of new Rev2 drivers for the LCD-2, which use a slightly lower mass membrane material than the original driver used (our review samples feature the original driver). The Rev2 driver are said to offer a sonic signature similar to the original design, but with these changes: “Low frequencies stay flat, but are tighter and even more extended (flat to 5 Hz), midrange is smoother and more transparent, while high frequencies are more extended, detailed and more pronounced.” Thus, there is every possibility that the LCD-2 you would buy now might sound even better than our review sample did (and does).
 
Comfort Factors: 
 
The LCD-2 comes fitted with a broad, metal-reinforced, foam-padded headband to which the headphone’s earpieces are attached via swiveling, height-adjustable mounts. The headphone allows a very broad range of adjustments, and is extremely comfortable to wear.
As an extra-cost option (+$50) the LCD-2 can be ordered with a leather-clad headband pad. The standard pad is made of a foam rubber material.
 
The LCD-2 features soft, cushy, leather-clad ear pads. Interestingly, the pads vary in thickness around their circumference so that, when viewed from above, the pads seem nearly wedge-shaped—that is, they are thicker in the rear than in the front. As a result, the pads serve to angle the earpieces for better alignment with the wearer’s outer ears. This sort of attention to seemingly small but ultimately significant details is very typical of Audeze.
 
Verified Results: Each LCD-2 comes with a frequency response test chart to document the performance of the specific unit you receive. Our test sample exhibited almost ruler flat (that is, dead accurate) response from 10 Hz to about 1kHz. Above that point, upper midrange and treble response are shelved downward a bit, but otherwise remain fairly flat, on out to 20kHz. The only deviation (and then a fairly minor and well-controlled one) was a narrow peak centered just above 10kHz.
 
Accessories:
The LCD-2 comes with a very high quality, detachable (and thus user replaceable) “Y-shaped” signal cable that attaches to the headphone earpieces via mini-XLR-type connectors.
Also included are a small wrench, a polishing cloth, and a vial of wood-care oil.
 
SONIC CHARACTER
 
The LCD-2 sounds just the way its accompanying frequency response chart suggests that it would, meaning that—for starters—the headphone sounds extraordinarily smooth and evenly balanced from the lowest bass notes right on up through the middle of the midrange. I can’t begin to overemphasize how important this broad, multi-octave region of smoothness and balance really is, especially in light of the fact that this is a region where many other headphones (even some quite expensive ones) tend to exhibit frequency response peaks and troughs galore. In contrast, the LCD-2 sounds dead accurate throughout this region, with no hints of unevenness whatsoever.
 
The upper midrange and top end of the LCD-2 are also relatively smoothly balanced despite the aforementioned small peak just above 10kHz, although they are shelved downward in level somewhat. Some listeners will feel this characteristic gives the LCD-2 a slightly “dark sounding” cast, while others—especially those who find excess upper midrange/treble forwardness objectionable—will embrace the LCD-2’s tonal balance with open arms (er, ears). Note: Audeze says that its very recently release Rev 2 planar magnetic drivers offer even more neutrally balanced upper mids and highs—so that you may find that current production LCD-2’s offer even more accurate balance than the Playback review samples did.*
 
* Audeze has graciously agreed to let us try a set of LCD-2’s fitted with the new drivers, so readers can expect a small follow-up review a few weeks from now.
 
Two overarching, and breathtaking good, characteristics we observed in the LCD-2 involve the related qualities of resolution and focus. If you listen closely to the Audeze headphone, you’ll discover that they reach way down deep into the mix to reproduce extremely subtle textural and timbral details that most headphones—including many top-tier models—simply miss. They also offer almost blindingly fast transient speeds, so that it becomes absolute child’s play to pick out even the smallest variations in attack and decay characteristics between instruments. The result is a greatly heightened sense of focus—as if the headphone is pulling you into closer and more intimate contact with the music, yet without sounding artificially exaggerated or “etched” in any way.
 
Where many audio products create the illusion of superior “detail” through tipped-up frequency response “bumps” in the upper midrange and/or treble region, the LCD-2 gives you the genuine article—superior resolution without any excess brightness at all. In fact, the LCD-2 pulls off one of the most difficult tricks in all of high-end audio, which is that it manages to sound highly detailed yet utterly relaxed and completely unstrained at the same time.
 
Unlike some otherwise great planar magnetic headphones (for example, the HiFiMAN HE-6’s), the LCD-2 is fairly sensitive and comparatively easy to drive. In practice this means that the LCD-2 can and does deliver a full-bodied sound and full-throated dynamics when powered by good by not necessarily high-powered headphone amps that would never have enough dynamic “oomph” to be able to power the HiFiMAN HE-6’s properly. What is more, the LCD-2 responds beautifully to demanding dynamic swells in the music, delivering dynamic clout on demand. This is one area where I’ve found that top-shelf planar magnetic headphones generally seem superior to electrostatic headphones. Specifically, my sense is that with the better planar magnetic design output levels scale quite faithfully with the demands of the music, where with electrostatic models output scales accurately to a point, but ultimately seems to reach a point beyond which the sound can become a bit congested or compressed.
 
Finally, let me mention one specific performance characteristic that can, under ideal circumstances, make the LCD-2’s sound downright magical. The characteristic to which I refer is one where the broad middle of LCD-2’s midrange sounds positively luminous (and let me acknowledge a debt to Stereophile reviewer Sam Tellig, who once wrote about the midrange of SET [single-ended triode] amplifiers sometimes having this same illuminated-from-within quality). All I know is that when this quality manifests itself—as it often does when you hear good recordings through the LCD-2—you may feel, as I did, an unusually intense and vivid connection to the music. This is what truly makes the LCD-2 special.
 
MUSICAL EXAMPLES
 
For my first example, I’d like to cite a passage from a very beautiful but also admittedly hard-to-find recording: namely, Zhao Jiazhen’s Masterpiece of the Chinese Qin from the Tang Dynasty to Today [Rhymoi]. The Qin, for those of you not yet initiated to its wonders, is a fretless, typically seven-stringed, zither-like Chinese instrument that is ancient in origin, and whose voice spans a surprisingly wide range of frequencies and an almost limitless range of expressive possibilities. One reason this is so is that, I am told, the tradition in written music for the Qin is to describe not only the pitch and duration of notes to be played (and at what volume levels), but also to describe incidental playing sounds such as finger squeaks on strings, the speed and intensity of note bends, the attack and decay characteristics desired, and so on. The result is a single instrument that, whether played solo or in an ensemble, can seem almost a musical world unto itself, which makes it a revealing test for most any audio component.
 
One track that shows off many of the LCD-2’s strengths is “Deep Night”, which is actually a somewhat non-traditional piece in which to hear a Qin used (much of the music written for the Qin has a quiet, contemplative quality, but this piece does not).
 
The piece opens with an ominous, extended, rolling solo statement from a very low pitched drum called a Dagu. If you listen closely to the Dagu, you’ll hear the LCD-2 capture each small variation in attack and decay, the delicate “skin” sounds of the large drum head resonating, the deep fundamental pitch of the notes, and the almost tsunami-like way in which bass energy continues to billow outward into the recording space long after each note has been struck. It takes a headphone with superb bass extension, pitch definition, transient speed, and control to get this passage to sound right, and the LCD-2 does a simply fabulous job with it.
 
But after the Dagu’s solo statement has been given time and space to develop, the Qin makes a dramatic entry, and in Zhao Jiazhen’s expert hands, manages to sound bold, fierce and defiant—in its own way answering the power and intensity of the drum. What’s impressive is the way the artist chooses at times to limit some of the small flourishes so typical of the Qin, instead giving individual notes more power and purity by deliberately leaving them unadorned and allowing them to ring forth. Adding to the richness of the performance are a handful of other small percussion instruments, including a high-pitched wood block, what sounds like a smaller drum (something about the size of snare drum or even smaller), and delicate finger chimes. The LCD-2 brilliantly captures the distinctive timbres and textures of the Qin and percussion accompaniment, though because of the Audeze’s downward-shelved upper mids and highs the sound of high-pitched echoes, overtones, and transient sounds is slightly less prominent through the LCD-2 than through some competing top-tier headphones. But note that the LCD-2 does offer plenty of treble extension, per se; it’s just that upper mids and highs are presented at a slightly lower level than bass and middle frequencies.
 
Lovely though the LCD-2 can be on refined and well-recorded material, it is also perfectly happy to get down’n’dirty with more earthy types of music, as you discover if put on a track such as “Angel of Darkness” from Hot Tuna’s Steady As She Goes [Red House]. The song launches on the strength of a rolling drum kit groove supplied by percussionist Skoota Warner, plus the insistent twang of Jorma Kaukonen’s guitar and Jack Cassady’s gritty yet also supple electric bass lines. The feel of the song, which the LCD-2 nails to a “T”, is a sort of cross between a folk jam and a late night roadhouse. Adding to this impression are Kaukonen’s penetrating vocals as he sings, “What kind of evil, baby/I don’t want to know/would poison your waters/just when they begin to flow?” But the song really takes off on the chorus, when Kaukonen is joined by backing vocalists Larry Campbell (who helped write the song) and Teresa Williams. Through the LCD-2 instrumental and vocal separation is incredibly good, so that’s ever so easy to hear the individual contributions of each performer, and to hear—in this case—the way Campbell’s and Williams’ vocals perfectly support and augment Kaukonen’s. Trust us on this one: you’ll get chills up your spine when they sing, “Innocent life/trapped in the night/Angel of Darkness…” Remember, emotional connection with the music is what these headphones are all about.
 
OVERVIEW
 
Consider this headphone if: you want a beautifully made, sumptuously comfortable headphone that offers an extremely high degree of resolution and finesse, and whose overall balance is mostly neutral, though shelved downward just a bit in the upper mids and highs—thus giving a slightly warmer-than-neutral tonal balance. Especially consider this headphone if you enjoy spectacularly good bass and midrange reproduction. On good material, the midrange of this headphone seems almost to glow from within. Also consider this headphone if you’ve wanted to try a planar magnetic design, but have been frightened away by reports that they are hard to drive; surprisingly, the LCD-2 is relatively easy to drive.
 
Look further if: you favor compact headphones that offer a high degree of isolation from external sounds. The LCD-2 is comfortable, but also quite large—a characteristic some might find not to their liking. Also, the LCD-2 is an open-back design that lets room noises through and that allows the headphone itself to be heard from the outside when it is playing. Finally, look further if you require strictly neutral upper midrange and treble tonal balance. Lovely and euphonic though the LCD-2 is, there are competing headphones that offer somewhat more neutral tonal balance (e.g., the Beyerdynamic T1 Tesla or HiFiMAN HE-6).
 
Ratings (relative to comparably priced headphones):
 
Tonal Balance:  9
Frequency Extremes:  Bass, 10; Treble, 9
Clarity: 10
Dynamics: 10 (though you will need a good amp to probe the LCD-2’s limits)
Comfort/Fit: 8.5
Sensitivity: 7 (the most sensitive planar magnetic headphone we have tested thus far)
Value: 10
 
BOTTOM LINE:
 
Audeze’s LCD-2 is hands down one of the five best headphones Playback has ever tested. What is more, recent driver revisions from Audeze may mean that the versions you would buy could sound even better than our review samples did, which is saying a mouthful. If you are shopping for a true top-tier class headphone, you owe it to yourself to hear this one before making a final decision.
 
IMPORTANT NOTE:
Just at posting time, Playback learned that Audeze had made a running production change in the LCD-2, introducing new "Revision 2" drivers said to subtly alter and improve the overall voicing of the headphones.
 
This is a follow-up to my recent Playback review of the Audeze LCD-2 planar magnetic headphone (click here to read the review). First, bit of background is in order. Just as I was putting the finishing touches on the LCD-2 review, I discovered that Audeze had, on July 3, 2011, announced a running production change in the LCD-2 model—a change that involved the introduction of what the firm terms its new “Revision 2” drivers. Rather than offer a paraphrase, let me quote the text of Audeze’s two-part announcement, which appeared in the “Blog” section of the firm’s website: www.audeze.com.
 
The LCD-2, showing the newly revamped Revision 2 driver.
 
July 3, 2011: Excerpt from Audeze’s Revision 2 Driver Announcement
“The LCD-2 headphones were introduced in Oct 2009. Even among Planar Magnetic headphones, these drivers were quite different with a unique structure and design. The LCD-2 has gone through several minor cosmetic changes, but the driver has remained unchanged so far.
 
Now we are introducing revision 2 of the driver.  The LCD-2s as a model remain the same. Newer LCD-2 shipments from middle of June (2011) have revision 2 of the driver.
 
The response curve of the Revision 2 drivers.
 
Does the sonic signature change?
Revision 2 transducer has the same mechanical construction as original transducer, but uses newly developed, thinner and more reliable diaphragm material. Overall sound signature remains similar. Low frequencies stay flat, but are tighter and even more extended (flat to 5 Hz), midrange is smoother and more transparent, while high frequencies are more extended, detailed and more pronounced. With Rev. 2 we are addressing concerns of many customers who feel that original LCD2 has darker high frequency signature than many top of the line headphones.”
 
July 7, 2011: Excerpt from Audeze’s Follow-On Message about Revision 2 Drivers
“Several customers have emailed us asking for more details (on the new drivers). Here is some more information. We want to be open and transparent with our customers on the changes we are doing.
 
We have not changed the overall balance or frequency response of the headphones. We love the original LCD-2 sound signature. The new LCD-2s show a similar frequency response curve and it should, because that is the design intent. The new drivers use a thinner raw material. Thinner raw material results in less mass of the diaphragm. Less mass of diaphragm causes greater acceleration and better impulse response. Better response in driver results in higher resolution and extensions in both ends of the spectrum and better imaging. The highs are more pronounced because of greater detail. We are not boosting the high frequencies. Perhaps using the term "Darker" in the previous post conveyed the wrong information. There is a significant difference between boosting high frequencies (peaky response) and pronounced highs. As we mentioned earlier, we love the original LCD-2 sound signature and this is an improvement over it. We are not changing the nature of the headphone, but rather finessing it and this is one of the reasons we decided to stick with the LCD-2 name.”
 
Given this turn of events, Audeze graciously offered to loan Playback a second set of LCD-2 headphones equipped with its new Revision 2 drivers, so that we could evaluate sonic difference for ourselves. Naturally, the arrival of new drivers brings two key questions to mind:
 
What, if any, sonic differences do the Revision 2 drivers make.
Are those differences genuinely beneficial or do they merely represent “change for the sake of change?”
 We will tackle both questions in this follow-up review.
 
SONIC CHARACTER, LCD-2 WITH REVISION 2 DRIVERS
 
If you haven’t already read our full-length review of the original LCD-2, now would probably be a good time to do so (see the link above), since my intent is to discuss the effects of Audeze’s new Revision 2 drivers in the context of the core sound that I’ve already described for the original LCD-2.
 
What differences can listeners expect from Audeze’s Revision 2 drivers?
Our finding was that the new drivers do change the overall sonic signature of the LCD-2 to some extent though in comparatively subtle ways (think more in terms of evolutionary rather than revolutionary changes). Some of those changes influence the response curves of the headphones in small but audible (and measurable) ways, while others change the LCD-2’s ability to resolve low-level details and its ability to respond to fast-rising transient sounds in the music.
 
First, let’s discuss changes that affect the LCD-2’s overall tonal balance or response curves. In my review of the original LCD-2 I wrote that, “the headphone sounds extraordinarily smooth and evenly balanced from the lowest bass notes right on up through the middle of the midrange.” That statement is still true, but with several small yet significant differences. The original LCD-2 measured virtually dead-flat from the bottom of the low end right on up to about 1kHz, above which point the response curve rolled downward until—at about 2kHz—output reached a plateau, of sorts, where upper midrange and treble frequencies were fairly evenly balanced, but shelved downward in level relative to the bass and mids. These balanced by downward-shelved upper mids and highs lead me to say of the original headphone that some listener might find it had a “slightly ‘dark sounding’ cast.”
 
The LCD-2, with new ribbon cable.
 
With the new Revision 2 drivers in play, the LCD-2’s broad region of flat response now reaches higher than it originally did (up to roughly 2kHz), with a more gradual decline in output above that point that reaches an approximate plateau at around 3kHz - 4kHz, and with noticeably more upper midrange and treble output above that point than before. These sonic changes do not alter the fundamental character of the new-generation LCD-2, which is still very much anchored by that incredibly broad, smooth, neutrally-voiced response curve from the bass region on up through the midrange. However, these changes do directly address the original LCD-2’s potential problem of a slightly dark-sounding character. With current-generation LCD-2, mids seem to open up more, as do upper midrange and treble transient sounds, reverberations, and high harmonics. In short, the Revision 2 drivers make current generation LCD-2’s more accurately balanced headphones overall.
 
But the changes don’t stop with these frequency-response changes, because the new Revision 2 drivers also improve other more qualitative aspects of the LCD-2’s sound. Specifically, they improve the LCD-2’s already exceptional ability to resolve extremely fine, low level textural details, so that the ‘phones now exhibit an even more finely focused and fine-grained sound than the original version did. Moreover, the Revision 2 drivers give the LCD-2’s even faster and—where recordings so warrant—more energetic transient response than the original version could provide, which is no small improvement given how good the LCD-2 was to begin with.
 
Together, the qualitative and frequency response changes detailed complement one another in a synergistic way, so that the net result is an updated LCD-2 that has become, in subtle and yet pervasive ways, more accurately balanced, more transparent and more revealing than the original version—which is saying a mouthful!
 
Are these changes beneficial, or just “change for the sake of change?”
I found these changes to be musically valid and (almost) always beneficial, so that they unquestionably make the LCD-2 even more engaging than before, and more capable of revealing the intricacies and inner details of great recordings. The only downside I can think of, and it is the reason I used the word “almost” as a qualifier above, is that the changes also make the LCD-2 somewhat more prone to exposing the sonic flaws in not-so-good recordings. Given the benefits the changes bring, however, this is a trade off I could and would readily accept. Listeners who might have felt the original LCD-2 sounded a bit too “dark” will, I think, find the new Revision 2 drivers give the LCD-2 a noticeably more balanced sound, yet without undercutting any of its inherent richness, smoothness, or midrange “magic.”
 
Bottom Line:
 
Audeze’s Revision 2 planar magnetic drivers take an already superb top-tier headphone and make it—in subtle yet significant ways—even better. Audeze has been installing Revision 2 drivers in all LCD-2 headphones built since mid-June 2011,[1] and will continue doing so for the foreseeable future. Revision 2 driver equipped versions of the LCD-2 sell for exactly the same $945 price as the versions equipped with the original drivers.
 
Along with the Revision 2 drivers, the LCD-2 carries one other running production change, which is the arrival of a new configuration for the headphone’s signal cable. Although the basic conductors used in the cable remain unchanged, the cable is now packaged in the form of a flexible ribbon cable, rather than as a comparatively stiff, round-jacketed cable as before. According to Audeze, the new cable format will soon make it possible to offer an optional cable for use with true balanced drive amplifiers. Again, this is a change for the good.
 
Finally, current-generation LCD-2 models offer an option that was not available on earlier production LCD-2’s; namely, a lambskin-covered headband pad that can be ordered for a $50 up-charge fee. (The new pad looks and feels great, and perfectly matches the lambskin covers already provided for the LCD-2’s ear pads). Note: Recognizing that some listeners would prefer to avoid all use of leather, Audeze plans to offer non-leather headband and ear pad covers as an option in the future.
 
[1] Note: Recognizing that some customers might have purchased LCD-2 headphones during the transition period from the Revision 1 to Revision 2 drivers, Audeze has extended the following offer:
 
 “We have received a fair amount of inquiries about the Rev2 driver. Since some of you may have missed the new revision by a few days of purchase we thought it would be the right thing to do by offering those of you who purchased the LCD-2 between June 1-30th the opportunity to ship in your headphones for a complimentary update. At the time of the update we will offer to those within the specified period of purchase the opportunity to upgrade to a leather headband for $50.00.”
Summary of latest Audeze headphone reviews
"No matter who your favorite vocalists are, this is a test that the LCD2s can ace."
……JEFF DORGAY - TONE AUDIO
 
"Some audiophile gear can provide extraordinary resolution and detail, but can't deliver the power and glory of live music. Not this time."
…...STEVE GUTTENBERG - CNET - THE AUDIOPHILIAC
 
“The LCD2 has thrown down quite a glove.”
……SRAJAN EBAEN - SIXMOONS.
 
"In a number of ways it was the best headphone I'd ever measured."
……TYLL HERTSENS - INNERFIDELITY.COM
 
"The Audeze LCD2 may be the best-sounding full-size headphone on the planet."
……STEVE GUTTENBERG - CNET - THE AUDIOPHILIAC
 
"A deeply immersive listening experience."
……ANDREA SUNDARAM - SOUNDSTAGE!EXPERIENCE
 
"The awesome just got an upgrade."
……MIKE - HEADFONIA.COM
 
"LCD2 has an excellent soundstage and bass, treble is very very articulate and mids simply superb."
……GURUBHAI - HIFIVISION.COM
 
“I will be using them as my main reference standard against which I’ll judge all other headphones.”
……JEFF DORGAY - TONE AUDIO
 
“The Audeze LCD2s have become my ‘go-to’ headphones for verifying my mixes. The amount of detail retrieval on these phones are amazing!”
……ERICK LABSON - SR. MASTERING ENGINEER, 2010 GRAMMY AWARD WINNER
 
"They present the music to you rather than shoving it at you, and their way of handling the ambience creates a deeply immersive listening experience.”
…..ANDREA SUNDARAM - SOUNDSTAGE!EXPERIENC
 
“Transported to sheer bliss... these are amazing. In fact, listening to some of my own mixes I can now hear where I could have tweaked some more to improve them.”
……K. J. SINGH - SOUND ENGINEER FOR OVER 100 BOLLYWOOD MOVIES
 
"Livelier, fresher, more natural treble region helps make everything more real."
…...MIKE - HEADFONIA.COM
 
“Truly great. A reference headphone I could use in the studio and relax at home and enjoy good sounding music with. Job well done!”
……MICHAEL LOCKWOOD - MUSICIAN/PRODUCER
These are definitely a fantastic pair of open headphones and if you’re in the market for a natural sounding pair of headphones that competes with many US$1000+ top of the line headphones, look no further than the open EL-8s!
Peter Pialis
REVIEW SUMMARY: Regardless of my source / amplifier, the open EL-8s sounded glorious. I certainly would not be intimidated if you were just planning to drive them from your portable player as they will reward you regardless of what you’re plugging them into. However, I did find that with better amplification and a better source, the EL-8s did scale appropriately and continued to improve. Considering the price point, the open EL-8s are going to be my “go to” recommendation for a pair of open-backed headphones in the sub $900 market. They hit on all cylinders regardless of the musical genre I threw at them (from rock to metal, to jazz and finally to classical) and the pure enjoyment that they brought me competed well beyond their humble price tag. The build quality is outstanding and the comfort level has been brought to a whole new level by Audeze. Using them for hours on end was never an issue for me. These are definitely a fantastic pair of open headphones and if you’re in the market for a natural sounding pair of headphones that competes with many $1000+ top of the line headphones, look no further than the open EL-8s!

EXTENDED REVIEW: When I was given the opportunity to review the newly released open pair of EL-8 headphones by Audeze, I literally jumped at the opportunity. I have been a really big fan of Audeze’s products going back to their initial big release of the highly vaunted LCD-2s several years ago. Audeze has certainly come a long way from those early days with the release of several new products such as the LCD-3, LCD-X, LCD-XC, and their new headphone amplifier/DAC: the Deckard (review upcoming in the next few months). The LCD-X’s are currently one of my very favourite open-backed headphones and are one of the most revealing reference level headphones I’ve come across. I was very curious to see how the newly released open-backed EL-8s performed in comparison. Coming in at only $699, the EL-8s come in at a considerably more affordable price point than many of their current LCD series offerings.

The EL-8s, like their other headphones, utilize planar magnetic drivers and unlike traditional dynamic drivers, can offer quickness, detail and extremely low distortion. Designed by BMW Designs, the EL-8s are a drastic departure from their current headphone styling and I have to say that I am very impressed with the build quality, materials used and overall construction. They have improved upon both the comfort and weight of the LCD series with these new headphones. The open EL-8s come in at only 460g now and while I was rather ambivalent on the comfort levels of the LCD-2/X/XC/3 headphones (as I found them neither comfortable, nor uncomfortable), I am quite happy to see that design care was used to ensure that these headphones would be more of a better fit for a wider audience.

Overall, I am very impressed with the build quality of the EL-8s. Both the form factor and comfort levels seem to be taking Audeze in a bold new direction. These headphones are designed to be more portable than the LCD Series and I can confirm that they certainly are easier and lighter to carry with you. The headphone cable itself took this design requirement to heart and it is both light and flexible and a perfect length in my opinion (2m; not too long and not too short). It is terminated with a 1/8” stereo headphone plug and comes with the larger ¼” adapter. However, what is different here is that the output plugs from the headphones have changed from their standard mini-XLR terminations to a new Audeze proprietary connector; so you might have to wait a bit for any custom cabling.

I have been a big fan of planar orthodynamic headphones for several years now. I find the sound that they can portray very natural and as true to life as it gets when compared to the more traditional cone-style dynamic driver. The open EL-8s continue in this tradition and have included some more technological enhancements. They do continue to use the “Fazor Technology” waveform guide that we first implemented with the LCD-X and LCD-XC headphones and I’m quite happy to see that this technology has flown down to the EL-8s regardless of their price point. The “Fazors” are acoustical elements positioned on either side of the magnetic structure and serve as waveform guides. In the end they enhance transparency (particularly in the upper mids/treble region based on my personal experience) and offer improved sound-staging and openness of sound.

Along with the Fazor Technology design elements, the EL-8s offer Audeze’s new “Fluxor Magnetic Technology”. This allows the magnetic flux density to be essentially doubled. So with more magnetic flux, the more control of the drivers are achieved (even lower distortion).

As well, the driver has been redesigned and this new “Uniforce” diaphragm utilizes variable trace widths in the voice-coil to effectively capture variations in the magnetic field by better balancing the forces of the individual traces and thus create a more uniform force density across the entire diaphragm. With this uniformity comes even lower distortion. In the end the numbers tell the tale, the headphone impedance comes in at 30 ohms and the efficiency is a whopping 102dB/mW. While they are rated to handle up to a crazy 15W, I can play them very effectively out of any my iDevices with complete ease and full enjoyment due to their very high efficiency.

For the purposes of this review, I used the EL-8s in several different configurations; from directly out of my iPhone 6 or iPad Air, to my Astell & Kern AK100II portable player, to my Resonesssence Labs Concero HP, right up to my main headphone rig: Metrum Acoustics Hex DAC and HeadAmp GS-X Mk2 desktop headphone amplifier. In terms of source material, I threw some of my favourite recordings through my CD player and digital files (either 192kps high resolution or Apple Lossless) at the EL8

My first listen to the open version of the EL-8s was through my primary “on the go” DAP: the Astell and Kern AK100II. As the cabling of the EL-8s only currently allowed for single-ended operation, that’s what I ran with. I immediately threw on El Camino by The Black Keys and thankfully my ears were treated with the very ethereal and natural Audeze sound that I’ve come to know and love over the years. The bass drum thundered when Lonely Boy started up and very much reminded me of the thump from the much higher priced LCD-3 or LCD-X. Oh so satisfying and they (EL-8s) were still very controlled and defined. My previous experiences with headphones wrongfully led me to believe that I could have one or the other, but not both. Audeze’s products have shown me time and time again that you can in fact have your cake and eat it too.

Deep and wonderfully rich bass that hits on a level that is rarely exhibited, but also the details are never smeared, nor is there any distortion that inhibits one’s ability to make out even the tiniest details at the lowest octaves. Subsequent frequency sweeps down to 20 – 30Hz show that the drivers on the EL-8s never run out of steam and are fully present. I find the bass is like a good foundation to the music on which the higher frequencies build upon and thankfully that is still certainly the case with the EL-8s. I find their bass has less of a full sound down below when compared to their most excellent LCD-X. But the LCD-X’s come in at more than 2.5X the price of the EL-8s. Overall however, the bass quality and quantity of the EL-8s are very satisfying and very natural and offer incredible performance (especially in the sub $1000 range).

Vocals on the open EL-8s are equally enticing. Josh Groban’s new album “Stages” sounded absolutely stunning. His voice range is truly a site to behold and the EL-8s certainly did him justice. The inner details of his vibrato to his impressive range were all portrayed with incredible realism that left me completely satisfied. I find that the EL-8s are voiced most similarly to the LCD-X in the Audeze line-up and my thoughts were cemented when I heard this new album with these great headphones. I’m a big fan of bossa nova and the open EL-8s continued to impress when I threw in Diana Krall’s “Quiet Nights”. Diana’s voice was as seductive as ever! It was neither too up front, nor too far back, but rather in almost perfect place with the rest of the sound scape. Again, the smallest inner-workings of her voice were portrayed with incredible realism that left me again thinking: “I can’t believe these headphones cost only $699”. While not cheap when compared to the headphones one can purchase at BestBuy, when you compare them to many other top of the line flagship headphones, they give you more than 85% of the performance at more than half the price!

Finally I pulled out an old standard of mine that I haven’t listened to recently. I’ve been a trumpet player for over 35 years (but it’s certainly not my day job). Wynton Marsalis is one of my favourites by a good margin. His technical ability is virtually un-paralleled by modern day standards and when I heard his “Flight of the Bumblebee”, I knew I needed to find another line of work as I could never approach that level of sophistication. Classic Wynton is a fabulous album that show cases Wynton’s ability with classical music and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone; even just if you’re not really into classical music. Wynton is a magician with the trumpet and his talents are on full display with this record. Thankfully the open EL-8s were able to keep up with this very demanding recording. The quickness and openness of the EL-8’s drivers are on full display with this album. It never falls behind the recording and each note and player are crisply defined in the sound stage. The treble is outstanding. With some “brighter” headphones, the trumpet can come off as strident and lend itself to listener fatigue; thankfully the EL-8s continue in the natural sound tradition that Audeze has pioneered. The full spectrum is there, but never over taxing on one’s eardrum. There is a bit more treble and glare than with the LCD-X; nor as refined, but overall the EL-8s manage to paint a very realistic mental image of the stage with all the players in perfect proportion. The imaging is both wide and deep and compares to that of the LCD-X very admirably (although I still give the nod to the LCD-X here, but not by much).

Regardless of my source / amplifier, the open EL-8s sounded glorious. I certainly would not be intimidated if you were just planning to drive them from your portable player as they will reward you regardless of what you’re plugging them into. However, I did find that with better amplification and a better source, the EL-8s did scale appropriately and continued to improve. Considering the price point, the open EL-8s are going to be my “go to” recommendation for a pair of open-backed headphones in the sub $900 market. They hit on all cylinders regardless of the musical genre I threw at them (from rock to metal, to jazz and finally to classical) and the pure enjoyment that they brought me competed well beyond their humble price tag. The build quality is outstanding and the comfort level has been brought to a whole new level by Audeze. Using them for hours on end was never an issue for me. These are definitely a fantastic pair of open headphones and if you’re in the market for a natural sounding pair of headphones that competes with many US$1000+ top of the line headphones, look no further than the open EL-8s!
....... Peter Pialis

The new Audeze is one of the most musical headphones I have heard to date. It stands up to high benchmark set by the LCD line and exceeds expectations with its top quality build, rich mids and organic realism.
AUDIO-HEAD

REVIREW SUMMARY:T he new Audeze is one of the most musical headphones I have heard to date. It stands up to high benchmark set by the LCD line and exceeds expectations with its top quality build, rich mids and organic realism.... With planars like Audezez LCD range the amplification field is almost wide open (you can still drive the LCD-4 from a phone in a pinch) and with that brings more options and new combinations to enjoy at a somewhat more value-driven pricepoint. A headphone is the final (and actual sound producing) element in any given personal audio rig, and is arguably the most important one. While flagship pricing continues to rise in the market, against some vantage points, the proposal of a $4k LCD can still be considered a value to those who can afford it. It is one of the most appealing and impressive pair of headphones I have ever formally reviewed. Highly recommended.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Even though headphone manufacturer Audeze has only been around for a relatively short period of time the company has managed to create an outstanding history with the personal audio community. Their flagship piece has always been born out of the LCD line, starting with the LCD-2 that quickly grew in popularity after its initial release. Subsequent releases featured the same progressive numerical namesake and formulaic pricing.

We now find ourselves on the precipice of a 4th iteration and the cost to play has risen along with ride to a flagship-worthy pricepoint of approximately $4k. At this range the competition starts to move slowly away from the Sennheiser dynamic driver heads-of-state and into the once-exclusive realm of Stax electrostatic technology. The only other real outliers that are unaccounted for is the $5k Abyss that has rested in the market for a few years and the new HiFiMAN HE-1000 ($3k) both of which utilize planar magnetic technology.

The headphone comes packaged in a “professional travel case” that sheds off the impracticalities of fancy wood displays for a secure and well-cushioned vessel for transport. Roughly the same size as the LCD-3 travel case, a concerned owner can even secure the top shut with an external suitcase lock. Inside the box, you will find a padded custom-fit lining and a detachable single ended ¼ inch to dual 4 pin mini XLR cable. This time around, the cable included with my review sample was slightly further away from the standard run-of-the-mill wire included with the previous LCD’s and closer to an aftermarket high-end audiophile cable, complete with heavy rubber build and bright blue color.

The headphone itself retains much of the shape and feel of the “2” and “3” with a few noticeable updates. The grill has been updated with a more chrome appearance and the leather headband has been swapped out for a carbon fiber split-band suspension (which supplies the clamping pressure) with light leather cover that rests on your head. The LCD-4 has also retained much of the weight of the previous models, so this updated design is a welcome one. Even with this above average weight, the new flagship is comfortable wear. I found the clamping pressure to be absolutely perfect for my head, something that is surprisingly rare among many mainstream (and even some audiophile priced) personal audio products. The wide circular design allows for plenty of space for your ears and the padding is deep enough so your fleshy audio receptacles don’t touch the drivers inside when placed on your head. The LCD-4 feels like a solid high end product all around, built to last and produce some sweet high fidelity output.

The new reference headphone combines elements of the LCD-3’s long-tail upgrade “Fazor” with an entirely new driver assembly. The diaphragm is an oversized but super-thin nano grade material. Most of the weight for headphone is generated from a specialty neodymium magnet array which Audeze claims has the most power magnetic flux density in existence at 1.5 Tesla. Audeze has also lowered the impedance and the efficiency slightly from the LCD-3 and in execution takes a little extra turn of the knob to reach the same volume level. All that “extra” really pays off when you look at the results they are able to achieve with the output.

First things first, the LCD-4 is a technical and musical improvement over the LCD-3, which is quite an achievement all by itself. There have been some remote instances in this hobby where follow up products have failed to impress as well as their predecessors, but this is not one of those times. All the minimum check marks are accounted for, tight bass, extended highs, vibrant mids. Holistically, the headphone takes detail retrieval to a new level. But the devil is not only in the details, it’s also in the delivery. The LCD-4 sounds supremely natural and organic, which equates a few inches closer to loudspeaker-like listening than ever before. It gives more of that elusive out-of-head experience that peppers the high end of personal audio like a celebrity sighting in a C & D county. It may be a tricky experience to grasp on paper, but detail in some gear can make your music sound closer, as if your ear is closer to the source and can hear every nuance. The magic of the LCD-4’s execution is that it addresses detail in proper form, but yet somehow manages to place the soundstage further away from your sensory receptors, which provides some experiential relief of sorts from the on-head, on-ear delivery of the device’s up-close-and-personal nature.

One thing planar magnetic headphones rarely struggle with is bass slam. Punch and quick impact comes easy for LCD-4 as well. It manages to deliver some of best low end sound available, while never compromising by relying on fluff or inflated response curves. That last low end piece fits perfectly into the puzzle, extended beautifully down into the darkness without an awkward break or speed bump. Fans of the thump from an 808 won’t be disappointed with the delivery, but the speed and clarity give it a high-end appeal unique to a well-balanced presentation. The delivery is such that it almost tricks your brain into thinking that it can feel it. Pushed to the limits the headphone showed no signs of break up or strain from dance/dubstep tunes to the most overdone YouTube bass tracks on the interweb. Even bass frequency sweep tests maintained their composure well to the 20 Hz limit (the headphone is even rated down to 5Hz on the company website).

The mids of the LCD-4 offer perhaps its greatest departure from the LCD-3. While the little brother is no slouch when it comes to accuracy and decisiveness, the LCD-4 pushes tonal texture just a bit further without a compromise to transparency. The strings from Serenade in G Major, K. 525 from the Pantatone SACD Sampler felt even more realistic and true-to-life, as if the listener can more clearly picture the bow upon the strings of each instrument individually. Even though the track doesn’t share a studio-isolated stereo image (with compartmentalized placement) the LCD-4 made it very easy to “see” each instrument through the wall of sound. The 4 even made it possible to discern the creaking of stage chairs from within the recording.

The quantity of treble is not that unlike the LCD-3, which may stir the pot a bit when it comes to the audiophile hive mind, but has always been right on target to this reviewer’s ears. The quality of said quantity projects a hearty yet tactful presence out from the middle to the ether above. The LCD-4 is a very easy headphone to listen to that takes a successful cue from the mids and delivers smooth, lifelike and non-fatiguing high frequency response that is exactly where it needs to be within the mix.

The new Audeze is one of the most musical headphones I have heard to date. It stands up to high benchmark set by the LCD line and exceeds expectations with its top quality build, rich mids and organic realism. As with many expensive purchases “is it worth it” should be heavily influenced by the amount of disposable income an individual has to spend on extraneous hobbies like high-end audio. I will offer this advice however, if you have $2k to spend on headphones the LCD-3 is a must for an audition. The same now holds true for the $4k mark. As electrostatic headphones sit right now, they often seem to hold a sound that is unique to its technology, and that tech often requires a larger investment to drive it. With planars the amplification field is almost wide open (you can still drive the LCD-4 from a phone in a pinch) and with that brings more options and new combinations to enjoy at a somewhat more value-driven pricepoint. A headphone is the final (and actual sound producing) element in any given personal audio rig, and is arguably the most important one. While flagship pricing continues to rise in the market, against some vantage points, the proposal of a $4k LCD can still be considered a value to those who can afford it. It is one of the most appealing and impressive pair of headphones I have ever formally reviewed. Highly recommended.

Audeze was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions about the LCD-4 and its creation, below are the responses from our Q and A with Audeze’s CEO Sankar Thiagasamudram.

What were the goals in terms of technicalities for the LCD-4?

Audeze always looks to make the best product possible and the LCD-4 features our Double-Fluxor implementation of our custom-cut magnets that develop an astonishing 1.5 Tesla of magnetic flux, along with the thinnest nano-scale diaphragms imaginable.

Did you have a “target” sound signature you were shooting for during development?

Over the years Audeze has developed a house curve that works best with our planar magnetic technology. Our goal is to continue and improve the Audeze house sound. We’ve done years of research on impulse response and resolution, how people perceive sound, and other parameters giving rise to amazing tonal balance and accurate imaging.

Was the LCD-4 imagined as a progression from the LCD-3 or a completely different animal altogether?

The LCD-4 is a progression in design of the LCD Collection. Audeze is always improving, always concentrating on comfort, leading edge technology and the best sound available. But in terms of manufacturing and materials science, we’re talking it to a completely different level. We had to invent new ways to measuring the thickness of the diaphragm during manufacture. The Fluxor magnets took us quite some time to develop and again we had to invent new ways to manufacture them.

Do you have a recommended amplifier (or amplification design) that you feel pairs well the LCD-4?

Audeze recommends the 6W The King Headphone Amplifier of course (available soon) or any other high-performance headphone amplifier with enough power to drive it like our Deckard DAC/Headphone Amp.

The included detachable cable with the LCD-4 looks (and feels) like a significant departure from the previous stock wires included with the LCD line. Can you provide some more fine details as to its construction?

Audeze is like Switzerland when it comes to cable, we’re neutral and leave cabling up to our customers. However, we have a limited supply of very rare and special cables that ship with the LCD-4. They were created by audio legend Lee Weiland of Locus Design, and feature a special cryogenic process and proprietary cable design. When the supply is exhausted we’ll move to another quality supplier.

The weight of the LCD-4 doesn’t depart far from the heft of the LCD-3, did you have any significant design considerations or priorities that influenced the overall weight in of the new flagship?

Most of the weight comes from the custom-cut Double Fluxor Magnet arrays that achieve an astounding 1.5 Tesla magnetic flux. But the new carbon fiber headband is specially designed for maximum comfort and will eventually be available as an extra-cost upgrade/retrofit for the entire LCD Collection.

Will the LCD-5 cost US$8k?

All we’re saying right now is that we’re taking cars in trade.

Do you have any parting comments on the LCD-4 for our readers?

We call the LCD-4 limited production because they’re very difficult to manufacture. For example, each diaphragm actually takes a full two weeks to make! There’s no way we can put together even 20 units per month so it is possible that there could be some delay to deliveries.

I am a totally biased believer.
db

Mids - more forward voiced than some of my headphones which are probably a little recessed. Vocals (male and female) and acoustics are spellbinding. ..... Overdriven guitars without additional distortion and lightning quick response to some really complex harmonies. .....They do have more extention but they are not bright. They have an almost ribbon feel to their top end which is crisp and airy but never bright or overbearing. 

Bass - everyone knows that these headphones can do bass, but they do more than bass, they flesh out the texture within bass and respond to complex bass rhythms without muddying the lower mids. There is no bass hump ......the LCD3 reproduce a very real , almost palpable bass which some headphones just don't manage to portray acurately. 

When I first heard the LCD2 , I thought "this is it" , this is what all the orthodynamic / planar magnetic followers have been looking for  - "tactile" music that was both rich and organic, smooth vocals that pull you in and very responsive. "How could this possibly get any better!" well , it just did.  How do I know? Tyll said so ( and he never lies.   come to think of it , he doesn't drink, never swears and only eats vegans ) 

Pros: a wonderful evolution of design and technology
Cons: do there have to be any?
 
Where to start? I guess a big thank you to Alex and Sankar for making these available. I finally got to meet the lads at RMAF and the pleasure was all mine - I now have the T-shirt ;-) . 
 
On a more serious note , it was truly a pleasure to meet them and speak about the inovation that has been going on behind the scenes. Not only in headphone development but the fact that Dragoslav Colich joined up with them to assist in engineering their superb line of speakers.  ( now I will admit bias freely - Dragoslav is a demigod in my eyes as he is a zen master of ribbons and planar technology ) so.... I expect even greater things to come.  
 
This review will be a little different from what some people may be expecting as I will not go into diatribes about how wonderful the LCD3's are with various types of music , just trust me , they are. When I first heard the LCD2 , I thought "this is it" , this is what all the orthodynamic / planar magnetic followers have been looking for  - "tactile" music that was both rich and organic, smooth vocals that pull you in and very responsive. "How could this possibly get any better!" well , it just did.  How do I know? Tyll said so ( and he never lies.   come to think of it , he doesn't drink, never swears and only eats vegans ) 
 
On with the show. 
The Box: truly a work of art in its own right . Piano gloss finish with the Audeze logo inlaid into the wood. 
Inside the box: 
     1. a graph of the frequency response for the headphones. 
     2. two sets of stock cable - one TRS terminated and one 4pin XLR for those more balanced than myself. 
     3. wood care kit
     4. last but most definitely not least , the LCD3
 
Overall design, some love it , some don't care for it. Personally I am a fan. I liked the original foam headband but this one oozes luxury. It is padded and sits comfortably on my head. 
 
The pads are very soft , imo a significant improvement over the original LCD2 pads. They are as soft as my Stax O2 pads but more compressible. The memory foam has good loft and make for a comfortable fit with a great seal. When you first put them on, there is that slight pressure you get similar to a closed headphone. I think this is due to the clamping pressure of the frame and the good seal from the pads. The pressure may be greater for macrocephalics but is no problem for me. I initially thought the stock cable was going to be a little short but it extended the 2 odd meters from my amp to where I listened without a problem and there was enough slack for me to do my thing while listening. 
 
I said I was not going to languish on my impressions of the sound and this sort of sums it all up.  I have listened to them at every opportunity for the past week and although I have flitted through much of my music collection, I returned frequently to the demo disc I made for RMAF ( a mix of vocal, acoustic, jazz, rock and then a few familair classical pieces) 
Amp - mostly the early liquid fire prototype. I did try it with the mini3 and portatube+ (a real winner for a protable tube amp with a dac) 
Bass - everyone knows that these headphones can do bass, but they do more than bass, they flesh out the texture within bass and respond to complex bass rhythms without muddying the lower mids. There is no bass hump and I know that people have described them as emphasizing bass notes that aren't really there ?? not sure what that means but my interpretation is that the LCD3 reproduce a very real , almost palpable bass which some headphones just don't manage to portray acurately. 
Mids - more forward voiced than some of my headphones which are probably a little recessed. Vocals (male and female) and acoustics are spellbinding. I had heard some metal at RMAF and as I didn't know what I had listened to , called on a friend for guidance to test these waters. The experience of Katatonia on the LCD3 is quite something. Not sure if this is what the band expected people to listen through but remarkably well recorded. Overdriven guitars without additional distortion and lightning quick response to some really complex harmonies. I have heard this about metal on the Stax O2 too. 
Top end - this was a criticism by many of the LCD2 but I never found the highs to be particularly rolled off. Thus when the rumours started that the highs were to be more extended with the LCD3, my concern was that they would be too bright and not to my listening preferences. They do have more extention but they are not bright. They have an almost ribbon feel to their top end which is crisp and airy but never bright or overbearing. 
 
A couple of things that stood out - single miked recording in a London cathedral  - the "room acoustics" are incredible, eerie vocal placement and staging , the goth metal - hard to believe that everything didn't just collapse into itself to produce annoying noise, Edgar Meyer's bass lines in YoYoMa's Apalachian journey were deeply stirring.  an exerpt from one of the Linn Recordings "soulful magic next day tragic" made me think of all the folk who would get to sample a sense of the brilliance of the LCD3 at various meets around the world, only to have to walk away unless they could be fortunate enough to own them. 
 
Is this the best headphone ever ? I am sure there will be many more praise worthy products from various manufacturers , I have no interest in an electrostatic set up and my brief listen at RMAF was enough to cement my opinion that my needs would more than be met by the LCD3 and decent front end equipment. I will not say that my journey is over as I will always be tinkering with vintage planars and should Dragoslav encourage Alex and Sankar to delve into making a true ribbon headphone, who would I be to discourage them at such an early stage by making bold statements such as the "best" has been achieved. 
 
Thanks Alex & Sankar and all the team  who made this possible, I am a totally biased believer. 
 ......dB
 
LCD-XC Summary Reviews
“I can't offer a higher headphone recommendation. Audeze has rewritten the rules of engagement again ”
– MICHAEL MERCER, POSITIVE FEEDBACK
 
“From the butter-soft leather, to the gorgeous wood earcups, they exude luxury in a way most headphones don’t ... The Audeze LCD-XC’s are exquisitely well built and offer incredible performance ... Those two things define a good luxury item.”
– GEOFFREY MORRISON, FORBES
 
“In our collective opinions, the LCD-X and LCD-XC are nothing short of the very best headphones from Audeze ... A fantastically large, holographic-like soundstage ... The LCD-XC captures the signature LCD sound in a pair of closed-back headphones.”
– MERCER, WARREN CHI, MICHAEL LLANG, AUDIO360.COM
 
“Having created a new driver for the LCD-XC, Audeze went on to apply the driver in a new open-back model, called the LCD-X ... The result is a closed-back ‘phone that offers plenty of noise isolation, yet that retains the open, energetic, and highly articulate sound of the LCD-3.”
– CHRIS MARTENS, HIFI+
 
The iSine10 is as a portable audiophile experience — it’s a punchy planar magnetic sensitive enough to be driven by a phone and small enough to carry in a pocket,
GUIDO GABRIELE - iLounge

SUMMARY: the iSine10 is a success in that it delivers a new experience and makes the best out of the inconvenience Apple created by removing the headphone jack. Planar bass used to require a 100mm diaphragm; the iSine10 packs most of the experience into a case slightly larger than a quarter. Some enthusiasts attempt to emulate their home audio experience by attaching “portable” DACs and amplifiers to their phones with rubber bands; Audeze has shown that the same can be achieved by some tiny inline electronics in the headphone cable. We think that headphone enthusiasts value function over form, and we have no problem dishing out praise for innovation.

Innovative as it may be, the iSine10 is not a go-everywhere do-everything headphone. It’s fun to use outdoors, but does not isolate from ambient noise and may not stay in place unless without the over-ear guides. The iSine10 sounds great at home, but many will reach for full-size cans for longer listening sessions. 

EXTENDED REVIEW: Compared to the other types of products we review, innovation in the headphone market can sometimes feel a little slow. Enthusiasts tend to buy, review, recommend, and re-review the same few benchmark headphones year after year. New headphones are often little more than refinements of their predecessors. As technology fans, we’re hungry for new experiences. That’s why we looked forward to reviewing Audeze’s new iSine10 ($399). The iSine10 is a planar magnetic in-ear headphone that provides, somewhat paradoxically, an open-back experience. Audeze calls them the “world’s first” — though there is some debate about this in the headphone community, it’s certainly the only such headphone in production today. This unique configuration makes the iSine10 difficult to review. Should it be compared to fullsize open-back headphones or isolating in-ear monitors? With no direct competitor, it’s up to Audeze to justify the iSine’s price, sound, and polarising design.

iSine10’s packaging and included accessories got us off to an encouraging start. Included in the box are a ballistic nylon case, three sizes of wide-bore silicone tips, four plastic ear guides, and two sizes of silicone “Earlocks,” (developed in collaboration with tactical gear company Surefire). The display case doubles as way to securely store the headphones and wind the cables inside the carrying case — a nice touch for protection of an admittedly pricey portable. Unlike the original Sine, the iSine10 includes both analog and Lightning audio cables as part of the standard purchase. The cables are flat and unsleeved, which makes them resistant to tangling but also a bit unruly in use.

We had some minor issues with the iSine’s ergonomics. Where most in-ears are small, rounded, and seat inside the concha, these driver housings are large, hexagonal, and stick out from the head by a few millimetres. The iSine10 is surprisingly light, but its long sound channels give the driver housings leverage to pull downwards, out of the ear. Though there is an engineering reason for the length of the sound channels – they house conical wave guides designed to improve various characteristics of the iSine’s sound – we found that it was not practical to use the iSine10 without some kind of ear support. This is especially true when using the Cipher cable, due to the added weight of the pod which houses that DAC and amplifier.

The included over-ear guides are the most secure way to wear the iSine10, but they didn’t work for us. The semi-rigid plastic hooks had just slightly too short of a rise and too steep of an angle relative to the iSine10’s housing to fit comfortably on our ears. We had better results with the flexible Earlocks – these were far more comfortable than the over-ear hooks, but we found that some regular cleaning was necessary to remove skin oils that made them slip out of the concha. Audeze includes two pairs of the plastic over-ear guides, but they’re the same size; from our perspective, it seems like a missed opportunity not to have included two different sizes. Getting the iSine10 to fit was a bit tricky during our testing, but we won’t call it a deal breaker – this is not the first time we’ve had difficulty fitting an IEM; the comfort of any in-ear can depend on the user’s individual anatomy.

When fit properly, the iSine10 is a unique experience. The silicone tips do not isolate like a traditional IEM, but instead seem to “concentrate” sound in the ear. The open-back design lets plenty of ambient sound in, but also provides for a wider soundstage and better imaging than we’ve ever heard in an IEM. Sound leaks out of the back of the iSine10 as well – not as much as some over-ear open back headphones, but it’s undeniably audible when played at high volumes in quiet environments. Regardless of whether you think the iSine10’s sound signature is for you, we think that this miniaturized open-back experience alone is worth a test drive.

The iSine10’s sound signature is difficult to pin down because it sounds different, depending on whether the analog cable or the Cipher cable is used. We listened to this headphone in a wide range of configurations, including a powerful tube amp, desktop solid state amp, a portable solid state amp, directly out of the iPhone’s headphone adapter, and using the Cipher cable. We listened to the iSine10 alongside a wide range of other headphones, including dynamic drivers and planars, open-back and closed-back, and IEMs. We put them up against cheaper portables and flagship cans, including Audeze’s own LCD-2 and LCD-3. With all this context, we found that the iSine10 is at once two completely different headphones. Depending on what you use to drive them, the iSine10 can be an interesting headphone that falls a bit short of its price tag, or it can be comparable to some of the best headphones on the market.

Our first week with the iSine10 was spent almost exclusively with the analog cable. As a planar magnetic headphone, the iSine10 responds well to amplification, but may be too sensitive for the high gain setting on some amplifiers. Over analog, we heard a warm sound signature that was at best “relaxed” and at worst “veiled.” This is not to say that the iSine10 wasn’t technically competent – we heard great bass extension and punch with all of the open-back soundstage and imaging that we think makes this headphone unique. Still, the recessed treble presents a somewhat congested atmosphere even compared to the famously warm sound of the Audeze LCD-2. Not yet having heard the Cipher cable, it’s a sound that we adjusted to and came to enjoy; this warmth makes for easy, low-fatigue listening, even though perhaps t can’t match the no-compromise quality of the LCD-3  / LCD-4.

If the iSine10 was “relaxed” over analog, it woke up with the Cipher Lightning cable. Like the Sine and EL-8 Ti, the Cipher cable drives the iSine10 substantially better than an iPhone headphone jack or the Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter. However, unlike its predecessors, the iSine’s Cipher cable presented a very different sound compared to the analog cable, even with amplification. All the best qualities of the analog sound remained, but the “veil” was lifted. A substantially boosted (or, no longer recessed) treble gives the effect of greater detail; this was drastic enough that we were initially concerned that there might be a nasty treble spike, but we soon found that this was just a more balanced sound signature than the dark presentation over analog. Having spent substantial time with both, we think that the Cipher cable is the best way to experience the iSine10.

What is the Cipher cable doing, and why? In our previous Audeze reviews we guessed that the better sound was simply due to more amplification, but Audeze has offered a more interesting explanation: the laws of physics make it impossible to design a headphone that sounds exactly as the designers intended in all situations. Even the most expensive headphones have peaks or dips in their sound that make them not ideal for some users. With the Cipher cable, however, Audeze can “bake in” DSP settings that can adjust the iSine10’s sound to the Audeze house sound. With DAC, DSP, and amplifier controlled, the Cipher cable can consistently output sound that matches Audeze’s original intent. With the Audeze app, users can further customize the sound.

.The iSine10 is a headphone clearly made by engineers, not a marketing team. Its looks are polarizing and one size does not (yet) fit all, but every apparent oddity is explained by the technology Audeze developed for this headphone. The iSine10 is a success in that it delivers a new experience and makes the best out of the inconvenience Apple created by removing the headphone jack. Planar bass used to require a 100mm diaphragm; the iSine10 packs most of the experience into a case slightly larger than a quarter. Some enthusiasts attempt to emulate their home audio experience by attaching “portable” DACs and amplifiers to their phones with rubber bands; Audeze has shown that the same can be achieved by some tiny inline electronics in the headphone cable. We think that headphone enthusiasts value function over form, and we have no problem dishing out praise for innovation.

Innovative as it may be, the iSine10 is not a go-everywhere do-everything headphone. It’s fun to use outdoors, but does not isolate from ambient noise and may not stay in place unless without the over-ear guides. The iSine10 sounds great at home, but many will reach for full-size cans for longer listening sessions. 

Perhaps the best case for the iSine10 is as a portable audiophile experience — it’s a punchy planar magnetic sensitive enough to be driven by a phone and small enough to carry in a pocket, though it requires the Cipher Lightning cable to sound its absolute best.

LCD-3 Summary Reviews

“A joy for those seeking clarity, detail and an intimate relationship with the music.”

– POR EMILIO, OLD & NEW SOUND

 “The LCD-3's natural timbre, especially throughout the midrange, was a thing of beauty and one that is hard to go without once experienced.”

– ANDREW ROBINSON, HOMETHEATERREVIEW.COM

 “Speaking of über-performance, the Audeze LCD-3 is quite possibly the best headphone ever ... Starting with the bass, the impact and detail is simply otherworldly ... Midrange performance is similarly stellar, with hints of bloom, but never unnatural, never exaggerated ... We were both simply floored by the LCD-3's physicality”

– JUDE MANSILLA, HEADFI.ORG

 “They don’t really look like other headphones, and in many ways, they don’t sound like other headphones. No, they sound much, much better ... The word that comes to mind as I listen to the LCD-3s is 'realism.' ... There are some cases where spending more gets you more, and LCD-3s are an example of that.”

– GEOFFREY MORRISON, FORBES

 “I have never heard a set of headphones that got even remotely close to the sound of live music the way this one does and ...if you want the very best, get the LCD-3s.”

– STEVE GUTTENBERG, CNET

 “From the butter-soft leather, to the gorgeous wood earcups, they exude luxury in a way most headphones don’t ... The Audeze LCD-XC’s are exquisitely well built and offer incredible performance ... Those two things define a good luxury item.”

– MANTRACK: THE BEST OF EVERYTHING, PLAYBOY MAGAZINE

Audeze’s iSine 10 planar magnetic earphones sound as good as they look crazy
Napier Lopez - a writer based in New York City.

A couple of weeks ago, Audeze surprised audiophiles and stuck huge planar magnetic drivers into its new alien-looking iSINE series. I was able to try out the ‘entry-level’ model, the iSINE 10 for about 30 minutes. In short: they sound like no IEMs (in-ear monitors) I’ve heard before.

That’s probably because they’re designed like no IEM before; the earphones are basically just funnels to direct sound from the nearly-full-size 20mm drivers directly into your ears.

For reference, IEMs normally use drivers 10mm or smaller, and while bigger isn’t always better, it works in Audeze’s favor here. Moreover, they’re planar magnetic drivers, which is supposed to translate into greater clarity and less distortion over standard ‘dynamic’ drivers  (you can read a longer explanation of the tech here).

Most of the headphones remain outside of you ear, with the included earhooks keeping them in place. Despite their size, they’re deceptively light. I found them completely comfortable in about half an hour of listening, though you’re mileage may vary.

To keep the headphones light and the drivers properly vented, the iSine 10 forgo anything like a traditional in-ear headphone design for a webbed pattern seemingly designed by peter parker. I thought they press images looked pretty ridiculous, but they definitely look much better while worn in person.

Back to the sound: they best way to describe them is that they sound like something in between a high quality headphone and IEM. The iSine 10 have that clarity and intimacy you expect from good IEMs, but seemed to be able to throw sound as far out as smaller headphones that sit outside the ear.

They have that typical easy-to-listen-to Audeze frequency response with refined, but impactful bass. There was ample of treble presence – perhaps bordering on sibilant for some, but mostly just bright with good sparkle.

On the other hand, bass had some of the most ‘kick’ I’ve heard from IEMs, perhaps because of a combination of driver size and venting. The kick drums in Paramore’s Ain’t it Fun were realistically assertive, and true to Audeze’s claims, I didn’t notice any distortion even at the highest volumes.

They were easy to drive out of the LGV20 I’m in the process of reviewing, as well as out of the lightning cable I tried it with, although I couldn’t tell a difference in the time I spent trying. Perhaps it would be more apparent with a less audiophile-oriented phone (I noticed a difference when reviewing the on-ear Audeze Sine).

Though my time listening to them was short, I came away impressed. That’s not always easy for expensive audio products, which you often need to spend several hours or days listening to before you can really acclimate to them and appreciate their sound, but the iSine’s technology is so different from anything out there that the benefits become pretty obvious.

When much of the world is focusing on wireless audio and software-based enhancements, it’s nice to see you can still innovate with sheer sound quality too. Stay tuned for a full review when we get final units.

Audeze’s terrifying iSine 10 headphones sound terrific - If aliens had headphones, they'd probably look and sound like this
Vlad Savov@vladsavov

SUMMARY: I was able to run through my usual set of test tracks on Tidal, checking out the realism of vocals, acoustic instruments, and some good old bass-pumping EDM. The bass was brutal when it needed to be, and the voices came through sounding natural and real.

EXTENDED REVIEW: I’m ready to crown this the best IFA of this decade. In a show already highlighted by Lenovo’s Yoga Book, Acer’s ultraslim notebook, and LG’s enchanting tunnel of OLED, there’s somehow still room to fit in an astounding pair of headphones as well.

Audeze, the boutique audiophile brand responsible for some of the best planar magnetic headphones in the world, has done what many might have thought impossible and shrunken its technology to fit into an in-ear design. The result is the imposing, alien-looking thing you see before you: the Audeze iSine 10. It’s basically a 30mm planar magnetic headphone with a funnel to channel its sound into your ear.

As much as I’ve enjoyed Audeze’s high-end over-the-ear offerings over the years, I was skeptical about the wisdom of the in-ear iSine — but then I was quickly dissuaded by listening to the new headphones. The iSine 10 sound phenomenal, even inside the noisy IFA hall dedicated to audio equipment. Their soundstage is broad, their imaging’s precise, and their range extension, from deep sub-bass to high end treble, is outstanding. Overcoming the din around me, these headphones got loud using only the power of my Galaxy Note 7.

DON'T BE DAUNTED BY THE SIZE AND TECH, THE ISINES CAN BE POWERED BY A PHONE EASILY

Audeze sells the iSine with two cables in the box: one terminating on a regular 3.5mm jack and the other plugging into Apple’s Lightning port and also incorporating Audeze’s Cipher digital-to-analog converter and amplifier. Both the Cipher-amped iSine 10 and the pair plugging into my Note sounded terrific. I can already say, with a high degree of confidence, that Audeze has justified its oversized, outlandish design with extremely high sound quality. The $399 price point is a highly competitive spot for entry-level audiophile gear, and Audeze has asserted its credentials very nicely. But the company’s ambitions are grander than that still — Audeze tells me it’s a little worried that it underpriced the iSines, fearing that audiophiles wouldn’t take them seriously as a competitor to the very best in-ear headphones in the world.

Beside the iPhone-friendly version, Audeze will offer alternative options of the iSine 10 with specific cables for connecting to an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive. Both of those will cost the same as the iOS variant, so it’s really a matter of what you favor most. There will also be an iSine 20, with a longer voice coil and a touch of extra resolution.

THE SOUND IS TYPICAL AUDEZE: CLEAN, BALANCED, DYNAMIC, AND EXCITING

The iSine aren’t without any compromises, of course. For one thing, they offer precious little noise isolation. The 3D-printed prototype I tested today had glorious sound, but offered mediocre fit. Not uncomfortable, just awkward to wear. Audeze offers Comply foam tips along with the usual silicone options, but the company admits that even in the best case scenario, you’ll hear plenty of exterior noise. On the other hand, these headphones don’t leak out much of your music at all.

In my 10-minute listen of the Sine, I was able to run through my usual set of test tracks on Tidal, checking out the realism of vocals, acoustic instruments, and some good old bass-pumping EDM. The bass was brutal when it needed to be, and the voices came through sounding natural and real. IFA is obviously a suboptimal testing environment, but the quality of the iSine feels just as obvious from even a brief listen.

The iSine 10 and iSine 20 will be available from the end of October, with their final design opting for a matte black finish rather than the present glossy look. On the evidence of my first time with them, these are going to be another win for Audeze, looking and sounding like a truly unique pair of headphones.

iSINE-20 is BRILLIANT and EMOTIONALLY ENGAGING
Vlad Savov

GOOD STUFF:

  • Unparalleled purity of sound for the price
  • Light yet durable construction
  • iPhone-friendly Lightning cable option

VERGE RATING 9.3/10

It’s not often that you see a new pair of headphones that upsets the basic taxonomy of personal audio gear, but Audeze’s new iSine series is precisely that. The iSINE 20 that I’m reviewing today are ostensibly in-ear headphones, but they also use planar magnetic technology from over-ear cans, and they’re roughly the size of on-ear models. So they’re the ultimate hybrid, and their alien appearance certainly speaks to their uniqueness. What has me really excited about the iSines, however, is that they don’t just look out of this world, they sound like it, too.

Let’s get the basics out of the way first: the iSine 20s cost $549 with a regular detachable cable or $599 with an additional Cipher cable that provides a Lightning connection for iOS devices and a built-in 24-bit DAC and amplifier. My review is based on the experience of listening to them without the extra Lightning jazz, because that’s the fairest way to judge the performance of the headphones themselves.

The process of getting set up with the iSines is... well, it’s a process. You have to discard all your usual expectations of easily portable in-ear headphones, because that’s not what these are. The vast protrusions emerging from the iSines house a 30mm (1.2-inch) planar magnetic diaphragm, which is basically an ultra-thin sheet that dances back and forth, generating sound waves that are then funneled into your ear. There’s no getting around the bulk of such a large sound driver, and Audeze hasn’t really figured out a design that makes the iSines easy to strap to the sides of your face.

In the box, you get three sets of almost identically sized silicone tips, one shirt clip, a cleaning tool, and a 128MB USB drive with the iSine user guide. Two sets of over-ear hooks are provided, but I find myself most comfortable with the alternative plastic inserts that fit inside the ear cavity to stabilise each headphone. The over-ear stuff eventually makes my ears hurt, whereas using the headphones without anything holding them in place is an unstable proposition that leads to them falling out of my ears. With the plastic stabilisers, the iSine 20s rest lightly and easily inside the ear, and they can be worn for hours at a time, provided you don’t need to move around too much.

To minimize unwanted resonance resulting from reflections within the housing, the exterior of the iSines is semi-open — meaning they don’t insulate you from exterior noise very well and they leak some of their own sound out. Audeze provides a nice and rugged nylon case for these, but it’s quite bulky and doesn’t provide the same sort of impact or water ingress protection that a hard shell case would have done. Without the Cipher cable, you also don’t get an in-line mic.

Basically, every practical advantage of in-ear headphones is missing from these in-ear headphones. So why bother?

The answer is easy: these are endgame headphones. Every audiophile will tell you that headphones are a deep and dark rabbit hole — one where every step is an accelerating descent into a mad obsession with minimizing distortion, perfecting frequency response, and realizing the most faithful sound possible. What if you could sidestep all of that? Skip the struggle, expense, and time investment of learning all about audio and just buy the headphones that you know have nailed it. I could offer you some examples that guarantee that, like the Focal Utopia, but they weigh about as much as a modern laptop and cost several times more.

The Audeze iSine 20 are expensive and unwieldy by the standards of in-ear headphones, but they’re exactly the opposite when judged against other, truly high-fidelity headphones. If you want soundstage — the sensation of music and sound surrounding you; the feeling of distance, depth, and separation between the various instruments and sound sources — the iSines have it in abundance. They’re capable of incredible subtlety, projecting sounds so quiet and far away as to make me question where they were coming from. And these headphones are just as spectacular at high volume levels, where every note is full, convincing, and distortion-free. As far as human (or at least my) hearing is concerned, Audeze’s claim of "zero distortion" with the iSine 20 is a fully legitimate one. Their sound is faultless.

There are many technically impressive headphones out there that are guilty of sounding, frankly, boring. The Oppo PM3s, which also use planar magnetic tech like the iSines, are the perfect example of that. These are better. Audeze’s own on-ear Sines and over-ear EL-8s are also surpassed, in my judgment, by their weird-looking younger sibling: the 20s are that extra bit purer and more realistic, and their bass feels fuller, warmer, and more satisfying that the EL-8s can produce.

Good headphones are full of contradictions: the moment you expand the soundstage, you reduce the intimacy of a performance; when you add an extra kick of bass to bring dynamism in, vocals are pushed back; and amped-up treble frequencies give you the greatest sense of detail and airiness, but are also the most fatiguing to listen to. Audeze’s newest headphones balance all those spinning plates in a way that pleases both the critical listener and the casual music lover in me. They vastly outperform their price tag, high as it might be, and that’s what makes me willing to look past their impracticality.

If you want deep subterranean bass for artists like Aphex Twin or Feed Me, the iSines have it. 

Steve Reich’s orchestral and instrumental works also sound amazing. 

Rage Against the Machine’s eponymous album is revealed in all its detail and splendour. 

And genre-defying musicians like Björk finally have a pair of headphones that’s just as comfortable straddling a wide variety of styles.

Recall the scene in The MATRIX where Cypher cuts into a fine steak, masticates thoughtfully, and decides to betray "all of the humanity" for what he knows is the synthetic illusion of a "juicy and delicious" meal. Headphones are kind of like that: most of them are like video game recreations of a musical performance, while the best among them approach a Matrix-like realism that's beguiling and enchanting. I think the iSine 20s are in the latter category.

These are not the headphones for every person or every occasion. But listening to them is, in itself, an occasion of the sort that everyone can appreciate.

For those on a smaller budget, Audeze also has the cheaper/smaller iSINE10, which aren't quite as life-altering as the 20s, but still deliver an expansive and satisfying sound that is light years ahead of most things you can plug into your ears. At CES this year, Audeze also introduced the iSINE-VR, which is the 10, but with cabling specifically tailored for virtual reality headsets.

…….Vlad Savov / The Verge

......these are going to be another win for Audeze, looking and sounding like a truly unique pair of headphones.
Vlad Savov

SUMMARY: In my time listening to the Sine, I was able to run through my usual set of test tracks on Tidal, checking out the realism of vocals, acoustic instruments, and some good old bass-pumping EDM. The bass was brutal when it needed to be, and the voices came through sounding natural and real. 

EXTENDE REVIEW: I’m ready to crown this the best IFA of this decade. In a show already highlighted by Lenovo’s Yoga Book, Acer’s ultra slim notebook, and LG’s enchanting tunnel of OLED, there’s somehow still room to fit in an astounding pair of headphones as well.

Audeze, the boutique audiophile brand responsible for some of the best planar magnetic headphones in the world, has done what many might have thought impossible and shrunken its technology to fit into an in-ear design. The result is the imposing, alien-looking thing you see before you: the Audeze iSine 10. It’s basically a 30mm planar magnetic headphone with a funnel to channel its sound into your ear.

As much as I’ve enjoyed Audeze’s high-end over-the-ear offerings over the years, I was skeptical about the wisdom of the in-ear iSine — but then I was quickly dissuaded by listening to the new headphones. The iSine 10 sound phenomenal, even inside the noisy IFA hall dedicated to audio equipment. Their soundstage is broad, their imaging’s precise, and their range extension, from deep sub-bass to high end treble, is outstanding. Overcoming the din around me, these headphones got loud using only the power of my Galaxy Note 7.

DON'T BE DAUNTED BY THE SIZE AND TECH, THE ISINES CAN BE POWERED BY A PHONE EASILY

Audeze sells the iSine with two cables in the box: one terminating on a regular 3.5mm jack and the other plugging into Apple’s Lightning port and also incorporating Audeze’s Cipher digital-to-analog converter and amplifier. Both the Cipher-amped iSine 10 and the pair plugging into my Note sounded terrific. I can already say, with a high degree of confidence, that Audeze has justified its oversized, outlandish design with extremely high sound quality. The $399 price point is a highly competitive spot for entry-level audiophile gear, and Audeze has asserted its credentials very nicely. But the company’s ambitions are grander than that still — Audeze tells me it’s a little worried that it underpriced the iSines, fearing that audiophiles wouldn’t take them seriously as a competitor to the very best in-ear headphones in the world.

Beside the iPhone-friendly version, Audeze will offer alternative options of the iSine 10 with specific cables for connecting to an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive. Both of those will cost the same as the iOS variant, so it’s really a matter of what you favour most. There will also be an iSine 20, with a longer voice coil and a touch of extra resolution.

THE SOUND IS TYPICAL AUDEZE: CLEAN, BALANCED, DYNAMIC, AND EXCITING

The iSine aren’t without any compromises, of course. For one thing, they offer precious little noise isolation. The 3D-printed prototype I tested today had glorious sound, but offered mediocre fit. Not uncomfortable, just awkward to wear. Audeze offers Comply foam tips along with the usual silicone options, but the company admits that even in the best case scenario, you’ll hear plenty of exterior noise. On the other hand, these headphones don’t leak out much of your music at all.

In my time listening to the Sine, I was able to run through my usual set of test tracks on Tidal, checking out the realism of vocals, acoustic instruments, and some good old bass-pumping EDM. The bass was brutal when it needed to be, and the voices came through sounding natural and real. IFA is obviously a suboptimal testing environment, but the quality of the iSine feels just as obvious from even a brief listen.

The iSine 10 and iSine 20 will be available from the end of October 2016, with their final design opting for a matte black finish rather than the present glossy look. On the evidence of my first time with them, these are going to be another win for Audeze, looking and sounding like a truly unique pair of headphones.

So what’s so special about the iSine 10’s? Well, they’re planar-magnetic — and in-ears. In fact, the iSine line is the world’s first planar magnetic in-ear headphone. But are they worth it? Yes, they are.
CHRISTIAN DE LOOPER

Conclusions - the Audeze iSine 10’s are a home run for Audeze — but they’re not for everyone. We like how they look given the fact that they need to be as big as they are, and they’re generally comfortable despite their size. Not only that, but they sound great despite a few frequency bumps along the way.
While the Audeze iSine 10’s unique approach makes them difficult to review, as there’s no other planar magnetic in-ears to compare them to, Audeze is innovating and that’s an important consideration. Do you need these? Probably not. But those looking

EXTENDED REVIEW: Every now and then a company comes out with a “world first,” which is getting a little rare in the headphone world these days — companies seem to be innovating with the tech that’s already there rather than by inventing all new tech. Audeze, however, has gone a different route. Introducing the Audeze iSine 10 in-ear headphones.

So what’s so special about the iSine 10’s? Well, they’re planar-magnetic — and in-ears. In fact, the iSine line is the world’s first planar magnetic in-ear headphone. But are they worth it? Yes, they are.

Design

The first thing to notice about these headphones is their design, and boy is it an interesting one. The “world first” label is complimented by an alien design that does away with conventional in-ear designs that we’ve seen over the years. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — just a different thing.

Of course, there’s a reason they have the design that they do. Because of the way planar magnetic headphones work, shrinking down the technology into super-thin 30mm drivers is already a feat of engineering, and as such, considering the fact that they need to be at least slightly large, these in-ears actually look pretty good. They boast an all-black look with a cover that looks kind of reminiscent of Spiderman.

You can kind of tell that the larger outside basically just funnels sound into something that fits inside of your ear, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing — the funnel design fits with the rest of the in-ear pretty well.

In the box, you’ll get the in-ears themselves, a carry case, two detachable cables (one 3.5mm cable and one Lightning cable), a few different earhook styles, and a few different eartips. You’ll also get a sleek-looking USB that contains the user manual — a very high tech way to deliver the manual.

The whole package is put together beautifully, and it’s clear that the people at Audeze want the iSine 10’s to be a seamless experience from start to finish. The box is nicely packaged, everything is easy to understand, and the case is clearly of the highest quality — although it’s not a hard case, so don’t put too much weight on it with your precious headphones inside.

In general, while we would have liked a somewhat smaller in-ear, technological limitations mean that we won’t get it yet, but knowing that the Audeze iSine 10’s look absolutely awesome.

Comfort

You might assume that the Audeze iSine 10’s are a little uncomfortable because of their size, but they’re a lot more comfortable than many other in-ears we’ve tried.

First up, it’s true that the headphones are a little heavy for in-ears, but that’s to be expected. You’ll definitely want to use the ear hooks with the iSine 10’s — otherwise you’ll most likely face them falling out regularly.

When it comes to fit, the eartips actually aren’t that bad. They’re certainly big, which can get slightly uncomfortable after long periods of listening time, but not abnormally so, and not much more than other in-ear headphones.

Sound

Ah, the all-important sound — something that can make or break a pair of headphones.

First up, the Audeze iSine 10’s are open-back, meaning that they let plenty of outside sound in and let plenty of what you’re listening to out. Now, we’re a little torn on this. The open design certainly helps improve the sound quite a bit, but the point of in-ears and earbuds is portability — to take out on the road. You definitely don’t want to be hearing the sound of the bus on your way to work. If you’re buying headphones for home use, then you may as well buy the full-sized Audeze Sine headphones, which we reviewed and absolutely loved.

In any case, the fact is that the Audeze iSine 10’s are open-back, which is something to keep in mind.

The bass on the Audeze iSine 10’s is pretty solid, though we felt there was some super low bass lacking — which could be owed to their smaller size. Most will be happy with the bass offering despite that, but those who like really boosted bass might want to look elsewhere — these are a little more natural sounding.

Audeze iSine 10 Lightning

When it comes to the mids, it seems like there’s a slight boost in the lower mids, which gives the Audeze iSine 10’s a bit of warmth — which is kind of nice. The higher mids seem to have taken a slight hit because of the lower mids boost, but there are still plenty of high mids to go around.

Last but not least are the highs, and there are a good amount of highs here too. Like the bass, it seems as though there’s a slight roll off when we get into the really high frequencies, but most won’t notice that — vocals are still nice and clean while guitars still have plenty of bite.

Frequency ranges are important, but on the Audeze iSine 10’s it’s almost as if they aren’t. The first time we put them on was a weird experience — they sound like over-ear headphones. They sound wide, and open — which is likely owed to the open-back design. It’s an interesting feeling, and while we do have a bit of a hard time finding a use case for the iSine 10’s, we love that the tech makes something like this possible — and it’s exciting to think about the future of planar magnetic headphones.

Conclusions

The Audeze iSine 10’s are a home run for Audeze — but they’re not for everyone. We like how they look given the fact that they need to be as big as they are, and they’re generally comfortable despite their size. Not only that, but they sound great despite a few frequency bumps along the way.

While the Audeze iSine 10’s unique approach makes them difficult to review, as there’s no other planar magnetic in-ears to compare them to, Audeze is innovating and that’s an important consideration. Do you need these? Probably not. But those looking for a great-sounding and portable in-ear with an open design will love them.

After I installed The King, I began re-auditioning all of my headphones—beginning with four LCD models from Audeze.
Herb Reichert

SUMMARY: The King hides its royal title behind a clean, sober, workmanlike audio presentation. Which is good: that mute-spectator neutrality let it get out of the way of a wide range of headphones—and a wide range of musicians just trying to be themselves. It let cowboys sing ballads, Rasta fellas be 2 Tone rudies, cocktail crooners be faux seductive, and jazz guys with crocheted hats be serious hipster dudes. Peasant amps bowed down in the presence of The King, village folk called it "Your Majesty"—but to me, that sounds too patriarchal. I think we should call it The Monarch: The King played music with the authority of an absolute ruler

EXTENDE REVIEW: My passion for listening to music through headphones is fueled by the enhanced sense of intimacy and extra feeling of connectedness I experience in rediscovering recordings I already love. You know the old audiophile cliché: It's like hearing my record collection for the first time. High-quality headphones provide a sharper-than-box-speaker lens that lets me experience lyrics, melodies, and instrumental textures more close-up and magnified.

With headphones, I'm pretty much forced to listen—and that's a powerful thing. I never paid attention to lyrics: I thought lyrics were for girls. Now, with headphones, almost all I hear are the lyrics. I'm embarrassed that it's taken me this long to overcome my misplaced sexism, validate my anima, and embrace this essential aspect of musical content.

Note that I said lyrics, not words. I said lyrics because high-quality headphones put me close not only to the recorded sound of a singer's voice, but to the presence of that singer and his or her lyric-writing intentions. With headphones, the space between microphone and singer feels tangible: a mutually shared space. And that lets me feel closer not only to the singer's mouth, but to the long-gone pieces of paper the composer wrote the lyrics on.

Loudspeakers allow me go to the bathroom, check e-mail, and shift in and out of focus. In contrast, headphones literally hold my head and tether my body to the amplifier. Consequently, they keep my consciousness glued to the song and aware of its vibrating musical elements. Good 'phones do pace, rhythm, and timing (PRaT) easily and naturally, like a puppy chasing a tennis ball. They do texture, weight, and body (TWaB?) better than any coughing, tubercular minimonitor. Headphones pressurize the ears directly and continuously and with full force; a loudspeaker's energy diminishes exponentially as it travels from the cone to our ears. Headphones compel the mind and conduct music through the bones of the skull.

Audeze The King headphone amplifier
Stereophile's editor-in-chief, John Atkinson, politely asked, "Herb, how would you feel about reviewing Audeze's The King headphone amplifier?" I gave voice to my spiritual mantra: "Hell yes!"  "You should use the Audeze LCD-4 headphones I just reviewed."

Have you ever seen a dog's face when he sees you pull a cocktail wiener from your pocket? That's how my mug looked when John said "LCD-4." I'd already tried these highly regarded 'phones a few times, but my reactions had been inconclusive. I was anxious to listen to them more intensely in my bunker, with my own music. How would the Audeze LCD-4s ($3995) compare with my reference LCD-Xes ($1695)—or with Focal's Utopia References ($3995), which I'd raved about in the October 2016 "Gramophone Dreams"?

Audeze's The King is named for its designer, Bascom H. King, high-end audio's never-aging, top-gun engineer, who has recently designed amplifiers for Constellation and PS Audio. A standalone headphone amplifier that can output 6W into 20 ohms, The King is moderately large (11.8" by 4.3" by 12.8") and heavy (19.8 lbs), but looks light and streamlined. Its circuit is a hybrid, using ECC88/6DJ8 dual-triode tubes for the input and MOSFETs for the output. Its output impedance is 0.3 ohm, its input impedance 10k ohms. The 5/8"-thick front panel features dual parallel ¼" output jacks and corresponding rows of flashing green power-meter lights that indicate, in dB, the sound pressure level of the specific headphones for which the user calibrates the output. (Just below the flashing lights, my review sample's display said: Calibrated for LCD-4.) On the rear panel are only an IEC inlet for the power cord and pairs of XLR and RCA jacks to accommodate The King's single, unbalanced analog input. The King's substantial machined-aluminum case sits on sturdy shock-absorbing feet.

By Candlelight:
Frequently, on my weekend dates, the romantic mood begins when I play one of my newly discovered "special" recordings for my partner, bb. She always listens with focused intensity, but, to my disappointment, never notices anything special about the sound of my ever-changing reference system.

After years of this, I played for her, through headphones, a recent album produced by David Chesky: Macy Gray's Stripped (LP, Chesky JD389). bb owns every Macy Gray CD, and was stunned by what this simple binaural recording and some good headphones were doing for her experience of Gray's music: "This sounds so real and unproduced. She is so close! . . . I can feel her connection with the band."

"Listen! Can you hear her following the lead of her guitar player?"

Slowly nodding her head and speaking a little too loudly, bb declared, "Now I get it! " She removed the headphones. "I understand now why that audio stuff you write about is so important. I have never experienced music this intimately!"

Later, bb and I zoned out together on the bed, listening again to Gray sing "Annabelle" through his-and-hers Audezes: respectively, the LCD-4s and LCD-Xes. Watching bb absorb satisfying, soulful Gray, I was reminded of the direct, intimate, dream-enhancing power of music—and of headphone amps with two front-panel output jacks. I also became aware of how radically different in sensitivity these two models are. When I set the volume to bb's preference with the LCD-Xes, I could barely hear Macy Gray through the LCD-4s.

The King hides its royal title behind a clean, sober, workmanlike audio presentation. Which is good: that mute-spectator neutrality let it get out of the way of a wide range of headphones—and a wide range of musicians just trying to be themselves. It let cowboys sing ballads, Rasta fellas be 2 Tone rudies, cocktail crooners be faux seductive, and jazz guys with crocheted hats be serious hipster dudes. Peasant amps bowed down in the presence of The King, village folk called it "Your Majesty"—but to me, that sounds too patriarchal. I think we should call it The Monarch: The King played music with the authority of an absolute ruler.

After I installed The King, I began re-auditioning all of my headphones—beginning with four LCD models from Audeze.

RMAF 2015: Audeze reaching for the King
Scot Hull

SUMMARY: I was treated to a big (as in deep + wide) soundstage, with linear and textured bass (as opposed to thick, one-note offerings) that was in the running for the very best-in-class. Driving the cans was the announced and soon-to-be-available fancy-face The King headphone amplifier, designed by prodigy Bascom King.

EXTENDED REVIEW: t was a couple of years back, at this point, but that distance is making me feel all prophetic. Back then, I made the point (among others) that the personal audio segment was about to undergo something of a transformation. The idea is pretty simple, but not terribly kind. I saw a pivot, brought on by Beats, and I wasn’t the only one in hi-fi to see it. Personal audio was about to get assaulted by quality.

Now, this isn’t to say that the personal audio, or more properly, the headphone market (including the amps and other bits that feed them) was in some way deficient, but it was … ripe. A decade or more of big companies getting increasingly shoved aside in favor of upstarts that brought quality, innovation, and passion meant that the enthusiasts were pushing the envelopes. Perhaps unfortunately, that envelope was underdeveloped. Sound quality, as good as it was, was pretty mediocre. At best. At least, mediocre when compared to its much older and much more developed (even if it was, at the time of the Beats acquisition by Apple, much smaller) cousin, hi-fi. So, when I speculated that the hi-fi entrepreneur had a lot of room to pillage explore in matters head-fi, it was only to say that there was opportunity. For finesse. For subtlety. For the true artist working in glass and steel and wood.

Fast forward a few years. We have amplifiers marching toward $10k. Portable audio players that are tipping toward $4k. And headphones that are sliding past $5k. Regrettable, those prices. But that’s where personal audio is heading (and way past those markers, for sure). Why? Because there’s still a lot to do. That can be done. Personal audio is still way behind “traditional” two-channel hi-fi.

But now Audeze is making a move.

About 18 months or so ago, I got a clue that Audeze was going down-market. That their next offering, what was to become the EL8, would be their first serious foray into the sub-$1k market. And now, this year, with their new flagship, the LCD-4 ($3,995), Audeze is going in the other direction. Up. Waaaay up.

Audeze is killing it.

Now, a US$4k headphone is crazy-expensive, but it slots in right comfortably between offerings from HiFiMAN and Abyss. The fit-and-finish is the best-ever from Audeze, and the new tech — a super-fine/nano-scale membrane and massive 1.5 tesla magnets — read like missive from a tech-sheet dream world. 100Ω means a tube-friendly load. Those magnets mean speed. That membrane means detail. That finish means PUT-IT-ON-MY-HEAD.

So, at CanJam, I did.

I was treated to a big (as in deep + wide) soundstage, with linear and textured bass (as opposed to thick, one-note offerings) that was in the running for the very best-in-class. Driving the cans was the announced and soon-to-be-available fancy-face The King headphone amplifier, designed by prodigy Bascom King.

The King’s circuitry is very different from the typical complementary output topology; it uses the same polarity N-channel MOSFET outputs as these are more alike and complementary than N- and P-channel MOSFETs. Just before the output stage is a two-stage differential amplifier using a dual-triode tube for the input stage followed by a P-channel MOSFET differential driver stage. The driver stage supplies complementary drive to the N-channel output devices. Overall negative feedback is taken back to the input stage to include the input triode in the feedback loop. The circuit is DC-coupled from input to output and a servo control circuit keeps the output DC offset to within millivolts of zero. The overall symmetry of the circuitry eliminates most even-order harmonic distortion. The result is a low impedance, low distortion, wide frequency response output with immense musical transparency, a real emotional experience.

The amplifier is rated to 6 watts, which should be more than enough to drive everything currently on the market.

AUDEZE LCD4 = 5 STARS - Sound Quality - 100%
Michael Lang

SUMMARY: Extremely fine resolution without ever becoming over-analytical. Clean bass even at high volumes. Despite their weight they are comfortable to wear.

EQUIPMENT: The top model LCD-4 of the American producer Audeze looks like it is inspired by the oddball inventor of the „flux capacitor“ in „Back to the Future“ and the Croatian physicist. And its price by Tiffany´s ...

EXTENDED REVIEW: The Audeze LCD-4, the American headphone manufacturer’s top model, looks kike a joint venture between the oddball inventor of the flux capacitor in “Back to the Future” and Serbian America physicist Nikola Tesla. Its price, meanwhile, is pure Cartier… 

The price barrier for headphones was completely demolished when Sennheiser launched its near-€ 50,000 Orpheus, beside which the € 5,000 demanded for the Audeze LCD-4 is not really that shocking. Audeze (pronounced as though written by Homer) was founded in 2008 by Sankar Thiagasamudram and Alexander Rosson, along with busy NASA developer Pete Uka. Swiftly reinforced with the addition of Dagoslav Colich as technical director, the company was soon gaining international recognition with its series of remarkable headphones.

The LCD-4 is designed to invade the territory of the recent HE 1000 by Hifiman and the large Stax ’phones, and even the first encounter demands respect: the 680g weight demonstrates the solidity of the workmanship. Is it elegant? Well, that’s a matter of opinion, but to these eyes it’s spoiled by the numerous screws holding together the components. Functional chic, perhaps? 

Audeze has developed a number of technical ideas to make the headphones “loud” and dynamic, not least of which is a possible record 1.5 Tesla of magnetic flux, achieved by a patented arrangement of magnets dubbed “dual fluxor”. The energy may not be quite enough to facilitate time travel à la Doc Brown, but Mr. Tesla, who gave his name to the standard unit of magnetic flux density, would presumably approve. A lot of work was also put into the headband in order to create something innovative, using a carbon band above the leather to combine the required ‘clamping force’ with comfort. 

In addition, the open, circumaural earpieces contain extremely thin planar magnetic driver membranes, designed to set new standards for resolution and impulse accuracy as well as outstanding soundstage representation. As in the EL-8 model, this top model also uses ‘fazor’ technology, involving acoustical elements on both sides of the magnets: these have a positive impact on the frequency response as well as the high range resolution while at the same time reducing distortion and, according to the designers, delivering that improved spatial reproduction (a traditional weakness of headphones). It’s all about complement the positive characteristics of the ultra light membranes, drive right across their surface, and the strong neodymium-magnet ‘motors’. 

The massive, asymmetrical ear cushions are very pleasant to wear but, as usual, you have to look for a second to find which is the left and which the right side. The labels are very subtly hidden on the inside of the headband in matte engraved print, to the point that – as with most of its competitors – the chances of finding the channels in the dark tend towards zero (though that asymmetry helps!). 

Plus points include the high-quality plug-in cables included in the set, each about 2m long and offering a choice of stereo jacks or XLR format , and stored along with the headphones in a practical, cushioned plastic travel case. 

It’s good news that these technical fireworks are completely made in the USA and not some discount country: while we don’t feel this justifies its astronomical price, it at least helps us understand a little bit when comparing it to the pricing of its competitors. 

In terms of sound, things got off to a strong start: the power with which the LCD-4 blasted sounds by Leontyne Price, Jan Garbarek, or Monty Alexander into the ears of the listener felt matchless. While these 100 Ohm headphones were a bit quieter than the Hifiman 1000, when used with the Malvalve reference headphone amp they were able to depict dynamic subtleties we’d never heard before. The bass was clean and detailed, although unable to distinguish itself from that of our reference headphones even after a few days of break-in. 

It was interesting how the Audeze spatial reproduction: the sound wasn’t quite as clearly ordered as it would be with good speakers, but it did separate quite astonishingly from the confines of the earpieces and project itself into a wide and cleanly encircled space, sounding clearly less diffuse than with our other reference headphones. In terms of sound, Garbarek’s saxophones, especially the soprano on “All that is beautiful” (how true!), had a touch more presence than usual, but this was without distortion or harshness. 

These are headphones delivering a thrilling musical experience, meaning you’ll want to keep on listening: it’s fortunate, then, that they’re comfortable to wear over extended periods – despite their not inconsiderable weight. 
……..Michael Lang

Videos

Brent Burge visits the Audeze Headquarters

Respected sound professionals all saying they love Audeze LCD’s