The Audeze LCD3's are not your normal headphones. In design, build, and performance, they're the epitome of high-end.
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.
If you’re questioning that one headphone could sound better than another, regardless of price, check out the Are Expensive Headphones Worth It? article.
What makes the LCD3s so different, besides their $1,995 price tag, is how they create sound. Traditional over-ear headphones use a tiny driver that looks, and functions, almost exactly like regular speakers. It’s a cone-shaped device that moves back and forth to create soundwaves.
The LCD3s use “planar magnetic” drivers. As Audeze describes it: “Planar Magnetic speakers use a flat, lightweight diaphragm suspended in a magnetic field as the driver rather than a cone attached to a voice coil. The diaphragm has a circuit pattern etched into it that, when energized, creates the forces that drive the diaphragm to move in the magnetic field to produce sound.” They have a video that shows how they work:
The promise of planar magnetic designs is a faster response time (among other things), which could mean more realistic sound.
And yep, they hold true on that promise. The word that comes to mind as I listen to the LCD3s is “realism.” Compared to most headphones, the LCD3s seem like they’ve taken a layer of film off the music. They’re not brighter then other headphones, specifically, or even more detailed (which would imply an overbalance of high frequencies). Full-size planar magnetic speakers have this same quality, and I figure it’s because of the speed at which the drivers react. Percussion hits, like the crack of a snare drum, are quick in real life and fade rapidly. Through the LCD3s these attacks just seem a little more lifelike in that speed and decay.
(See also: Are Dr. Dre beats worth it?)
One of my favorite demo tracks is Paco de Lucia’s “La Barrosa” from his Live in América album. This is a great test of speakers and headphones because the attack on the strings is nothing compared to the attack on his guitar, used as it is like a percussion instrument.
The LCD3s deliver these hits as staccato as they should be, with no artificial haze or smear. It’s less like an artificial device on your head making sound, and more just music entering your ears.
Up next was “Bad Year” by Just Off Turner, which has a brilliant blend of keyboards, guitars, bass, drums, and Bryan Mounce’s vocals.
There’s an openness to the mix through the LCD3s. When everything reaches a peak towards the end of the song, you can still identify every instrument, and localize it across a wide soundstage that seems to extend slightly wider than your ears.
While all that is impressive, what I love about Audeze’s is the bass. This I wasn’t expecting. There’s good bass and then there’s bad bass. These have good bass. It’s a very warm, full sound, that doesn’t overwhelm. There’s a tight accuracy to it: A bass drum sounds like a bass drum, a tuba sounds like a tuba. It’s not just a wall of low frequency energy like on many headphones.
My favorite album so far this year is Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. Track 3, “Giorgio by Moroder” stars with about 2 minutes of spoken word (by Giorgio himself), then really gets going in typical Daft Punk style.
On the LCD3s, the bass beat was deep and powerful, but doesn’t get in the way of the synths and other instruments. It’s plentiful, but remains well balanced with the mids and highs. It’s like a high powered, perfectly set up subwoofer that blends with the rest of the speaker system (but on your head).
Other than the price? Well, their size and open-back design makes them an unlikely choice for listening on the go. These are definitely an office/home headphone. Though, they are cool looking, so maybe I’m wrong on that count.
That size can be an issue in another way, too. I have a pretty big noggin, so I didn’t have an issue, but if you have a smaller cranium, these might look like you’ve strapped Frisbees to your face.
While I love the bass and midrange, I’m less enamored with the treble. I don’t dislike it by any stretch, it’s just that while the bass and midrange are some of the best I’ve heard, the treble is “just” good. Largely this is due to a slight kick in the upper midrange/lower treble range. For example on certain tracks, the high-hat gets a little more push than I typically like. Is it a lot? No. Is it a dealbreaker? Not really. Was it enough to mention it? Apparently.
The last issue is weight. They’re not light, at 548g (19.33 oz). For comparison, the excellent PSB M4U1 headphones are 340g (12 oz). Nineteen ounces may not seem like a lot, but remember, it’s on your head.
Are these negatives offset by the overall fidelity? That’s a subjective judgment I leave to you. I envision the average LCD3 listener sitting back and relaxing in a comfy chair to enjoy some music. In this case, the weight and size aren’t much of an issue.
Who else likes them?
A cheaper option?
Audeze also makes the LCD2, which is half the price. Tyll Hertsens reviewed them back-to-back (ear-to-ear?) and found, “Audiophilia is a game of barely audible inches, and the LCD3 is a clearly audible foot or two ahead of the LCD-2.” But he continues, “However! If you’re not one of those kinds of folks who can play willie-nillie in the rarefied air of mega-buck audio purchases, and find yourself stretching to afford the LCD2, worry not, they’re a great headphone as well. If there were no such thing as an LCD3, I’d still be touting the LCD2 as a world class headphone and the one I would prefer to enjoy my music over all others.”
So if you have the money to spend, the LCD3 is a little better, but the LCD2 is quite fantastic in its own right.
In the world of headphones, price usually has very little correlation with sound quality. I’ve heard $90 headphones that sounded better than $300 headphones, and $180 headphones that sounded better than $500 headphones.
But there are some cases where spending more does get you more, and these are an example of that. Of course, just by their price (and open-back nature), the Audeze LCD3s aren’t for everyone. For the discerning listener, though, that wants the best sound possible from headphones, it’s hard to beat these. I’m pretty hard to impress, especially when it comes to headphones, and these impressed me. They’re that good.
I’ll finish with this. When the LCD3s first arrived, I plugged them in to make sure they survived the shipping. I ended up lying down right there on the floor and listening to music for over an hour. I can’t remember the last audio product that elicited that kind of reaction.
* According to Audeze.com, the headphones are on backorder with an estimated waiting time for up to two months.
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