Headphones. They’re the enemy, right, because they’re helping take music out of people’s homes and into their cell phones? Until Beats came along, they were disposable. Now they’re more about fashion than sound, and that sound is almost all muddy one-note bass. Am I right?
Audeze’s LCD2 headphones include a number of accessories, such as leather-free earpads, balanced audio cables, longer yoke pin extensions, replacement leathercare and wood-care kits, even a luxurious wooden box if the travel case doesn’t suit you.I’m mostly right, sure. But not when it comes to a headphone like the Audeze LCD2. Consider it the anti-Beats–a non-portable, beautifully balanced, not-at-all-trendy headphone that hearkens back to an era of rug-sitting, high-fidelity-music-listening parked in front of big glowing tube amps that weren’t the only source of glow in the room, if you’re picking up what I’m laying down. They’re gorgeously retro, undeniably hifi, and are way more likely to be found as an integral part of a carefully crafted custom audio installation than hanging from an end cap at the Apple store.
I don’t mean to give the impression that the Audeze LCD2s are completely old school, though. They may look like a relic from the Carter administration, but under the hood (actually, inside the earcups), Audeze’s headphones rely not on traditional headphone drivers, but instead on planar magnetic transducers, similar to the $40,000 Wisdom Audio LS4 line source loudspeaker I reviewed a few years back.
Of course, in the headphone market, planar magnetic transducers have a rich history and dedicated fan base, and they have come to more recent recognition thanks to HiFiMan. In fact, of all the headphones I have scattered around the house, HiFiMan’s $400 HE-400 headphones were the closest match I could find to the $995 Audeze LCD2s. By comparison, the HE- 400s, which I’ve always loved for their clean, articulate sound, come across as a bit muddy and indistinct, which is perhaps the highest compliment I could possibly give the Audeze LCD2s.
When I first pulled the Audeze LCD2s out of their incredibly swanky case, unrolled the ribbon cable, and connected each of its mini-XLR ends to the cups of the LCD2, I took a moment to admire the beautiful handcrafted bamboo, the thick, luxurious angled lambskin earpads and head pad, the solidity of its connections. I’ll admit that my first inclination was to plug them into the headphone output of my Anthem D2v AV processor and cue up the sort of highres, low-appeal audiophile music that I only keep around for product reviews (an AIFF of Diana Krall’s “Peel Me a Grape,” if you absolutely must know). At the risk of having to return my Man Card, I can acknowledge that Audeze’s headphones pumped no small amount of joy into that joyless tune, sharpening the attack of the piano and standup bass to a razor’s edge, and putting an airy, open breath back into every breathless vocal line.
At the speed of sound, I hastily abandoned any and all audiophile pretenses and just started digging into the music that I wanted to listen to, starting of course with one of my favorite headphone tracks, the FLAC download of Beastie Boys’ “Hey Ladies,” from the 20th anniversary remastered edition of Paul’s Boutique. Instantly, the bass impressed me, not for its cavernous depths (I’ve definitely heard headphones with way more sub-bass), but for its rich articulation and nuance. The sampled bass breakdown right after the 2:20 mark, for example, has a snappy bite that I’ve honestly never noticed before, despite having listened to this track intently (in some form) on every headphone, subwoofer, and speaker system I’ve ever reviewed. Backing up a bit, the funky phase shift at the beginning of the track reveals the LCD2’s incredible imaging capabilities, which plant the guitars precisely in the center of your head for the first few measures before unleashing them outward in an outright explosion of sound.
Every album I cued up turned out to be just as revelatory, and the denser the music, the better. These headphones were practically made to listen to the Allman Brothers Band. (Well, actually, no; given their incredibly even tonal balance from bottom to top, they weren’t made for any particular kind of music. They sound truly delightful with anything). “Blue Sky” from the SACD release of Eat a Peach is downright revelatory through the Audeze headphones, not merely because of their incredible detail and wonderful imaging, but because their amazing comfort and sonic transparency let them fade from your consciousness and put the music at the forefront to a level that few headphones can achieve. Yes, the single greatest guitar solo in the history of music still remains the focus of the song, but through the LCD2s, the separate elements of the rhythm section really step forward on the stage, too. Jaimoe and Butch Trucks truly become two distinct entities, unified only by Berry Oakley’s bass lines, which really drive through the mix with a clarity I’ve rarely heard from any speaker.
Honestly, I had to put myself on Dark Side of the Moon restriction to even finish this review. I found myself getting so lost in the layers upon layers upon layers of music that the Broca’s Area of my brain just sort of shut down. And I assure you that no illicit substances were involved. Unless, that is, you consider the LCD2 an illicit substance in itself, which it could certainly be; it has a number of available paraphernalia–leather-free earpads, balanced audio cables, longer yoke pin extensions, replacement leather-care and wood-care kits, even a luxurious wooden box if the travel case doesn’t suit you. And it probably won’t, because although the LCD2s are efficient enough to be driven by an iPhone (at much lower volumes, of course, although even at the lowest volumes, these ’phones remain dynamic and wonderfully articulate), I really don’t see anyone listening to them outside of the home. Their open design results in the exact opposite of noise isolation, and quite frankly, they’re too nice to be taken out of doors.
After spending a month or so with the Audeze LCD2, I can’t imagine my hi-fi system without them.
A rich, articulate, beautifully balanced sound, combined with oodles of customization options, make the Audeze LCD2 seem like a value in the $1,000 headphone market.
• Diaphragm excursion of 2.5 mm p-p for very high SPL. Maximum output exceeds 130 dB.
• Left and rear transducers have matched sensitivity and frequency response within +/- 0.5 dB.
• Specially designed self closing, acoustically transparent magnetic structure with highest grade Neodymium magnets.
• Frequency Response: 5 Hz - 20 KHz, usable high frequency extension 50 KHz.
• Distortion: less than 1 percent even at full output.
• Impedance: 60 Ohms, nominal
• Maximum diaphragm excursion: 2.5mm p-p
• Efficiency: 91 dB/1mW
• Maximum output: 133dB, 15W
• Transducer active diaphragm area: 6.17 square inches.