There is something quite admirable about Audeze’s almost complete refusal to compromise. From the outset, the company has targeted both the professional market and the higher-end domestic consumer – and by using an alluring combination of planar magnetic technology, lavish materials and an unmistakable aesthetic, it has established a product range that’s been rapturously received.
So here, a mere dozen years or so after the whole Audeze journey kicked off with the Audeze LCD-2 planar magnetic on-ear headphones, is the Audeze LCD-1, the most affordable pair of headphones Audeze has ever produced, despite sharing a number of similarities with headphones that cost twice as much.
Design And Comfort
The LCD-1 is made of mostly cheap feeling plastic. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, because with this choice of materials also comes a dramatic reduction in weight, when compared to other Audeze headphones. This is an extremely light headphone, coming in at around 250g. It’s also quite small, reminding me somewhat of their earlier Sine on-ear headphones – but of course the Audeze LCD-1 is thankfully still an over-ear headphone. The ear cups also fold upwards to help with portability. I worry that because of the plastic materials, this folding mechanism may wear out over time, but we’ll just have to wait and see for that.
The ear cups are also quite small, and the pads barely fit around my ear. This means that they’re still noticeable and not as comfortable as headphones with larger cups. The nice thing about the pads though is that they’re oval-shaped, so it’s likely most listeners won’t have too much trouble getting a good fit. Additionally, the ear pads simply snap on and off, meaning it will be easy to replace them if needed.
As mentioned, The Audeze LCD-1 is a planar magnetic headphone, just like the rest of Audeze’s headphones, and of course it also uses a single-sided ‘Fluxor’ magnetic array (rather than a double-sided system), which helps keep with weight down. Again I’m reminded somewhat of their older Sine headphones, but this new implementation is in many ways what I wanted that to be: A lightweight, portable, planar magnetic headphone that I could take with me anywhere – and this time it’s with an over-ear design, making it much more enjoyable to use. I’m someone who really doesn’t like on-ear designs for longer sessions.
Overall, this is unlike any other Audeze I’ve been used to using, and in many ways I consider this to be a strong design success. I do wish it were slightly more comfortable with bigger pads (or just bigger cups to accommodate larger ears), but the lower weight makes it a convenient and usable headphone.
It’s hard to know what’s most impressive about the way the LCD-1’s sound. Is it the prodigious detail levels? Certainly a listen to the close-mic’d guitars-and-voice intimacy of David Olney’s Jerusalem Tomorrow lets the Audezes communicate the finest details of the singer’s voice – his lip- and palate-noises, his breath management, his phrasing and his unmistakable character. Some headphones make it sound like Olney’s accompanied by one guitar, but the LCD-1’s make it obvious there are two: an electric and an acoustic, playing in such close formation that they almost sound double-tracked. But such is the insight on offer here, the differences in string-gauge, picking force and simple tonality are made absolutely explicit.
This forensic level of detail examination doesn’t render the Audeze LCD-1’s dispassionate or forensic in any way, though. They revel in music for music’s sake, and just because they can deliver Anna Meredith’s Nautilus more cleanly, and with straighter edges into and out of individual sounds, more effectively than any similarly priced rival, that doesn’t make them prissy. Nor does their neutral tonality render them undemonstrative.
They’re similarly talented where scale and frequency extension are concerned. The Anna Meredith tune exists on a wide, tall soundstage, and when the recording tips decisively in favor of ‘attack’, the LCD-1’s dig as deep and hit almost as hard as any dynamic-driver alternative. And they do so without undue stress, without skewing their overall frequency response and without any apparent effort. Wind the volume northwards (because you’re not around other people, obviously), and the LCD-1 simply gets louder. Its even-handedness and balance isn’t compromised in the slightest.
The LCD-1s’ overall presentation, no matter the material you’re listening to nor the volume at which you’re listening, is composed, engaging and entirely believable. Listen to music you’ve never heard before and you’ll never doubt you’re being given the full picture. Listen to music you’ve heard a thousand times before and there’s every chance the Audezes will find some nuance in there you’ve never really heard before.
Shortcomings are remarkably few. The open-backed arrangement puts a bit of a crimp in their usability, certainly, and it’s true to say that an extended listen (more than, say, an hour) can cause the leather-clad earcups to heat up somewhat. But as far as the nuts and bolts of audio reproduction are concerned, there’s really nothing of any note to take issue with here.
The most committed bass-heads will find alternatives that have even greater low-frequency potency, but nothing with the sort of sub-atomic detail levels the LCD-1s’ bass reproduction enjoys. The rest of us will just get on with delighting in the extraordinarily assured way the LCD-1 goes about making music.
There’s a lot to be said for how the LCD-1’s allow you to analyze the music. If that’s what you require of your hi-fi, then Audeze has created a pair of headphones well worth a listen; especially if you’re hoping to use them for a bit of mixing as well.
The Audeze LCD-1’s are a bit more on the expensive side at $399 for those that just want an every day pair of headphones to listen to music on their phone or play some video games. These are more for the audiophile type of listener who is willing to spend a bit more on their headphones.