It may seem crazy to claim that €1,300 should be a “reasonable” price for a pair of headphones. But it’s actually quite conceivable, because the truth is that you get much better sound for your money with a pair of headphones than you would if you had to shell out for an expensive hi-fi system.
And the open LCD-X hits a very interesting price point, because in this class the expectations are that you’ll be totally blown away compared to cheap headphones, while coming very close to the very most expensive headphones. Which in Audeze’s case is called the LCD-5 and costs more than three times as much as the LCD-X!
Audeze only makes planar magnetic headphones. They differ from ordinary dynamic headphones by using a thin foil suspended between two magnets, where the foil vibrates with the electrical signal and produces sound.
It is a kind of hybrid between dynamic drivers and electrostatic panels. Think a kind of electrostatic panel that doesn’t need external power to be activated; the electrical music signal is enough.
New version of the LCD-X
Keen readers may recall that we tested the LCD-X a few years ago, but in 2021 they came in a new version. Which is the one we’re testing here.
Compared to the older version, the LCD-X has new ear pads and an upgraded magnet system. In fact, two magnets and two Fazor wave-guides have been removed, and the remaining ones repositioned with equal spacing between each. This results in a different frequency response than before, although the driver construction is otherwise the same.
A side effect of this is that the headphones have become about 50 grams lighter and more comfortable to wear. Yes, 612 grams is still a lot, but the soft yet firm cushions help distribute the weight better over the whole head. The result is actually quite comfortable.
Easily driven and fabulous
Planar magnetic headphones often have quite low sensitivity and therefore require a rather powerful amplifier to be brought to life. That is in order to force out enough bass relative to the rest of the frequency range.
That’s why it’s surprising to hear how potent the sound comes out of the LCD-X. In fact, they play just loud enough directly from the headphone jack on my MacBook Pro, which is comparable to the headphone jack on a regular cell phone. You can sit and enjoy the music without the need for an external amplifier.
Of course, I’d recommend a proper headphone amp anyway, as you get so much more of both detail and focus in the soundscape. And you get even more powerful sound with better bass control. More of everything good, in other words.
Deserves an amplifier
In addition to being easy to drive, the LCD-X has a very potent and lively bass response. Especially paired with a proper amplifier. You’ll go a long way with a portable Chord Mojo 2 or a desktop Schiit Heresy, or a Schiit Magni 3+ if you want a warmer and softer soundstage.
Personally, I’ve been enjoying myself with my own Auralic Taurus, connected with the Hegel HD30. The McIntosh MHA200 preamplifier has also been allowed to play, and it also brings out much of the bass quality in the LCD-X.
Here, the foundation of the bass tones in Lorde’s “Royals” really comes through. It resonates nicely at the bottom, while the attack of each clip smacks well. Lorde’s voice is clear and distinct; this is really good.
Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” with Pharrell Williams on vocals is also very tight and cool to listen to. At the same time, it sounds very much like hi-fi, with detail in every note that definitely lives up to expectations in this price range.
Where the older LCD-X model has a little too little energy in the presen range (the most prominent frequency range for a voice), so the vocals are pulled too far into the music, the new version fills it out formidably. It sounds noticeably more lively and more open in the upper midrange.
Not that much ambience
Where the LCD-X doesn’t shine quite so much is in the high frequency range. Granted, there are overtones here, and they’re delightfully undistorted. But compared to, say, the HiFiMAN Arya, there’s not as much air in the LCD-X.
Another thing about these headphones is that the stereo width is a bit narrow. You can draw a straight line between the left and right ear cups, as you often can with headphones that don’t manage to draw the same holographic sound image as a pair of speakers. That’s even more the case with the LCD-X.
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major seems a little one-dimensional, although each instrument is well focused and you get excellent dynamics. But you get more space with the Arya and Sennheiser HD 800 S, just to name a few.
Roon users: rejoice!
Audeze, on the other hand, has an ace up its sleeve for those who want more air at the top and a bigger soundstage. The secret is Roon, an advanced and cool music app for PC and Mac. Here, Audeze has made DSP filters for several of their models, including the 2021 model of the LCD-X.
The filters are calibrated for each headphone model to provide “an optimal and natural listening experience equivalent to a pair of tonally neutral reference monitors in a well-treated room”.
The calibration filters are the result of measurements and critical listening, and there are specific filters for each sample frequency from 44.1 kHz all the way up to 768 kHz. So you avoid resampling the filters, which can cause errors.
However, the DSP filters reduce the sensitivity of the headphones, which in my opinion no longer play loud enough directly from the headphone output on my MacBook. You therefore need an amplifier. Also, you lose some attack in the mid-bass and the punch in the mid-range that the headphones provide on their own.
What you get instead is a much bigger soundstage with more detail at the top. The tonal structure is much more complex, and each instrument floats in the air in a completely different way. Classical music becomes a completely different experience; this is truly addictive!
It’s a matter of taste in the end, but in my opinion the Roon filter enhances the sound quality more than it detracts from it. By the way, you can adjust infinitely how much of this correction you want.
The 2021 edition of the Audeze LCD-X is truly addictive. You get plenty of punch and power, something that planar magnetic headphones aren’t really known for. The bass is rock-solid and extremely tight, and the midrange literally stands out, making vocals and instruments extremely vivid and dynamic.
Rarely (if ever) have we heard such a crisp sound from planar magnetic headphones, and what’s more, they’re so sensitive that you can easily drive them with a weak amplifier. If necessary, use the headphone output of a laptop or mobile phone.
But with a proper amp, they really come to life, and then they’re blasting away. It never sounds sharp, just nice and alive. And resolved too; we’re not allowed to forget that this is real hi-fi!
All this is a bit at the expense of the room feel, and it’s not at the top of the treble where they shine the most. Some might find them a little ‘dark’. Roon users get a solution in the form of a separate DSP filter made especially for this particular model. Then they behave quite differently, with even more air and more detail.