Eargasmic: Audeze’s $1299 LCD-2 headphones reviewed

Classic rock with The Rolling Stones keeps it going in “Gimme Shelter” with more perfectly balanced highs and mids, while the rounded bass comes in underneath and still makes a solid punch, allowing us to hear the instrument more clearly while it keeps the beat in our ear drums. Blues is also a treat, with the soft yet solid bass drum in Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Voodoo Child” setting the scene as Stevie’s guitar screams over the top before his vocals share the stage.

Soul is next, and the best way to start this off for us is the classic “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson, which features prominent percussion, synth hits, and a clear and distinct sound for MJ, with his finger clicks, the slight moans and extra sounds he makes distinct as he sings.

Modern music is, as we’ve noted in the past, a little empty because of how much of it is synthetic, and the Audeze LCD-2 reveals this in its recreation, as Jessie J’s “Bang Bang” is balanced across the ranges, though it only sounds deep with the multi-layered vocal lines, the synthy instruments shallow here, a fault of the song’s engineering and not the headphones.

Pop is a little deeper on Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” though not significantly so (again, engineering), while Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” has more layers and less harshness to the track, the LCD-2 keeps the soft vocals, the deep metal rumbling of the percussion, the guitar and bass layers, and some of the excess sounds.

Basically, you’ll hear everything you want to with these headphones, and the lower the quality of the recording, the weaker the engineering, the more evident it will be. Meanwhile, solid recordings will also be clear, and they will stand out here.

Finally, there’s jazz and classical, and the instruments are clear and specific in Dave Brubeck’s “Maria” with the LCD-2 picking up on the difference between the sax, piano, drums, and bass, none of it blurring together, and the depth of the real instruments coming out, especially as you turn up the volume, an action that allows you to hear the strength of the bass string being plucked, the metal bouncing back against the wooden neck in some instances.

John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” was much the same, balanced and strong, as was “So What” from Miles Davis, both of which are hard to ignore as classic tests that highlight instrument recreation.

Claude Bolling and Yo-Yo Ma’s “Baroque In Rhythm” was just as strong and detailed, the crisp edge of the cello clear in the mids and highs overlapping the piano in the piece, just as the bass and drums join later on to fill out the rest of the mids and the bottom half of the track. This is one of those tracks that can be turned up on the amp, the music filling your ears with so much sound without buzzing or noise that you’ll be surprised the headphones are capable of this much volume.

In the end, we’re just left thinking these might just be the best headphones we’ve ever heard.

Big, plush microsuede pads make for very comfy listening.

But we’re not done yet, and there’s a new playlist coming for us, and it’s one based in high-resolution. It’s not totally complete yet, so we’re testing with the bones of it, but that’s enough to tell us just how these headphones handle themselves when running with high-end audio tracks.

Starting it off is the 192kHz 24-bit recording of “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis, tested on Sony’s high-res audio NWZ-A15 Walkman. Here, the sound of the trumpet, sax, and soft percussion is all very clear, with the piano detailed, and both the bowed and plucked bass in “Blue in Green” clear in the background.

It’s enough to get lost in, to imagine you there listening to this, which we did for some time, stopping our frantic typing of the review and just listening to the sounds pushed out by the musicians in this recording. Even the mentioning of the bowed bass (arco) in that track surprised us, because it was not something we had heard before this.

This discovery of new sounds in such an old album with these headphones made us stop what we were doing, and just listen, the entirety of a 55 year old album be listened to just to find out what we’d missed with other headphones and other more compressed recordings.

To say it simply, this is a pair of headphones that does music justice, making it sound the way a pair of high-end speakers would, albeit closer.

Wow. Just wow.

We jumped from here to a 24-bit FLAC of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” stored in 24-bit at 176kHz, and once again, heard a recreation that sounded as close to perfect as we were probably going to hear, detail in the drums coming up behind the sax and just edging out the piano, while the bass reverberated behind it all, keeping the time.

The detail, the balance, the soft tonality of the bass and warmth across it all tells you just what the cans can do, and we tried something more modern to see if they handled well there, too.

In Muse’s “Knights of Cydonia” in a 16-bit FLAC at 44.1kHz (CD quality, because we haven’t yet found a 24-bit variant), the guitar is loud, the vocals clear, the bass aggressive, and the synth sounds taking a backseat, but still evidently noticeable. Meanwhile, Imogen Heap’s “Headlock” in 24-bit at 44.1kHz was balanced in the mids and highs to start with, the vocals of Heap taking over the playful ambient sounds that almost glitch behind it all, following a syncopated rhythm.

Across it all, the sound here was both strong and clear, and made us want to expand our high-resolution audio collection even more, relying in these headphones as a new benchmark in what could be achieved.

But nothing is perfect, even if the Audeze LCD2 headphones get pretty close.

One thing that may put some people off is the look, because these headphones are very, very unusual. You’d be fine to use them at home, and in fairness, that’s probably where you should use them, but wear them out in public and you’re just begging for someone to stare at you in absolute confusion.

You really need to see the pictures for this pair, because they are awkward. Big wooden frames with slotted metal grills, the cans thick and noticeable, with a large cord hanging out from each headphones.

Yes, these are made for home and office, but never outside. Seriously, you’d be mad for wearing these on a bus or train, and without any noise cancelling technology included, we’d steer clear of a form of aircraft, for that matter.

Seriously people, stay home with these. You don’t want to take them out. They’re not made for that.

Another reason why you won’t want to take them out is that you won’t want to plug them into your smartphone. Simply put, it doesn’t have enough power to drive the Audeze LCD-2 headphones, that is unless you’re carrying a portable amplifier or a dedicated media player made with pushing the volume out that these require.

Both of these exist, and we’re seeing more talk about them lately, but you will need one if you want to get a decent amount of sound out of them, so make sure to have one ready, otherwise you won’t be hearing much of anything.

Conclusion

I don’t have $1299 to spend on a pair of headphones, and if I did, I’m still not sure I’d buy headphones.

But if you love music in its highest quality form, and you love listening to it but you either don’t have the room for a pair of massive Bowes & Wilkins or Nautilus speakers, or even just want to listen when everyone else needs quiet, this is the pair of headphones you have to look at.

We’re not kidding when we say they will take your breath away, and whatever special sauce magnetic design Audeze has thrown into these cans has truly paid off.

Truly, these are eargasmic. Highly recommended.

Overall
Value for money
Performance
Ease of Use
Design
Reader Rating0 Votes
Breathtaking sound, close to being there and listening; Practically perfect in audio quality and beautifully clear; So balanced; Well made; Very, very comfortable;
Really needs an amp to drive them; They look very strange; The LCD2 headphones are massive, and the sheer size may put some people off; Proprietary cable; Very, very, very expensive;
4.3