There are people out there who love big speakers, and who spend a fortune on them, but if you need to cut the sound out or just want to listen to a recording intimately, a pair of $1300 headphones might be just what you need to look for.
Features and performance
Headphones can sure cost a pretty penny, but there’s something special about a pair that costs over a thousand dollars.
Well out of reach of most people, the Audeze LCD-2 are an unusual pair, not just because they’ll attract attention from their rather unusual design, and not just because the materials used in their construction look a little unorthodox, but because they use a rather unusual magnetic design to achieve the sound the headphones are offering.
The technology is called “Fazor” and essentially it’s an element that sits on the edges of the magnets used in a headphone along the diaphragm, with these elements used to spread the flow of sound in a more balanced way, as opposed to letting the sound resonate the way it normally would.
As a result of this larger headphone technology, the sound waves are apparently less disturbed, better acoustically, and fairly balanced due to the way the sound patterns occur.
A very thin diaphragm is also a part of the technology, something Audeze says is “significantly thinner than other planar designs on the market”, which together with the Fazor technology and Audeze’s magnetic design creates a “uniform magnetic field” to minimise the distortion, suggesting loud volumes that don’t buzz out are possible here.
That’s essentially what the $1299 price tag is paying for, as well as a comfort level that isn’t normal in headphones, we can tell you that.
And for the price, you even get a special casing, which is worth noting only because so few headphones ever see anything like it.
Yes, even from the packaging, we can tell you that you’ve probably never seen anything like the Audeze LCD-2, a pair of headphones that arrive in their own little Pelican hard case and aren’t made for someone with a fleeting interest in audio technology. Inside is a certificate of authenticity — just in case you think someone has sold you a pair of fake $1300 headphones — and a wood care kit, because the LCD-2 is a wooden pair of headphones that you need to treat right.
Take them out and you’ll see just what we’re dealing with here, with large pieces of wood encasing the cans, metal grills, and a very lush, plush, and lovely feeling the microsuede neck-band and ear pads offer. It’s hard not to see this pair of cans as anything but luxurious from the get go, and upon first glance, we’re already impressed.
Stick them on and that feeling continues, because while they’re a little heavier than you might be used to, Audeze’s LCD-2 are insanely comfortable. If you’re ok with some larger headphones, you’ll move beyond the feeling that there’s a weight around your ears quickly, and just get into the comfort, with large soft pads that surround the ear.
Circumaural is the name of the game here, and our lobes didn’t feel like they were even touching the pads here, which is very good.
You may find the proprietary cable a little disheartening, which can be separated from the headphones, though relies on a very unusual port found on the headphones connecting to a flat but still very well built cable executing in a 6.25mm amplifier jack, though they do arrive with a converter to bring this back down to the more common 3.5mm jack.
Seriously, Audeze’s port choice for the headphone cable reminds us of S-Video for some reason, probably the pin layout, but it at least guarantees a strong connection, and might just be what the headphones need to stop interference.
Getting to the sound test, and we need to note, you’ll need a fair amount of sound output if you are to drive these headphones.
Will they work with your iPhone? Yes. Will they work well? No, because there just isn’t enough volume output from most portable devices, with specialised products required, or even an amp.
Case in point, Audeze’s local distributors Busisoft sent us an amplifier to test the LCD-2 with — the Violectric HPA V100 (above), which worked a treat — but we also found a portable high-res compatible Walkman we were testing from Sony (review to come) suited these headphones perfectly, confirming to us that yes, you do need something capable of boosting volume levels if you want listen to anything using the LCD-2.
In any case, our test had us jumping between all three devices, as we tested the limits of what the headphones were capable of.
As usual, we’re running with the GadgetGuy 2014 Sound Test, though will later in the review switch to the beginnings of our high-res playlist to test extra depth that people listening with high resolution audio will be looking for.
That said, we’re starting with the electronica in the sound test, and the balance is immensely noticeable on Mooro’s “M66R6” with strong mids and highs, while the bass punches through in this hotbed dance track, a feeling that is also true on The Glitch Mob’s “Skullclub”, this one with a soft echo as the track begins but no section really outpacing one another.
When The Glitch Mob really kicks it up a step a minute into the track, the bass takes over forcing output through both the lows and mids, though Audeze’s LCD-2 headphones never let the highs sneak far away, and these cans sound like the DJ team is mixing straight into your ear drums.
In rock, the balance continues, and whatever Audeze’s “Fazor” technology is doing, it seems to show itself as a winner, with clear guitar screams and balance in the bottom end of Closure In Moscow’s “A Night At The Spleen”, while Muse’s “Supremacy” keeps the lead vocals soft and prominent, the base punchy, and the guitar edgy when it needs to be.
The amp we’re using here, the Violectric HPA V100, allows us to ump all of this up loud, and we’re not even at 50 percent of the volume we can push out, with the loudness to much for our ears and yet not blowing out across the sound.
Impressive. Very impressive.
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.
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.
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.