• LCD-3—World-class planar magnetic headphone. ($1995)
Those of you who have already heard Audeze’s famous LCD-2 headphones (especially those with the new Rev. 2 drivers) might think the firm had pushed the limits of its planar magnetic headphone technology about as far as they could go. But, not so. Amazingly, the Audez’e guys have found even more performance upside and have tapped it for their new flagship LCD-3 headphone.
Folks, this headphone is very, very impressive, building upon the acknowledged strengths of the LCD-2, but providing even better (as in more finely textured and detailed) bass, a noticeably more open midrange sound, and more prominent and finely resolved highs. Whereas the LCD-2 sometimes occasioned debates about whether it did or did not sound slightly “dark” or overly warmly balanced, the LCD-3 will strike most listeners as being plainly more neutral in overall balance.
Differences in the LCD-3 include a significantly larger and thinner diaphragm than in the LCD-2, an all-new magnet structure (with more magnets), a new cable jack arrangement, and subtle cosmetic and fit-and-feel changes. In sum, Audez’e has revised an already great design to make, well, an even greater one.
Is it the best headphone in the world? It is certainly among the top three contenders (the other two being, IMHO, the Stax SR-009 and the HiFiMAN HE-6). Given that the Stax costs more than twice as much ($5200) and requires a dedicated electrostatic amp (also expensive), while the HiFiMAN ($1199) is extremely difficult to drive, I suspect many high-end listeners will turn to the LCD-3 as their ideal “middle path” to the sonic mountaintop.
• Rx Mk3-B—Fully balanced portable headphone amplifier. ($649)
• Continental—Portable, Raytheon 6111, tube-powered headphone amplifier. ($485)
• Studio 6—Tube-powered SET headphone amplifier, shown in pre-production prototype form. ($TBD)
Playback greatly admired ALO’s Rx Mk2 portable headphone amplifier, but the fact is that ALO has moved the ball forward in a big way with the Rx Mk3-B—especially for folks who may have dreamed of finding a portable amp capable of powering hard-to-drive full-size ‘phones such as Sennheiser HD-800’s or HiFiMAN HE-6’s.
From what we could tell on the basis of a brief listen at RMAF, the ALO Mk3-B fears no load, and it should be able to drive just about anything you’d care to name. There is, of course, a similarly configured competing portable amp that can make (and back up) similar performance claims; namely, the Ray Samuel’s Audio Blackbird SR-71B fully balanced portable amp. Which is better? Only carefully listening will tell. Our thought is that both firms have clearly raised the bar for what portable amps can do and be, so that it’s good to have two well-made options to consider.
Also very cool from ALO is the tube-powered Continental portable amp, which is built around NOS (new old stock) Raytheon 6111 tubes. That’s right; it’s a tube-powered portable. Unlike some past efforts at building tube-driven portables, says ALO, the Continental is more or less immune to problems with vibration-induced microphonics. If you dig tube amplification, the Continental is definitely worth a listen, though you should be aware the battery life is a relatively low 6 hours between charges (hey, there is no free lunch and tube goodness does have its price).
• T70p—Mid-priced, closed-back, circumaural Tesla-series headphone. ($699 MSRP, $569 MAP)
• T50p Manufaktur—Factory customization program for T50p Tesla-series on-ear headphone.