For my first example, I’d like to cite a passage from a very beautiful but also admittedly hard-to-find recording: namely, Zhao Jiazhen’s Masterpiece of the Chinese Qin from the Tang Dynasty to Today [Rhymoi]. The Qin, for those of you not yet initiated to its wonders, is a fretless, typically seven-stringed, zither-like Chinese instrument that is ancient in origin, and whose voice spans a surprisingly wide range of frequencies and an almost limitless range of expressive possibilities. One reason this is so is that, I am told, the tradition in written music for the Qin is to describe not only the pitch and duration of notes to be played (and at what volume levels), but also to describe incidental playing sounds such as finger squeaks on strings, the speed and intensity of note bends, the attack and decay characteristics desired, and so on. The result is a single instrument that, whether played solo or in an ensemble, can seem almost a musical world unto itself, which makes it a revealing test for most any audio component.
One track that shows off many of the LCD-2’s strengths is “Deep Night”, which is actually a somewhat non-traditional piece in which to hear a Qin used (much of the music written for the Qin has a quiet, contemplative quality, but this piece does not).
The piece opens with an ominous, extended, rolling solo statement from a very low pitched drum called a Dagu. If you listen closely to the Dagu, you’ll hear the LCD-2 capture each small variation in attack and decay, the delicate “skin” sounds of the large drum head resonating, the deep fundamental pitch of the notes, and the almost tsunami-like way in which bass energy continues to billow outward into the recording space long after each note has been struck. It takes a headphone with superb bass extension, pitch definition, transient speed, and control to get this passage to sound right, and the LCD-2 does a simply fabulous job with it.
But after the Dagu’s solo statement has been given time and space to develop, the Qin makes a dramatic entry, and in Zhao Jiazhen’s expert hands, manages to sound bold, fierce and defiant—in its own way answering the power and intensity of the drum. What’s impressive is the way the artist chooses at times to limit some of the small flourishes so typical of the Qin, instead giving individual notes more power and purity by deliberately leaving them unadorned and allowing them to ring forth. Adding to the richness of the performance are a handful of other small percussion instruments, including a high-pitched wood block, what sounds like a smaller drum (something about the size of snare drum or even smaller), and delicate finger chimes. The LCD-2 brilliantly captures the distinctive timbres and textures of the Qin and percussion accompaniment, though because of the Audeze’s downward-shelved upper mids and highs the sound of high-pitched echoes, overtones, and transient sounds is slightly less prominent through the LCD-2 than through some competing top-tier headphones. But note that the LCD-2 does offer plenty of treble extension, per se; it’s just that upper mids and highs are presented at a slightly lower level than bass and middle frequencies.
Lovely though the LCD-2 can be on refined and well-recorded material, it is also perfectly happy to get down’n’dirty with more earthy types of music, as you discover if put on a track such as “Angel of Darkness” from Hot Tuna’s Steady As She Goes [Red House]. The song launches on the strength of a rolling drum kit groove supplied by percussionist Skoota Warner, plus the insistent twang of Jorma Kaukonen’s guitar and Jack Cassady’s gritty yet also supple electric bass lines. The feel of the song, which the LCD-2 nails to a “T”, is a sort of cross between a folk jam and a late night roadhouse. Adding to this impression are Kaukonen’s penetrating vocals as he sings, “What kind of evil, baby/I don’t want to know/would poison your waters/just when they begin to flow?” But the song really takes off on the chorus, when Kaukonen is joined by backing vocalists Larry Campbell (who helped write the song) and Teresa Williams. Through the LCD-2 instrumental and vocal separation is incredibly good, so that’s ever so easy to hear the individual contributions of each performer, and to hear—in this case—the way Campbell’s and Williams’ vocals perfectly support and augment Kaukonen’s. Trust us on this one: you’ll get chills up your spine when they sing, “Innocent life/trapped in the night/Angel of Darkness…” Remember, emotional connection with the music is what these headphones are all about.