Audeze Paints Its Masterpiece
August 31st, 2012 -- by Chris Martens
The product that put Audeze on the high-end audio map was the original LCD2 planar magnetic headphone ($995, click here to read our review), which won critical acclaim and sold well among knowledgeable, critical listeners. Later, Audeze released improved Rev2 drivers for the LCD2, which raised the performance bar even higher (click here to read our follow-up on the LCD with Rev2 drivers). But toward the end of last year, Audeze rolled out an entirely new model called the LCD3 ($1945) that features all-new driver assemblies and that represents Audeze’s attempt to build a headphone that offers, “the highest level of audio quality, unsurpassed bass extension, exceptional treble and the best mid-range you will find in headphones.”
This review will address two key questions. First, does the LCD3 meet the ambitious sonic goals its manufacturer has set forth, and second, does the LCD3 justify the almost 2X jump in price vis-à-vis the original LCD2? We’ll try and supply in-depth answers in the text below, but we’ll offer you this introductory hint; in our view the LCD3 is arguably one of the two best headphones that money can buy at this point in time. To learn why, read on.
- Drivers: Unlike Audeze’s original LCD2 model, the LCD3 features next-generation planar magnetic drivers using a proprietary thin-film “Lotus” diaphragm that, says Audeze, “uses a special alloy for conductive traces giving us greater control and lower distortion.” The Lotus diaphragm, in turn, is “housed between a unique super-efficient push-pull magnetic structure.”
- Left and right transducers have, Audeze claims, “matched sensitivity and frequency response within ± 0.5 dB” (exceptionally tight tolerances).
- Driver distortion is said to be “less that 1%, even at full output.”
- Testing: Audeze says that “transducers are tested every step of the production process to enforce (our) very strict quality control process.” Accordingly, every LCD3 headphones ships with a frequency response test chart specific to the headphone the customer receives—a thoughtful touch.
- Transducer active diaphragm area: 6.17 square inches.
- Maximum diaphragm excursion is a whopping 2.5mm, peak to peak.
- Magnet assembly: Audeze describes the LCD3’s magnet assembly as a “specially designed self-closing, acoustically transparent magnetic structure (made) with highest grade Neodymium magnets.”
- Construction: Open-back, circumaural (surrounding the ear) design featuring ear cup housings made of “precision-crafted, hand-selected Zebra Wood (zebrano).”
- Ear cup pads: Ear pads are sloped (thicker at the rear and thinner toward the front for superior comfort), covered in “premium lambskin leather” (a “no leather” option is available, and use “specially molded foam to offer the right amount of firmness.”
- Headband frame: The LCD3 features a spring-type headband frame fitted as standard with a leather-covered pad (a “no-leather” option is available).
- Ear cup yokes: The LCD’s ear cup housings are carried by sturdy metal yokes that allow the ear cups to swivel in both vertical and horizontal axes for an optimal fit. The yokes attach to the headband frame via polished metal shafts cut with precisely spaced grooves that serve as “click stops,” allowing listeners to dial-in precise and repeatable amounts of clearance between the tops of the ear cups and the arched surface of the headband. Plainly, Audeze takes precision fitting and wearer comfort quite seriously.
- Weight: 550 grams without cables.
- Impedance: 50 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 93 dB/mW
- Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 20kHz with “usable high frequency extension (to) 50kHz.”
- Two high quality, quick-disconnect signal cables, on equipped with mini-XLR connectors on the headphone end. One cable is fitted with a ¼-inch phone jack-type plug and the other fitted with a 4-pin, XLR-type connector for use with balanced output amplifiers.
- User’s choice of a Caribbean rosewood presentation case or a rugged and heavily padded SKB-type travel case.
- Vial of wood polishing fluid and a lint-free polishing cloth.
Caveats: The LCD3 is lovely to look at and feels great to wear, so that there are few if any major nits to pick. However, there are two points of concern that bear mentioning. First, the LCD3 is somewhat heavier than many of the open-back headphones we’ve tried—not heavy enough to be uncomfortable, but heavy enough to remind you these ‘phones do have a good bit of mass to manage. Second, the LCD3’s clamping pressures fall somewhat above the median among ‘phones we’ve tried, which can potentially cause problems for glasses wearers. On a couple of occasions, I found the LCD3 ear pads grabbed hold of my glasses frames and tugged them away from my face. Neither of these points undercuts our appreciation for what the LCD3 is and does, but they are worth knowing about up front.