The LCD3 builds upon the many strengths of the LCD2, while addressing what some perceived as the LCD2’s shortcomings. Perhaps the easiest way to make this point is to compare the performance of the two Audeze ‘phones, starting at the bottom of the audio spectrum and working our way upward.
In the bass region, the LCD2 was rightly regarded as an excellent performer, with extremely good low-frequency extension, good measures of weight and punch, and plenty of detail. Even so, the LCD3 offers even better bass, with equally good extension, but noticeably better low-end transient speed, focus, and resolution. Where the low end of the LCD2 was excellent, the LCD3 now pushes the performance envelope even further, to a point where we think it delivers the best bass we have yet heard from any headphone (including the Stax SR-009).
Through the midrange, where most music really lives, the LCD2 was known for a broad smooth band of evenly balanced midrange response, with very good levels of transient agility and definition. Again, though, the LCD3 raises the bar with what sounds like an even broader band of evenly balanced midrange response with dramatically improved purity of timbres, transient speed, and rendering of low-level sonic details. Thus, the LCD3 sounds noticeably more open and revealing through the midrange than the LCD2 or any other headphone I’ve yet heard, with the sole exception of the incredible (but exceedingly expensive) Stax SR-009 electrostatic headphone. Even so, the performance gap between the Stax and the Audeze, though audible, is not so large that any rational listener would ever find the LCD3 disappointing. Instead, it’s a case of comparing an excellent product (the LCD3) vs. one that pushes the outermost limits of headphone performance (the SR-009) in much the same way that the Bugatti Veyron pushes the envelope for supercar performance.
Before we talk about how the LCD3 performs in the upper midrange and treble regions, it’s important to stop for a moment to consider what some listeners regarded as one potential area of weakness in Audeze’s original LCD2. While many listeners loved the tonal balance of the LCD2, finding it rich, warm, and easy-to-listen-to, others felt the headphone was a little too warm (or even “dark sounding”) for its own good, meaning that—in the LCD2—upper mids and highs sounded a bit recessed as compared to the response you might hear from headphones such as the HiFiMAN HE-6, Sennheiser HD800, or Stax SR-009. Personally, I always felt the tonal balance of those competitors was more accurate than that of the LCD2, though I could definitely “get” the appeal of the LCD2’s warmer and more relaxed sound. In the LCD3, however, Audeze set out to address these concerns by giving their flagship model not only a more transparent sound but also revised voicing that pulls upper mids and highs further forward in the mix.
Accordingly, the upper mids and highs of the LCD3 are noticeably more prominent, and for that reason more accurately balanced, than those of the LCD2, though if you look at the frequency response test charts for the two models you’ll discover the differences in tonal balance appear more subtle on paper than they sound in reality. Still, Audeze did not go overboard with its voicing adjustments, so that the LCD3 preserves elements of the classic Audeze “house sound,” meaning that the LCD3’s upper mids and highs are still not as forward sounding as, say, those of the Stax SR-009 or HiFiMAN HE-6. But even so, the voicing of the LCD3 is now much more similar to that of its top-tier competitors than the LCD2’s voicing was. What is more, the upper mids and highs of the LCD3 also show the same across-the-board improvements in speed and transparency that we’ve observed in the LCD3’s bass and midrange performance, which is all to the good.
My sense is that purists will prefer the somewhat brighter balance and perhaps more overtly defined sound of the upper mids and highs of the Stax or HiFiMAN ‘phones, but that many others will find the LCD3 strikes a just-right balance between neutrality and resolution on the one hand and a rich and engaging tonality on the other. In short, the LCD3 is the sort of headphone that serves up gobs of musical detail, yet without becoming punishingly analytical or sterile sounding in the process.
In the paragraphs above, you’ll notice that I’ve used the words “transient speed” pretty often in describing the LCD3. What I’m getting at is that the LCD3 exhibits desirable qualities of turn-on-a-dime musical agility and all-around responsiveness as if to suggest that the LCD-3 can effortlessly track with even the quickest or subtlest shifts in the music. These qualities also pay huge dividends in terms of the LCD3’s ability to faithfully reproduce both large and small-scale dynamic shifts in the music. Frankly, I know of only one headphone that can better the performance of the LCD3 in these areas, and that would be the Stax SR-009.