In the world of audio, there are many types of audiophiles who hold widely varying opinions as to which format will provide the best sound. Tubes, transistors, digital or analogue are but a few areas of debate. I do not intend to take up any of those controversies here. For my purposes, there are basically two types of audiophiles, those who are fortunate enough to have dedicated sound rooms and, those who do not.
For those of you who have dedicated rooms, you can listen to music whenever you wish, anytime day or night. For those of us who are not as fortunate, the situation is quite different. This is especially true if you live in an apartment. Picture it, it’s two in the morning, you’re up with an open bottle of wine and you want to listen to music. You have a neighbor with bat ears who can hear the click of the on switch on your pre-amp. An excellent solution to this problem is headphones. Being an audiophile, you will require a set of high-end headphones.
Audeze is a manufacturer of very high quality headphones. The LCD-2 is their original headphone but now is the entry level in a total of four models. According to the manufacturer, the goal is to use the latest in design and materials to produce headphones that produce a dynamic and open sound with extended and full bass.
To achieve this unique sound quality, the LCD-2s have an open, circumaural planar, magnetic design, featuring high-grade neodymium magnets. Planar magnetic transducers typically consist of two main components: a diaphragm with circuit and magnet arrays. The “planar” in planar magnetics refers to the magnetic field that’s distributed in the same plane (parallel) to the diaphragm. Planar magnetic diaphragms are thin and lightweight compared to much heavier moving-coil or dome diaphragms found in “dynamic” drivers. This thin diaphragm is suspended in the magnetic fields created by the magnetic arrays. The planar magnetic diaphragm has a printed circuit spread across the surface of a thin-film substrate. When the circuit is energized with an audio signal it interacts with the magnetic field and produces an electromagnetic force that moves the diaphragm back and forth creating sound.
Further, the force created by the magnetic field is distributed across most of the diaphragm surface, the planar magnetic diaphragm moves faster and with far greater accuracy to the input signal. The magnetic force that drives the lightweight diaphragm delivers rapid acceleration thus achieving a wide frequency response, low distortion and excellent sound quality. Because the circuit pattern is spread flat across the diaphragm surface it can dissipate the heat generated by the current passing through it more efficiently. Additionally, planar magnetic transducers have few moving parts and can maintain performance without any sonic degradation. Dynamic drivers continuously degrade in performance over their life due to a multitude of moving parts and use of glue joints.
The circuits found in planar magnetic diaphragms present an almost purely resistive load to amplifiers, making it easy to drive. The impedance over the entire frequency range is completely flat vs. dynamic speaker, which could have variances in impedance values over the frequency range. Audeze employs a number of proprietary techniques that improve upon basic planar magnetic design, including the integration of unique, ultra-thin diaphragms and stronger and more optimized magnetic fields and circuit patterns. Audeze’s goal is to bring the best in planar magnetic design and continuing to improve the personal audio experience.
The headphones are packed in a rugged yet attractive carrying case. Included with the headphones is a 2.5M (8.2 Ft,) 6.35 MM (1/4 in.) to dual 4 pin mini XLR cable and a 6.35 mm ( ¼ in. to 3.5 MM) 1/8 in. stereo adaptor.
At first listen, the Audeze LCD-2 struck me with their ability to float a three dimensional sound stage. Granted the stage is spread between your ears, yet, it is fully populated from left to right and front to back and where present in the recording. I have to admit that the ability of these headphones to create a three dimensional soundstage that exceeds the abilities of some loud speakers is more than a little surprising. Could the width of the stage depend upon the width of the head of the listener? A question for the manufacturer, I guess. For this review, I used the excellent Burson Soloist Headphone amplifier.
The instrumental timbres were full and rich reminiscent of the best qualities of tubes. This was accompanied by a sense of remarkable speed, transparency and openness. The CD “Profiles”, Thelonious Monk, [Riverside RCD 30070-2], the instrumental detail and that of the recording venues lend a sense of realism I have not heard before and, I have listened to this disk many times in the past. The studio recordings are easily distinguished from the live ones. The piano is clear with all of the shimmer and decay that one could want.
The ability of the LCD-2s to produce bass was another surprise. It was far fuller and deeper than I ever expected. Cut 2 of the Etta James CD, “Life, Love and the Blues”, has a full and deep bass line throughout the song and is easily reproduced on a full range speaker. This line was also reproduced without fatigue on the LCD-2s. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the bass of the headphones has the same punch and slam of a full range floor stander but, given the top to bottom balance coupled with it’s ability to reproduce low frequencies, you do not get the sense that you are loosing anything sonically.
Whether it’s the full, wide dynamics of the Chicago Symphony, “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, (RCA Living Stereo, Richard Strauss in High Fidelity, RCA-09026-61494-2), conducted by Fritz Reiner, or the intimate phrasings of Claire Martin, “Old Boyfriends” (Honest-HON CD 5028, the LCD-2s not only handled the music with ease, they never failed to make the emotional connection between the musicians and this listener.
If it was the intention of the manufacturer to produce a pair of headphones with exceptional speed, transparency and dynamics, Audeze has succeeded admirably. The LCD-2s possess a quality of sound and level of performance that make them a serious reference level component. Given the forgoing, I feel that the Audeze LCD-2 headphones are well worth their US$995 purchase price.
Further information: Audeze