Audeze LCD-3 Headphones

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Not many American high-end start-ups have made such a splash as Audeze. Founded a mere ten years ago, the decade has cemented Audeze's place among the very best, brightest and innovative of headphone manufacturers.

Audeze arrived on the scene at just the right time—at the genesis of mass market smartphones, mobile music, streaming, and headphones/earphones in general. Musical kismet. 

The LCD-3 is the natural development from Audeze's original headphone, the legendary LCD-1.  The back story from Audeze's About page reads as follows: Audeze’s origins go back to 2008 when founders Sankar Thiagasamudram and Alexander Rosson met engineer Pete Uka who developed specialized flexible circuit materials for NASA. They quickly realized the material might be perfect for headphones. That’s when Dragoslav Colich, who has 30+ years’ experience in designing planar drivers, joined the team as CTO to create the LCD-1 headphone.

KIsmet, indeed. 

The LCD-3 uses planar magnetic technology (PMT) for the drivers. Most headphone manufacturers use dynamic drivers, with a few, like Audeze, using PMT, and, fewer still (like STAX), employing electrostatic topology. While similar to the far more common standard dynamic headphones and their moving voice coils (two interactive magnets causing motion), PMT headphones spread the charged magnetism across a thin, flat film driver. Philosophically, think Maggies in comparison with box speakers. 

The LCD-3 Headphones retail for $1945 on the Audeze website. Although expensive, you'll be buying superior headphones handmade in the USA, featuring advanced technology. The LCD-3s were shipped to the Audiophilia office in a piano black lacquer jewelry box housing the meticulously crafted headphones. As a purchaser, its arrival in your home will give you pride of ownership before the first track is heard. 

Everything about the manufacture of Audeze headphones is a class act. The LCD-3s come in this lovely jewelry box case. 

Everything about the manufacture of Audeze headphones is a class act. The LCD-3s come in this lovely jewelry box case. 

Although the headphones will give much musical pleasure pugged into a quality DAP (Questyle, FiiO or Astell & Kern), a dedicated headphone AMP/DAC like the Questyle Audio CMA440i I just reviewed will boost the experience into the audible and musical stratosphere. As usual, the better the source (no Apple Music, please) and ancillaries, the (much, much) better the sound. As such, don't short change these beauties. 

Size-wise, these are for home headphone enthusiasts. Portability is not their strong suit, although they are not too heavy and are very comfortable to wear for long periods. Four hour listening sessions chez nous were not uncommon. Zero fatigue, in or out of the ear. The adjustable headband did not indent my noggin and the over-the-ear foam ear pads made lobe discomfort a non starter. 

Audeze's provided cabling has you covered with every eventuality—I used balanced throughout via the Questyle CMA440i (what a glorious pairing, BTW, if you are in the market at that price—combined, less than 2.5K for a lifetime solution).

Workmanship is stunning. The industrial design is 'come as you are'. I like it, others may find them bulky—they have to fit those large drivers in somewhere. And somewhere is a beautifully machined Zebra wood ring matched by grain and colour. Your choice of very comfortable lambskin or Microsuede ear-pads are also matched for texture and colour. The foam used is squishy and seems to have a good memory.

An obvious reminder that the LCD-3s are 'open back', meaning your significant other sitting in proximity will hear it all, albeit truncated. 

Workmanship TDF. Audeze's superb planar magnetic drivers. Large ultra thin-film diaphragms and double-sided magnetic structure.

Workmanship TDF. Audeze's superb planar magnetic drivers. Large ultra thin-film diaphragms and double-sided magnetic structure.

Sound

My pair had a few hours on them from the distributor. No break in required. I've heard most Audeze headphones and they compare well to products from another PMT manufacturer, HiFiMan. I recently spent some time with the superb HiFiMan HE1000 V2s. At $2900, they are a full grand more than the LCD-3s, yet I would say the sound is pretty well on par. I forget the name of the AMP/DAC the HE1000s were attached to, but it was very expensive. The sound was headphone divine—luxurious, spacious, with a very balanced musical image. Basically, play an album, and forget the miseries of the world. The LCD-3s, especially with the Questyle AMP/DAC, offered the same feeling. Nothing bloated in the bass, an etched treble or too clinical. A gorgeously balanced musical range—everything sounding the way it should, be it highs, mids or lows. 

Soundstage could be mesmeric. Listen to beautifully recorded tracks and you'll be transfixed on the performance and space. 

Harmonia Mundi's new Mozart Requiem (Sussmayr edition) sounded absolutely delicious. The sound of the choir members' consonants were beautifully tactile (tingle time) and the amount of sibilance the drivers allowed was just so. Too many headphone manufacturers confuse 'clinical' with 'detail'. The Audeze directive seems to be everything in balance. You'll get all the information retrieval you want (down to the lowest bass—whoa!), but instrumental and vocal timbre is highly accurate. If an artist is trying to convey gentility right up to nobility, you'll hear it. So many headphones sound impressive—like a great first date, then overstay their welcome on the 2nd. Not the Audeze LCD-3s. They'll love you long time. 

Don't get me wrong about the implied courtliness. You want power? You'll get it. In spades. But I loved the delicacy and transparency the LCD-3s delivered. If your playlist is catholic, I think you will admire Audeze's musical bent. Very alluring. 

When the musical fabric gets thorny, complicated, even damn well nutso like Varese's Arcana (Royce Hall recording, Decca, LA Phil/Mehta), the 3s never lose their composure. The vaunted Audeze balance helps in no small way, here. Zubin can throw the kitchen sink at the cans and they don't break a sweat. As a conductor, the headphones would have been perfect for deep score study of this fiendishly difficult piece. Yet again, the detail was spectacular but the instrumental sonorities remained true and were never stretched out of shape. 

Vocals were a joy. My new favourite, play over and over again album, Sentimental Journey by The Singers Unlimited [recorded in 1976; 4 top jazz singers, 1 girl, 3 guys, multi tracked) was my vocal album of choice for the review. Do you know this group? If not, get thee to this album, or any by the group—most are available on TidalHiFi. You'll not hear better singing, or closer, incredibly sexy harmony (it's like getting a musical massage). The multi tracking was awfully easy to disassemble on the cans, as was the incredible musicianship of Gene Puerling's vocal arrangements (he sings baritone in the group) and the equally superb instrumental arrangements by Bob Farnon (long time Canadian resident of the UK and one time arranger for Sinatra). In any case, forget my blathering, just listen. 

Summary

Headphones have made leaps and bounds over the last decade incorporating technology and research usually afforded expensive, two-channel audio. The LCD-3s do not have noise cancelling and are not for your daily workout or commute. They are an addition to the finest pieces in your home stereo arsenal with equal quality and technological advancements. Very highly recommended. 

Further information: Audeze

Specifications

Style: Open circumaural

Transducer type: Planar magnetic

Magnetic structure: Proprietary push-pull design

Magnet type: Neodymium

Transducer size: 106 mm

Maximum power handling: 15W (for 200ms)

Sound pressure level: >130dB with 15W

Frequency response: 5Hz – 20kHz extended out to 50kHz

Total harmonic distortion: <1% through entire frequency range

Impedance: 110 ohms

Efficiency: 102dB / 1mW

Optimal power requirement: 1 – 4W