Audeze (pronounced "odyssey") is an American company that’s fast forging a name for itself with a rapidly expanding range of high-end headphones that use planar magnetic drivers. And at the very top of Audeze’s audio tree are the LCD-4.
Featuring thin nano-grade driver diaphragms and unique Double Fluxor magnets, these headphones boast an unsurpassed magnetic flux density of 1.5 Tesla.
But as any audiophile will tell you, numbers rarely tell the whole story when it comes to hi-fi. So do the Audeze LCD-4 really sound like they cost £3,299/$3,995?
Related: Audeze LCD-X review
The LCD-4 are huge. My reference Grado Labs GS1000e are big headphones, but they’re dwarfed by these Audeze cans.
There’s something oddly contradictory about the design, too. A carbon-fibre headband takes things into the space age, while a combination of wood and highly polished metal on the earcups, then a dash of leather, bring it all back down to Earth (and seemingly inside an executive saloon car from the 1990s).
However, this mash-up points more towards the selection of no-compromise materials chosen for their properties rather than their aesthetics – the wood for its tonality, the carbon-fibre for its light weight, and the leather for its comfort and durability on the contact points.
Okay, so the mirror-polishing of those big metal grilles is probably for aesthetics only. And not something I’m keen on. Not only do they look a little too glitzy for my liking – like an LCD-3 that’s been pimped by Xzibit and pals – but they pick up fingerprints much too easily.
Protruding diagonally forwards from the bottom of each earcup is a 4-pin mini-XLR socket in a polished housing, for connecting the supplied cable. The cable itself is a silver-and-black work of art, twisted at the mini-XLR end, then plaited where the two sides join, and finally terminates with a 1/4-inch Neutrik plug.
As well as being huge, the Audeze LCD-4 are also extremely heavy. I couldn’t find an official figure stated by the company, but they weighed in at 705g on my scales, without the cable. The LCD-3 were 600g, so that’s quite some jump.
Audeze has tried to keep that weight down, however, not just with the use of carbon-fibre, but with its driver technology. The LCD-4 use the planar magnetic drivers for which Audeze is renowned, but in this case they’ve been made outrageously thin so they could be ramped up to 106mm wide. These nano-grade drivers are then powered by neodymium Double Fluxor magnets.
Rounding off the package is a hard case that looks like it was built for the SAS to transport grenades in. Seems like overkill to me – and surely most will end up buried in a loft or cupboard – but these sorts of cases seem to be in fashion among American manufacturers at the moment.
The LCD-4 took forever to run in. I was feeling impatient – hey, who wouldn’t be when there’s over £3k of headphones just sitting there? – and so I took a listen every now and again. It was easily more than 50 hours before the upper mid-range settled and vocals started to sound more natural.
Even before then, I could already hear why Audeze has garnered such a cult following from the headphone hardcore. The soundstage evoked by the LCD-4 is so incredibly solid, with greater depth to the bass and lower mid-range than anything I’ve heard before.
When I finally got some serious listening time in with a variety of headphone amps – mostly the Copland DAC215 (£1,998) and Chord Hugo TT (£2,995) – I started to appreciate the subtleties within that wall of sound. There’s a sublime amount of texture throughout the frequency range, with individual instruments so clearly defined that they're easy to pick out.
Listening to David Bowie’s Blackstar in 24-bit/96kHz was a near-religious experience. The multiple layers and instruments knitted together into a massive whole, while still pulsing and fluctuating, to surround me thoroughly and completely.
That bottom-end truly is impressive – chunky and solid but never too loose. Combining such phenomenal fullness as well as hefty bass really sets the Audeze apart from many high-end headphones.
Vocals never quite opened up, however, and remained a little recessed throughout testing. Personally, I'd sacrifice a touch of that bottom-end for just a tad more mid-range realism and a slightly more forward treble. I also found myself yearning for the superior transient-handling of my Grado GS1000e while playing a hi-res recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations by pianist Kimiko Ishizaka. There just wasn’t quite the attack and stop-start of the notes that there should have been.
I really didn’t miss the Grado's foam earpads, though. The sumptuous leather pads of the LCD-4 proved to be more comfortable – and less sweat-inducing – on long listening sessions. Although I still think Sennheiser is top dog in this department, with those plush felt earpads on its high-end models.
Somewhat balancing out the comfy earpads, the LCD-4’s carbon-fibre and leather suspension-type headband can only do so much to make these hefty headphones feel lighter on the head than they are. There’s no disguising that they’re chubbers, and that means that overall comfort during extended listening isn't wonderful.
There’s no denying that the LCD-4 are astonishing headphones. If you’re the sort of person who’ll always choose big, floorstanding speakers ahead of more sonically agile standmounters, the LCD-4 will be right up your street. They serve up a magnificently full sound that you just won’t hear from any other headphones.
But they won’t suit everybody. More stripped-back recordings tend to lose some of their intimacy and realism compared to the best dynamic-driver models and electrostatics. I’d certainly advise you to audition the LCD-4 for yourself before splashing out that much cash.
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In so many ways, the Audeze LCD-4 are the finest headphones that money can buy. Only a slightly recessed upper mid-range lets them down.