Audeze’s most affordable over-ear headphones to date are a bit of a bargain – definitely a pair for your shortlist
- Lavishly detailed and explicit sound
- Light, portable and robust design
- Sound leakage makes them anti-social
- Not exactly feature-rich
- Review Price: £399
- Planar magnetic drivers
- 3.5-6.3mm adapter
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Audeze’s open-backed LCD-1 reference audio headphones are its most affordable yet.
The market for premium, wireless, noise-cancelling over-ear headphones is saturated. Companies from Bose and Bowers & Wilkins to Microsoft and Sony are ready to sell you a pair – as long as you have £300-£400 to spend.
Fortunately, Audeze has no interest in crashing that particular market. The Californian specialist may only have been operating for a dozen years or so, but it has spent that time establishing an enviable reputation for high-performance, high-price headphones with looks as uncompromising as the technology inside them.
The LCD-1 are the most affordable full-size headphones Audeze has ever developed, and what they’re meant to achieve is far from what the mainstream market is aiming for. Single-mindedness is all well and good, of course – but are the LCD-1 on-ears worth considering?
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Audeze LCD-1 design – Lightweight and comfortable to wear
In some ways, the design of the LCD-1 follows the broad template laid down by the mainstream some time ago. A portable design, the ear cups articulate through 180 degrees and fold flat in order to fit in their tidily proportioned carry-case. And at 250g all-in, they’re hardly a burden to wear.
The comfort and wearability is further aided by soft, memory foam ear cups, which are covered – like the inside of the headband – in lambskin leather. The overall construction – which is mostly of a robust, sturdy-feeling plastic – feels hard-wearing and long-lasting.
But unlike most over-ear headphones at this sort of money, the LCD-1 aren’t noise-cancelling, don’t have voice- or touch-control and neither are they wireless. In fact, they come with more wire than most: a 2m braided cable with a 3.5mm jack at one end splits into two and joins both ear cups.
And, perhaps most pertinently of all, those ear-cups are open. So any sound being directed to your ears is, at the same time, leaking from the back of the LCD-1 ear cups for everyone sitting nearby to “enjoy”.
Audeze LCD-1 features – The focus is on sound, not copious features
The Audezes are open-backed for one reason: because the company thinks that’s how best to achieve the open, spacious and expansive delivery for which it is aiming.
That’s the reason the LCD-1 sport – like all Audeze models – a planar magnetic design, too. Audeze is adamant that this is how best to serve up a low-distortion, full-range, fast and precise sound.
Unlike the more common dynamic driver technology found in almost all headphones, planar magnetic uses a thin, flexible membrane to generate sound. In this respect, it’s quite similar to the electrostatic technology found in a few big, expensive headphone designs.
But unlike electrostatic technology, Audeze’s membrane has a current flowing through it. This makes it more like a dynamic driver design. With planar magnetic, Audeze wants the best of both worlds: the speed and extension of electromagnetic, but with the efficiency of dynamic.
Consequently, there’s a 90mm planar magnetic driver behind each ear cup. Despite this, the ear cups themselves are no heftier than any number of dynamic driver alternatives.
And that’s it as far as features are concerned. The LCD-1 are headphones in the old-fashioned sense – all they do is put music into your ears.
Audeze LCD-1 sound quality – Too leaky to be used in public, but terrific-sounding over-ears nevertheless
From reading this review so far, you may have come to realise that the LCD-1 are not for use in public – they’re simply too leaky to make them a viable option when on a train or an aeroplane.
If you’re okay with that then you’ll also be pleased to learn that there are no other concessions to be made. Just put on the LCD-1 and let them transport you.
The Audeze LCD-1 simply have no blind spots. Every aspect of music reproduction is handled confidently and expertly, with the resulting sound little short of thrilling.
Once through a Tidal Masters file of Janelle Monáe’s Make Me Feel is enough to confirm the LCD-1’s ability to extract the finest details from a recording. No nuance is too subtle for these headphones to overlook. As far as tonality and timbre of individual instruments or voices are concerned, the LCD-1 pack songs with so much information you’ll never doubt you’re getting the full picture. The character and attitude of Monáe’s vocal is absolutely explicit, and as a consequence she sounds utterly immediate.
In fact, throughout the frequency range the LCD-1 remain vigilant and hawk-eyed; no detail escapes, and no overtone is understated. Listen to a complex, involved recording such as The Divine Comedy’s The Frog Princess and the soundstage is deep, wide and tall. All the elements are locked in position, with plenty of elbow-room, hanging together as a coherent and unified whole. This sort of integration and separation is tricky for even the most capable headphones to achieve – but the LCD-1 pull it off without breaking sweat.
There’s rapidity to the lowest frequencies, but plenty of substance and extension, too. Plus, of course, those remarkable detail levels. The most capable dynamic-driver alternatives will hit harder where bass is concerned, and for some listeners that will be important. But no alternative has the low-end speed and flexibility that’s on display here.
Neither excitable nor dispassionate, the overall LCD-1 sound is, in fact, neutral. Which can sound like a pejorative, but it isn’t. “Neutrality” is a tricky position to achieve for headphones, and those that can simply get out the way of a recording and just hand it over in full are always covetable.
Should you buy the Audeze LCD-1?
I suspect that the LCD-1 customer is one with some very specific requirements. The LCD-1 customer wants uncompromisingly high-quality sound reproduction from a reasonably compact, lightweight, easily transportable pair of well-made headphones. And the LCD-1 customer would never be so gauche as to wear them in company.
Given that most over-ear designs at this sort of money offer wireless, noise-cancelling, app-controlled facilities – and the best sound pretty good too – the LCD-1 might seem a tricky sell. And sure enough, in some ways they are. But “pretty good” is way too mild a description of the Audeze LCD-1’s sound.
As far as realistic competition goes, Grado’s remarkable SR325e are always worth a mention. As open-backed and leaky as the LCD-1, but with looks that are more than a little reminiscent of a World War II flying ace’s headset, they’re a prodigiously talented listen. Whether or not you can stomach the prosaic design and materials will be a big part of whether you consider them a viable option.
Or you could just chuck more money at this particular problem and give Beyerdynamic’s massively talented Amiron a listen. They’re bigger, heavier and altogether more ostentatious than the LCD-1 – but they make a detailed and well-organised sound. Whether they’re worth the additional outlay over the Audeze is questionable, though.
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