Audeze is a California-based high-end headphone and audio manufacturer whose products for years have been at the top of the list for both audio professionals and musicians. The company attributes its unique selling point to combining the most high-tech materials available with its own “precision craftmanship.” Indeed, it was when the Audeze founders stumbled upon an ex-NASA scientist in 2008 – who had himself developed an ultra-thin membrane which became the basis for planar magnetic diaphragms – that Audeze established itself as a leading purveyor of high-quality and reference headphones. Consequently, the team rejected the use of conical drivers in favor of this new and strong material, originally developed for space applications.
The company now offers a range of over-ear and in-ear cans ranging in price from $400 to $4,000, while the pair we’re looking at today, the LCD-1, thankfully sits at the bottom of that price scale at $399. As mentioned, several of Audeze’s products can be found in studio settings and a number of its ‘phones are the brand of choice for serious gamers.
Design and Features
The LCD-1 arrives in an exquisitely finished black cardboard presentation case within which sits an oval-shaped nylon cocoon, itself housing the folded profile phones and tangle-free 3.5mm cable. A ¼-inch adaptor, furthermore, is a welcome accessory. At just 250 grams, the headphones feel light but strong and well-built, while lamb-skin memory foam ear pads form extremely comfortable over-ear cups designed for extended listening periods. Audeze insists that the 90mm planar drivers are responsible for an “incredibly wide” dynamic range, and the frequency response is rated from a growling low-end 10Hz all the way up to 20KHz.
The Audeze cans are open-backed making them not completely isolated from outside noise leaking in, and twin cables allow reversing sides in a moment if you need to. It’s worth pointing out that the LCD-1 is designed and manufactured in the US from both imported and domestically-fashioned parts.
In Use and Performance
The over-ear headphones are certainly comfortable, with the twin mounts allowing a pivot outwards to enable a snug fit. After some extended listening sessions, I was aware of the slight brace-like feeling of the over-head arch, but this is perhaps to be expected with premium-grade over-ear models.
The LCD-1 cannot be faulted for its detailed performance. On the Kate Bush CD Aerial, you can detect even the slight frailty of the singer’s voice on the sustained notes of “King of the Mountain”, while expansive strings and a perfectly timed plodding bass line underscore the arrangement. On the acoustical track “Bertie”, the cello echoes around the recording studio while waltzing gently in an out of the 6/4-time chorus.
The dynamics of “The Worst Pies in London” on the Original Broadway Cast album CD of Sweeney Todd deliver satisfying impact. Each phrase is terminated with the menacing thud of percussion and brass punching through the ear canal. American composer William Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony on YouTube – despite the inherent compression artefacts – was still capable of eliciting the scale and soundstage of the full orchestra.
There are happily no bolstered frequencies here or unwanted coloration, characteristics you would hope not to find in studio-grade cans. However – and I am nitpicking – my personal preference here would be for a little more oomph in the bass department. The pre-remaster recording of the Simple Minds CD New Gold Dream is a good litmus test (specifically due to its shortcomings), and the LCD-1 just lagged slightly behind on the cranium-shake curve.
If you do a lot of your critical listening on headphones, Audeze’s LCD-1 should definitely be on your audition list. These masterfully-crafted cans quickly supplanted any number of my own Marshalls, Panasonics and Skullcandys dotted around the listening room. Extricating yourself from your home theater and becoming immersed in a world of two-channel audio is a good practice now and then, and if you want to get closer to both the reference and the source, then I would have no hesitation in recommending the LCD-1.
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