In all my experience as a headphone listener, I tried the most desired dynamic headphones ever created, some of which I have left with very positive impressions, with others I’ve had disappointments. Curiosity and the desire to know determined me to try something new, namely orthodynamic headphones (planar magnetics).
About two years ago when the Sennheiser HD800 had just been launched on the market and shortly after Beyerdynamic T1, on the Internet discussions began to emerge about a new company, smaller than Grado, which began producing planar magnetic headphones – technology used once by Sansui, Yamaha, and now by Fostex. The headphones mentioned above were widely used in leading studios, thanks to faithful sound reproduction and nearly linear frequency response.
In 2008 two friends Alexander Rosson and Sankar Thiagasamudram, both passionate about music and quality audio equipment founded Audez’e – a small company, located in Los Angeles, aiming to create headphones with most correct frequency response, which can be used both in studio and at home.
Their first model LCD-1 has received such a positive feedback, that the first pieces were pre-ordered and purchased instantly. With this occasion, manufacturers due to received feedback from headphone owners, improved the driver, making the diaphragm thinner, while using higher quality components. They also improved the design of the headphones, this time opting for a more classic and refined look. Thus Audez’e LCD-2 were created.
This year Audez’e LCD-2 has undergone several aesthetic changes, first changes were made to the metal grid that created resonance between the drivers and the metal grid itself, thereby making headphones more open. Then, they easily inclined the mini-XLR connectors for a more comfortable fit, last modification was changing the cable with a better one, in the same time eliminating the microphonics. The headphone driver was also slightly changed, now reaching the revision 2. According to the manufacturer, it should have better and deeper extreme frequencies, and an enhanced soundstage and stereo image.
LCD-2 was well received by audio engineers, audiophiles and ordinary listeners. From here came my curiosity in trying some planar magnetic headphones (orthodynamics as they are also called), from what I had no idea what to expect.
We received the second revision, with a leather headband, not from foam, which is the model that sells at a price of 995 USD.
It was a great surprise when I received the package and opened it up.
LCD-2 came in a gorgeous glossy red wooden box, with red velvet interior, all contributing with success to a great visual impact. I can say about headphones that it nicely combines materials such as Caribbean Rosewood, leather and metal.
Headphones are looking very refined in real life, so beautifully worked, that you find it hard to believe that almost everything is handmade. Headband and ear pads are made of sheepskin, the rosewood is beautifully finished and crafted, everything gives impression of passion and dedication.
Even if the planar magnetic driver is designed in push-pull configuration, the headphone itself has good efficiency with 50 ohm impedance, that can reach 91 decibels (dB) with 1mW and can withstand up to 15W, which is an output of 133 decibels, with all this it’s harmonic distortion (THD) is near 0.5%. I do not think there are other headphones with these characteristics, not even HD800 doesn’t have such low distortion at highest volume.
Each driver is tested separately for distortion, efficiency and impedance. Drivers are passing through a series of tests, after that they are carefully inspected. Then, frequencies are measured at each headphone and printed on the frequency diagram that comes in the product box. Each buyer receives an individual frequency response. Of course this diagram is very welcomed, as each LCD-2 is unique in its way and will sound a little different from her twin sister. Detachable cable made from high purity copper has 6.5mm output and mini-XLR input, the cable can also be ordered in balanced configuration.
The headphones have a weight of approximately 550 grams, that makes them quite heavy, but leather pads filled with foam attenuates some weight, they become very comfortable once properly placed and fixed. In the early hours of listening we felt a little more pressure around the ears, but after about 30 hours of use the headband and ear pads became more comfortable and the pressure almost disappeared.
Complete technical specs:
• Planar Magnetic Transducers.
• Custom designed Caribbean Rosewood earcups.
• Specially designed premium lamb skin leather earpads.
• Diaphragm excursion of 2.5 mm p-p for very high SPL. Maximum output exceeds 130 dB.
• Left and rear transducers have matched sensitivity and frequency response within +/- 0.5 dB.
• Specially designed self closing, acoustically transparent magnetic structure with highest grade Neodymium magnets.
• Large diaphragm area creates plane sound waves that enter ear canals the same way as it happens in real environment.
• Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 20 KHz, usable high frequency extension 50 KHz.
• Distortion: less than 1% even at full output.
• Impedance: 50 Ohms, nominal
• Maximum diaphragm excursion: 2.5mm p-p
• Efficiency: 91 dB/1mW
• Maximum output: 133dB, 15W
• Transducer active diaphragm area: 6.17 square inches.
• Input cable: Custom cable with mini XLR connectors
I’ve listened the LCD-2 on a wide variety of music, starting with classic and jazz and ending with electronic, rock and metal music.
I’ve listened mostly to:
• Dvorak – Symphony No.9
• Dmitri Shostakovich – Symphony No. 10
• Beethoven – Adagio Cantabile From Sonata Op.13 (Pathetique)
• Antonio Vivaldi – Four Seasons – Concerto In E Major ‘Spring’
• Mike Silver – Old Fashioned Saturday Night
• Samantha Crain – The Dam Song
• Infected Mushroom – Heavyweight
• Chemical Brothers – Escape 700 (Hanna Soundtrack)
• Michael Jackson – Black Or White
• The Beatles – Stereo Remasters
• The Doors – Light My Fire (DCC Remaster)
• Tool – Sober
• Nightwish – The Kinslayer
• Moonspell – Vampiria
Fluidity is the first sound characteristic that came to my mind when I made the first audition. The sounds are like floating in the air, they spin harmoniously around you and then are flowing slowly on a river (the feeling can be hardly described). LCD-2 sounds rounded, soft and pleasant, in comparison HD800 sounds more direct, more pointed, with sharper angles, without any smoothing – HD800 has a more digital sound I would say.
On classical music, string-based instruments have a sweet and syrupy timbre. Both, strings and voices sounds full, the air mass is easily moved to the listener. Violins sounded real, and each vibration is heard till the end. All instruments can be easily separated in space by the listener, you don’t even need to strain your brain to distinguish where each instrument is placed.
The sound gets a dense texture, rarely heard in headphones. For example HD800 does not sound dense at all, it has air and good soundstage, but the sound seems pale and flat. Instead LCD-2 has a more vivid sound, every musical note has bigger weight and punch to it. You can feel the air mass when it hits you, this characteristic on classical music is almost non-existent on other headphones.
Regarding electronic music I can say that I’ve met a new effect – sounds are coming from nowhere, and the background is absolutely silent, black, non-existent, mute. While listening to Infected Mushroom and Chemical Brothers I felt some hard feelings, my entire body reacted to the sound perceived by the ear. I think mostly it is due to driver working in push-pull topology and that creates a huge impact, the sound became very fast and hard hitting.
Bass speed and impact is incredible on these headphones, but it is not boomy, bloated or uncontrolled. Even if sometimes I feel like I have a subwoofer on my head, bass is always controlled and precise. Besides speed, I felt that bass has great extension and goes deep, down to the lowest octaves. I do not think I could recommend something else for electronic music, for fans of electro, LCD-2 is a real pleasure.
Coupled with Chord DAC64 and amplified by Burson HA-160D, the headphone gets an authority and a balance rarely heard. For example on the Denon D7000, how much I would try to control the bass, I never seems to accomplish it till the end. The same story is with the HD800, I try to calm the high frequencies with a tube headphone amplifier, but it loses something in the detail department or airiness. With LCD-2 is not the case. They sound balanced and natural from the beginning.
After about 30 hours of burn-in I felt that the sound has matured.
Listening to favorite songs by Michael Jackson and The Beatles, I felt a naturalness and a very analogue tone pleasant to the ear. A great role here played the midrange frequencies here. I personally believe they have the best midrange, followed by Grado headphones. Even if I do not want to say this word, yet the midrange is “magical” and faithful reproduction of the midrange is probably the hardest thing to do.
The voices are played exactly at the center in a pleasant and expressive way, being easily shaped by the LCD-2. Any jazz or vocal music listened on them, sounded sublime, from any point of view.
On The Beatles and The Doors music it was easily heard the noise of the recording. But it was not as annoying or disturbing like on Grado RS-1 for example. It was more peaceful on the ear, after rest of the instruments kicks in the background you will don’t even know that it is there.
3 days I’ve been trying to write something for the review, but when I put the headphones on and start listening to music, I’m losing the track of time and I wake up at midnight still listening. With LCD-2 I forget about me and everything else, one single thought passes through my mind: “Let’s listen one more record!”
It is amazing how tuneful and pleasant is the sound, as if it always calls you back. With LCD-2 listening to music is like a religion – something just for your soul.
Regarding highs, Sennheiser HD800 or Beyerdynamic T1 headphones are exactly the opposite of the LCD-2. You can calm down the T1 and HD800 only with tubes, and if you do so, you lose the frequency extension. LCD-2 has extension, timbre, percussion sounds clear and easy on the ear. Highs will never sound aggressive or thin. This makes a very enjoyable and tireless audition, you can listen to favorite songs for hours.
Highs really are very special, probably this is due to the planar magnetic technology that plays an important role in defining the sound. If I would assign to this headphones a taste, I would say that LCD-2 has a taste of an old wine, while the HD800 has a taste of a modern whisky.
If on the Grado RS-1 I liked the sound of rock, on the HD800 I liked the sound of classical and jazz music, I liked the T1 on speedy electronic music, on LCD-2 I liked everything, it excels at any type of music.
The only minus I’ve found with the LCD-2 was the soundstage, it was slightly smaller than on HD800, near the same size as with the T1, but the grandiosity feeling remained present. The soundstage is slightly smaller, but the delimitation of instruments in space and stereo image did not suffer at all. I even loved more the stereo image and 3D projection of the LCD-2. Because of the well defined image I could easily hear the sounds that are hidden in the background – microdetails, other headphones are putting on test your hearing and focusing ability.
Both macro and microdetails are easily heard and projected around the listener. On some songs the tridimensional effects are played so real, that you feel like you are standing in the concert hall and the band is playing just for you. I didn’t feel losing details compared to HD800 or T1, or extreme stereo sound that appears often on Grado RS-1. Audez’e have the drivers slightly inclined to mimic the sound of speakers, thus creating a more natural sound, without being aggressive.
LCD-2 headphones seems to sound natural and balanced, they didn’t have a distinct coloration or a more pronounced frequency, I would say they are slightly darker and warmer, but otherwise they seem to be, one of the most correct headphones on the market. I don’t know how sounds the revision 1, but the ones that I’ve got are almost perfect, if I do not consider the weight of 550g.
I can say that LCD-2 are quite comfortable, even if they have a higher weight than the competition. Thanks to very soft and fluffy ear pads and leather headband, you can forgot that you have something on your head. In the first hours of listening it feels a little pressure and discomfort around the ears, but after about 30 hours of listening the pressure disappears and headphones are starting to be comfortable and stable on the head. I also think that in time the headband will loose a bit of it’s strength and the pressure may completely disappear, becoming more and more comfortable, a feature valid for any type of headphones. Therefore in comfort they are receiving high notes from me.
LCD-2 having a sensitivity of 91 dB/1mW are quite easy to drive even by portables. On newer music, I got more than acceptable results from an Ipod Touch and from a Sansa Clip +. On some newer rock tunes, there was no need to use the maximum volume. Of course much of the refinement, control and 3D soundstage disappeared, but they work decently from portables too. I think that an average internal sound card, like Auzentech Forte or Asus Xonar Essence and D2/D2X will be enough for those with lower budgets.
For small pockets I do recommend external solutions too, such as: Audinst HUD-MX1, iBasso D6, Audiotrak Prodigy Cube, Audiotrak Dr.DAC2 DX, StyleAudio Carat Ruby 2 or Peridot.
For bigger pockets, any professional DAC with a headphone output is recommended, such as: Lavry DA11, Burson HA-160D, CEntrance DACmini, Grace Design m903, etc.
Personally I preferred more the headphone out from a Burson HA-160D, the sound gained control, refinement and speed, on headphones by this caliber, of course I recommend buying a dedicated headphone amplifier. LCD-2 have an excellent synergy with Burson and with Naim Headline 2, it didn’t mix so well with tubes or with Sugden Masterclass HA-4. On tubes the sound becomes a bit slower and more unfocused, so if you using tube based headphone amps, then I recommend new production tubes (JJ, Sovtek, Electro-Harmonix, Sophia Electric, Shuguang, Emission Labs, KRK) that are a bit faster with better resolution.
As transport we used a PC feeding with FLAC files the Chord DAC64, which is a fantastic source. The difference between various DAC’s or amplifiers was perceived easily with LCD-2, which means it is sensitive to any change in the system. I could try other cable than the stock one for LCD-2, a more professional one, but in a near future.
For LCD-2 preferably would be an amplifier with impedance between zero and five Ohm, above that the sound might be less clear and more unfocused, therefore tube headphone amps working in OTL topology (Output Transformer Less) are not recommended.
Some fantastic headphones in every aspect: sound, refinement, design and comfort. Everything you could want.
I have found LCD-2 to be a romantic and melodious headphone, it is easy to recommend them to music lovers who seek audiophile nirvana in a more intimate system. Since I received the LCD-2, they became my preferred headphone, other headphones started to look with envy at me now. The sound character is really unique and closer to analog. If I would compare them with a pair of speakers, probably I would say that they are sounding more like Dynaudio Contour S 1.4, which recently I have listened at my friend Savu.
- Deep bass, fast and controlled
- Mids are creamy and sweet
- Highs are well defined, without fatigue
- Detailed, dynamic, lively, very airy and relaxing sound
- The best stereo image I’ve heard in headphones
- Quality and detachable cable is a big plus
- Hand made, excellent build quality
I bring many thanks to Audez’e company, to Alexander Rosson and to Sankar Thiagasamudram for amability, professionalism and promptness shown. It was a pleasure to listen to these headphones.
Equipment used for review:
Headphones: Audez’e LCD-2, Sennheiser HD800, Beyerdynamic T1, Grado RS-1
Sources (DACs): Chord DAC 64, Burson HA-160D, AD Labs RD-26
Headphone amplifiers: Burson HA-160D, Naim Headline 2, Sugden Masterclass HA-4, WooAudio WA6SE