This is the story of the Audeze LCD-1 and my emotional rejuvenation. As the pandemic pushed me into a bit of a social lull, I turned to the arts. Days began to fly off the calendar like confetti. Before long, I noticed that I was feeling less and less. When I stop feeling the music is when you know I’ve stopped feeling. By nature I’m a people person. I need human interaction to breathe and think. I need to hear human voices, and see the eyes of someone friendly looking back at me. Don’t get me wrong, music is a powerful thing, but it could never supplant my need for intimacy and connection. Still, amidst my pandemic blues, I feared that music was also losing its potency and emotional currency.
Words and Photos by Eric Franklin Shook
Listening to music is such a large and consistent part of my life, and has always been fuel for my emotional fires. Countless days have been spent in front of my stereo system, reflecting on my life and relationships. In each
therapy listening session, I am going through my emotional inventory, and feeling them one by one as a parade of artists seemingly guide me through the neighborhood streets of my own psyche. Sappy I know, but par for the course for myself.
It occurred to me that music was having a hard time getting through my recently hardened outer shell. Headphones were what I needed, for that direct injection of emotion and presence. Anxiety soon followed as I realized that I had just recently given up the bulk of my headphones to fellow Part-Time Audiophile staffer Nan Pincus for her own journalistic research and personal use. Fear not, as I am quite the resourceful fella and often able to pull myself (and others) out of the mud with ease. With a few waves of an editors’ magic wand, I soon had an optimists grin on my face as I greeted the well timed arrival of the Audeze LCD-1 (website).
The Audeze LCD-1 is an over-ear, open-circumaural design that occupies the entry level spot in Audeze’s world of Reference Line of headphones. Seemingly a beginner model, but with so much shared technology borrowed from Audeze’s acclaimed higher-end offerings, these headphones are nothing for seasoned audio professionals or audiophiles to scoff at.
The Audeze LCD-1 are compact, lightweight (250g), fold-able, and portable. They ship with a durable, yet soft, braided and kink-free two-meter-length Y-cable which features a unique way of eradicating a common nitpick I’ve had with almost every known Y-cable in existence. The Audeze supplied Y-cable uses an identical 3.5mm stereo plug at all three connection points. One at the amplifier end, the other two for the ear-cups. Each of the LCD-1 ear-cups are presented with a 3.5mm stereo signal plug. Inside each ear-cup is where the appropriate right or left channel signal is then sourced from a single (mono) contact point on the 3.5mm stereo plug connector, rendering each connector reversible without consequence. Therefore ending the timeless hassle of attaching poorly labeled connectors to poorly labeled headphone ear-cups. No magnifying glass needed. In fact, no eyesight needed either. Just feel around and plug them in. You can’t mess this up. I know this because I’ve tried.
Also included: a gold plated 6.35mm jack adapter, a cool looking warranty card, and rather smart looking, logo branded, single zipper, hard-side, ballistic carrying case with an internal fishnet accessory pocket, and a detachable fuzzy ear-cup separator. The last inclusion being a protective storage measure.
The outward appearance of the Audeze LCD-1 is rather straightforward and comfortably handsome in my opinion. The finishing is satin black, the genuine lambskin leather headband and ear pads are cleanly integrated, and each pair are built by Audeze in their California, USA factory. Internally what makes the Audeze LCD-1 special is its use of uncommonly efficient planar magnetic drivers. Normally a pair of wide bandwidth planar magnetic headphone drivers are difficult to drive, but the the 90mm ones found in the LCD-1 use a Neodymium N50 magnet structure and proprietary single-sided Fluxor™ magnet array to interact with current forces applied to the Ultra-thin Uniforce™ transducer diaphragm, ultimately resulting in excellent planar driver efficiency. Thus allowing the LCD-1 to be powered by even the most modest forms of source amplification, while still providing accurate and in-spec performance. This feature alone makes the LCD-1 an intriguingly flexible option for those looking for a reliable workhorse headphone that is both adept at portable mission critical usage and at being optimal for at home recreational listening.
Before the music even started I encountered a particular sound from the Audeze LCD-1 that I wasn’t expecting. During my initial fitting and placement I took note of their many comforts and the ample clamping pressure that gave me confidence in the LCD-1 ability to extract little in ways of dermal fatigue over longer listening sessions. During this fitting process a worrisome sound emerged. A slight creaking between the headband and ear cup structures. Admittedly the creaking sound didn’t appear often in my listening sessions, in fact I encounter it still quite rarely. But there are ways to purposely force these encounters, and all of them are related to abrupt head movements. Gum chewers be warned: activating your jaw muscles in the service of mastication and you will have it—the creaking. If there’s one thing I would complain about in the engineered cost savings of the design it would be the that LCD-1 headphone’s overall plasticy build quality leaves more to be desired. If these cans are to really impress me, they would have to do with their sound.
For my review period I tried the Audeze LCD-1 with a myriad of amplifiers and sources. Amplifiers of note were the Audio by Van Alstine SET 120 Control Amplifier ($1,199 USD), and the amazing Focal Arche ($2,490 USD) headphone amplifier/DAC. Though, for the bulk of my listening sessions I found the best price fit and service was provided by either a Schiit Audio Modi 3 DAC ($99 USD) and Magni Headphone Amplifier ($99 USD) stack, or the transportable iFi micro iDSD Signature ($649 USD) that I have in for review. Either combination of DAC/amplifier made a heap of sense for pairing with the affordable LCD-1.
I am overjoyed to report that the Audeze LCD-1 do in fact sound quite amazing, and do so by returning recorded music to a place of balance, where light and dark find equal representation and measure. The listener is not punished with an editorialized vision of the sonic palette. The LCD-1 frequency response is remarkably flat, and solidly neutral throughout the bandwidth. The musical presentation is always open, spacious, clean, and capable of effective dynamics. There is a slight roll off in the bass near the lowest octaves, and that’s about it as far as anomalies go. Nothing about the sound is exaggerated or too withdrawn. The LCD-1 provide an even handed elevation of detail and attack across an ultra-flat plane of open and sometimes airy sound. Of particular note, as these headphones are an open-back design, so their use in quiet and isolated domestic (or professional) environments is idyllic. The LCD-1 headphones project as much musical energy and information inward at the listener’s ears as they do outward at others in the immediate vicinity. So keep in mind your surroundings and distance when listening to sensitive program material. Insert funny commentary about Cardi B. and her hit single “WAP” found here.
The Schiit Audio combo provided a clean and endearing sense of power and soul to the LCD-1 headphones. The iFi micro iDSD did much of the same, but with more low-end punch, midrange vibe, and a smoother top end. Qualities specifically required from both pairings to extract the best of what the these flat measuring headphones have to offer.
If I had to choose between the two? I’d say buy both as the leaner and more extended Schiit stack offered the most information on darker recordings. While the iFi micro iDSD Signature’s smoother top end and low end grunt made for a more thrilling and fun, if also less flat, listen.
If you prefer a Harmon Curve implementation, or the similarly curvaceous eq shaping of mass market celebrity endorsed headphones, do look elsewhere. Or instead look more closely at your chosen sources and headphone amplifiers when building a system around the Audeze LCD-1. Throughout my usage, the LCD-1 more accurately represented an unfiltered view, bringing me closer to the real color, smells, and textures of what the recording artist approved and signed-off on.
Each of my explorations with the Audeze LCD-1 delivered an exacting dose of sunlight and detail that often accompanies a naked eye, outdoor view. As previously stated, tonal coloration is nowhere to be found. There are no bass humps to ignore, no pesky artificial sizzles in the top end. Just an overly adept level of extension and flatness across a wide frequency spectrum that is seldom seen at this price-point. The LCD-1 is true flat, done truly right.
Albeit this flat frequency response can present a problem. The Audeze LCD-1 is possibly too flat for some listeners and some associated electronics. Often enough, headphones with swollen bass and treble regions are designed to use those dramatic curves in the frequency response to compensate for the shortcomings of the unknown sources and amplification they will eventually be shackled to. The LCD-1 during my review period have flourished with the use of more sophisticated equipment. With each level of upgrade to source and amplifier a new level of finesse and poise have been attributed to the Audeze LCD-1 name.
The rest of the field in this price range often exhibit with a more bias-pleasing version of the truth. Something that in the short term is pleasing but over time grows predictable, tiresome, and monotonous. The Audeze LCD-1 experience unearths an individualized forensic report of what’s really happening in the recording with each new album they encounter. Hence their growing popularity with recording, mixing, and mastering engineers who have found in the LCD-1 a trustworthy and reliable tool. The LCD-1 in domestic terms can have an investigative quality that soon becomes addictive to its wearer. They can become that baseline reference upon which all other headphones or electronics in your system will be judged. The LCD-1 can become the all-knowing fact checkers of many modest (and not so modest) head-fi systems.
You may not have noticed it yet, and maybe not at all if I wasn’t to point it out now. Maybe you can see the ‘Conclusion’ header just over the horizon when a thought enters your mind—where are the song references?
“What did Eric hear on this track–or that?“—You
Well, some writers in the hi-fi press look at the writing of reviews like the filling out of a form, where nothing should be left blank. To the team at Part-Time Audiophile, that feels like a crutch. If the review merits the kind of explanation that requires detailed analysis of said component using certain passages of a song, then so be it. But it’s not required. In the instance of the Audeze LCD-1, attributing a sonic color to something so flat and clean sounding would be like trying to attach rich and savory adjectives to premium filtered water. It’s not happening and it’s not believable. Is this my analogy?
To some this above descriptions of sound might feel more like a swim in waters of audio science more than audio art, but I challenge you with this: should a headphone impart its own expression of sound—or—instead stand aside and let the artist’s expression through, untouched and un-manipulated?
Those accustomed to exaggerated bass regions, mid-range in retreat, and splashy top ends may find the Audeze LCD-1 a dull listen at first. To that, I say “Look at your game, girl” as these headphones have allowed me to more accurately assess and enjoy upstream components for their own sonic character, while themselves not pushing a singular narrative into the musical delivery chain.
At the fair price of $399 USD, I can’t think of a more painless headphone recommendation. Anyone one even remotely interested in musical detail should seek out a pair (or two) of the Audeze LCD-1 headphones. I honestly believe these headphones belong in the stables of every recording engineer, musician, and music lover out there looking for something portable and directly full of insightful.
Maybe this next statement is a bit of a Shook-ism, but I’ve always felt that “you can always get what you want if you know how to ask for it.” For me: I want the truth, I want clarity, and I want my feelings acknowledged. I want to see myself inside of the song, and to feel what the artist feels. I want to know that I have someone on the other side who shares in my joy and pain. The Audeze LCD-1 headphones have gifted me both an understanding and exposing musical companion. They are both partner and savior in the music loving experience. I now pass them on to you, highly recommended.
Retail: $399 USD
Frequency Response: 10Hz–50kHz
Power Handling: 5W RMS
Impedance: 16 Ω
Cable: 3.5mm to dual 3.5mm (2m), 6.35mm adapter