Review written by Jake Cheriff
A music producer's perspective on high end headphones.
Audeze seems to be a controversial brand in headphone enthusiast circles due to their peculiar frequency response targets and constant silent revisions. While I appreciate the company’s commitment to improving their products, it’s a hard pill to swallow that you can spend thousands on a headphone from Audeze one day to find out the next day that they’ve updated their design and your new headphones are no longer the latest revision. As far as I know, the LCD-X that I am reviewing now is the latest version featuring their ‘updated pads.’
Editor's note, it is assumed that this unit was the '2021 revision' based on the serial number. Audeze have published the start dates of this revision, and you can check that here.
Despite these controversies and the fact that Audeze produces some of the heaviest headphones on the market, people ADORE their Audeze headphones. After spending two weeks with my pair of LCD-X headphones, it isn’t difficult to understand why.
Build, Design, and Comfort
The LCD-X is built like a tank. Unfortunately, they also feel like a tank on my head. At 610 grams, they’re the heaviest headphones I’ve experienced by a large margin. While I don’t think they’re too heavy to enjoy music/audio, I have found that they’re too heavy for me to make it through a whole record or movie without experiencing some level of discomfort. If the weight doesn’t get you, the heat just might. Despite their open-back design, the LCD-X makes my head feel really toasty in a warm room. I actually waited an extra week to write this review because it was too hot to listen to the LCD-X without the air conditioner on. “What’s the point of headphones if you can’t use them with the air conditioner on?” my sister asks…
Aesthetically, I’m a big fan of the LCD-X. With their matte black metal and leather design, they look like they would be right at home in Bruce Wayne’s bat cave (assuming Christopher Nolan is directing). The cable is also superb. Compared to the cables that came with my Focal Clear, the LCD-X cable is a real treat. It’s understated, flexible, and it doesn’t kink.
pictured: my reference tracks for evaluating speakers, headphones, and room acoustics
Frequency Response / Sound
Grade: C (no EQ) / A (EQ)
The other day, someone on the r/headphones subreddit asked what the difference was between cheap headphones and expensive headphones and I responded, “expensive headphones need EQ.” I was mostly joking but there is some truth there in regards to the Audeze LCD-X. Out of the box, the LCD-X sounds a bit mediocre to me. At over $1k, this is pretty disappointing. I’ve read in forums that the newest revision of the LCD-X has a more agreeable stock tonality than previous iterations. Having never heard the previous iterations, I’m not impressed. HOWEVER, with a little EQ, the LCD-X really starts to make some sense as a kilobuck contender.
Without EQ, the low mids tend to overwhelm the rest of the frequency spectrum.
Listening to “Terminal Paradise” by Big Thief which usually sounds incredibly natural if a little warm, the low end of the vocals consumes the rest of the mix. The tonality reminds me of Apple’s Airpods Max. Which is to say, bad.
Listening to “A Worried Song” by Ryan Gebhardt which is, in my opinion, a fantastically balanced mix, it sounds like the frequencies around 250 Hz are overtaking the rest of the frequency spectrum. The vocals lack articulation. The nylon string guitars sound aggressive instead of light and natural like they do on other headphones in my collection. The bass guitar is indistinguishable from the rest of the murky mix below 200 Hz.
***The following impressions are taken with EQ applied to the LCD-X via FabFilter’s Pro-Q 3 plugin***
With EQ applied, the LCD-X really wakes up.
Listening to “Feels Right” by Biig Piig, the low end is more expressive than I’ve ever heard it right down to the bottom of the audible frequency spectrum and then some. In comparison, the Focal Clear only seems to hint at the low end speed and authority that the LCD-X manages to reproduce every time the chorus hits and the kick drum and bass guitar jump back into action.
The LCD-X has the most detailed midrange I’ve heard. On some songs/records, the hyper detailed sound is a lot of fun. On others it’s a bit much.
Listening to “Nostalgia For The Present Moment” by Jaunt, there is a LOT going on and it sounds like the LCD-X does a much better job keeping up than the Clear or the Sundara. Even in busy passages, it’s easy to discern all of the individual instruments/synths/sound effects at once. The Sundara manages to include everything but the LCD-X presents an extra level of nuance to each element’s spatial positioning and depth within the mix. The whole “All In One” record by Jaunt is a lot of fun to listen to on the LCD-X.
I’ve found other records that are more “acoustic” and less detail orientated to be less compelling. Records like Foxwarren’s self titled 2019 record is one such album that sounds somewhat out of place on the LCD-X’s hyper resolving drivers. That record, to me, is much more about the way that the different instruments combine and meld together rather than the way those instruments sound in isolation. The emotion is more packed into the band’s dynamics than in the details of the arrangements.
“Fruity” by Rubblebucket is a song I like to use to gauge a headphone’s treble because it toes the line of being overly sibilant on neutral headphones like the Clear and the Sundara. The Sundara definitely places the SSS’s just north of where I’d like them to be. The Focal Clear is right on the line and will tip in one direction or the other depending on the signal chain. The LCD-X however, makes “Fruity” sound smooth as butter - even with EQ. The speed and resolution of the treble is just phenomenal.
Listening to “Do U Mind? (Leave the Light On)” by Fleece, cymbals actually sound more natural on the LCD-X than they do on the Sundara or the Clear. Each cymbal hit has a distinct attack, sustain, and release to the sound. The extra depth and detail also makes it much easier to distinguish things like crash cymbals from ride cymbals.
Soundstage / Imaging
The imaging on the LCD-X (with EQ) is the best I’ve heard. Like the details in the mids, the uber-precise imaging is not always my preference on more organic sounding recordings. Perhaps this is because some (most) musicians and producers have never actually heard this level of detail in their own recordings. Before subscribing to the r/headphones subreddit and falling all the way down the headphones rabbit hole, I had never even heard of planar magnetic technology. I’ve interned and worked in studios for almost a decade now and the 2020 Sundara was the first planar magnetic headphone I ever experienced. It’s rare that I talk to someone in the pro audio world that knows anything about planar magnetic drivers unless it’s an ad they saw somewhere for the Avantone Pro Planar. If a recording is created using dynamic driver speakers and headphones to monitor at every step of the recording’s creation (recording, mixing, mastering), does the extra detail provided by the LCD-X make its presentation more accurate to the recording or less accurate to the artist's intentions? Food for thought! Personally, I prefer the LCD-X on some tracks and the more dynamic Focal Clear on others.
Soundstage is definitely more spread out than it is on the Focal Clear which is somewhat crowded by comparison. The Clear is also more forward sounding while the LCD-X places things a step or two further in front of the listener. The Sundara has a similar width / spread-out sound but lacks the LCD-X’s richer sense of depth forward and precise imaging.
The LCD-X was a complicated headphone to review. In some ways, it sounds like the most “grown-up” headphone I’ve tested. The resolution is top notch. The sense of space that it reproduces is both rich and concise. The low end is superbly thick and authoritative which is perfectly in line with the headphone’s visual aesthetic. Personally, comfort is simply too high on my priority list to really consider holding on to the LCD-X. In terms of comfort, the physical sensation of switching from either my HiFiMan Sundara or Focal Clear to the LCD-X is akin to stepping out of the hot tub and into the pool. To continue the pool metaphor - you get used to the pool (LCD-X) after a minute or two and you begin to appreciate the extra space you have to swim around. But I’m a sucker for a jacuzzi. The Clear and Sundara are both capable of conveying a recording’s emotional resonance just as well, if not better, than the LCD-X. And while I find the extra detail and depth of the LCD-X fascinating academically, I don’t think it’s worth the 600+ gram neck workout.
Buy the Audeze LCD-X for the best available price.