Audeze LCD-XC Review
After having evaluated multiple high end full-sized Audeze headphones now, I had a certain idea of what I imagined the Audeze ‘house sound’ might be. It turns out I was wrong about that - or perhaps even the notion that there is a specific ‘house sound’ for this manufacturer. But importantly, when I received the opportunity to review the LCD-XC, I was expecting something else. I was expecting something similar to the open-back LCD-X that I had reviewed not too long ago. It turns out this expectation was completely wrong. In fact, reviewing the LCD-XC has led to a number of surprised expressions on my face, and even now when sitting down to write this, I think this headphone has surprised me more than any other so far.
In any case, the LCD-XC is the closed-back counterpart to the well-known LCD-X, which has received quite a bit of praise over the years for its technical performance. It’s interesting to note that apart from one upcoming closed-back headphone from HiFiMAN, the Audeze LCD-XC is the most “high-end” closed-back planar magnetic headphone I’ve been able to find at an MSRP of $1799. However, should you choose the ‘creator’ package without the travel case, the LCD-XC is considerably less expensive, coming in at $1299.
This LCD-XC was evaluated in 2020, so it may be different from previous or subsequent revisions of this headphone.
- Style - Over-ear, closed-back
- Transducer type - Planar Magnetic
- Phase management - Fazor
- Transducer size - 106 mm
- Maximum power handling - 5W RMS
- Maximum SPL - >130dB
- THD - <0.1% @ 100dB
- Impedance - 20 ohms
- Sensitivity - 100 dB/1mW (at Drum Reference Point)
- Minimum power requirement - >100mW
- Recommended power level - >250mW
- Weight - Maple: 690g / Carbon: 760g
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- iFi Pro iDSD -> Cayin IHA-6
- iFi Pro iDSD -> SPL Phonitor X
- Mytek Liberty DAC
- Auris Audio Euterpe
- Earmen TR-Amp
- iFi iDSD Micro Black Label
- Topping D90
- Topping L30
Build, Design & Comfort
The LCD-XC is a wonderfully well-built headphone, using the same sturdy-feeling design that shows up in the LCD-X with the addition of gorgeous wooden backings to the cups. It should be noted that this unit I’m reviewing uses the maple wood cups, but there are also other backings available, like one from carbon fibre. From what I could tell, however, the maple wood backing is still the lightest at just under 700g. And, unfortunately, this is just too heavy for me.
It’s always my biggest complaint with high end full-sized Audeze headphones - that the weight is just such a dealbreaker, which is a shame because the rest of the comfort for this headphone is actually really good. It has enormous thick pads with a lot of give to them as well as a wide perforated suspension headband that alleviates any issues on top.
So apart from the weight, the LCD-XC is an exceptionally well built and comfortable headphone - prospective buyers should just expect to do some neck exercises to make long-term listening a bit more bearable.
The Audeze LCD-XC is the closed-back version of the LCD-X, meaning it uses the same transducer, the same diaphragm, and closes off the back of the cup. Like the LCD-X, the XC is a planar magnetic headphone that uses a double-sided magnetic array. You can read more about the difference between planar magnetic and dynamic driver (moving coil) headphones here.
For detail, image clarity, and the overall ability to “look into the music”, the Audeze LCD-XC in my opinion competes with some of the very best closed-back headphones I’ve heard - even ones that cost quite a bit more. In particular, the bass response is so good and so articulate that once EQ’d this may be a good candidate for rock and metal music. I say this because the LCD-XC is one of the best headphones for handling the kind of complex and busy passages these genres sometimes have - and again especially for the bass. Moreover, the fact that it’s a closed-back means you don’t have to deal with the additional ambient noise floor that open-back headphones can sometimes let in. So not only does it perform exceptionally well for detail, the isolation factor can enhance the perception of this as well.
Speed & Dynamics
Like many other planar magnetic headphones, the LCD-XC is quite fast for its initial leading edge. I have the feeling that it has a bit of a longer decay, maybe due to the cups, but in general it still sounds tight and well controlled.
For dynamics (macrodynamics in particular), this is where the LCD-XC is superior to the LCD-X in my opinion. Closing off the headphone may have added an additional parameter for punch and slam, because the LCD-XC hits like a truck. While I found the open-back LCD-X to have decent punch and slam for a planar magnetic headphone, it’s not on the same level as the XC. This is even more impressive when you consider that most modern planar magnetic headphones don’t have quite the same punchy quality that many dynamic driver headphones do, like the ones from Focal for example, but I find the LCD-XC to compete in this area quite well.
Soundstage & Imaging
For soundstage, I find the LCD-XC is a bit more intimate than I like, meaning that it’s not as wide and open sounding as its open-back counterpart. This is to be expected with a closed-back headphone to a certain degree. The nice thing about this, however, is that the LCD-XC sounds more cohesive in its stage than the X, just because the lateral definition left and right is a bit more in line with the center image presentation - while I found this to be a bit pulled towards me on the X by contrast.
For imaging, the LCD-XC is extremely precise, and it has reasonably even image distribution across the front of the stage. Image separation and distinction is also class-leading, as we might expect from a high end planar magnetic headphone. It’s not on the level of some open-back planars like the HiFiMAN Arya, but given its more intimate soundstage, I’m really impressed with its ability in this area. It’s very easy to isolate vocal lines and instruments in the mix should you want to go looking for them.
I’m both surprised and impressed for the LCD-XC’s material/transducer related timbre. This doesn’t have the usual planar dryness that I sometimes worry about, and instead leans more towards the ‘euphonic’ and ‘musical’ side of things. This again may have something to do with the cups and a longer decay, but on the whole I don’t have any problems here. For frequency response related timbre, the LCD-XC is still a bit odd with a bit of extra ‘shimmering’ quality with a slightly more analytic kind of sound to certain tones.
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Frequency Response & Tonality
The following is how the Audeze LCD-XC measures on the GRAS 43AG standardized measurement rig relative to the combined Harman target curve (Harman 2013 bass but Harman 2018 mids and treble). For reference, the Harman 2018 bass is substantially elevated - far too much for what I think most audiophiles would consider appropriate, even if some bass heads may like it, so I prefer to use the more modest 2013 bass shelf. In any case, these are raw measurements, meaning it should not look like a flat line across. This instead shows the raw measurement relative to the target that would otherwise be normalized in compensated measurements.
How do you read this? The dotted black line is the target (how we might want it to measure), and the green line is how the headphone in question measures. Effectively, this shows how significantly the headphone’s frequency response deviates from the target.
It should be noted that there may have been some unit variance for the LCD-XC, but this could also be due to the effect of the really thick pads, so you may see measurements of this headphone that look a bit different from other sources. This one was also measured in 2020, so older measurements may also look a bit different if any revision has occurred.
When you think of full sized Audeze headphones, you generally think “good bass, slightly warm with an upper mid recession”. With this in mind, the LCD-XC’s frequency response is not at all what I expected. There are some similarities with other Audeze headphones, like great bass extension and crazy treble ‘air’ up top above 12khz. But the LCD-XC is quite a bit more filled in for the upper midrange, adding a kind of tonality-based clarity in the ‘pinna gain’ region that I don’t normally expect from an Audeze headphone.
Starting with the bass, it’s perfectly well extended like we might expect from a high end Audeze planar. It’s interesting to note that it sits slightly below the 2013 Harman bass shelf below 80hz, but in general it sounds great. The upper bass to midrange transition isn’t quite as clean as I’d like with a bit of a bump there into the lower mids, but it’s not too noticeable. Neither is the following dip, in fact this just means that the bass to mid transition will sound cleaner on some recordings than others (it’s pretty good for rock music).
Then we get to the most surprising part about this headphone’s frequency response, namely the upper mids that actually have appropriate pinna gain. This means the rise that should start around 1khz and continue upwards until around 3.5khz is there for the most part with the LCD-XC. I should point out, I’m surprised by this specifically because of how much darker the open-back LCD-X measures by comparison.
The following graph shows the difference between the two. Keep in mind that this is the LCD-X from early 2020 with the mesh grille, so previous or subsequent LCD-X revisions may measure differently. These were both normalized at 1khz.
We can see just how much closer the LCD-XC gets to the target here, but it should be pointed out that not all LCD-Xs measure the same, and this is the one from early 2020 with the mesh grille on the side - but even on older revisions that I’ve seen they still look a bit withdrawn around 3khz.
One other thing to note about the upper mids, it looks like there’s a strong dip around 4.5khz, and this may just be how Audeze headphones happen to measure, because it doesn’t sound right to my ear when I EQ that part out. For this reason, I just look at overall tonal balance in this region, even if it might be a bit subdued at 4.5khz specifically. The bottom line is that as far as the subjective experience goes, this isn’t an issue to my ear.
The lower treble around 5-6khz unfortunately is a bit of an issue for me, but because the rest of the treble is also a bit more intense, it’s not as noticeable of a peak. Really, the only major issue with the Audeze LCD-XC’s frequency response to my ear is the unreasonably amount of treble ‘air’ up top. This has the effect of making the splash part of cymbal hits sound a bit unrealistic in my opinion. But once again, because the LCD-XC has appropriate upper midrange ear-related gain - meaning it has an appropriate rise for how our ears impact the frequency response - the extra 12khz splash and sizzle quality doesn’t sound as out of balance as it might otherwise. Still, this is the place to add a bit of EQ in my opinion, but while for some other full-sized Audeze headphones (like the LCD-X) I’d say it’s a requirement, for the LCD-XC this is more a matter of taste.
Thankfully the LCD-XC is very easy to EQ. For anyone willing to make some adjustments in your EQ software of choice (or maybe you have an RME-ADI 2), I recommend the following:
- Peak at 30hz, 2dB Q of 1.4
- Low shelf at 75hz, 3dB
- Peak at 200hz, -0.5dB Q of 1.4
- Peak at 450hz, 3.5dB Q of 1.7
- Peak at 1500hz, -1dB Q of 1.4
- Peak at 3400hz, 2dB Q of 2
- Peak at 4500hz, 4.5dB Q of 2.5
- Peak at 5000hz, -2.5dB Q of 3
- Peak at 5200hz, -3dB Q of 1.7
- Peak at 8000hz, -1dB Q of 2
- High shelf at 11500hz, -6dB
You could be even more conservative and just add a bass shelf and a treble downshelf, and the rest of the frequency response is really good enough, this is just what I ended up with. Here’s how it looks after EQ:
Keep in mind that the dip you see around 9khz is supposed to be there, because this is where you get some interaction with a part of the ear (concha). If you try EQing that up, it’ll introduce a very unpleasant ‘shimmering’ character to everything, so I don’t recommend filling it all in.
Now I know many Audeze fans are used to using Audeze’s own DSP preset with Reveal+, but I actually found it to not sound that good - at least at the time of writing this article. It might be the case that it’s intended for a different revision for this headphone, or there’s an update for it somewhere. In any case, here’s how it measures with Reveal+:
So at the very least, this version is not a good fit with Reveal+ at the time of writing this article. I will update this in the future should the preset be updated or if more information becomes available.
Audeze LCD-X ($1199)
Compared to the early 2020 LCD-X, the LCD-XC has a more agreeable frequency response to my ear, particularly from the bass to upper midrange, and while the XC has too much treble ‘air’ for my liking and a bit of a forwardness at 5-6khz, this is the one that I’d choose if EQ weren’t an option.
The LCD-X has similar technical ability, with a wider soundstage, but also with slightly less slam and impact. It’s slightly lighter due to being open-back, but both are a bit too heavy in my opinion.
Audeze LCD-4 ($4000)
While the LCD-XC’s detail is impressive for a closed-back headphone, it’s not on the same level as the LCD-4. This is where the flagship earns its reputation, the LCD-4 is an absolute detail monster. Still, I’m surprised at how close the LCD-XC gets to it at a fraction of the price. I wanted to make this comparison because it’s yet another example of a high end Audeze headphone that has a more subdued upper midrange.
While it’s not as significant as on the LCD-X, the LCD-4 suffers some tonal balance issues between its upper mids and upper treble, meaning for cymbal tones you lose a bit of the fundamental tone in favor of the resonant splash and sizzle quality. Because the LCD-XC is more filled-in for its upper mids, you get all of the clarity there for the fundamental tone so that the splash and ‘air’ emphasis above 12khz isn’t as out of balance as it is on the LCD-4.
Of course, I still prefer the LCD-4 for its technicalities, but that’s mostly because I’m comfortable doing a bit of EQ to bring the upper mids and upper treble back in line a bit.
Audeze LCD-2 Closed ($899)
The LCD-XC is a clear step up from the LCD-2 Closed, both in terms of technical performance and in terms of overall tonal balance. I found the LCD-2 Closed to be quite strange sounding for vocals, even though it did have really articulate and well controlled bass response. In my mind, the LCD-XC is easily worth the price increase over the LCD-2 Closed and I wouldn’t hesitate to spend a bit more to get the extra performance of the XC - especially if you don’t EQ. To me, the real barrier for both of these is the weight, and if you’re going to have a heavy headphone, it might as well be the XC.
DCA Aeon 2 ($899)
The other important closed-back planar, in my opinion, is the Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2. The Aeon 2C has really good detail retrieval, but the LCD-XC is still a clear category above for just about all aspects of the frequency response. Importantly, the LCD-XC also has much better punch and slam to it with better dynamics. The key consideration here is that the DCA Aeon 2C is about half the weight of the LCD-XC, and is also portable. So in my mind it all comes down to how much you value the comfort, weight, and form factor of the Aeon 2C.
Focal Stellia ($2990)
The Stellia is one of my favorite closed-back headphones. It has exceptional detail retrieval, and this is where it becomes difficult to compare a planar like the XC against a dynamic driver headphone like the Stellia. For detail and image clarity, I think they’re very close. For image separation and distinction, I give the edge to the LCD-XC. For dynamics, they’re also very close, and for soundstage I’d give a slight edge to the Stellia. All of this looks quite impressive for the XC because it’s a lot less expensive, but for overall tonal balance, I still prefer the Stellia, with a bit more bass presence and a more agreeable and relaxed treble response for my taste. It’s also way more comfortable, so if someone gave me one or the other, I’d still take the Stellia.
As I’ve mentioned throughout this review, the Audeze LCD-XC is one of the most impressive experiences I’ve had with an Audeze headphone so far. While there are potentially other closed-back headphones out there that perform better or have better tonal balance overall, I find the LCD-XC to be very competitive at its price point, easily beating headphones that cost quite a bit more for technical performance.
In my opinion the LCD-XC has two knocks against it. The first is that it’s got too much treble air above 12khz for my taste, even though the rest of its tonal balance is excellent. For anyone not comfortable doing EQ, the LCD-XC may end up being a bit too bright in the ‘air’ region. The second, and more significant knock against it is the unreasonable weight of 700g. In my opinion this is just too heavy for the kind of use I’d want a closed-back headphone for - namely sitting upright at my desk for a work day or longer gaming session. But I can tell you that if not for that last issue, I would personally buy this headphone. For those of you who find this kind of weight acceptable, the Audeze LCD-XC gets my thorough recommendation.
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Check out the video review here:
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