Audeze LCDi4 Review - When Headphone Meets IEM
Written by @Precogvision
As a college student, I’ve always gravitated towards IEMs for their portability. Headphones never really interested me because, well, they didn’t fit into my more mobile lifestyle. Still, I fondly recall trying my first pair of “real” audiophile headphones, the Sennheiser HD6xx, and being blown away. It was a huge step up from most of the IEMs I’d listened to. And while I don’t have the same high regard for the HD6xx these days, there’s a clear distinction in performance between headphones and their more portable IEM counterparts. Enter Audeze’s LCDi4. In a dash of groundbreaking innovation, it aims to bring headphone-level performance to the IEM form factor. But how does it stack up in practice?
This unit was loaned by Headphones.com for review and will be returned at the end of the review period. As always, what follows are my honest thoughts and opinions to the best of my ability.
Source & Drivability
There’s a lot of variables, specifically EQ, which can change the LCDi4’s (and other IEMs’) sound. I understand that some people might want to see different sources/chains/EQ adjustments; however, I think it’s a slippery slope for a number of reasons. And this applies to when I review other IEMs too:
- It too easily deviates into a question of “why didn’t you try this” or “oh, you didn’t do X, so you did something wrong”.
- If I found an IEM performed most optimally off of a specific source or chain, I wouldn’t feel comfortable having people holding me to that. Especially given how many more variables it introduces.
- Finally, I don’t think an IEM’s ideal performance should be predicated on expensive, external equipment. After all, an IEM is intended to be portable. If it mandates said equipment, then the difference should be added on as a function of the IEM’s cost too - in which case the value proposition plummets.
I am not against such adjustments. Rather, in cases such as this, I think that they should ideally be explored by the end-user. For review purposes, all critical listening was done off of an iPhone X with Apple Music using the included Cipher cable. I found the LCDi4 easy to drive off of my iPhone, but I did have to turn it up some during my brief stint with the 3.5mm. Personally, I’d advise against using the 3.5mm cable unless you’re willing to do some EQ-ing!
- 1.2m OCC silver-plated, premium braided cable
- CIPHER Lightning cable and Bluetooth module
- Nylon travel case
- Selection of ear hooks and ear tips for a customized fit
- User guide and warranty
- Certificate of authenticity
When it comes to the IEMs themselves, the housing is mostly plastic. If I had to guess, this decision was made due to weight considerations. But there’s also a very obvious seam joint where the two pieces of the body meet, and the build doesn’t exactly scream quality despite looking very aesthetic in pictures. Sorry, just keeping it real.
The way you wear the LCDi4 is different from most IEMs. There’s plastic hooks that latch onto the housing of the IEM, and they’re used to support the LCDi4’s extra weight. The bore size is also on the larger size, but luckily, you don’t need to get a complete seal to get good sound. I found I grew accustomed to the fit after a while, despite it being somewhat awkward. You can also make use of the Bluetooth cable for hands-free listening. There’s a slight desync, though, which means it’s not going to work very well for YouTube videos or gaming - a shame because the imaging is excellent on the LCDi4.
Let’s switch it up and go straight to the juicy stuff: Technicalities. This is where we see that planar magnetic driver really putting in work, and I don’t think it would be an understatement to say that the LCDi4 is in a class of its own here, at least when it comes to IEMs.
The transients, holy cow, they are fast. When it comes to pure resolution, the LCDi4 plays at the top of the IEM game, perhaps matched only by the qdc Anole VX. There does seem to be some dynamic compression going on; however, I’m not sure how much of this is due to the LCDi4’s unique timbre or the source files (AAC) off of my iPhone. Still, I don’t think you need a desktop setup or lossless music files to tell that this is a very, very resolving IEM.
And to this effect, the lightning quick transient speed definitely affects the LCDi4’s timbre. There’s a different “tactility” to notes than I’m used to, and maybe it’s just me, but it almost borders on being too clean, too resolving at times. I know, weird how that works, huh? While I don’t think I would call it natural, perhaps by virtue of what I’m used to hearing from dynamic driver IEMs, it’s not strictly bad either...just different.
Transients aside, the LCDi4 excels at imaging. In the past, I’ve praised the Campfire Andromeda 2020 for its “out-of-head,” class-leading imaging. But see, that’s within the context of traditional, shelled IEMs - the LCDi4 is an open back IEM. While that doesn’t necessarily translate to better imaging or soundstage as a rule of thumb, it certainly holds true here. It’s been a good while since I’ve listened to the Sennheiser HD800s, and all I have on-hand for comparison is my Sennheiser HD6xx which is absurdly cramped in the staging, but I think the LCDi4’s on par with most open-back headphones. The stage is incredibly spacious, airy for an IEM, and more than once I found myself checking to see if a sound was coming from the environment outside or from the LCDi4 itself. Just an equally fair reminder that there’s zero isolation.
Now, tonality is where things get really interesting. Out of the box, using the 3.5mm cable without any EQ, the LCDi4 is a front-runner for some of the worst tonal balance I’ve heard. Its sound is characterized by the utmost midrange suckout, the likes of which I’ve been forced to re-evaluate any use of the word “telephonic” in my previous reviews. I think it might also attenuate the bass shelf or roll it off, but I stopped listening at that point due to my ears ringing. Yeah, no joke.
Thankfully, there’s a solution to this: You can either EQ the LCDi4 or simply use the included Cipher Lightning cable with your iPhone. It re-calibrates the IEM to something much closer to neutral with bass boost, and that’s where my sound analysis is coming from. Of course, if the LCDi4 sounds like the best thing in the world to you with the stock cable, then don’t let me tell you otherwise.
Starting from the bottom, the bass on the LCDi4 is a standout for sure. Y’all know that I nitpick a lot here; yet, there’s not much to critique with the LCDi4. One of the trade-offs I often notice with more dynamic low-ends is that they lack control; they have a tendency to bloat or delve into “mud” despite having a pleasant tactility to them. The 64 Audio Nio I love so much is a good example of this. Conversely, the LCDi4 is very well controlled, and clean is the best way I can describe it. It doesn’t sacrifice texture or rumble in the slightest either. Perhaps it doesn’t have the greatest dynamic slam or decay quantity for my preferences, but in the context of IEMs, it’s class-leading.
The midrange and treble are where I start to take some issue with the LCDi4’s tuning. Bear in mind that you can probably mess around with EQ to adjust this, but for consistency I’ll be going off of the “stock” tuning. While the Cipher cable attenuates much of that upper-midrange suck-out, it still dips to my ears and some of that telephonic quality pervades. Not in deal breaking quantities, mind you, but clearly present. And as a result, there’s a strange disconnect between the treble - which I think is inherently fine, if not a bit elevated - and the midrange. On some tracks, like Brooks and Dunn’s “Red Dirt Road,” the LCDi4 leans toward brighter, and on my weeby K-Pop/J-Pop tracks, there’s just a general sense of something being off. I mostly found myself listening to a lot of musical scores and instrumentals. Stuff that takes advantage of the LCDi4’s expansive imaging, and doesn’t make its tonal quirks as obvious to someone like me with an untrained ear for real instruments.
Normally I would have made some comparisons to similar IEMs, but, well, there’s really nothing to my knowledge that’s comparable. To this effect, there’s no question that the Audeze LCDi4 delivers from a pure sonic-quality standpoint. It closes the gap between headphones and IEMs to a startling degree with the technical prowess to go unmatched against nearly any other IEM I’ve heard. And if you’re willing to put in some time to EQ it, or simply run it off of your iPhone, there’s plenty of untapped potential too.
The better question is, “Who is this for?”. The LCDi4 isn’t ideal in a public setting because there’s zero isolation. Plus trust me, it’s not a pretty look. And if you’re at home, why not consider a headphone instead? This is unmistakably a niche product, and I think its practical application should be the first thing you consider if you’re going to purchase it - even more so because it clocks in at the flagship level of the price spectrum. No doubt this will be the perfect IEM for a select minority, but in my eyes, the LCDi4 is most appreciable as a proof of concept - a major cool one at that.
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