Audez’e LCD-2 Impressions

I really won’t call this a full review, mostly due to the limited time I had with the headphone. Normally I get to keep a headphone for a minimum of 1-2 weeks for a full review article. But my impressions on this article are based on a one day listening session. It’s a good thing that the source and the amplifier used are stuff that I’ve owned for a long time, and also present during the listening session are two headphones that I’m quite familiar with: the Omega2 and the HD800.

As always with any reviews, I use quite a wide variety of genres to see how the headphones are able to play a certain type of music. For this review, the CDs I used are:

  • Belafonte at Carnegie Hall
  • Oasis: Time Flies… 1994-2009
  • Buena Vista Social Club
  • Beethoven Symphony No. 9, Berlin Philharmonic, Claudio Abbado
  • U2: The Joshua Tree
  • Prodigy: The Fat of the Land

In some ways, the LCD-2 is more impressive sounding than the Stax Omega2 Mk2. The headphone feels more open, and bass has better texture and has a more linear extension to the low bass. The Mk2 Omega2 does have a midbass hump that’s supposedly not present in the Mk1 variants, and this midbass hump, while fun, does seem to take away the texture on the bass a little.

Ultimately, the Stax Omega2 still remains to be one of the best driver technology. The background is still blacker sounding, the treble much smoother than the LCD-2′s, and the transients remain superior. But it’s amazing what Audeze does with their $1,000, and how it’s able to make the HD800, for the first time, sounding less transparent and lacking a clear separation.

The overall character of the LCD-2 is slightly dark, but at the same time it’s very transparent sounding. If the HD800 has a forward upper midrange, the LCD is more flat on that area, but in comparison the LCD-2 is accentuated on the upper treble, helping with the impression of clarity. On short listens, this slight treble peak is very impressive. But on longer listening periods, it makes the treble feels less refined than on the HD800 or the O2. For some people, the upper midrange accent on the HD800 will sound more annoying, and for some the LCD-2′s treble peak is more bothersome. Of course, the Omega2 has none of these treble issues.

The LCD-2 is impressive in a lot of aspects, the black background really makes the HD800 sounds like it is a little muddy. The soundstage is wider and feels more open than the HD800, although it’s more panned out, while the Omega2 and the HD800 has a more coherent blending between the left and right soundstage area. The focus on vocal is also better on the HD800 and the Omega2.

The HD800′s bass frequency curve also has a slight hump, like the O2 Mk2 but in much smaller doses, while the LCD-2 has the most linear bass curve down to the low bass frequencies. As a result, low bass is far more evident on the LCD-2, and the bass area has better clarity on the LCD-2 than it does on the HD800 and O2. The LCD-2, in my opinion, has the best and most fun sounding bass of the three. While the HD800′s bass remains superior in technicalities due to the bass layering capability that I don’t hear on the LCD-2 or the O2.

The O2 and the HD800 both have a smoother sounding driver than the LCD-2, and I can pair it to a good solid state amp like the HeadAmp KGSS or Burson HA-160 and not feel fatique over long listening periods. The LCD-2, however, is less smooth, and like the HE5 and the HE5LE, do need some tube action to smooth things out. I didn’t have a proper tube amp during this audition, as it would’ve been interesting to see how the LCD-2 sounds out of the Zana Deux.

While the LCD-2 has neither of the midbass hump that’s present on the O2 and the HD800, it’s superior sense of clarity do sound dryer than the Senn and the Stax. Yet, it is only dry in comparison to the Omega2 and the HD800, but not in the dry/clinical sense. The HD800 and the Omega2 is very smooth sounding, and while that’s good for some music, I do find that the LCD-2 has the grittiness, the attack, and the correct attitude for Rock music.

The midrange of the Omega2 is most special, as it is able to combine great transparency and texture, and yet still sounding full and smooth.

Playing my favorite Prodigy song, Breathe from The Fat of the Land, I really have no complain with the bass performance. Punchy, tight, weight, articulation, it’s all there. The intensity of the punch is also strongest on the LCD-2, with the Omega2 second and the HD800 last. Although the Omega2 has a faster transients, the presence of the midbass hump makes the bass less tight compared to the HD800 and the LCD-2.

On Rock and Electronica, the LCD-2 sounds more energetic and engaging, while I won’t say that the HD800 and the Omega2 lacks PRaT or attack, the two latter headphones do sound more relaxed in respect to the LCD-2. Likewise on the vocals

In terms of build quality and comfort, the LCD-2 may look like a DIY headphone, but I don’t feel that it’s lacking anything about built or comfort. Audez’e certainly has done their research very well for the design of the housing, resulting in one of the most comfortable headphone I’ve used, and well within the comfort range of the Omega2 and the HD800. Although the weight is quite significant, yet the entire frame, and the structure of the pads was able to distribute that weight very nicely. Of course, moving to the HD800 or the Omega2 feels very lightweight and even more comfortable, but still I think that the LCD-2 is one of the most comfortable full size headphone I’ve tried.

Although I haven’t confirmed this to Audez’e, I suspect that the pads are made from real leather. While the grade of the leather is not as fine as the lambskin used in the Omega2, it is still very comfortable, even for long term use. The oval shaped opening on the pads allow my ears to fit nicely within the sound chamber.

The LCD-2 has quite a wide genre bandwith, excelling with everything I throw on it. However, where the LCD-2 truly shine is with Rock music, it has just the perfect attack and energy for Rock. The Omega2 and the HD800 are more refined and have an edge at other things, but they don’t have quite the same energy that makes Rock music lively and engaging.

Hurrah!



Gear used for review
Headphones: Audez’e LCD2, Sennheiser HD800, Stax Omega2
Amplifier: Beta22, Burson HA-160, HeadAmp KGSS
Source: CEC TL51XZ

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  • Brian

    Where are my beautiful pictures?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I used to joke around saying that the lack of photographs may indicate that the comparison is fiction. However, in this case, I just happen to not have the opportunity to take the headphones for a photo session. :)

  • Eugen

    You baffle me with your impression Mike, I saw the freq graph on the LCD2 and it has no upper freq bump.

    Furthermore, I have the HD800 on my head now, and they are clearly tipped to the upper high freq, they have way too much highs, centered around 10kHz.

    If the LCD2's have more than the HD800, they must be GRATING your ears into little fillet's. :)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Eugen,
      The LCD-2 and the Omega2 has a generally dark sound signature, where the HD800 is noticeably more neutral — you can also say brighter than the two, but in all fairness, the HD800 is not a bright headphone. And it just happens that the LCD-2, amidst its generally dark sound signature, happens to have slight (again, slight) bump on the mid treble than the HD800 or the O2 on that area. So, the so called "bump" is actually a pretty shallow bump. It's actually a good tune, as the Omega2, which is more linear in the treble, has underwhelmed a lot of people with its "lack of treble".

      I also don't think that the HD800, in all my amplifier testing encounters, to show anything close to a peak around 10kHz. If anything, perhaps the HD800 can be annoying around 2kHz, but nothing more above that as it is quite relaxed from there. I've used the HD800 with all sorts of recording materials and amplifiers and sources, and it has no issues at 10kHz.

      But at the end of the day, I'm just human and there is always the possibility of me being wrong. Likewise, as much as I try to keep this site accurate, we all know that a perfectly accurate report only exists in the realm of ideas.

      Thanks for writing though. :)

  • AGB

    As I had pretty much agreed with headfonia’s overall analysis, a good one it is, perhaps I should comment further on the allegations of “darkness” of the LCD-2 after having had extensively listened to that particular characteristic. It exists, but what is it?

    Balance.

    Much of it is a psycho-acoustic illusion, as are the lit up variety’s seemingly more detailed presentation.

    Take the Martin-Logan CLS ESL’s, a speaker I am intimately familiar with. We all know that it lacks the low frequencies, that there is a drop off below 100 Hz. The same, or similar issues effect the QUAD ESLs and other small “monitor” speakers. Some people add subwoofers with various range of success.

    The CLS is one of, if not THE, most transparent speaker in the mids – ever. Details abound. So is the Quad, however the Quad provides smaller images alike the aforementioned mini-monitors.

    I had added various subs to the CLSes over the years (didn’t like any, though today’s designs are far more adjustable and better in many ways.) The repeatable result with relatively correctly set up subs is this:

    The sound darkens. The top in relation appears to be diminished, the mids will not be quite as “transparent” and detailed, transients appear a little reduced in impact. Some male voices may have more “chestiness.” In other words, the measurable and audible changes in the balance of speakers, either by EQ adjustments, adding subs and even placement within the listening room, repeatedly get more or less the same result.

    The LCD-2′s low frequencies are all there, alike the best dual subs.

    Moreover, planar magnetics like the Magneplanar Tympany 1-D, a three panel Magneplanar, were always known to provide tight and solid midbass – state of the art in fact. One must admit to the utter astonishment hearing kick drums, tympani, drawn bow playing a cello on the LCD-2 that others can’t even come close to. Well, if that bass were exaggerated, that would be another issue. It isn’t. It’s flat as a ruler. The other can just doesn’t go there. Moreover, this ability has to do with low distortion. Meaning a SMOOTH sound. Smooth because low distortion adds no edge. Apparently the diaphragm doesn’t even approach its excursion limits.

    Both the LCD-2 and HiFi man are planar magnetics, both provide various levels of these low frequency characteristics, the former with a greater range into the subterranian region which explains it being darker. It is. And because of that, it may be the more accurate. Measurably it is. Audibly, the choice should be made on preference alone.

    Measuring…

    http://www.theaudiobeat.com/canjam2010/canjam2010_tablog_tyll.htm

    And the winner is…

    http://www.theaudiobeat.com/canjam2010/canjam2010_hp_audeze.htm

    I hope my observations with speakers and the parallel reality of physics guiding perception with cans will shed some light into the arguments over dark or light, more detailed and such. This relates to all hi fi, not just cans.

    A speaker with a lighter tonal balance will sound more detailed. Yet it isn’t! This is an illusion we all experience and need to be aware of.

    Music is neither dark nor light. It just is. An experienced listener will first, hear through either design, and second, relate them both to live sound that will, in a good room, be full range.

    My listening was with the iMac, Wyred4Sound DAC2, using AUDEZ’E balanced wire with adapters to the RCA jacks and NORDOST Blue Heaven USB cable.

    - AGB

    • Anonymous

      I still don’t see you to completely understand how different recordings can be. A headphone that is “neutral” for one recording, won’t be neutral for the other recording.

  • Albert

    Hey Mike,
    In what ways do you think the LCD-2 better than my current T1 and worth an upgrade?
    IMO T1 is a really fun cans.

    • Anonymous

      The T1 is very very different than the LCD-2. the T1 is very bright, the LCD-2 is very dark. I wouldn’t say that it’s an upgrade, more like a sidestep, different signature.

  • CJO

    Hey Mike — Curious what your opinion would be on whether the HD800s or LF2′s would be better for Hip Hop music? I have the HD800s with a nice Tube Amp; using a Rega. 

  • Agbenjamin

    The Audez’e LCD-2, keeping the same model number, has been upgraded in Jun 2011 with lighter and faster diaphragms. It has become the de facto standard for headphonistas in the know. See Inner Ear website.

    • Anonymous

      Yes thanks Abe, we were talking about that a while ago in Twitter.

      • Craig

        Is this upgrade considered what is RV2? 

        • Anonymous

          It’s not an upgrade in terms of technicalities, but more of a tonal balance. I think the newer version is easier to like because it’s not as dark sounding.

  • Agbenjamin

    Audez’e claims that both measure flat. Technically the membrane has been changed to a lighter and supposedly even more sturdier variety. One can hear more details with the second, perhaps this ‘lightens” the perceived FR.

    All I know is that if you play iTunes through FIDELIA software, you can change the FR to your liking with the three Parametric EQ’s supplied.

    You’ll need to experiment to suit the sound of your system…and remember that nothing, not even your ears, are flat. Only some of the women I know.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks.

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  • STARSTERN

    aside going with alo six as a amp ‘ for the lcd3 ;do they need an additional dac ?
    which dac ?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I recommend the Fostex HPA8 or Neko D100

  • STARSTERN

    the alo six amp, is your best pick amp overall’ as well “.or just specific for the lcd’s?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      It’s a good all rounder amp, but the best for the LCDs.

      Another good all rounder amp is the RSA Dark Star.

  • Guest

    What kind of minimal amp you need to make LCD2 sings?