It’s Time To Go Closed Back: The Audeze LCD-XC

LCDXC-SeatedR_0951_HR - Copy

Disclaimer: The Headfonia Store is the authorized Audez’e distributor for Indonesia. Not the best position for doing a review on the LCD-XC, and as a result I tried limiting my comparison to other brand flagships. 

 

The Audeze LCD-XC is special because it is the long awaited closed-back version of Audez’e’s world famous planars. Audez’e have been making quite a name for themselves through the release of the LCD-2 and the LCD-3s, but all these time people have been asking over and over again for a closed back variant of the LCDs. And from what I gathered, they would even be content if that meant a sound quality lower than any of the open-back variants. After all, designing a reference class closed back headphone has always been a challenge. Hence, the notable lack of closed-back reference class headphones. From the time of the Sennheiser HD650/AKG K701/Beyerdynamic DT880 to the modern flagship time of the HD800 and Stax SR-009 and even the all time king the Sennheiser Orpheus, they’re all open back headphones. I’m not saying that there are no closed back flagship headphones (Beyer T5p, Ultrasone Edition 8, Fostex’s TH900, or the classic Sony MDR-R10), but the general consensus is that open back would in most case yield a superior sound quality.

 

Together with the Audeze LCD-XC, the company also released a new open back headphone which nobody saw coming: the LCD-X. In my review of the X, I made it clear that though there are some good things about it and while some people felt that it’s their version of the best Audez’e LCD headphone, I personally wasn’t a fan. The XC, on the other hand, has convinced me that it is my fav version of the Audez’es LCD headphones, far exceeding my expectation that a closed-back unit can sound this good.

 

The XC came out as being the cleanest sounding model out of the entire line up, even besting the LCD-3. Though obviously not as open or spacious as the open back models, the XC has its own way of projecting a more three dimensional sound stage image within its closed back boundaries. Whereas the LCDs have always been good with sound stage image, the XC takes it to a whole new level, giving you a much sharper image and focus of the sound stage and the instrument placements. Three dimensional depth is also on a whole new level even compared to the flagship open back LCD-3. This paragraph alone gives enough reason to why the XC should be considered a serious threat to the flagship model, even ignoring other benefits it offers such as being closed back.

 

While I mostly grew up listening to open back headphones and preferring their generally more natural timbre to closed back headphones, lately I’m beginning to understand why a well-executed closed back headphone could be the holy grail of personal audio. And it doesn’t have anything to do with libraries or other people getting bothered by my music either. Yes, those are real benefits obviously, but I’m even looking for something more than that. A high quality, well-sealing, closed back headphone gives you an almost 100% undisturbed space for music. It’s like walking into a world-class concert hall with close to zero noise level. Even the subtlest sound waves emitted from the instrument can be heard because noise level is close to zero.

 

Even though my house is situated in a pretty quiet neighborhood, it’s almost never dead quiet. Depending on the time of the day, you would hear noise from a car passing by, a door being opened or closed, the kids playing games on their iPads, activities in the kitchen, and so on. There is always small noise interrupting the music, and no matter how faint, they distract a certain percentage of your brain from the music. Of course, some people have dedicated sound-proof music rooms, but even if I can afford building such a room, I don’t want to isolate myself like that. This is where the XC shines. While I loved the Fostex TH900, its pads didn’t isolate outside noise anywhere as good as the XC. With the XC, I get an instant, world-class music hall for whenever I want to listen to my music. And the resulting zero noise experience is why a lot of us prefer listening to music at night. It puts you right in the music without any distractions whatsoever.

 

You can actually simulate the effect to understand what I’m saying to a certain extent. Even with well-sealing IEMs, you never get a 100% noise isolation. Compare listening to your IEM in a subway to being in a library. Even more, go into your room at night when everybody in the house is sleeping, close the door, get under the blanket, and listen to your music there. That’s the sensation of listening to music in a zero-noise experience.

 

Obviously, the zero-noise experience wouldn’t mean a thing if the XC had a flawed sound somewhere because the lack of distractions would only accentuate the flaw. But the XC happens to be one of the sweetest sounding, most tonally perfect headphone I’ve ever encountered. And through my ears, again better than the LCD-3. The sound is clean, clear, grainless, and with a strong black background. It’s a little bit more laid back than the other Audez’es. Not a hallway or tunnel-vision step back, but like moving one row back and this new listening spot perfectly puts me in a position that allows me to see the complete orchestra while still close enough to feeling the presence in the vocals. The midrange is magical: smooth, clean, clear and with a sweet bloom. The bass is impactful, clear, and well layered. The treble is just right. This is the perfect Audez’e headphone for me.

 

Gear pairing: The XC is not difficult, you can drive it straight out of an iPod. Of course it won’t sound that good, but it’s doable. I still think that despite the relatively sensitive driver, a good portable amp is needed to get the dynamics right. For instance, while the resolution of the new AK240 is absolutely more than enough for the XC (and the built in headphone out has enough voltage to drive the XC as well), I usually add a CypherLabs Duet between the 240 and the XC just to get the dynamics alive. Make sure you set the 240 to LINE OUT to get the full effect. On the Theorem I can plug it straight without additional amping and be fine, but the general rule of thumb is that the AK players need additional amping. The Chord HUGO comes with an desktop-beating built in amp and can really shake the drivers of the XC, so that’s another portable device that you can look into.Though my store sells both the Hugo and the 240, personally I like the AK240’s sound more because it’s smoother and more refined, not to mention smaller sized. I hadn’t used that many desktop rigs lately, with the exception of the Studio Six rig. Obviously when plugged in to the ALO Studio Six, I get unmatched bass impact and dynamics. Serious bass that is truly felt on the chest. However, I do feel that the CypherLabs Duet is good enough to enjoy the XC with.

 

Editor’s note (Lieven)
The Audeze LCD-XC is not cheap, it’s a reference class headphone with a reference class price tag. The XC can be bought directly from Audeze or via one of the distributors and it will set you back $1.799. But you get a whole lot in return: if you need a top closed heaphone an are not on a budget, look no further, this is the one.

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  • George Lai

    I suppose a critical fact too is the shape of one’s head and how well the ear pads actually seal against extraneous noise. Great review.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Great review indeed Mike. George, you do know you’re the only one in the world that has those ear problems right? ;-)

      • George Lai

        Yup I’m unique. But seriously though, LCD ear pads do suit me and I have them installed on other headphones e.g. HE-400. So the issue is whether for LCD XC to be a truly closed headphone, the ear pad seals well. And that varies from individual to individual.

        • dalethorn

          It does look like the pads are fatter at the bottom, so to seal better against the narrower area below the ears.

          • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

            Yes that’s true.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Sounds like you should give the XC a try.

          • George Lai

            Already blown the budget for the year ;-(

            • dalethorn

              Too bad you don’t live close by – we could split the cost and then the headphone. It might not sound the best with just one earcup though.

              • George Lai

                Hmmm

              • George Lai

                Hmmm

                • dalethorn

                  Just kidding – but it would be great to share, then maybe buy out the other person’s share later on.

      • http://ohm-image.net/ ohm image

        I have a super narrow head. Many large headphones simply don’t fit my head. Most AT phones slide down my head. I tend to make blocks to hoist the phones up to keep the pads around my hears, rather than my shoulders.

        • George Lai

          For headphones like HD650 where the earcups are just slightly too small, I actually use LCD earpads in between the Senn earpads and my ears. Being open headphones, I find it makes no difference to the sound. Perhaps you could try that, Nathan?

          • http://ohm-image.net/ ohm image

            Are you telling me to buy more headphone things?

            • George Lai

              It’s cheaper than head surgery.

              • http://ohm-image.net/ ohm image

                You have the wisdom of the ages.

  • dalethorn

    This rings so many bells it’s like being next to a church. Based on my recent experimenting, and what the T50rp modders are doing so well at, I can almost visualize what the Audeze team targeted in this headphone – eliminate the things that add “closed” colorations. And even though you can’t really eliminate what’s natural to the design, these guys discovered some secrets and applied them, to reduce the typical “closed” sound. So if I’m understanding this right, this is the headphone for me.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I think the Alpha Dog got things almost perfect in trying to get a reference-class sound in a closed back package. The only thing I’m missing from the Alpha is bass.

      • Dave Ulrich

        are you going to give Mr. Speakers “doggie treats” a try. They apparently will smooth the treble and darken the sound, maybe even increase the bass impact a little.

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

          You mean the Alpha Dog?

          • Dave Ulrich

            Yes, in response to Mike’s comment about the Alpha being a bit light on the bass.

            • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

              Dog is ordered. Waiting list ;)

              • Dave Ulrich

                I was told that I should be getting an email to send in my Mad Dogs for upgrading in early February. Hasn’t happened yet. I hope it does soon

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          I read about that yes. That’s a step in the right direction. I’ve changed the cables on my Alpha Dogs to tone down the treble a little and I’ve adjusted the bass port to add some bass.

          • George Lai

            You’re a basshead, Mike. I presume it is you doing the upcoming review of the FitEars – 334 and 335. It will be interesting to read your comments on the bass of those two.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Actually Nathan is doing that.

              334 is more flat, mild v-shape and spacious
              335DW is my kind of a sound with fuller and thicker bass and mids.

              Still the FitEars, I can’t listen to BA drivers even these fine IEMs.

      • dalethorn

        They estimated 3 weeks, and I hope that’s right. When it arrives I’m going to give it ample time to see if a moderate bass boost will work without getting muddy or having other distortions. Should be interesting – I can even try the bass switch on the E07k and the vmoda Verza.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Either through acoustic tuning or electronics, adding bass body in my experience ALWAYS lessens the bass clarity on any headphones. That’s my experience. But that’s not always a bad thing, sometimes you’re still left with enough detail on the bass

          • dalethorn

            After applying a DSP, I’ll play through a couple hundred tracks over a period of weeks and toggle it on and off, listening for differences. In that process it’s usually just a matter of time getting to the optimum point between tightness and clarity, and warmth and impact. With some headphones I find a very compelling difference, but some headphones just don’t improve. The Alpha Dog is important enough to me to justify the extra time if needed – I just hope not too much is needed. He is saying that the recent brightness fix is shipping on all AD’s by default, and it’s also user-removable.

  • Steven

    I’ve owned the LCD-XC for a few months now. I absolutely love the sound, but I can’t wear them for longer than an hour. They are pretty comfortable (comparable to LCD-2), but they are just way too heavy. I actually feel pain at the top of my head the next day if I wear them for too long.

    Mike, which closed back do you prefer (TH900 vs LCD-XC) when driven by TOTL Amps (Bakoon w/ TH900 and LCD-XC w/ Studio Six)?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      They are heavy especially if you compare it to the TH900.

      I like the XC better but I think it’s a matter of preference. It fits better on my head too compared to the TH900.

      • Marc

        Mike,

        I believe you mentioned that you’d be sharing your own impressions on the Duet? How are they and how do they compare to your favourite portable amps?

        Great review, as usual!!!

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Marc,
          I like it better than the ALO Rx MK3B+. The ALO is more powerful with a stronger bass impact and more forward mids. Usually stronger bass is my thing but in this comparison, I prefer the Duet. It’s more spacious, cleaner sound, blacker background, and a bit more laid back.

          It also sounds like a fresh breath of air compared to the Intruder with its usual RSA weighty lows-sound. The comparison is also similar to the RX. The Duet is cleaner, more spacious, blacker background, a bit more laid back.

          This puts the Duet as being more spacious than any of the current ALO or RSA portable amp I know. The only thing that’s wider is Fostex’s new HP-V1 but the Fostex is a bit weak on bass impact so I don’t really enjoy the tradeoff.

          If you’ve listened to the Vorzuge Pure, the Duet is a bit to that direction except that the Duet is wider, has a better depth, blacker background. The Vorzuge is a bit smoother though.

          • Marc

            Lovely!! It sounds like Cypher Labs has truly created yet another winner

  • HD25FAN

    Mike,

    On the matter of the Chord HUGO, i thought that it was a giant killer, with a reference level DAC. I did not undesrtand how can the AK240’s sound be smoother and more refined. Could you explain the pros and cons of the HUGO in more detail?

    • dalethorn

      I’ll take a chance here, so if this isn’t what you mean, just ignore….

      The headphone is the end of the line, so everything before the headphone either delivers the signal in perfect form from the digital data, or it gets corrupted, even a little bit. Don’t expect the HUGO to make the headphone do anything special, just expect it to preserve the data as perfectly as possible in its conversion from digital to analog. The actual things the DAC does are very complicated – I’ve read a few of Gordon Rankin’s papers and a few others – way too much to understand.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Yeah I saw the marketing talk on the HUGO and its claims. I think it’s a great little device and that you can take on some serious $2K desktop DACs with the Hugo’s sound quality. But so is the AK240: it can also take on some serious $2K level desktop DACs. A big part of getting the sound right is in the power supply and these high end portable DACs have the luxury of running off batteries which in most cases are superior than AC-powered supplies.

      Right out of their respective headphone outs, the HUGO is far more spacious and the headphone out power is monstrous. The AK is more precise in the technicalities, instrument placement, soundstage image, layering.

      • HD25FAN

        Mike, in your opinion what would be the perfect one box (dac + amplifier) portable solution to complement the LCD XC? I thought it was the HUGO, but I’m not so sure anymore.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          An Ipod/phone + Theorem actually works well but not at AK240/Hugo level.

          The Hugo doesn’t need a separate amp but it needs a source/transport. So again that’s a two box set up. Also the Hugo is so big.

          I haven’t tested the XC with a huge number of portable amps so I can’t say that the Duet is best, but if I have to take one it’ll be the AK240 + Duet. Or just the AK240. You get enough volume from the 240 but the Duet helps with the dynamics and Bass impact.

  • Anthony

    Hi Mike

    I recently auditioned a just out of the box LCD-XC along with my Iphone4s-Hugo (AIFF files). Dialling the volume up to blue-purple level, the sound is really sharp and fatiguing (but I can sense the foundation of the XC is awesome, such as the bass, dark background). The LCD3 on the other hand, is way smoother with the Hugo. So far, I am way more into the LCD3′s sound than the XC but I really would like to buy a closed headphone and the XC’s isolation is great.

    So my question is, will the XC improve a lot after run in ? And whats your take on the Hugo-XC match up. And whats your favourite Dac/Amp match up with the XC so far? I own a Theorem (based on your recommendation) and a Mcintosh D100 as well, do you think the XC will do good on them?

    Thanks for you advice in advance., Mike :-D

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I don’t think the XC needs burn in and I can’t remember the last time I need to do any burn in on headphones, Anthony.

      I think in general the Audeze headphones run great on Theorems but I don’t have any experience with the D100.

      • Anthony

        Had a 2 hour audition between the XC, X and 3 last night in the shop and end up buying the “old” LCD3 as I love the smooth sound and the bass. Thanks for your advice Mike, will try it on the Theroem after work. :-D

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

          That is a very nice combination. congrats

  • Pingback: The Audeze LCD-XC Closed-Back Planar Magnetic Headphones | Ultra High-End Audio and Home Theater Review

  • boy93

    Hugo manages to drive very well the LCD-X? it needs an amp?

    • dalethorn

      Since the LCDx will drive from an iPod, the Hugo should be spectacular.

      • boy93

        Also it seems to me a wonderful combination. I think I’ll go with it.
        http://www.aumacoustics.com/hugo_audeze.html

        • dalethorn

          I inquired about the secret price just now…

          • boy93

            Honestly I don’t trust this seller .. will buy Hugo and LCD-x from other retailers

            • dalethorn

              It’s an interesting sales pitch all right. Once the retailer is established though, it should be possible to find reviews of that retailer. I still haven’t gotten the secret price yet, but since people in the U.S. don’t pay the VAT, the price could be less than $1000. So for me it comes down to 2 things: Build quality and reliability, and does it really sound that good?

              • boy93

                I have now seen the review of the Chord from Aum’s page and are really interesting experiments that he did. I think the improvement is really there .. here you shall see the threads that made up headfi.org: http://www.head-fi.org/t/702787/chord-hugo/615. However, I’m pleased with usb input usb chord that is already excellent without spending more. Instead, I worry more about the amp section for the lcd-x .. on headmania recommend Hugo + Soloist to get the most out of it.

                • dalethorn

                  I just don’t see myself spending $2400 USD for using the device through USB, when the USB is a greatly inferior connection to that device (i.e. “no comparison”). For greatly inferior sound I think spending only $1000 would be a better idea.

            • dalethorn

              “If you have a Hugo, you owe it to yourself to acquire a DC power supply and AP2 converter. In my opinion, this vastly outperforms the Hugo’s HD USB port, so much so, there is no comparison”

              That’s a quote from Aum’s page, and it bothers me to read that “there is no comparison” between using the Hugo USB port alone and adding a kludge of accessories. That means (I guess) that buying the Hugo as a go-anywhere DAC you’ll get vastly inferior sound even though you’re paying $1000 to $1500 USD. But even then it should make my Microstreamer sound like crap by comparison, and don’t even ask about the v-moda Verza or the Beyer A200p. I’m thinking to pass on this one.

  • AllahModeEngage

    How would the DX50 > 627 MICRO pair with these headphones? Thinking of upgrading but there aren’t many options available.

  • Arlan Cantalice

    Good morning, I wonder what would be a good amp for the LCD-audeze xc that is not overly expensive.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Budget?

      • Arlan Cantalice

        Yes

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

          funny guy. What is your budget?

          • Arlan Cantalice

            kkkkkk sorry because i don’t spearker english very well. But i have $1000,00.

          • Arlan Cantalice

            What dou you think the peactreen nova65SE? because it is already integrated amplifier, dac and headphone amplifier… also researched the gt40 adl that already comes with phono input for my turntable. Do you like more than solid state or tube?

          • Arlan Cantalice

            L. , thanks for the help and good weekend.

  • JuHoansi

    So Mike would you say the Audeze LCD XC are the best closed headphones on the market?

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Yes, he’s been saying that to me each time we talk on the phone. Yet it’s so hard to buy one!

  • Horatiu Mihalache

    Hi Mike, thank you for the review. I currently use Audio Technica W3000ANV at work and I quite like them, however I am considering the XC for several reasons. First of all, at home I have the LCD-3 which I love, secondly, I find the W3000 to lack a bit of bass (EQ helps here). They are very sensitive and I can only use the low output on my Burson Conductor (the ESS 9018 version), with some records the volume is already too loud ar 25% on low output. But the biggest problem is that the pads on the W3000ANV are a bit to small for me and they don’t fully cover my ears (unless i squeeze them in). Also, I find the sound to be a bit tiring. Because of that I can only enjoy them for no more than 1h30, after that I need to take a break.

    My question is: could you please, if possible, let us know how the XC compare to Audio Technica wooden headphones, especially the W300ANV? I had the W1000X before and I prefer the W3000ANV. I haven’t heard the W5000.

  • jpbas1

    Hi Mike,

    My last closed headphone design was the Fostex TH600. Although it excelled on a lot of levels it had some glaring and unforgivable deficiencies as well. Some coloration on frequency extremes and a bright and occasionally brittle treble that became fatiguing with some recordings. I purchased the LCD-2 and have never looked back as it is paired with my Resonessence HP. Although the LCD-2 is not a perfect design…. It’s warmth and natural timbres make most recordings a joy to listen to. How does the XC compare and would it be a match with the Resonessence HP and Herus? I own both and you have so wonderfully covered and heard both designs….

    Kind regards,
    John

  • restelo

    Hi Mike,
    Your review was decisive to go for the XC. I received them last week and I’m currently using a HRT Microstreamer from my Mac.
    I would like to ask your advice on an amp considering a budget <700USD. Also, do you think there is a way to still use the Microstreamer with an amp?
    Thank you in advance.
    Restelo

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      I will have my XC this week. I’ll get back to you once I had the chance to try it on a couple of amps

      • restelo

        Hi, L., did yuo have a chance to try some amps with the XC? I’m also curious bout the DAC you used. Thx

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

          haven’t had time enough yet. Been using it with the Theorem and my custom 300B with the resonessence DAC