Build Quality and Ergonomics:
The LCD-i3 has the typical Audeze style. It’s a hexagonal form with a body made out of Magnesium-alloy. They are very lightweight for their size, remember, these have 30 mm drivers. On the front of the monitors you can see a silver embossed Audeze logo. Which feels like it’s made of aluminium.
The bottom of the i3’s is fully sealed and closed. At the end of the nozzle, which connects to the body, you can spot a ring. This ring is here to attach to the ear-hooks. Pick the one that fits your ears and put it on there. You can glide the hooks to your desired position.
Quite atypical for an IEM is the nozzle-length. It’s pretty long, but the LCD-i3 can’t be inserted too far into your canals, as the body of them will give you the signal when to stop. On top of being rather lengthy for a nozzle, it’s also bigger in dimension compared to other IEMs. This makes tip-rolling a nightmare, as most bores aren’t wide enough for the i3. The LCD-i3 uses a 0.78 mm 2-pin connection for the cables. One thing you might notice, is that it uses reversed polarity. So any aftermarket cable you want to use should have matching polarity.
I find the LCD-i3 to be very comfortable. Yes, it did take some serious getting used to. Once you managed to acclimate to the new style, it becomes really comfy. The i3’s sit nicely next to my ears and the only thing I notice is the downwards-facing cable when I move my head.
All in all the build quality of the LCD-i3 is very nice. It’s light and looks durable. The matte black finish of the Magnesium-alloy gives it a classy and timeless look.
Since these are open-back monitors, they are limited in their use-cases. You can’t really put them on and ride the subway. I mean, you could, but you’d have so much noise leaking in it would kill all the fun. These are bound to be used at home. In a quiet environment. I’m listening to them while I type, and I can hear every keyboard-hit. So yeah, while they are limited in their field of use, you get the benefits of an open back design and relatively big drivers. At least for an Ear Monitor this are big.
The following are my impressions based on the 3.5 mm stock cable. We’ll go over the Cipher cable after that. I honestly haven’t tried the Bluetooth cable, as I am not a wireless person. I like my things connected with a proper cable. I prefer stable connections.
Audeze says all their products come pre-burned in. Some of their customers report an opening of the sound stage after about 50 hours. I gave the LCD-i3 a few days of continuous playtime after its arrival. I didn’t extensively listen to them before that, so I can’t say if there’s any burn in effects.
The i3 has superb bass extension. It goes deep into the sub-bass areas with good rumble. Bass has good body and weight throughout. The LCD-i3’s lows are well controlled. They are not bloated or boomy. There is good speed, resolution and texture in each low-end note. It’s a bass that sounds realistic and natural. It possesses good punch, thunder and authority. Mid-bass and upper-bass seems a bit more forward than sub-bass. Which gives the sound an extra bit of warmth in the lower midrange. You get a well defined, high resolving and fast bass that goes low. The i3 knows how to push a lot of air through.
Lower mids are a touch more forward. They are denser and heavier than the rest of the midrange. Which results in a warmer sound overall. Male vocals and bassier instruments get a sense of strength, that makes listening to the likes of Frank Zappa, Berry White or Leonard Cohen mesmerizing. There’s wonderful physicality in their voices, that’s hard to find in an IEM these days.
The mid-mids and upper-mids are more neutral in tone. Vocals and instruments sound clean, well formed and come across with good emotions. To my ears, lower mids are richer than mid- or upper mids on the LCD-i3. I hear good levels of transparency and high resolution in the entire midrange. Instruments sound life-like and they have excellent weight and body. Vocals are slightly upfront positioned in the centre of the scene.
The LCD-i3 does a tremendous job when it comes to technicalities. It creates a holographic soundstage that’s bigger than any other IEM’s I have heard to date. It is expectedly open, wide and deep. The i3 renders with very high resolution, places instruments with care and separates them sharply. The layering, imaging and stereo separation are just impressive. It made me realize how limited traditional IEMs are in that regard. It comes with the typical dark background of planar-magnetics, although it isn’t pitch black to my ears. The i3 captures a lot of details, and trickles out even fine nuances in the sound. But there are other monitors that manage to get out more information.
Treble is done tastefully in my opinion. There’s no sharpness and no sibilance. Highs aren’t splashy, metallic and don’t suffer from any form of aggressiveness. The i3’s treble is well extended, although there is room for improvement in my opinion. It’s a clean and soft treble, that’s free of hard contours. Highs bring in a good amount of air into the spectrum, which gives the musicians a good dose of space. Treble is fast, it’s energetic and clear. There is nice glare in the highs, but it stays in a safe zone to not become fatiguing.
The LCD-i3 has an overall neutral but slightly warmer and fuller sound. It creates a venue with the space of an open air arena. When I close my eyes I can picture the bands playing in front of me. I’m at a concert with people besides and behind me. The LCD-i3 truly transports one into the events.
Audeze provides a lightning terminated Cipher cable. This one has a DSP built in with special settings for the LCD-i3. People without an Apple device are left out here, unless you have Roon installed. Roon comes with all Audeze presets.
Interesting enough, the Cipher cable does a bit of upsampling. Roon tells me that my 16/44.1 files get up-scaled to 24/48. Volume control is fixed by default and handled by two (+/-) buttons on the cable. There is also a play/pause button, that controls playback. Convenient.
With the Cipher cable, you get a bigger and bolder bass. It’s harder hitting and definitely more forward sounding than with the mini-jack cable. For my taste this is a bit too much, and I prefer the analogue cable. Bass sounds like it lost a bit of speed. Vocals get a notch denser, heavier and bigger if you will. Everything gets a bit closer to you, where you’re more in a front row seat than further back in the audience. The stage got a bit compressed, but still is remarkably wide and deep.
Treble is a bit harder, faster and more agile. It pushes more air to compensate the bigger bass. It got brighter and more forward. So if you’re sensitive to highs, this might become a potential issue.
The LCD-i3 and LCD-i4 both use the same DSP/Cipher cable, as their signature is very close to each other. This means, you could also use the LCD-i4 settings in Roon for the LCD-i3.
While I consider the sound of the i3’s with the mini-jack cable to be neutralish, with the Cipher it’s more of a V shaped signature.
Page three is all about Sources and Comparisons.