Yes, the LCD-i4 is a miniature monitor that could potentially be driven by simple portable gear. However, these do scale quite noticeably with more powerful products. They are planar-magnetic IEMs after all. That does not mean, there isn’t any suitable DAP for them though. In my experience it just needs a certain level of quality juice to really shine.
We’ll go over a few sources that I have at my disposal and see how they manage to handle the LCD-i4.
Lotoo – PAW Gold Touch
The PAW Gold Touch boasts 500mW into a 32 Ohm load, which is more than enough for the i4. If you need extra loudness you can just pump up the gain on the Lotoo and get that extra six decibels.
You get a very well controlled low end with good impact and rumble. Lows are dynamic and well formed. There is great resolution and texture with superb layering into the lowest regions. The i4 reaches very deep and forms a solid foundation for the entire scene in the sub-bass. Mid and upper bass provide a nicely balanced warmth into the midrange.
Mids are warmed up with a lightly recessed center- and upper midrange. There is good levels of richness and density in this pairing. Same can be said about transparency, which is one of the Lotoo’s key strengths. Vocals have good emotions and sound nicely realistic. However they can come off as a bit in the back.
Treble is energetic, clear and clean but with a sharper and more intense approach than what some people might like. It’s dry and direct, for my taste it misses some richness and softness.
The Lotoo has a very powerful PEQ, that unfortunately is limited to only five bands. With these I pushed the sub a bit and gave more amplification to the 2-5 kHz regions while reducing the upper treble.
Chord Electronics – Hugo2
The Chord and the LCD-i4 are a match made in heaven. You get superb control throughout the frequency response, with a deep and impactful bass. The extension on both ends is simply stunning. The i4 goes deep with excellent resolution, layering and rumble. There is absolutely nothing missing for my taste.
You get very high resolution, perfect imaging and a sound stage to dive into. The Hugo2 handles the i4 like nothing. It has more than enough power to blast music through them. For me, I’m good at light orange. That’s pretty much the limit of my comfort level.
The midrange has a wonderfully organic sound with very high levels of naturalness. Singers and instruments have great body, weight and texture. Vocals transport good emotions and don’t come across as overly warmed up or congested. Just perfect.
Treble is clear and clean, but without any Roon DSP correction cymbal crashes and other higher pitched noises can become quite direct and bright. If you’re not a fan of that, you should get out an EQ and take care of that 10-16kHz region by reducing amplitude by a couple decibels.
Matrix Audio – Element M
The Element M is one of the best performing all-in-one products I have ever had the pleasure to work with. It has a solid build, great software, it’s Roon Ready and most important of all, sounds superb!
With the Element M you get a fast sounding bass, that has big body and good weight. It goes deep into sub-bass with nice precision and speed. There is good texture, resolution and layering in the lows. Sub-bass has a lot of solid density, which gives the i4 a great drive and authority. It however doesn’t overthrow anything in the lows, but keeps things structured and controlled. Bass is energetic and exciting. Mids sound organic, slightly warmish and precise. There is good body and blood in every musician and instrument. The i4 has a superbly natural sound which is very hard to find at that level in an IEM.
The sound stage stretches wide and deep with an open feeling. You get extremely good resolution and micro detailing. The Element M fires in a ton of information, which the LCD-i4 reproduces without a sweat. Imaging is right about perfect, with sharply separated instruments. The LCD-i4 paints a beautiful picture right in front of you, where you can imagine the band and performers very well.
Treble is clear and clean, but not offensive or aggressive. You don’t get a super sharp or overly energized top end, but rather a slightly calmer and richer one, that keeps you safe from sibilance. The LCD-i4 is mighty fast and manages to really pull off a headphone-show with the Element M.
With the Element M I don’t feel the need to activate the Roon presets for the LCD-i4.
Woo Audio – WA11
The Woo WA11 has more than enough power to drive even hard to drive planar headphones in the likes of the Susvara or Diana Phi. The LCD-i4 doesn’t present a challenge for it to be honest.
With the WA11 you get a very physical, dense and muscular sound with plenty of low end grunt and pump. The Woo provides a thick lower midrange with wonderful physicality in each note. A typical Class A warmth gets injected into the already warmth-loaded LCD-i4. For some this might become a bit too much, but others might absolutely dig this combination.
The Woo pairs wonderful with the Audeze in my opinion. There is superb low end texture and resolution into the lowest of lows. Male vocals sound dense, heavy and in-taking. They can absolutely convince with a high roughness-factor. You get extra body and weight with the WA11. Mids are smooth and organic, with good weight and body throughout. The Woo’s additional lower midrange boost results in an even more pushed back female vocal presence.
Treble is softer and a bit more laid back, with less grain and sharpness. The LCD-i4 here really does benefit from the Class A sound of the WA11. However, I would still boost the 2-5kHz by about 3-5dB to provide extra vocal clarity.
I personally don’t own a lot of different monitors that could potentially take it up with the LCD-i4. Mostly because the i4 can’t really be compared to other In Ears due to its own nature. The very big 30 mm planar driver and semi-open design gives it the upper hand on many levels, especially when it comes to technicalities such as sound stage dimensions, imaging and layering. Its biggest draw-back of course in comparison to traditional IEMs is the complete lack of isolation.
I can only compare the LCD-i4 to other products I have auditioned extensively at my own home. I will never give any comparisons based on show conditions or short term listening impressions. Those are absolutely not credible in my book.
All comparisons were done using the stock cables, as this is what paying customers get. Mentioned prices are in US Dollars and correct at the time of writing.
Audeze – LCD-i3 (1PM; 899$)
The LCD-i3 is the latest addition to the In Ear line of Audeze, and it is pretty close to the LCD-i4. So close, that they share identical DSP accessories and Roon settings.
Although these two are similar, there are some noticeable differences. The most obvious to me is the mid- and upper midrange presentation. These are more forward positioned on the i3 than on the i4, which gives vocals more clarity. The LCD-i3 overall sounds more balanced and even-handed, while the i4 has greater warmth and a superior technical performance.
The LCD-i4 does have the upper hand when it comes to resolution, stage dimensions and imaging. But make no mistake, the LCD-i3 is an absolute top-performer here. It also creates a massive stage with superb control and structure. It’s just that the i4 is that tiny bit ahead here.
The i4 sounds faster and more resolving to me too. It reaches deeper into lows and gives them even finer texture and layering. The i3 sounds a tad more linear and neutral to me. One other main difference between the i3 and i4 is the treble presentation. While the i4 does have a dryer and more direct top-end, the i3 to me sounds richer and calmer.
Personally, I don’t see any need for the i3 to be corrected by equalization. But with the i4 I really like to pump up the vocal clarity regions and take out some of the treble edges.
Keep reading on the last page.