The LCD-3: Planar Technology That Needs To Be Trickled Down

Before you start reading Mike’s part, here’s a little intro by L.

 

Don’t be surprised, but what you will read below isn’t the normal “who-what-when” kind of review. Every single person in the world who has a slightly more than average interest in headphones has already read an LCD-2 impression, or has at least heard about it and Audez’e, its creator. Mike really wanted to tell you what makes “the three” so exceptional in his own way. I liked reading it but I can very well imagine people don’t get it or want a “normal” kind of review. Those however who know what he’s talking about will get exactly what he means and they will probably want the LCD-3, right away. I’ve listened to the LCD-3 on lots of different amplifiers and for me it’s one of the very best headphones out there, yet I don’t own one myself. Maybe Santa will surprise me in December, who knows. Now , on to “the review”.

 

The LCD-X has been announced and I’ve yet to write or publish an LCD-3 review. I’m glad I don’t have a boss cause otherwise I would’ve lost my job by now.

Why even bother writing a review about it now? Almost some two years after it’s been released and countless of reviews and praises have been written about it? Maybe I’m just trying to catch up? Maybe I want to try to write a bad review on it (uh-oh, Alex).. Or maybe, like the reason I write on Headfonia, is that an impressive piece of gear needs to be talked about.

I wasn’t that enthusiastic when the LCD-3 was released. The LCD-2 was at the height of its popularity and it seemed as if Audez’e was just trying to capitalize on the momentum. I’ve experienced the degree of improvements that could be introduced from merely applying simple damping mods on vintage orthodynamic headphones, and I thought that Audez’e was just trying to pull out the same trick.

And the early reviews seemed to suggest that. More spacious, more air, improved treble extension were the adjectives applied to the three. I asked people who had firsthand experiences with the three and they told me the same thing, so it was a consistent impression shared by a large group of people. The bottom end answer people told me was that it’s an improvement from the two, but not worth twice the asking price. I drew my conclusion right there: the three is just an old dog, though not really that old, being taught new tricks and being sold at a much higher price to support the improved image.

Months passed and maybe even one year passed and I didn’t bother checking out the three. Then I had my own headphone shop and naturally, we became an Audez’e reseller. Obviously, you want to sell the gear that people want, and the two was becoming very popular with the local enthusiasts. Once in a while, there would be customers who asked to purchase a three and since the product seemed to be in very low supply (at least in our country), most of them had to wait for one-two months, easy, before they could get their LCD-3 delivered. For this reason, we had no LCD-3 demo at the store as with every unit we got, we immediately shipped it out the same hour we received it from the distributor.

Sometime around the time I was about to receive the ALO Studio Six amplifier (I’ve written a glowing praise on that amp), we managed to get one extra unit of the three that was not reserved by a customer. I immediately asked our store manager not to sell that one so that we can have an in store demo of the three, and I can have an LCD-3 to review the Studio Six with. I spent weeks listening to the three out of the Six, and the Studio Six review came out glowing primarily due to the superb, out of this world pairing with the LCD-3. It was during the period of that review that I discovered why I need to write about the three. Not only was the three better, but out of the Six, I simply couldn’t go back to the LCD-2 even though tonally, the first-generation dark-tonality LCD-2 definitely strikes a better balance to my ears than the LCD-3. It was a whole step up in terms of technicalities, and not only in the sense of being more spacious yada yada yada, but it had the dynamics that made music so much more alive. An entirely new level of dynamics previously unheard of from headphones.

 

THE SWING FACTOR

Now I want to introduce a new adjective that I don’t think has been used before to describe sound and it’s called the Swing factor. What is the swing factor? It’s how well a driver can reproduce the non-linear transitions in dynamics. Jazz vocal singers tend to have lots of swing on their vocals, likewise acoustic wind, strings, and percussion instruments. This is a hard concept to grasp but a simpler example is like when you pluck a low note guitar string or a low note on a piano, they tend to have very long decay and there is a strong decay trailing the note all the way to total silence. The pattern of the decay highly varies depending on the finger who plucked the finger, the material of the instruments, the room acoustics, and perhaps other factors too. It’s the palpable element of the micro dynamics that makes music more real. High end dynamic drivers like the Fostex TH900 and the Senn HD800 have almost no difficulty in reproducing that seemingly infinite number of steps of the note decaying down, but planars have always been stiffer and more static, electrostats included. Of course the swing factor is not limited to only the note decay but also the attack, as a piece of music usually go up and down in dynamics throughout its length.

If you’ve been listening to a lot of Acoustic, Jazz, and Classical, this may be an easier concept to grasp. Modern Pop, Rock, and even more Electronic music tends to demand very little of this swing factor as they are either heavily processed or even being generated in the most part using electronics and so doesn’t really need to excel in this area. The swing factor is not an easy concept to grasp and explain through text, but very evident in conveying a sense of realism once you hear it. If you’ve been noticing this factor during your music listening, then you know what I’m talking about. If you find the concept alien, then I really wouldn’t worry about trying to understand it right now. If your music has it, then you’ll notice it in time, and as I’ve said, this tends to be more evident in music with minimal electronic processing.

Going back to the LCD-3. It’s priced high above the Hifiman HE-6 which is the LCD-2 competitor and that’s because the three has something that the Hifiman, nor other planars have achieved before. It can reproduce the swing factor which usually is only found on high end dynamics while still offering planar-class transients. The three really surpassed the Stax 007 by far. And though the 009 is a little less stiff than the other planars in existence, the three is still better in this area. It really is the best planar driver I’ve heard today, though a friend told me that the newly released Abyss is even better at this swing factor.

Another factor that I need to outline is the driver’s flexibility to portray the true colour of the recording. Planars have been favored over dynamics for one reason being their predictable presentation. And for the most part, the planar presentation is always smooth and pleasing to the ears. In fact the reason that electrostatics are so desirable is that people want to get that unique electrostatic presentation that applies their own color to the recording being played, and that the coloration is usually smooth and very fine. The problem with this type of a treatment is that you lose the flexibility to hear the true color of the recording. And on high end recordings, this is actually a downgraded presentation as you don’t get to hear the recording to the fullest. High end dynamic drivers, on the other hand, are a lot more flexible in conveying the true color of the recording and this is one of the reason people tell you to stick to good recordings when listening to the HD800 (otherwise you’ll hear the full gory details of bad recordings). Again the LCD-3 is excellent at this. This is the first planar I’ve heard that truly has the flexibility to portray the true nature of the recording. Obviously this is a double edged character and for this reason I’d still stick to the LCD-2 if I still listen to a good amount of bad recordings.

In the overall scheme of things, I consider the more spacious sound, the air, and the treble of the LCD-3 to be relatively minor improvements. For me, it’s very impressive to hear a planar that’s finally able to present a good swing factor and flexibility with recordings, as it really allows the recordings to become alive and palpable, provided you’re listening to a good recording and from a good source. On the other hand, if most of my listening are tuned to mainstream recordings, I’d actually think that the LCD-2 is the better headphone. It’s less resolving and has a better ability to mask distortion introduced from the mixing and mastering process. The two also does a better job with the majority of modern music and their compressed, constantly-loud-level dynamics.

Another factor that I discovered was how the three, a lot like the top end dynamic drivers, demands top end source and amplification to truly shine. Even with the ALO Pan Am and the Violectric V200, both very good amps for the LCD-2, I really don’t see the reason I’d spend $2K on the bigger brother. On the Studio Six, however, I’m making no exaggeration when I say that I really struggled to go back to the two as the dynamics in the music sound very constricted and limited on it.

 

So, here is a belated hurrah to the LCD-3. I think Audez’e has done a lot more on the three than merely making the sound more spacious and improving treble extension. I would pay the $2K if I have the money because the three is just that much better.

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59 Comments

  • Reply October 16, 2013

    Burju

    Very nice review Lieven,
    But what? Please send your Santa this December to my house too….lol. Now, LCD3 already…..but the LCD-X and LCD-XC already available for order?……..glad my wallet is still AWOL…

    • Reply October 16, 2013

      L.

      Thanks but I just did the intro, Mike wrote the rest as I explained.
      I don’t think they’re available yet, they will be soon I suppose.

      • Reply October 16, 2013

        Burju

        Oops sorry Mike, I salute you for this awesome review then.
        Thank you Lieven, you are a gentleman and a scholar.

        Honest reviews that can clearly engaged with both y’alls readers that always draw me back again and again to this site. Man, both y’all are smart and genius people (this is my opinion and I am sticking to it…..lol) I have been waiting to find your comparison among the 3 contenders, HE-6, LCD2 and specially with LCD3…..and their needing for respective sources and amps to shine.

        Keep up y’all’s excellent reviews, Cheers.

        • Reply October 17, 2013

          L.

          They are already available from the AUDEZE website. shipping starts november 1st

  • Reply October 16, 2013

    John123John

    Excellent, excellent review. Really enjoyed this style, short and sweet with comparisons, but that may be because I have read multiple reviews on the “two” and “three”.

    I was one of the many who were eagerly waiting for a review from you but as you said, after a while like a year, what was the point. I love your writing style, not overly verbose or having excessive mysterious audiophile jargon. Plus you educate us without us feeling like were being educated. “Swing Factor” is something that I will now be listening for 🙂

    They say that dynamics are what really separate the LCD-2 to the LCD-3 as opposed to increased air and whatnot and it seems like you agree as well.

    anyways back to the main topic, when can we expect the Abyss review :D:D

    • Reply October 16, 2013

      John123John

      Also nothing to apologize for, I feel like this should be the preferred review method for 2.0 or in this case 3.0 upgrades. They’re gonna basically sound the same apart from what makes them different (lol) and that’s what should be reviewed.

      • Reply October 17, 2013

        Mike

        Yeah I agree too.

    • Reply October 16, 2013

      John123John

      Also I would be kind of interested in knowing your background mike. not to be a stalker 😉

      • Reply October 17, 2013

        Mike

        My background? Like what I do?

        • Reply October 18, 2013

          John123John

          Well I’m assuming what you do is headfonia
          .com and the Headfonia store but who knows, maybe you’re batman.

          I was more referring to your background (wait didn’t I say that?) as in how or why you got into audio and what pushed you to create Headfonia.com.

          Sort of like an About Me section.

    • Reply October 17, 2013

      Mike

      Thanks John. Glad to hear your response.
      I emailed Abyss but told me to contact Jaben so I guess it’s not going to happen.

      • Reply October 18, 2013

        John123John

        Lol do they hate you ever since the opening for the Headfonia store?

      • Reply October 18, 2013

        John123John

        Whatever, they’re ugly anyways and apparently, according to Jude, you have to wear them backwards.

        On to the Lcd-x and xd!

        • Reply October 19, 2013

          Mike

          Yeah the Abyss doesn’t look to good does it.

  • Reply October 16, 2013

    dalethorn

    Good review, good introduction. I’m thinking that even when people haven’t heard the best representation of the full dynamics, color, and harmonics of an acoustical instrument as you describe, they know if they’ve been listening with good gear for a few years, what that might sound like generally, and the closer they get to that sound the happier they will be. Now from this short review, I get the idea that where all those HD800 reviewers praised the HD800 for its technicalities, soundstage and so on, many of them (like myself) don’t use the HD800 much because (just guessing now) it’s just not musical enough? So maybe this LCD3 would be the thing that can win over the HD800 users who don’t get much use of them, or maybe even all HD800 users? I suppose then they would also need a new amp?

    • Reply October 17, 2013

      Mike

      Thanks, dale.

      #HD800 amp: I think it needs a different kind of an amp than the LCD-3. The 300Ω HD800 is very easy to drive even a Cmoy would do. What it needs is high quality amplification but luckily it’s usually easier to get high quality amplification if the power demands aren’t that high (high power = likely more distortion) — like on the case of the 800.

      The 800 can be very musical. I just listened to it again last week on a very good tube amp playing some excellent recordings and it was warm and analog and full bodied with no faults anywhere in the sound. However the demands on the rest of the system and the recording especially is very high and the majority of music we listen to fall below the standard and they just sound nasty on the 800 as a result.

      I think the LCD-3 hits an excellent level of compromise. Technically satisfying at almost all levels and so though still less resolving than the 800, really satisfies my needs on the majority of recordings I listen to.

  • Reply October 16, 2013

    George Lai

    The writing style that makes Headfonia unique. The top bookmarked website on my computer and iDevices. ‘Nuff said!

    • Reply October 17, 2013

      Mike

      Thanks.

      Actually had a lot of doubt prior to publishing the review. One reason is the different review format which doesn’t cover the whole sound description of the headphone (I barely mentioned anything about the LCD-3 tonal balance, for instance, or how it compares to the other flagships like HD800 etc). But I know that Headfonia readers are people who’re mostly deep into this hobby and so rather than tackle the LCD-3 with a standard review format (which probably will bore the hard core enthusiasts), I decided to really bring a conversation that I have day to day with the local enthusiasts here. And I think the hard core enthusiasts around the world, reading the site would be able to relate to the conversation better.

      The second thing is bringing a new concept to describe sound that as far as I am aware — though I may be wrong here — I’ve never come across any article that discusses the swing factor though it is an integral part of the sonic experience. Maybe it’s been discussed before but with a different phrase/wording, but I really can’t come find links to such discussions and I’ve talked to some experts about this.

      So, maybe I’m just being too Asian in this sense, but I felt that this article can be mis-interpreted very easily and that it would be safer to just keep on doing reviews the same old way and that would be a less risky move for me as a headphone reviewer/writer.

      But at the end of the day, I think there are a lot of discussion happening in real life that are rarely being brought to the internet (like the discussion of audio cables and the different sound they brought, as it’s a very easy write up to discredit on the internet), and I think that reduces the depth of the conversation we’re having on the web when it could’ve been deeper and richer.

      I think I’m fortunate to have a strong headphone community here in Indonesia, but not everyone has a big headphone community where they live, and so it’s harder to have the opportunity to talk to fellow enthusiasts. I hope that by these topics up on the site, more people can be follow the discussion without being limited by physical location.

  • Reply October 16, 2013

    Burju

    Now, the anxious expectations while waiting for a comparison of LCD 2-3 to the those of LCDX-LCDXC………it’s going to be an excellent months to come. Can’t wait……

    Cheers

    • Reply October 17, 2013

      Mike

      After my experience with the three, yeah I definitely can’t wait to hear the X as I expected some serious upgrade with the X model designation.

      It was different previously with the introduction of the LCD-3 as we really don’t know if Audez’e had the know how to really improve the quality of the LCD-2 driver or just trying to introduce a new high end just for the sake of having a new high end.

      I’m glad the three has proved me wrong though.

  • Reply October 17, 2013

    ghost2031 S23

    Very interesting read mike.
    Actually i’ve discovered this swing factor which you call just a few days ago.
    I have an Audiolab M-Dac and some day i’ve noticed that the decay of the instruments is longer and more easy to pick out. i call it Body of Sound though.

    I have a matrix m-stage, M-Dac and AKG K501.
    Again nice read.

    • Reply October 17, 2013

      Mike

      Thanks ghost. Body of sound, usually I say the sound is full bodied, or the mids or bass is full bodied when they sound full and not lacking. But perhaps your definition is different.

      • Reply October 17, 2013

        ghost2031 S23

        Ah yeah, full bodied is probably a better saying. Body of sound is a product of my lacking english skills, lol. But, i know what you mean with swing factor.

        greets

  • Reply October 17, 2013

    Alyssa (Dubstep Girl)

    I use lcd-3 now but i think 2 has better and more bass.

    • Reply October 17, 2013

      L.

      Hmmm, I always found the LCD-3 bass to have more body, depth and detail

  • Reply October 18, 2013

    Eugen

    That’s my objection to the LCD2. It’s not a high fidelity headphone in the upper frequencies, it has a hash over the highs that ruins the experience, like a single driver speaker that’s trying to do treble. I was underwhelmed by it. Not that it doesn’t sound nice, it’s just not worth 1000€.

    The lighter a thing is, the less inertia it has. That’s about it. A modded HD800 with a more neutral frequency response is better.

    • Reply November 3, 2013

      Brian Lewis

      I highly, highly disagree. Modded or not, the HD800 just does not sound natural. The only thing the HD800 has over the LCD-2 is soundstage, and even that sounds over-done at times.

  • Reply October 18, 2013

    Fabio_Rocks

    Congratulations Mike I really enjoyed your non-conventional review. If something missing, we will find in the comment section below:)
    I bet the lcd 3 is a fantastic headphone, but I mainly do all my listening in the night so an open headphone is not for me. If it will be the case, I’ll put my money on the closed back Audeze. After you review, of course!

    • Reply October 19, 2013

      Mike

      Thanks Fabio.

      Yeah the closed back Audeze should be something to look forward to. Where the closed back Stax didn’t do so well, I hope Audeze can do a better job. I know a lot of people are asking for a closed back.

  • Reply October 19, 2013

    MassiveTurboLag

    Your one article per week cadence is killing me! What’s taking so long?

    • Reply October 19, 2013

      L.

      Work, life, Japan

    • Reply October 21, 2013

      L.

      B&W P7 might be up this week though

      • Reply October 21, 2013

        MassiveTurboLag

        That’s what I’m talking about. Those headphones make me anxious.

  • Reply October 20, 2013

    MassiveTurboLag

    Tyll from Inner Fidelity made today a passing note about NwAvGuy so I went to his blog to see what’s what. My oh my, Lieven. You were on the receiving end of some thorough grilling.

    • Reply October 20, 2013

      L.

      And you bring this up here why?
      Yeah, I did get all the heat where it should have been a 50/50 split with Mike. I stick to my point though.

      • Reply October 20, 2013

        MassiveTurboLag

        I dunno, I was shocked when I read it and I wanted to check if it’s for real. True, Mike didn’t even get a passing mention.

      • Reply October 20, 2013

        Dave Ulrich

        Hmmm, remind me again why you don’t want to do an ODAC review?

        • Reply October 21, 2013

          dalethorn

          I’m thinking about ordering one of those combo O2 plus ODAC boxes, to compare to the Microstreamer for example. If it’s running on battery power it should be clean at least, regardless of its other qualities. But my main ‘phones are the M100, H6, and COP, so I don’t know how those would work – they’re all very low impedance. Today we have some nice decent headphones from $250 to $400 USD or thereabouts, but the mfrs. are targeting cellphones, so maybe that’s why there are so many surprises with these headphones, unless the impedance curves are very flat, and nothing else is weird about them.

    • Reply October 20, 2013

      dalethorn

      I searched everywhere and could not find anything today on Tyll’s blog.

      • Reply October 20, 2013

        MassiveTurboLag

        Go to his website, read the JDS Labs article, click on the link called His Blog and on that blog, on some article is the meat of things. If you are using Safari just press command + F and search for Lieven on a couple of pages.

        • Reply October 21, 2013

          dalethorn

          I tried to no avail. I can’t find a search field either. I really want to see this, if you could help me find it.

          • Reply October 21, 2013

            MassiveTurboLag

            http://nwavguy.blogspot.com.es/2012/04/what-we-hear.html

            This is the article and this is how the search field looks like after you press command + F.

            • Reply October 21, 2013

              dalethorn

              Thanks – I didn’t need to read that far. I saw that NwAvGuy was hurt by the O2 review. I had the O2 for awhile and it was a good amp, and probably measures very well. But it’s not an expensive amp, and while a cheap amp is not necessarily bad, nor is an expensive amp necessarily good, competition in the marketplace assures us that on average, the cheap amps are lower in sound quality because they can’t deal with all of the things that negatively impact sound. The simplicity of the O2 design helps it to be better probably than most $140 USD headphone amps, but that simplicity also means it cannot do the things necessary to have the best sound with every headphone. I’ve been very happy with several cheap amps with lots of headphones, because my expectations weren’t high, and so my experiences equalled or exceeded my expectations. But I’ve followed the O2 for a long time and it’s clear to me that its creator and a lot of his fans and O2 fans have very unrealistic expectations – expecting miracles for $140. As to any comments about Lieven,

              • Reply October 21, 2013

                dalethorn

                ….I’m sure those comments would be interesting and entertaining, but I’m satisfied to read his reviews here. I think the long-time Headfonia readers are in the best position to judge.

                • Reply October 21, 2013

                  MassiveTurboLag

                  I have nothing against Lieven, I just didn’t expect to be reading about him there.

                  • Reply October 21, 2013

                    dalethorn

                    You should read what they’ve said about me, and I’m pretty much a nobody. Lieven should feel honored!

                • Reply October 21, 2013

                  George Lai

                  I second that, Dale. Totally.

                  • Reply October 21, 2013

                    dalethorn

                    Thanks – I think we’re in the right place – no regrets – just push on ahead, lots of gear to explore.

  • Reply October 21, 2013

    L.

    O2 discussion deleted. This is the LCD3 thread. thanks for the support guys but the O2 thread was closed for a reason. thanks.

  • Reply December 17, 2013

    dave

    http://versus.com/en/audeze-lcd-3-vs-audeze-lcd-x which one would you choose!? no idea which could be better…and i can´t understand the price difference

  • Reply June 26, 2014

    Patrick

    Great review as always guys – haven’t tough until the last part that the LCD-3 is so much superior than the LCD-2. Got a take a look at the weekend where I have the opportunity to test those babys by a friend – Hope the amp of my friend will be enough (fostex hp3 and custom made bottlehead crack – thanks for mention this d-i-y amp guys 😉

    • Reply June 26, 2014

      L.

      LCD2 and 3 don’t work with the Crack I’m afraid.

      • Reply June 26, 2014

        Patrick

        Researched it and yeah sadly it isn’t supported by a 3,5mm device. Anyway got a fostex hp3 and a beyerdynamic a20 to test, where I’m gone write my opionen in the next days on your review – Greetz P.

  • Reply September 15, 2014

    Jacob Smith

    They use the exact same technology and have the exact same performance as the LCD-2. You are paying far too much money for an imaginary difference as usual.

    • Reply September 15, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      Really? Come on man, there’s an obvious difference in sound between LCD2 and 3.

    • Reply August 29, 2015

      Theodorus Chandra

      mann u clearly havent tried the 3.

  • Reply December 30, 2014

    Haryanto Suryonoto

    For you any LCD-3 users out there, go change its standard cable with Nordost Heimdall 2. You’ll thank me later 🙂

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