LCD-2F (2020) Review!

This will be the second (and last, I promise) review of mine translated from Reddit. It is my original written review for the LCD-2F. Hope you will enjoy the read!

Introduction

In this post, I will be reviewing a pair Audeze LCD-2 ($995) Planar Magnetic headphones. Before I begin, I would like to specify why I specify that this is a 2020 model. The LCD-2 has seen quite a few revisions since it was first introduced, over a decade ago. Firs the output jack was to be separate from the wooden rings, because that used to cause cracking in the wood. In 2014, Audeze introduced their Fazor technology, which are essentially triangle-shaped wave-guides that, according to Audeze, improve imaging, and detail (I have never tried an LCD-2 Classic, so I am unable to say how much difference the Fazors actually make). In 2016 all Audeze drivers got a redesign, general consensus is that sound quality was improved compared to original driver. In early 2018, they added the Suspension head-strap that you see in the image of my LCD-2s; greatly improving comfort by distributing weight more evenly. I should point out that my listening consisted of a wide variety of genres played from Tidal Streaming Service (HiFi and “Master” Quality) through a JDS Labs Element II (Amp/DAC combo), with my PC as the source.

For some background context: In the past I have enjoyed headphones like the Sennheiser HD650/6XX a lot. I also quite enjoyed the DT 770, the HiFiMan Sundara, and Focal Elex. It is important to keep in mind however, that these have all been EQ’d to more closely match my personal target, which compared to the Harman Target has slightly lower upper mids (about 2-3dB), lower bass shelf (by around 3dB), and more energy above 10k. I would say I prefer warmer sound signatures.

DISCLAIMERS: Audio is a very subjective topic, we all hear things slightly differently, and we all have tastes and preferences to how music should sound. My goal in this review is to give those who are interested in the headphone I am describing an overall idea of the kind of performance they can expect should they buy it themselves. I would also like to point out that no one is influencing what I say about these headphones, I purchased these myself from an online retailer and have no actual obligation to write this review.

TL;DR Available at end of Post!

Power Requirements

Being such a large open-back, it should come at no surprise that I would not recommend these for any kind of portable use, but that is fine, they were not designed to suit that purpose. At an impedance of 70 ohms and a sensitivity level of 101dB, they are not terribly hard to drive. I would say that the HiFiMan Sundara are actually harder to drive than these. As far as power requirements go, I would say these are close to the Sennheiser 6XX; so while I will list an amplifier as a requirement, it does not need to be the most powerful one.

Build Quality

The build on Audeze’s full-size, LCD-series headphones is pretty much identical across the board, described in one word: excellent. The LCD-2 is constructed of extremely premium-feeling materials. It uses very sturdy metal practically everywhere, with the exception of the wooden rings adorning the outside of the drivers. The wood itself is covered in what feels to me like a very nice lacquer that will last several years with relatively little maintenance; feels very similar to the nitrocellulose used on guitars. The pads are made of lambskin. Like the rest of the build, they feel very premium and should last for a while before having to replace them. Worth mentioning that should you need replacements for the headband, or ear pads, they are both sold on Audeze’s Website. Lastly, I will mention Audeze’s transferable three-year warranty as part of the build quality, so that should give you some peace of mind while wearing them.

Comfort

When I first put these on, the weight really got to me. At a weight of 595g they are definitely noticeable on your head, and almost feel like putting on a helmet. The clamp force out-of-the-box was also quite high. However, if you can make it past the initial break-in period, these become incredibly comfortable. The clamp begins to ease up, and the ear pads soften up and feel like they mold to fit you more comfortably. As I mentioned earlier the new suspension-style headband does a great job of distributing the weight, specially once the clamp eases up. The pads are also very helpful in providing a comfortable listening experience. The pads on the LCD-2 are massive, provide a lot of space inside, and are also soft against the skin. Having had these for about a month now, I can wear them for hours on end without any comfort issues. So if you do buy these, give them a chance to ease up.

Sound

I feel like I really have to preface this review by saying that I find it difficult to recommend the LCD-2 unless you are willing to try out some EQ, or at least using the Audeze Reveal + plugin EQ. While the bass is fantastic in its default configuration, there are major problems with the mids and treble. The mids in particular sound very off. They sound very dark, as if there was a veil over them because there is a very deep and wide dip between 3k and 5k. There is also a noticeable peak at 1k that gives everything in the lower mids a very strange timbre, one that I can only describe as “boxed-in.” The treble, while well extended, has a very large peak at 6k, and lacks energy at around 9k. Altogether, these issues make the LCD-2’s perceived resolution significantly lower than it really is while also giving a tonality that I do not think works particularly great for any genre. However, with EQ, it is possible to bring out this headphones full potential, and I sincerely think it makes it one of the more amazing headphones out there–maybe even the best headphones for you at around the $1000 mark. I reiterate once more, unless you feel comfortable with EQ, look for other options that are not from Audeze. Now, if nothing that I have said so far scares you, I will proceed to review the headphone with its full potential, EQ-corrected sound in mind.

EQ

Normally, I would not want to start off a review with EQ because I think most people either don’t feel comfortable with using EQ, or would not want to bother with it. However as I have mentioned several times already, the LCD-2 really needs EQ to reach their full potential. If you have never EQ’d a headphone before, you can find a full, detailed walk-through on setting up the the Peace GUI plugin set up on your computer so that you can EQ headphones on windows by following this link. I will also post download links for Equalizer APO, Peace GUI and Audeze Reveal at the end of the review. If you are experienced with using EQ, fantastic; I will list my EQ here in this section so that you may input it into Equalizer APO + the Peace GUI plugin or any other equalizer of choice.

Low Shelf at 100hz, +1.5dB Q of 0.7

Peak at 1000hz, -3dB Q of 2

Peak at 3000hz, +2.5dB Q of 2

Peak at 4500hz, +4.5dB Q of 1.8

Peak at 6000hz, -6.5dB Q of 1.6

Peak at 9000hz, +4.5dB Q of 4

Now onto the actual sound review…

Bass

I had never really heard bass this good until I tried the LCD-2. On Frequency response (FR) graphs, it extends in an almost perfectly linear fashion down to 20hz, and it definitely sounds that way. The bass is deep, and very present. However, it is not in any way boomy or overpowering. It is extremely well textured, and very detailed. It is also very fast, and dynamic. From my EQ, I would say just adjust this to taste. You might be happy with its default level, I personally only needed 1.5dB more in this region. However, if you want a more Harman-like bass shelf, you can definitely boost it by 5dB without having to worry about any sort of distortion, as these have extremely low Total Harmonic Distortion (THD). Just adjust this region of the FR to taste, if at all necessary.

Mids

Once the mids have the problematic areas removed with EQ, they sound incredible. The reduction at 1000hz, in tandem with the raise in the upper mids fixes the timbre issues I had with the LCD-2, making them sound extremely natural and rich. More importantly however, using EQ in this region of the LCD-2’s FR really brings out a lot of detail that was perceived to be lost. Without EQ I find the range between 3-5k to sound really grainy, but that is only a result of the severe valley that lies in that region; which is further accentuated by the peak at 6k. Overall the mid range on the LCD-2 is quite fast and tonally accurate–it just needs some tweaking.

Treble

The treble is a similar story once you fix the peak at 6k. It is superbly very well defined and has very nice air qualities above 10k. I added more energy around 9k because I felt like it gave a nice emphasis to the overtones of cymbals and brass instruments, and made them sound more correct to me. Altogether, I would not describe the LCD-2’s treble region as bright, but it is very well defined and articulated. If you are treble-sensitive, like I am, there is nothing to worry about here.

Sound Stage and Imaging

From what I have read online, it would seem like the LCD-2 gets a reputation for having a narrow sound stage. Despite all that, I really do not find that to be the case at all. I actually find these to be fairly wide, at least on par with the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro in terms of sound stage. For Imaging, there is nothing special to say about it, and that is a good thing. I feel like the location of sounds are very well defined and there are no gaps or dead-zones. Not that it is what they are meant for, but I had no issues locating people when playing online shooters like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Also very important is the instrument separation, which is just incredible. During busy passages, you can easily make out each instrument. It is incredible how even on instruments and vocals that were recorded on the same track you can actually make out the individual layers very clearly.

Dynamics

As I mentioned in the bass sections, the LCD-2 really has that really nice and deep slam quality in the bass. However, what I find more impressive are the micro-dynamics. As a guitarist myself, I can really feel the palm mutes on strings on this headphone. As dramatic as it sounds, you can even gauge whether a string was plucked with a pick, or with fingers. Similarly, you can tell the pressure from keystrokes on piano and how they vary with the way its played. The micro-dynamics in this headphone really create a very natural, and realistic feeling for many instruments–not something all headphones can achieve.

Conclusion

I am sure you are tired of me saying this, but after EQ the LCD-2 is really an incredible performer. It leans more towards a warm tonality, but it does not sacrifice any detail in doing so. They are amazing with high-quality recordings, but are quite forgiving of the not-so-high-quality ones. Across the board they perform incredible across a wide range of genres, but I particularly enjoyed rock and Jazz with these. Revisiting The Beatles’ Abbey Road and listening to Arne Domnérus Jazz at the Pawnshop was a delightful experience. I am sure that there are certainly people out there wondering whether or not a headphone like this is worth it over something like the DT-1990 Pro, Focal Elex, Sennheiser HD 600-series, or HiFiMan Sundara. I cannot determine whether or not it is something that is worth it for you, as we all have different values and preferences. However, what I can say, is that there is a very noticeable performance gain over those other headphones; one much larger than what I had originally expected. In the future, I hope I will be able to try other Audeze products. I would also like to compare these against something like the HiFiMan Ananda and the Dan Clark Audio AEON 2 Open, which are similarly priced.

TL;DR

Overall, I would say that the LCD-2 is an outstanding headphone with great build quality and comfort, but only if you are willing to use EQ. It has some problematic areas in the mids and treble; keeping them from performing at their full potential. If you are interested in a headphone with a warm tonality that does not sacrifice any detail in doing so, and you are willing to try some EQ (which I have listed in EQ section of review), I think the LCD-2 is a very good choice at its price range.

Download links for EQ Tools

Equalizer APO (INSTALL THIS FIRST!!!) : https://sourceforge.net/projects/equalizerapo/

Peace GUI: https://sourceforge.net/projects/peace-equalizer-apo-extension/

Audeze Reveal + Plugin (for Audeze users): https://www.audeze.com/products/reveal

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Above and beyond! Excellent review! Read it on Reddit due to a recommendation by @Resolve

Glad you made the jump to the forum!

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Thanks again, I am glad to be able to share these with fellow audio enthusiasts!

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Awesome review and welcome to the forum :grin:

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Thank you for checking out the review! :smiley:

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Awesome review and picture lighting/angle.
Well done!

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Thanks! I really appreciate it!

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Again another excellent review.

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Chrono made a splash over on reddit with this one. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the thing - totally deserves to be part of the modern headphone review scene, whether on YT or elsewhere.

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Thanks, I really appreciate it! It has been amazing seeing everyone’s reaction to my posts, and I hope I can keep it up with future write-ups.

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@Chrono this is an excellent write-up, a killer review I must say. I like how you put things in context and the fact that you spelled out your opinion upfront about the headphones with and without EQ. It’s simply clear, concise, logic, easy to read and follow. I wish I was that eloquent. Congrats for such great review.

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I really appreciate the comments on the review. I really appreciate the feedback, as well. I always like to hear how my reviews flow, and how helpful they are. Cheers!

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Indeed, very good write-up. You showed yourself as a very strong lobbyist for these cans. :wink:

Tell me, how was the process of EQ’ing them? Did you start with a measure already or went switching the knobs to taste, and eventually found out it was close to Harman?

Cheers.

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Being a plucker myself – every other week I’d say – I’m interested in knowing whether there is a particular track where this is more evident with LCD-2F and not with 6XX, for instance – since you’ve mentioned? Just out of curiosity.

Although I suspect most of plucking sound is on the highs – and the Senns HD 6** probably roll them off too early – but I hear it in person. I hear it so much to the point of having the well known how-I-suck-playing-guitar feeling. :smile:

Thanks!

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Well to answer the EQ question: I don’t really know. I have never really thought about how I go about doing EQ, but if I think back on it, I first compare to whatever headphone I already consider to sound correct or gits my target curve. From there I kind of mold headphone’s FR with EQ until the tonality sounds like the other one. I use the 6XX (with EQ) for reference, because I’m very familiar with them and they sound correct to me. Some times it can be like “yeah, I hear that there is glare at x frequency,” for example. However, most of the time it is listening, comparing them to my personal target (my “neutral”), and then saying which frequencies sound like they need adjustment. There are times as well were I look at graphs, but it mostly to check and confirm how my listening compares to what graphs say. I hope my response does a decent job at explaining that.

As for listening out for the tension of instruments, I credit that to dynamics and micro dynamics. I personally do not associate dynamics with FR, I associate with the headphone’s performance (I don’t know if that makes any sense at all). The reason why I follow this train of thought is that there are many headphones that I have tuned to sound similar, but they reproduce dynamics very differently. I listen out in particular to instruments like xylophones, pianos and guitars as the initial attack on those instruments varies a lot on the way in which the musician interacts with them. As a guitarist, I know the difference between someone playing with or without a pick, and that is much easier to distinguish when a headphone has good dynamics and micro dynamics. Off the top of my head I cannot think of any examples for guitar, but I do always think of it when listening to the piano in “Oh! Darling,” by The Beatles. On a headphone with good dynamics you can hear how the initial attack from when notes are played varies when the piano is being played softer or harder. It’s hard for me to explain, as many of the terms we use when describing headphones have a vague definition, but it isn’t always the same for everyone. Often I hear differences in the way sound is recreated in a headphone, and I associate those differences to those somewhat vague terms.

Can we get your input on this @metal571 @Resolve, I think I’m starting to confuse even myself a little here :sweat_smile:

Edit: I do not have any graphs of my own, I compare what I hear to graphs online. I use Inner Fidelity’s graphs, some times the ones on Head-Fi, as well as Oratory 1990. I do cross check them as well, just to make sure that they are consistent with one another.

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lol, I’m not sure I understand @Resolve’s “plucked” adjective still myself. Jeeze, and you play guitar too? This is getting out of hand. It’s almost like someone made a clone of me at this point

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Plucked as in, tight and ‘pulled’ rather than ‘pushed’. I know this has to do with the mechanics of planar vs dynamic, but that’s how I hear it as well. It goes all the way back to my first experience of the HE-500, where I remember thinking “this sounds like everything is being pulled and rebounding rather than force being exerted forward” - which at the time didn’t involve knowing that planar diaphragms have the conductive trace on them and the interaction with the magnetic field happens to function that way. So really ‘plucked’ is just a description of a kind of tightness and immediacy that I typically associate with planars. Timbre? maybe. Speed? Also maybe. I should note, it’s not always there with planars, but frequently it is.

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Thanks for your detailed explanation. If you’re into DSP in general, you may be interested in these other threads:
DSP, EQ and other Plug-Ins
Sonarworks Reference & True-Fi

Cheers.

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Just a heads up, @Chrono’s excellent review is now published on the headphones.com front page here:

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