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