Audeze LCD-1 Review - Portable Planar Reference

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Audeze LCD-1 Review - Portable Planar Reference

In 2009, Audeze released an almost instant classic with the LCD-2, birthing, alongside fellow manufacturer Hifiman, a new Renaissance for planar magnetic headphones. Since then, the number after the LCD has steadily ticked up, along with increases in price and performance, with the release of the LCD-3 and LCD-4. Last year, Audeze finally decided to go the other direction, releasing the previously absent LCD-1.

IN the BOX

  • headphones
  • 3.5mm-terminated single-ended cable
  • hard carrying case
  • certificate of authenticity

Side view of Audeze LCD-1

COMFORT, ERGONOMICS and DESIGN

Compared to the other LCD headphones, the LCD-1 is almost shockingly diminutive. Its form factor is more at the scale of the Mobius. It's ALMOST on-ear, but not quite - there's just enough space for my rather average-sized ears to fit entirely into the earpads. Those earpads, though, are thick and soft - there's no risk of your ears rubbing against the driver here.

The LCD-1 also folds, making this headphone perfect for use as a portable reference can. Though its open-back nature means you won't be mixing at your local cafe, for someone like me who occasionally has to do minor mixing work in a speaker-unfriendly office setting, the LCD-1 presents itself as a perfect option. Its included carrying case makes it easy to throw into your backpack, too.

As for its appearance, the LCD-1 doesn't share the luxurious wood accents of its more expensive siblings - not that such design choices would make sense at this size, anyway. Its appearance is frankly rather plain, with few embellishments of any kind, but all that fully supports its role as a primarily functional headphone. If you want to trade performance out there, there are other options out there, of course.

Some have reported that the LCD-1 is easy enough to drive with just your phone. In practice, my own iPhone 6 wasn't quite up to the task. It sounded good, but to get to my ideal listening volume I had to crank the volume up close to maximum. So you may want to consider an amplifier, but you won't need the state of the art to get these to a good listening volume.

View of Audeze LCD-1 folded up in case

SOUND

The first couple times I listened to Audeze headphones, I felt a little let down. They didn't seem to possess the clarity or exaggerated detail of other headphones in their price range. But clarity has never been the selling point of Audeze's headphones. Instead, they like to present music in a very warm, romantic way - and as I've gotten more exposure to Audeze's classic sound signature, I've gradually understood, more and more, how intoxicating it can be.

As with the other LCD's, the LCD-1 did not wow me right out of the box. But as it spent more time on my head, I began to understand what it means to live with the kind of comfortable sound the LCD-1 provides.

The LCD-1's sound is not exactly like the other headphones in the LCD series, exchanging the darkness of the LCD-2, LCD-3 and LCD-4 for a more neutral, reference-quality (albeit still ever-so-slightly darkened) sound.

BASS

The LCD-1's bass is about on par for a planar in its price bracket: thick, relatively well-extended, and very flat. Compared to similarly-priced dynamic-driver options like the HD660S from Sennheiser, the LCD-1 lacks any "midbass hump." The LCD-1 doesn't romanticize the bass; it simply plays back exactly what's put into it.

MIDS

The classic Audeze sound signature as embodied by the LCD-2 presents a somewhat blunted, very warm midrange with decreased presence in the upper mids. The LCD-1, by comparison, is quite a bit more neutrally tuned. It still retains a trace of the Audeze house sound, with a slight dip from 1kHz to around 3kHz or so, but a slight boost at 4kHz gives the LCD-1 the clarity and balance that are somewhat missing in the higher-end LCD models.

As a result, the LCD-1 possesses a somewhat less romantic and certainly less distinctive sound than its higher-end models. But it also serves as a much better reference without equalization. All of the aforementioned deviations from neutrality are very slight, allowing the LCD-1 to perform quite well as a portable reference headphone.

While the rest of the Audeze lineup sound dark to my ears, the LCD-1 simply sounds ever-so-slightly (and I mean VERY slightly) darker than neutral, making it a perfect option for those who are sensitive to boosts in the upper mids. On the other hand, those who strongly desire a strong sense of "clarity" in the mids may still find the LCD-1 slightly veiled for their tastes. Those listeners may want to check out the slightly airier, brighter Hifiman Sundara.

TREBLE

Like most of the LCD lineup, the LCD-1 has a slight dip in the 4-8kHz range, meaning that treble detail isn't highlighted the way it is with, say, the HD800. While not rolled-off per se, this dip also robs the LCD-1 of the kind of "sparkle" present in some other headphones.

But this detail certainly isn't absent - it's just downplayed slightly. In fact, the LCD-1 handily outresolves the other planars in its price bracket, presenting none of the slight treble haze issues that can be found with, say, the competing Hifiman Sundara. My stress test for treble is and has always been "Heaven or Las Vegas" by the Cocteau Twins, a track that brings with it a 10kHz peak in the voice that can be murderous when played through headphones with problematic or resonant treble. No such issues exist with the LCD-1 - everything is crystal clear.

Those looking for sparkly highs may want to move along from the LCD-1. Instead of excitement, the LCD-1 presents treble with an ear toward functionality - never harsh or strident, the LCD-1 simply plays what needs to be heard, and plays it remarkably competently for headphones at the $400 mark.

SOUNDSTAGE

The soundstage is the most significant area of compromise with the LCD-1. Compared to the higher-end LCD's, or the similarly-priced Sundara, the soundstage feels a bit closed-in - there's very little out-of-head projection here.

That's not to say that imaging is bad, by any standards. No, the LCD-1 manages very nice instrument separation and positioning, and with the depth and width nicely correlated. In other words, one gets a good, realistic picture of the room in which the instruments were recorded - it just happens to be a rather small picture.

Audeze LCD-1 folded flat with inside of earcups visible

IN CONCLUSION

So long as you don't mind a touch of the classic Audeze warmth, the LCD-1 is great for both casual and analytical music listening alike, and at $399, it leaves nothing to be desired when it comes to performance. For most music listeners, I think the LCD-1 will be just right. Considering both the great sound quality and portability factor, I think Audeze should be proud of what they've created with the LCD-1 - it's a real winner in my book.

You can get the LCD-1 from our store here.

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