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Audeze LCD3 Review

Highs

  • Lifelike detail
  • Near perfect frequency response
  • Immense stereo image
  • Excellent balance
  • Gorgeous, ergonomic design

Rating

Our Score 9.5
User Score 0

Lows

  • Expensive
  • A little heavy
Words fail to describe the level of accuracy the LCD-3 are capable of, or the absolutely jaw-dropping level of detail with which they extract every nuance contained within music.

In case you hadn’t heard, hi-fi audio manufacturer, Audeze, isn’t kidding around. The company’s LCD-2 headphones have garnered almost universal praise as one of – if not the – best pair of headphones on the market. For the LCD-2 Audeze matched state of the art driver technology with an opulent exterior design, creating an almost otherworldly audio experience. Of course, the price of the LCD-2 is a bit otherworldly as well, coming in at just under $1,000.

With its latest headphone, the LCD-3, Audeze has literally doubled the stakes. The $2,000 LCD-3 (yep, $2,000) draws from its predecessor, using planar magnetic technology in an attempt to reproduce sound as accurately and vividly as it was created. For those unfamiliar, planar magnetic drivers use a polymer membrane stretched between two electromagnets to produce sound when electrical current is applied. The membrane allows for an extreme level of tactile accuracy, as it is an extremely delicate and impressionable surface.

All that tech aside, the LCD-3’s royal lineage is what had us salivating. We knew from simple logic and deduction that they would make for an incredible listen, but we wondered: Just how realistic can recorded music really sound? We weren’t sure, but we did know that there was a litany of fascinating musicians and producers whose work we couldn’t wait to rediscover. With that in mind, here’s how it all went down.

Out of the box

So you’ve just spent a fist-full Benjamins on a pair of headphones. Well, Audeze wants to make sure you feel the value of every single one of those greenbacks from the get-go. While you can get the LCD3 in a “ruggedized” travel case, a more lavish experience is borne by its regal cabinet of dark, polished wood. Our test model came in the latter casing, and though it was a bit scuffed from what we assume were encounters with other reviewers, it was still a pretty awesome experience. No joke: We actually ran around the office showing the little box of treasure to anyone who would bother to look – it’s just that cool.

audeze lcd3 professional reference headphone wood case macro

The gold latch on the front of the cabinet popped open with a lyrical ting, and, as we pulled back the lid, we found what looked like two cross-sections of a large tree limb, polished to an agate finish and laid in a champagne bed of satin. Also inside the case was a pair of dual pronged cables, one with a four pin XLR jack, and one with a ¼-inch jack. To underscore the quality of the materials used, Audeze includes a small wood polishing kit, complete with a bottle of bee’s and carnauba wax oil.

Features and design

The LCD-3 is a heavy set of headgear – more of a stationary listening apparatus then a pair of headphones. The gorgeous, tiger-striped earcup accents are made of Zebrano wood, layered in a sleek, glossy finish. Metallic plates make up the earcups’ exterior, with multiple slits for a completely open-ear design. In fact, even when music is playing at full volume, ambient sounds are easily heard, and anyone within earshot will hear the music the LCD-3 make as well.

The LCD-3 is possibly the heaviest headphone we’ve ever put on, but it sits on the head with remarkable balance…

The earcups’ interior comprises mammoth-sized earpads, cut at an ergonomic angle that conforms well to the head. The pads are cloaked in rich, burgundy-colored lambskin leather, and are also available in microfiber synthetic suede. You can’t see them, but buried within the earcups are the headphones’ planar magnetic drivers. This video at the Audeze website gives a closer look at the technology.

The LCD-3’s headband is attached to the earcups by slim metallic arms, affixed on rotating axes at two points. The wide bow at the top is layered in thick leather, with stitched padding along the underbelly that extends in fat curves like a luxury couch. The headband adjusts to fit by shuffling up and down on corrugated metal posts in a rather awkward motion for such a regal design.

The dual-pronged headphone cables attach at an angle from protruding chromed inputs. Each of the thick cables flattens out and is terminated with a heavy-gauge jack, with both the 4 pronged XLR and ¼-inch inputs plated in gold. The cables extend to approximately 4 feet in length, and are surprisingly heavy when laid across the body.

Comfort

The LCD-3 is possibly the heaviest headphone we’ve ever put on, but it sits on the head with remarkable balance, distributing its weight judiciously between the huge earpads and the comparably thin headband. We did experience a bit of discomfort at the top of the head after multiple hours of wear, but we found the headset to be comfortable for its size.

Audio performance

Putting on the Audeze LCD-3 is one of the most enjoyable and effective methods of music enhancement we’ve ever encountered — and it’s legal, too! Words fail to describe the level of accuracy the LCD-3 are capable of, or the absolutely jaw-dropping level of detail with which they extract every nuance contained within music. With that said, we’ll do our best to recount the audio experience the LCD-3 provided in our all-too-brief listening experience.

We tested the LCD-3 using a MacBook as a source, with a digital signal passed to a MOTU 896HD D/A converter. For the most part, we concentrated our efforts on selections that hold deeply complex dimensions of audio production. As such, our first stop was Radiohead – specifically the millennium release, Kid A.

audeze lcd3 professional reference headphone zebrano wood enclosure macro

From the very entrance of the first track, “Everything in its Right Place”, we felt as if we’d been let in on a secret that even the album’s producer may not have been party to. Every frequency in the parade of synth tones was exposed, enveloping our head in distinct, shiny spheres of sound floating through a multidimensional landscape. Currents of backward reverb slipped seamlessly through the stereo channels, as the variety of beats developed before us in an almost hallucinogenic billow.

As we moved on to the title track, the descending tone in the left channel at the intro seemed to drop into a near-infinite space, finally resting deep in the outer periphery of the channel. The strange xylophone shimmer that came next whipped back and forth through the wide atmosphere like a snake’s tail, while broken drum sounds began to echo in blocky, electrostatic pulses. The extent of the synthetic aural imagery was exponentially deeper than we’d encountered in dozens of previous listens, as if the headset was developing its own unique and more complex version of the production. The granular detail of each patch was so deep, they almost sounded like entirely new instruments in their candid originality.

We don’t know what the voice of God sounds like, but we imagine it sounds a lot like the Audeze LCD-3.

After this unearthly exploration, we decided to dial things back a bit and sit in with Ray Lamontagne and the Pariah Dogs, enrapt in the glowing wash of acoustic radiance from God Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise. As the music began, we were caught in a flashback to our studio days, hearing the instruments raise before us in brilliant, lifelike dimension. The perfectly drawn timbres of the guitars and bass were borne with golden clips, evoking visions of not only the strings and the instruments themselves, but the entire environment in which they were recorded. Cymbal crashes sustained like bubbles rippling from a disturbance in a pond, and Ray’s voice felt right next to us, revealing every flicker of breath and each throat movement in the center image.

Throughout all this beauty we heard a slight tendency for brightness in the very top register of paler vocals and harmonica. We were just slightly worried this edge might be too exposed on the sharp guitar of the Bowie album, The Man Who Sold the World. However, it seemed we’d underestimated the LCD-3’s affinity for frequency articulation. The tape saturation of the 70’s record was fat, thick, and buttery; pouring out an amber tonal color with extremely detailed nuances swirled into the mix. The LCD-3 shook loose completely new sounds in the album that had been masked in previous listens.

Conclusion

We don’t know what the voice of God sounds like, but we imagine it sounds a lot like the Audeze LCD-3.

While we can’t tell you whether any headset is worth $2,000, we can assure you that time spent with the Audeze LCD-3 is a revelatory experience that will elevate your music to a level beyond what you can find in almost any other listening environment. Even with top-tier, professional-grade monitors, it’s rare to come this close to the actual birth of sound. For the audiophile, the professional musician, or the rabid fanatic in particular, we highly recommend experiencing the LCD-3 for yourself – but that goes for everyone else out there, too.

Highs

  • Lifelike detail
  • Near perfect frequency response
  • Immense stereo image
  • Excellent balance
  • Gorgeous, ergonomic design

Lows

  • Expensive
  • A little heavy

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