More proof the world's best headphones are made in the US

Audeze has long been one of the Audiophiliac's favorite brands, and its new LCD-X headphones are a game changer!

Audeze LCD-X headphones Audeze

The way I see it, high-end audio is all about the pursuit of excellence, and Audeze headphones exemplify that philosophy. Now sure, most headphone manufacturers try to make the best products they can, but mass-market brands have to satisfy a broad range of tastes, load on features like Bluetooth and phone controls that don't enhance sound quality, and design their products within real-world price constraints. Audeze engineers focus on doing whatever it takes to make the world's best-sounding headphones, and the results speak for themselves.

The new LCD-X full-size, open-back headphone ($1,699) comes with two 8.2-foot-long cables, one terminated with a standard 6.3 mm plug, the other cable with a four-pin, balanced XLR plug that's intended for use with high-end headphone amplifiers that have special "balanced" output connectors. You also get a heavy-duty, hard-shell travel case that will protect these valuable headphones in the roughest environments.

Looking over the LCD-X's specifications you'll see this is no ordinary design. First, the maximum power-handling spec: 15 watts is extreme, most headphones top out at a tiny fraction of a watt. If you're into loud, the LCD-X can deliver 130 decibels of volume, but I probably never pushed it much louder than 95 dB. Sounds excessive, but it's analogous to buying a supercar that can cruise at 200 mph, but few souls will ever be brave or crazy enough to approach the car's ultimate speed. Back to the LCD-X, it weighs a hefty 600 grams (21 ounces), more than double the weight of most high-end headphones, but the weight is evenly distributed, and I found it comfortable to wear for hours at a time. The LCD-X drivers are unusually large: they have 6.17 square inches of sound-radiating area (double the size of a more typical 50mm driver), and that means more of your outer ear is hearing the sound, which results in a more natural presentation.

The LCD-X's sumptuous real-sheepskin-leather, thickly padded ear cushions will coddle your ears, or if you prefer, you can order your headphones with leather-free super-suede fabric covered earpads. The LCD-X's machined aluminum earcups are far more substantial than what you see from even Sennheiser's or Beyerdynamic's flagship models. Audeze headphones are manufactured in California, and the warranty runs three years.

Like every Audeze headphone I've heard the LCD-X gets bass right, there's power you can feel! Not only is there a lot of bass, it's never bloated or muddy. The throbbing beats coursing through Thom Yorke's "Atoms for Peace" CD were amazing; the bass all but massaged my ears! Even compared with AKG's superb new flagship K812 headphone, the LCD-X's bass is in another league. The LCD-X is the easiest to drive Audeze ever made, so it can really sing plugged into a phone or MP3 player. It'll play loud, without any assist from an external headphone amp, but with a headphone this good I'd strongly recommend using an amp to hear the LCD-X at its best.

I've used an Audeze LCD-2 ($1,145) as one of my reference headphones for four years, so I was eager to compare it with the LCD-X, and the two headphones sound similar. Both are big-sounding designs with spacious imaging, but the LCD-X is considerably more dynamic and transparent. The LCD-X is much easier to drive, so it plays louder at a given volume control setting. The subtle gradations of dynamics in piano recordings are a real thrill on the LCD-X, and once you hear the difference you'll start to realize how most headphones gloss over that aspect of sound reproduction. You hear more of the dynamic shading and soft-loud contrasts in drums and other instruments, which add to the realism of the sound. Quiet details in mixes are easier to follow on the LCD-X.

With the top-of-the-line Audeze LCD-3 ($1,945), vocals sounded more full-bodied and natural, but I still preferred the LCD-X for its more vivid, you-are-there immediacy. Others may opt for the LCD-3; both are superb.

I think a lot of serious audiophiles will be smitten with the Audeze LCD-X, I know I was.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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