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Headphones

Ear candy: Audeze improves its already great headphones

Audeze's astonishing headphones are better than ever.

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The Audeze LCD-2 (left), LCD-3 (right) Audeze

Audeze isn't likely to topple the Beats juggernaut anytime soon, but it has been making some of the world's best-sounding headphones since 2010. Rather than use a standard dynamic driver, which looks and operates like a tiny speaker driver, Audeze headphones use planar magnetic drivers, which produce sound in a very different way. Unlike a dynamic driver with a cone or dome attached to a round voice coil, Audeze's flat, thin-film diaphragm has a printed circuit across most of its surface. When the circuit is energized with an audio signal it interacts with magnets that move the diaphragm back and forth, creating sound.

Audeze's first model, the LCD-2, had tremendous dynamic punch, bass power and stellar resolution, so it set the benchmark for all high-end headphones that aspired to be the very best in 2010. Over the years the Audeze line expanded to four models, the LCD-2 is still around, joined by the LCD-3, LCD-X, and LCD-XC. All Audeze headphones have a remarkably solid feel; these things are built to last a long, long time, and their super-soft, real lambskin leather (or optional micro-suede) cushions will definitely coddle your ears.

The two newest models, the LCD-X and LCD-XC, feature Audeze's patent-pending Fazor technology that helps focus the drivers' sound waves to improve clarity, low- and high-frequency detailing, and sharpen stereo imaging focus.

Earlier this year Audeze started shipping LCD-2s and LCD-3s with Fazor technology, without raising their prices. I requested one of each headphone so I could directly compare my original '2 and '3 with the new models and hear the difference Fazor technology makes for myself.

Listening to my original LCD-3 the sound still blows me away, but the new LCD-3 produces a crisper and clearer focus. The original '3 is sweeter and softer, which still sounds wonderful, but the new LCD-3 Fazor clarifies the sound. Stereo imaging is more precisely rendered, and the presentation is far more transparent; it's not a subtle difference. Even so, if you own an older LCD-3 and love the sound, I wouldn't rush to change; the old '3 still has a lot going for it.

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Diagram of an Audeze driver Audeze

I heard similar differences when comparing 3-year-old and current LCD-2 headphones; the new model is more detailed and spacious. I really like the more open sound, but in the end these comparisons between old and new models just renewed my appreciation for the Audeze sound. That's what grabbed me when I wrote the review back in 2010, and my very first line was, "I've never heard anything quite like the Audeze LCD-2 before." If you bought an Audeze back then, you still have a great headphone.

I also compared the new LCD-2 with the Oppo PM-1 planar magnetic headphones (with the recently revised earpads), and the new LCD-2 was more open and spacious-sounding. The PM-1 is brighter and more forward, and played louder at the same volume setting, compared with the LCD-2. The PM-1 is also lighter in weight, and feels more comfortable, but I've never had a problem wearing Audeze headphones for hours at a time.

Audeze products are hand-crafted in California; the prices are as follows: the LCD-2 is $995 and the LCD-3 is $1,945 in the US; the LCD-2 is AU$1,299 and LCD-3 is AU$2,439 in Australia; the LCD-2 is £799 and LCD-3 is £1,599 in the UK.