Review: Audeze LCD-5 Planar Magnetic Headphone

In the wake of such huge hits produced by the LCD series of planar magnetic headphones, the newest flagship from the OC-based Audeze has big shoes to fill (and plenty of pre-launch hype). Known for punchy bass and a true tone neutrality to the frequency response, the LCD-5 still somehow manages to fulfill its prophecy of a better listening experience than its predecessors.

Review Of The Audeze LCD-5 Headphone

While sonic reproduction in king in evaluating a high end headphones, we would be remiss to gloss over several practical, physical improvements to the structure of the headphone. Traditionally, the Audeze LCD line is known for its high end, audiophile tendencies. It can be (and often is) used as a studio monitor, but a portable workout headphone it is not. It fares much better in a Eames lounger sitting next to crackling fire in a remote A-frame cabin, as its large, spacious ear cups and upscale wood construct made its on-head weight sightly higher than most. And if compared directly to the LCD-4, the previous output impedance of 200 ohms proved to be quite a draw, requiring powerful and more costly amplifiers to bring out the best sound quality. These two items are directly addressed with the new LCD-5. While still maintaining a high level of cosmetic looks, the LCD-5 is down to 420g from 690g and a new impedance of only 14 ohms. This change is noticeable in playback, and requires much less power to produce the same amount of volume from the transducers. On the head the LCD-5 is noticeably lighter as well. I personally never had an issue with 690g, but some readers with neck issues have voiced much praise for the new lighter option for long listening sessions. With that said, there is also a certain break even in terms of caliper or grip pressure. If a headphone is very heavy, the required pressure to keep it securely on the head (in theory) should increase to keep it in place. I prefer a light caliper pressure, and if granted, a heavier headphone has a tendency to slip off if the head tilt gets too severe. But all that said, none of that really matters if you are sitting in a chair or at a mixing console. I don’t think most people will be running down the road with a $4.5k headphone on their skull anytime soon.

The Audeze LCD-5 comes with a very nice case and detachable cable to the mini XLR jack on the base of ear cup. I’ve always appreciated the mini XLR jack used here, which the LCD series has retained in the series for several years. The case is totally usable for traveling situations and really feels like few corners were cut in its selection. The case exterior is made of metal and the closing clasps feel much more secure than your typical plastic pelican case, but manage to still retain a light weight even with the headphone inside. All in all it is slightly more befitting for the top tier performance and aesthetic that is housed inside. Also included is a very audiophile cable, opting for a multi color black-and-copper braided look this time around. Inside the box you can also find a pair of keys for locking the case and some white gloves along with a credit card sized certificate of authenticity.

According to the Audeze LCD-5 website “Every part has been re-engineered, using materials such as magnesium, aluminum and acetate which offer light weight and high rigidity”. In real terms the ear cup material manages to keep much of the high end looks of the pervious generation, but perhaps adds even more premium “gloss” to the overall package. The leather on the headband is finished well, the “sculpted” ear pads are soft and cradle the ear with a loving touch. So it’s not just the lighter weight that seems improved, but the suspension system as a whole is really going next level. If you can’t tell already, I’m a big fan of the updates.

Once I got settled in with these very comfortable new headband and earpads, it was time to give the LCD-5 a proper listen.

To be frank, the LCD-5 blew me away. It’s one of the few headphone experiences I can confidently say felt flagship right out of the box. I can see people enjoying the signature as is, without any EQ off almost any amplifier. It has the distinctive Harman rise at 3khz, with a gently rolled off treble and the flat bass Audeze has long been known for. While the lack of a bass shelf may at first seem a bit off-putting, in this case it isn’t.

I believe the primary cause for this is the extreme punchiness and dynamics of this headphone, which lends everything you play through it a punchy, satisfying weight. Bass level seemed appropriate to program material with everything from EDM to classical, and although I enjoyed adding a small bass shelf using EQ, I could see many listening to and using this headphone without said shelf.

The treble and midrange also benefit from this impactful, incredible quickness as well. They seem to be lively and dynamic yet always in appropriate balance to the music being played. The distortion is very low, and the amount of detail coming out of this headphone was about as much as I’ve ever heard, and it wasn’t the result of a treble boost, as the LCD-5 retained the sense of detail even after heavy EQing.

I can see some listeners maybe even finding the headphone right on the edge of too-detailed, but I didn’t think this was the case. I loved how much texture these headphones draw out of every frequency range and every genre of music. It’s addictive, though it does speak more to the analytical, gear-loving side of my brain than some dynamic headphones, which seem to focus my attention more on spatial qualities or a softer presentation. The LCD-5 won’t hide any warts in your recordings.

Soundstage on the very best DACs and amps gave me a sense of height, width and immersion in recordings that was novel for me. I tried some VR, Ambisonics and Dolby content on these and had to pick my jaw off the floor. The LCD-5’s extreme resolving, dynamic and spatial characteristics make it ideally suited to immersive audio experiences which are not merely impressive or enjoyable, but which seemed to erase any hint of gimmick and substitute it for reality. Well-heeled gaming nuts and immersive audio pros may find the LCD-5 a revelatory listen.

While I enjoyed the out-of-the-box tuning of the Audeze LCD-5, I did find that I liked a small bit of EQ, mainly that involved taking a little bit of 3khz energy off, implementing a bass shelf below 100hz and bringing the upper treble around 8-10khz+ up by just a tiny amount. My feelings on this are that a little EQ can help these headphones go from amazing to mindblowing, as I’ve rarely heard sound as natural, even and satisfying as with the LCD-5s post-eq, or that you should consider a really top flight amp. With powerful amplifiers, the LCD-5s seemed to get even faster and tighter, further offsetting what I occasionally perceived as a little too much 3khz energy on lower power amps.

If it sounds like nitpicking here, rest assured, I think the LCD-5 sounds astonishingly good as it is, but it simply spoke so much to my gearhead brain that I wanted to keep tweaking it to see if I could take it even further. This is one seriously addictive piece of kit. Therein however lies the one and only potential downside with these headphones however.

With a stellar and coherent midrange that is lightning fast, liquid smooth and crystal clear, combined by a nicely resolved and ultra clean treble and some of the tightest, punchiest bass around, what’s not to love? However, inherent in that transparency is an extreme detail that some may find just a little too much. Not because it comes from treble imbalances, but simply because the Audeze LCD-5 made every little nuance of my recordings so explicitly it sometimes felt like a flashlight being shone in the room.

Yes, soundstage was brilliantly organized, with musical information in excellent balance, and with a wide, open sound that seemed to bring a height to the headphone experience that I haven’t heard before, but on some of my less well-recorded material, while it wasn’t unforgiving, it never stopped being the Straight A, Valedictorian that it is. This is less of a caveat, and more of an indication of just how potent the Audeze LCD-5 is. It will tell you everything there is to know about your recordings. Never unpleasantly, but always truthfully. I can see more than a few mix engineers going absolutely bonkers over these headphones – I have a hard time thinking of a more accurate headphone to mix on in terms of dynamic and resolving qualities.

Final Thoughts

Big expectations and a high pedigree. It is always exciting to see what Audeze will produce next due to their ongoing march towards advancing tech and user experience, while not just simply relying on the next product cycle to sell their latest shiny thing. The changes here are real, and pretty outstanding. The level headed response and uber high resolution makes these headphones great for monitoring and well as pleasure seeking playback. The new lighter design and ear pads make for a higher degree of comfort than any other LCD before it. And for those who care, the case is really nice as well. Highly recommended.

More info: Audeze LCD-5