Even though headphone manufacturer Audeze has only been around for a relatively short period of time the company has managed to create an outstanding history with the personal audio community. Their flagship piece has always been born out of the LCD line, starting with the LCD-2 that quickly grew in popularity after its initial release. Subsequent releases featured the same progressive numerical namesake and formulaic pricing.
We now find ourselves on the precipice of a 4th iteration and the cost to play has risen along with ride to a flagship-worthy pricepoint of approximately $4k. At this range the competition starts to move slowly away from the Sennheiser dynamic driver heads-of-state and into the once-exclusive realm of Stax electrostatic technology. The only other real outliers that are unaccounted for is the $5k Abyss that has rested in the market for a few years and the new HiFiMAN HE-1000 ($3k) both of which utilize planar magnetic technology.
The headphone comes packaged in a “professional travel case” that sheds off the impracticalities of fancy wood displays for a secure and well-cushioned vessel for transport. Roughly the same size as the LCD-3 travel case, a concerned owner can even secure the top shut with an external suitcase lock. Inside the box, you will find a padded custom-fit lining and a detachable single ended ¼ inch to dual 4 pin mini XLR cable. This time around, the cable included with my review sample was slightly further away from the standard run-of-the-mill wire included with the previous LCD’s and closer to an aftermarket high-end audiophile cable, complete with heavy rubber build and bright blue color.
The headphone itself retains much of the shape and feel of the “2” and “3” with a few noticeable updates. The grill has been updated with a more chrome appearance and the leather headband has been swapped out for a carbon fiber split-band suspension (which supplies the clamping pressure) with light leather cover that rests on your head. The LCD-4 has also retained much of the weight of the previous models, so this updated design is a welcome one. Even with this above average weight, the new flagship is comfortable wear. I found the clamping pressure to be absolutely perfect for my head, something that is surprisingly rare among many mainstream (and even some audiophile priced) personal audio products. The wide circular design allows for plenty of space for your ears and the padding is deep enough so your fleshy audio receptacles don’t touch the drivers inside when placed on your head. The LCD-4 feels like a solid high end product all around, built to last and produce some sweet high fidelity output.
The new reference headphone combines elements of the LCD-3’s long-tail upgrade “Fazor” with an entirely new driver assembly. The diaphragm is an oversized but super-thin nano grade material. Most of the weight for headphone is generated from a specialty neodymium magnet array which Audeze claims has the most power magnetic flux density in existence at 1.5 Tesla. Audeze has also lowered the impedance and the efficiency slightly from the LCD-3 and in execution takes a little extra turn of the knob to reach the same volume level. All that “extra” really pays off when you look at the results they are able to achieve with the output.
First things first, the LCD-4 is a technical and musical improvement over the LCD-3, which is quite an achievement all by itself. There have been some remote instances in this hobby where follow up products have failed to impress as well as their predecessors, but this is not one of those times. All the minimum check marks are accounted for, tight bass, extended highs, vibrant mids. Holistically, the headphone takes detail retrieval to a new level. But the devil is not only in the details, it’s also in the delivery. The LCD-4 sounds supremely natural and organic, which equates a few inches closer to loudspeaker-like listening than ever before. It gives more of that elusive out-of-head experience that peppers the high end of personal audio like a celebrity sighting in a C & D county. It may be a tricky experience to grasp on paper, but detail in some gear can make your music sound closer, as if your ear is closer to the source and can hear every nuance. The magic of the LCD-4’s execution is that it addresses detail in proper form, but yet somehow manages to place the soundstage further away from your sensory receptors, which provides some experiential relief of sorts from the on-head, on-ear delivery of the device’s up-close-and-personal nature.
One thing planar magnetic headphones rarely struggle with is bass slam. Punch and quick impact comes easy for LCD-4 as well. It manages to deliver some of best low end sound available, while never compromising by relying on fluff or inflated response curves. That last low end piece fits perfectly into the puzzle, extended beautifully down into the darkness without an awkward break or speed bump. Fans of the thump from an 808 won’t be disappointed with the delivery, but the speed and clarity give it a high-end appeal unique to a well-balanced presentation. The delivery is such that it almost tricks your brain into thinking that it can feel it. Pushed to the limits the headphone showed no signs of break up or strain from dance/dubstep tunes to the most overdone YouTube bass tracks on the interweb. Even bass frequency sweep tests maintained their composure well to the 20 Hz limit (the headphone is even rated down to 5Hz on the company website).
The mids of the LCD-4 offer perhaps its greatest departure from the LCD-3. While the little brother is no slouch when it comes to accuracy and decisiveness, the LCD-4 pushes tonal texture just a bit further without a compromise to transparency. The strings from Serenade in G Major, K. 525 from the Pantatone SACD Sampler felt even more realistic and true-to-life, as if the listener can more clearly picture the bow upon the strings of each instrument individually. Even though the track doesn’t share a studio-isolated stereo image (with compartmentalized placement) the LCD-4 made it very easy to “see” each instrument through the wall of sound. The 4 even made it possible to discern the creaking of stage chairs from within the recording.
The quantity of treble is not that unlike the LCD-3, which may stir the pot a bit when it comes to the audiophile hive mind, but has always been right on target to this reviewer’s ears. The quality of said quantity projects a hearty yet tactful presence out from the middle to the ether above. The LCD-4 is a very easy headphone to listen to that takes a successful cue from the mids and delivers smooth, lifelike and non-fatiguing high frequency response that is exactly where it needs to be within the mix.
The new Audeze is one of the most musical headphones I have heard to date. It stands up to high benchmark set by the LCD line and exceeds expectations with its top quality build, rich mids and organic realism. As with many expensive purchases “is it worth it” should be heavily influenced by the amount of disposable income an individual has to spend on extraneous hobbies like high-end audio. I will offer this advice however, if you have $2k to spend on headphones the LCD-3 is a must for an audition. The same now holds true for the $4k mark. As electrostatic headphones sit right now, they often seem to hold a sound that is unique to its technology, and that tech often requires a larger investment to drive it. With planars the amplification field is almost wide open (you can still drive the LCD-4 from a phone in a pinch) and with that brings more options and new combinations to enjoy at a somewhat more value-driven pricepoint. A headphone is the final (and actual sound producing) element in any given personal audio rig, and is arguably the most important one. While flagship pricing continues to rise in the market, against some vantage points, the proposal of a $4k LCD can still be considered a value to those who can afford it. It is one of the most appealing and impressive pair of headphones I have ever formally reviewed. Highly recommended.
Audeze was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions about the LCD-4 and its creation, below are the responses from our Q and A with Audeze’s CEO Sankar Thiagasamudram.
What were the goals in terms of technicalities for the LCD-4?
Audeze always looks to make the best product possible and the LCD-4 features our Double-Fluxor implementation of our custom-cut magnets that develop an astonishing 1.5 Tesla of magnetic flux, along with the thinnest nano-scale diaphragms imaginable.
Did you have a “target” sound signature you were shooting for during development?
Over the years Audeze has developed a house curve that works best with our planar magnetic technology. Our goal is to continue and improve the Audeze house sound. We’ve done years of research on impulse response and resolution, how people perceive sound, and other parameters giving rise to amazing tonal balance and accurate imaging.
Was the LCD-4 imagined as a progression from the LCD-3 or a completely different animal altogether?
The LCD-4 is a progression in design of the LCD Collection. Audeze is always improving, always concentrating on comfort, leading edge technology and the best sound available. But in terms of manufacturing and materials science, we’re talking it to a completely different level. We had to invent new ways to measuring the thickness of the diaphragm during manufacture. The Fluxor magnets took us quite some time to develop and again we had to invent new ways to manufacture them.
Do you have a recommended amplifier (or amplification design) that you feel pairs well the LCD-4?
Audeze recommends the 6W The King Headphone Amplifier of course (available soon) or any other high-performance headphone amplifier with enough power to drive it like our Deckard DAC/Headphone Amp.
The included detachable cable with the LCD-4 looks (and feels) like a significant departure from the previous stock wires included with the LCD line. Can you provide some more fine details as to its construction?
Audeze is like Switzerland when it comes to cable, we’re neutral and leave cabling up to our customers. However, we have a limited supply of very rare and special cables that ship with the LCD-4. They were created by audio legend Lee Weiland of Locus Design, and feature a special cryogenic process and proprietary cable design. When the supply is exhausted we’ll move to another quality supplier.
The weight of the LCD-4 doesn’t depart far from the heft of the LCD-3, did you have any significant design considerations or priorities that influenced the overall weight in of the new flagship?
Most of the weight comes from the custom-cut Double Fluxor Magnet arrays that achieve an astounding 1.5 Tesla magnetic flux. But the new carbon fiber headband is specially designed for maximum comfort and will eventually be available as an extra-cost upgrade/retrofit for the entire LCD Collection.
Will the LCD-5 cost $8k?
All we’re saying right now is that we’re taking cars in trade.
Do you have any parting comments on the LCD-4 for our readers?
We call the LCD-4 limited production because they’re very difficult to manufacture. For example, each diaphragm actually takes a full two weeks to make! There’s no way we can put together even 20 units per month so it is possible that there could be some delay to deliveries.
The LCD-4 on Adorama: https://www.adorama.com/au10l4101001.html