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Positive Feedback ISSUE 61
The following submissions are for the 'Readers Who Want to be Writers' Contest. The authors are not Staff members of Positive Feedback.
Audeze LCD-3 Headphones
Sometimes in life you get the opportunities that are very hard to pass up. Planning a local headfi meet (www.headfi.org) I sent out numerous emails to manufacturers in order to get demo products to sink our teeth into. One of those products has become quite the sensation on headfi and abroad; this headphone was Audeze's LCD-3. Now in all honesty I did not expect a loaner pair to arrive at my doorstop even though I experienced some amazing customer service from the company (as an owner of LCD-2 rev. 1). This was due in large part to the Christmas rush and the huge demand for the headphones. Going through the proper channels I received a prompt reply which was surprising to say the least. Audeze said "no problem" and would send out a minty fresh pair in the New Year. Hopefully this story just goes to show you that Audeze is making the effort to spread the word and still has time for the little people.
The headphones arrived in the New Year with the supplied travel case that I requested. Right away I knew they mean business. The travel case is sturdy, weather sealed, and fits the LCD-3's like a glove. Included are ¼ connector and balanced four pin cables with a unique waterfall graph of how the headphones measured. The cables themselves are a four wire flat variety and are very easy to manage and put away when necessary. For those that do not like the cable Audeze has made it very easy to cable swap as they are detachable and replaceable. They also come with a bottle of wood treatment oil to prevent cracking and keep the deep finish of the cups intact. The headphones themselves are attractive, keeping with the design elements of LCD-2 this new offering differs in that it uses magnificent light color Zebrano wood contrasting the soft supple dark brown leather ear pads and headband. The XLR connectors are angled and finished in chrome. Overall, many people who saw the headphones commented on its classic "old school" feel and look. This headphone definitely has its own aesthetic and sets itself apart from the competition. Audeze has also chosen to utilize planar magnetic transducers which are described in more detail on their official website. This technology although not new has seen a revitalization in the headphone market as of late and in no small way contributes to the overall sonic character. These headphones are crafted entirely in the United States.
To begin with I believe in burn in so for those that are sceptical please skip this paragraph. Out of the box I ran the LCD-3's with a combination of pink noise and various genres of music. I did listening throughout the roughly 100 hours of break in. The change was noticeable and I still believe that further break in is necessary as subtle cues are continuing to evolve.
The LCD-3's were put through multiple setups within my home. Each time they exhibited the uncanny ability to bring an intimacy to the music. What I mean by this is that these headphones have incredible tone and colour that give a transparency to the music you are listening too. The headphones were linked to both solid state and tube powered amplification and scaled nicely to the increased sophistication and calibre of the equipment. Audeze has designed a headphone that will upgrade with the user when they are ready to take the next step so do not be afraid as it scales nicely. It will sound good properly driven and will only get better as your system continues to improve. This is evident when listening to female vocal such as Holly Cole. The song entitled "We Kiss in a Shadow" from her album Shade shows off the delicacy that this headphone brings to the table. We hear her voice full of emotion and vigour while the accompanying musicians play alongside her. The voice is not overly emphasized and you can hear how it works together in the music. Male vocals are equally reproduced with soulfulness and candour. I can only define this as honesty. One example of this is going through the discography of Johnny Cash. You can hear the transition between his earlier works towards the end of his career. The age in his voice is there and the intentional baggage that he has is evident. The LCD 3 pulls the listener into the story.
Additionally, the pace, rhythm and timing most people expect out of a flagship headphone is there. Listening to several tracks from John Coltrane's song "Locomotion" off his album Bluetrain yielded the immediacy that is needed to convey the energy and message of the work. The details are also present when listening to live music; from the pluck of the individual string to the small conversations in the crowd during a live performance. In the track Sally Mae from Buddy Guy's album Blues Singer you hear the interaction between him and his band mates and then listen to the mastery he has over the strings and the different techniques he utilizes. Every song I put to the LCD 3 presented the microdynamics and details as a whole without taking away from the musical presentation. I have heard some headphones that bring out these cues that distract from the overall picture and merely irritate instead of immerse. This was never the case during my listening trials. Before I talk about the soundstage I want to mention that I believe that it is obviously very difficult for a headphone to present a wide and deep simulation of the environment. Some headphones are much better than others and I think the LCD-3 headphones fall in the middle of this pack. Although the depth of the music was conveyed vary convincingly the width I believe was a little compressed. This was evident when listening to classical music. In no way was this a deal breaker however because the accuracy of the instruments and emotional connection for me far outweigh the placement and width of the music during headphone listening.
I consider myself a music enthusiast and if my gear cannot play all genres of music than it would be hard to own. I put these headphones through their paces using everything from top 40 music, old school rap and country. Each time I was impressed with what it could do. By no means does it fix a badly recorded track but it does keep the integrity of what makes each song so enduring. For example the Gorillaz album Demon Days the song Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey's Head features the spoken word and a great bass line. The late Dennis Hopper's voice coupled with the bass line get you involved with the music with the controlled bass and stirring presentation of his voice.
Lastly, I was not kidding that I use my headphones for everything. Using the LCD-3's for movies and games was a real treat due to the fact that it extends both top to bottom nicely. What strikes me the most is the visceral impact that is hard to recreate in a headphone. Obviously it is an in head experience without the outside body feel of a regular speaker setup. Action movie explosions put a smile on my face and dialogue was rendered clearly. If you dabble in video games this headphone does spatial cues very well as you can pinpoint where sounds are coming from in addition to hearing the unique environments that the game developers have created for you. Distinguishing between different types of gunfire or hearing where the enemy is (at times even from behind) means life or death in some instances. One comment I would like to mention however is that this headphone does have some weight. Versus other headphones that do not feel like you have anything on your head the Audeze's robust nature has some trade-offs. At first I was not accustomed to this but over time I was able to wear it for long periods of time without discomfort.
In the end the LCD-3 allows a person to taste a truly high end product that delivers on multiple levels. It excels at presenting the music so that you can both enjoy and understand the subtle details that can connect you with the creativity of the artist in an intimate way. It is not a picky headphone about genre or gear although it can shine when given high quality amplification, sources and material. This is truly an all-rounder as it can be utilized for movie and game listening as well. Thus, this headphone can be put into a small company of products that bring the music to your home in very convincing ways. Audeze have put a lot of passion and science into this headphone. In the end, giving them back will be a challenge. Time to listen to some more music…