The Audeze LCD-1 headphones are an open-back planar magnetic design that are light, foldable and more comfortable than a hot latte on a cold morning. The sound they produce is lucious, smooth, accurate and open. For years I’ve had a clear favorite in the under $500 headphone category – the Oppo PM-3, also a planar magnetic design, with similar size. Unfortunately these are not available anymore, but even if they were, I would have to dethrone them and replace them with the Audeze LCD-1. Unless you require the closed back nature of the PM-3, the LCD-1 outperforms them in every aspect.
Planar magnetic headphones have been around for years now, but they started out being big and heavy and required serious amplification to work well. Advances in the technology have allowed for smaller, lighter designs and resulted in headphones like the LCD-1. Now the technology is convenient for daily use and I cannot recommend them enough. Planar magnetic drivers create sound with very low distortion, leading to clean and transparent music.
At $399, these headphones are an excellent value for a planar magnetic driver and should be considered an investment that will leave you happy for years.
Design & Comfort
There’s nothing too flashy about the LCD-1. They have gone almost full stealth mode, albeit for a couple of silver accent pieces around the padding and the Audeze logo. But black is slimming, so it will make your head look smaller. The band has about one inch of expansion on both the left and right ear, which should accommodate most noggins.
Overall, the Audeze LCD-1 is one of the most comfortable headphones I have used. Placing the LCD-1 on your head is akin to a soft comforting hug, due to just the right amount of squish factor on the padding and not too much pinch from the headband. They are surprisingly light, which is important when clamping a device to your head. Weight definitely matters! Heavy headphones require more tension, and a larger headband to keep in place which can be fatiguing. It is amazing how the planar technology has evolved and allowed for lighter designs. The other issue I commonly experience as a wearer of spectacles, is a pain generated from headphones pressing my ears against the loop of my glasses. On-ear designs are especially prone to this. The good news is that the ear pieces on the LCD-1 are large enough to sit around my ears. The LCD-1 can be comfortably used throughout the work day.
The one odd thing I noticed, or couldn’t locate, was the lack of left and right designation on the connection cord. I just had to guess which one and then see if the music sounded right. For me, it’s having the violin section on the left side of the stage. I thought I had just guessed correctly, but after contacting Audeze to inquire about this, they let me know that the headphones are capable of detecting Left and Right channels from the Y-cable. No guessing needed! The cable is of good quality, braided so as to be free of tangles and a proper length.
For my setup I used an Oppo HA-2 headphone amp, connected via USB to my MacBook.
The Audeze LCD-1 is a natural sounding, lively, open and transparent headphone. The kind of headphone you want to put on, sink into a comfy chair, sip an old fashioned, and get lost in the music.
Dexter Gordon’s tenor sax on “The Shadow of Your Smile” is smooth, lush, and breathy. The LCD-1 provides a warm inviting tone to the acoustic instruments that my ears are drawn to. That live feeling of being in the club comes out with the LCD-1. The upright bass is exceptionally clean and realized as is the accompanying piano, which sits in the background of the stage. Sticking with the Jazz theme, the LCD-1 delivers a punchy performance on Count Basie’s “88 Basie Street”. A wide soundstage is presented, with proper dimensionality to the players. As the whole band chimes in, the dynamics are there, without a hint of things getting muddled together.
With the Radiohead track “House Of Cards”, the Audeze LCD-1 is just able to resolve that low bass beat, although it isn’t as impactful as some dynamic driver based headphones. Vocals are clear, well-defined, and firmly planted in the center space. The presentation is balanced, with the vocals being the star and avoiding being drowned out by the instrumental tracks. The same can be said of the more intense follow up track “Jigsaw Falling Into Place”, where there’s a lot going on. It is easy for Yorke’s vocals to get lost in the chaos, but the LCD-1 keeps up. Ending with “Videotape”, I particularly love how the drums sound when they enter mid-track. There is an excellent sense of space and depth from the open back planar magnetic design. For me, the low frequencies have always been about quality over quantity and the LCD-1 with its low distortion drivers has very clean, detailed bass which I love.
On Bon Iver’s “666” the soundstage is wide with loads of space and atmosphere. The LCD-1 is more than capable of delivering a three-dimensional musical image. Another track I use for soundstage testing is “Brambles” from the We Bought a Zoo soundtrack. The percussive instruments come alive via the planar drivers. The thin film layered between magnets of a planar driver is capable of moving fast and reproducing the musical transients of a percussive instrument with accuracy and truthfulness. This track is a perfect example of that.
For female vocals, I popped on “Morning Sun” by Melody Gardot. Her rich velvety voice sounds just that way via the Audeze LCD-1. Clear and concise but not devoid of warmth and body. The kind of sound you want to turn up and close your eyes.. o’ so good.
I probably get asked “What headphones should I get?” more than any other hi-fi question. I usually respond with “Well how do you plan to use them? Working out? On the go? Price range?” Then narrow it down from there. When it comes to someone looking for better sound quality either on the go, or more critical at home listening, I now have an easy answer, the Audeze LCD-1. At $399, the Audeze LCD-1 is an excellent value for a planar magnetic headphone. I firmly believe music is an important aspect of life, so why not enjoy it in comfort and to its fullest extent? A glowing recommendation for the outstanding Audeze LCD-1.
Exceptional comfort, sound, and value. A great headphone for anyone looking for an improved musical experience.
Perhaps not enough low-end for some tastes.
An all-around fantastic headphone for a great price.