My search for the perfect headphones has been long. It’s taken me through several manufacturers, slowly turning my office into an audio graveyard. There have been more than a few brushes with excellence. However, the Audeze LCD-1 is the closest I’ve come to finding the ideal solution for my audio editing and music needs.
As far as out-of-the-box impressions go, The Audeze LCD-1 immediately caught my attention as I opened the package and found the zippered travel case. I’m used to cheap bags, so this was a shock. As I picked up the headphones, I realized the LCD-1 was more fragile than others I’ve tested previously, so the case is necessary for travel without risking damage.
Circling back, though, fragile doesn’t mean flimsy. The LCD-1 is lighter like a high-end sports car whereas a few of the sets I’ve reviewed previously might fall into the pickup truck category. The LCD-1 is well built, but lighter to wear than a lot of other options, which is a big plus for extended use.
Rounding out the box contents were the 3.5 mm to dual 3.5 mm braided cable with reversible connectors, the 3.5 mm to 6.35 mm adapter, and the certificate of authenticity. It was nice to receive headphones and not have 15 different components and software to install. With the LCD-1, I connected the 3.5 mm dual connectors to the headphones, plugged the other end into my PC, and I was ready to roll. A remarkably easy install – if you can even call it an installation – for high-end headphones.
Everyone is different with their audio needs. I prefer no mic, and I like open over closed back. Headphones don’t have microphones like headsets do, and thus The LCD-1 does not come with one. The open-back design allows me to maintain awareness of my surroundings when wearing these headphones, which is ideal for someone who lives alone in a house like myself. There is nothing more unnerving than being at your computer with your back to the door and not being able to hear what’s happening a foot behind you.
The LCD-1 also deserves credit for the size – or perhaps design – of the headband. Smaller headphones and headsets can dig at my scalp or rub a patch of hair away with extended use. The LCD-1, although not big, fits perfectly with no discomfort when fully extended. This means anyone with an average-sized or even large head – like me – has nothing to fear.
If there’s one issue I have with the physical design, it’s the lambskin leather for the ear pads. I found after an hour or two of use that my ears were quite hot and sweating a bit. As high quality as lambskin is, it’s just not my favorite. I would have preferred a material that let my ears breathe just a bit more. Taking headphones off after a couple hours and having to wipe sweat from around your ears isn’t something I should have to do.
Under the hood
Where the LCD-1 sets itself apart from other headphones and headsets I’ve tested recently is with the drivers (speakers) it uses. Most headphones use dynamic drivers, but the LCD-1 uses planar magnetic drivers. Dynamic drivers consist of a stationary magnet. A voice coil is suspended in the magnetic field and attached to a diaphragm. When an audio signal passes through the coil it causes the diaphragm to vibrate and create sound. This is common for headphones and headsets, even those marketed to audiophiles.
Planar magnetic drivers consist of a diaphragm between magnets. When a signal passes through the diaphragm it vibrates to create sound. To the average user, this doesn’t mean much, but planar magnetic driver technology is less widely used because it's more expensive. An appeal of the Audeze LCD-1 is that it’s a reasonably priced product that uses more expensive driver technology suitable for professionals but accessible to even average users.
The LCD-1 also features a frequency response between 10 Hz - 50 kHz. A headset I reviewed earlier this year that I enjoyed, the Sennheiser GSP 300, had a frequency range between 15 Hz and 26 kHz. Humans can only hear between 20 Hz and 20 kHz, so both are fine, but it gives you an idea of how Audeze stepped up their game with the LCD-1.
My time with the LCD-1 was spent listening to music in iTunes while working and, to a lesser extent, watching Netflix and playing video games. The LCD-1 ruined any chance of me enjoying music with other headsets and headphones. Most high-end options will provide what I would be comfortable describing as clear sound and quality, but the LCD-1 is a step above the rest. The sound is crystal clear. The precision and quality almost feels effortless coming from these headphones. To return to the vehicle analogy, both the pickup truck and the sports car can reach 100 mph, but the sports car can do it without breaking a sweat.
The LCD-1 will work great for Netflix, Zoom calls, or video games, but don’t for a second mistake these headphones as primarily designed for those. I took the LCD-1 for a run in The Long Dark, and I’d use them again in a heartbeat without complaint, but I have lots of headphones intended for gaming or good enough for Zoom meetings. My plan is to let the LCD-1 function as my music and audio editing option, and then grab something from the aforementioned graveyard of headsets in my office for video games. If I want to listen to music and game, however, I have no issue with the LCD-1 pulling double duty.
I’ve tested a lot of headsets and headphones over the last few years, and I’d wager all boasted about the drivers they use and some unique technology only they have mastered. That’s how marketing works, but it can get confusing for buyers to work through the sales pitch to get to the truth. The LCD-1, however, backs it up. The sound quality with these headphones is elite. If listening to music with headphones is a big part of your life, you would be wise to consider the Audeze LCD-1.
This review was based on a Audeze LCD-1 review sample provided by the manufacturer. It is available now for $399 USD.
- Braided 3.5 mm cable
- Quality carrying case
- Planar magnetic drivers
- Frequency range of 10 Hz - 50 kHz
- Crystal clear sound quality
- Lambskin ear cups get hot
- Don't drop them
Bill Lavoy posted a new article, Audeze LCD-1 headphones review - Music to my ears
Welcome to dat planar magnetic life! I am curious how those would compare to the HiFiMan HE-400i’s. I should be getting my Drop x THX Panda’s next month so I’m excited about those.
This was an education, that's for sure. I didn't expect them to be as smooth and clear as they were.
Shacknews doing audiophile reviews now? Alright!