The Audeze LCD-1 headphones are an over-ear, open-back model that opens the American manufacturer’s hi-fi headphone range. The Audeze LCD-1 features large, 3½” Planar Magnetic drivers and boasts a wide frequency range ranging from 10Hz to 50kHz. Sold for €449, will these Planar Magnetic hi-fi headphones live up to the American brand’s reputation?
Audeze LCD-1: the brand
A major player in the world of headphones and earphones, Audeze’s story began in 2008 when founders Sankar Thiagasamudram and Alexander Rosson teamed up with Pete Uka, an engineer who had developed materials and circuits for NASA. Together, they decided to use these new materials to create headphones and earphones. To do this, they approached Dragoslav Colich, who had over 30 years of experience designing Planar Magnetic drivers. This is how the Audeze LCD-1 headphones were created. They became a huge success among the audiophile community and were promptly followed by the iconic Audeze LCD-2 and Audeze LCD-3 headphones, and then by the Audeze LCD-X and Audeze XC models. Four prestigious pairs of headphones that provide unrivalled musicality.
Later, Audeze achieved the feat of downsizing its Planar Magnetic drivers to incorporate them into earphones with a semi-open back design. The Audeze iSINE 10, Audeze LCD i3 and the very high-end Audeze LCDi4 in-ear headphones were created as a result. These models feature 1” orthodynamic drivers that include all of the brand’s exclusive technologies: a Fluxor magnetic structure with a high-power neodymium magnet, an ultra-thin diaphragm, a Uniforce voice coil, etc.
In late 2018, Audeze introduced Planar Magnetic technology to gamers by combining it with one of the most powerful 3D spatialization systems on the market, creating the Audeze Mobius headphones that really impressed us during our review (read the review of the Audeze Mobius headphones).
After establishing a solid reputation for itself among demanding audiophiles, Audeze now wants to expand its range with more affordable models. Marketed at €499, the Audeze LCD-1 headphones are a gateway into the world of Planar Magnetic drivers. But is this price drop detrimental to the quality of the design and sound? Find out in this review.
Audeze LCD-1: packaging & accessories
The Audeze LCD-1 headphones come in a large box. Inside this box, we first came across a cardboard envelope containing a 3.5mm mini-jack to 6.5mm jack adapter, as well as a warranty card. The Audeze LCD-1 headphones were stored inside an elegant, hard travel case decorated with the brand’s name. The headphones were folded and accompanied by the removable cable. The latter features a 3.5mm mini-jack connector for the source and two 3.5mm four-pin mini-jack connectors to connect to the earpieces. We will come back to this cable later on in our review.
Audeze LCD-1: design
The Audeze LCD-1 hi-fi headphones have an understated and elegant design. Unlike the American brand’s more high-end models that deftly combine wood and metal, the LCD-1 is made entirely of polymer plastic. This model is still excellently made and could be the envy of a lot of competing models made of the same material. The earpieces are moulded from a single piece of very sturdy plastic and are adjustable thanks to a metallic system hidden inside the headband. They can also be folded to make it easier to carry the headphones and store them in their transport case.
The Audeze LCD-1 headphones have an open-back design with over-ear coupling. The earpads are generously padded with memory foam and covered with genuine leather. Although they’re slightly narrower than those of the brand’s high-end models, they still sit perfectly around the ear. However, depending on the shape of the user’s ears, the earpieces may need adjusting slightly so that the earpads are correctly positioned. The headband, also made of polymer plastic, is quite wide and also features a leather covering and padding that evenly distributes the Audeze LCD-1 headphones’ 250 grams. The headphones are very comfortable to wear. The earpads breathe and aren’t tight. The only complaint is that the headband can cause some discomfort on top of the head after wearing the headphones for a long period of time.
Audeze LCD-1: Planar Magnetic transducers
Like all of the American manufacturer’s headphones, the Audeze LCD-1 features Planar Magnetic drivers. This technology uses an extremely thin diaphragm that has electrical conductors running through it. It is sandwiched in between two powerful magnetic grilles capable of generating a very strong permanent magnetic field parallel to the surface formed by the diaphragm. This magnetic field keeps the diaphragm suspended. Then, when the diaphragm’s circuit receives an audio signal, another magnetic field is formed and interacts with the permanent magnetic field, moving the driver. This working principle has many advantages compared to dynamic transducers: better responsiveness, wider frequency response, lower distortion, even response, etc.
Audeze isn’t the only manufacturer to use Planar Magnetic technology for its headphones. Moreover, this technology isn’t recent, as it was already in use in 1976 in the Yamaha YH-2 headphones. Other brands to use it are HiFiMAN with the HiFiMAN Sundara, HiFiMAN Susvara, HiFiMAN Ananda and HiFiMAN HE-1000 V2 headphones, and the Romanian manufacturer Meze Audio with its flagship Meze Empyrean headphones. Audeze is unique in that it uses proprietary technologies to fully utilize the characteristics of the Planar Magnetic drivers. These include the use of unique, ultra-thin and very large diaphragms (90mm for the Audeze LCD-1) and Fazor technology. This technology is included in all of the brand’s headphones and consists in placing two grilles on either side of the magnetic structures. This helps guide the sound towards the ear. As result, the phase response is optimized, the frequency range is wider and spatialization is better.
The integration of these different technologies endows the Audeze LCD-1 headphones with a dynamic character and very high responsiveness across the entire frequency range, which extends from 10Hz to 50kHz. Its maximum power handling capacity is 5 watts RMS and it has a high sensitivity rating of 109dB at 16 ohms. Despite these characteristics, it is necessary to boost the volume slightly to power its large drivers correctly.
Audeze LCD-1: braided mini-jack cable
Each of the Audeze LCD-1 headphones’ earpieces features a 3.5mm mini-jack connector underneath to accommodate the removable cable. The latter is composed of multiple high purity copper conductors isolated by a braided sheath. This makes the headphones’ cable incredibly robust, allowing it to be handled repeatedly, and even bent, without showing any signs of weakness. The only disadvantage is that the cable has a slight tendency to generate microphonic effects when brushed against furniture or the user’s clothes.
At the other end, the Audeze LCD-1 headphones’ cable features a straight unbalanced 3.5mm mini-jack connector. A 3.5mm mini-jack to 6.5mm jack adapter is included to ensure the headphones are adapted to any audio source, whether it is a DAP, computer or headphone amplifier.
Audeze LCD-1: listening impressions
For our review of the Audeze LCD-1 headphones, we paired them to a USB DAC connected to a MAC computer. We listened to music via Spotify (MP3, 320 kbits) and Qobuz (Sublime+ subscription up to 24-bit/192kHz), as well as FLAC files saved on the computer. From the very first tracks we listened to, we could hear the iconic sound signature of the American manufacturer’s high-end models. The lows were deep, the mids detailed and the highs perfectly transparent and sparkling. With the Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing, the guitar’s many nuances were marvelously reproduced. The voices were perfectly centered and incredibly natural. The Audeze LCD-1 headphones displayed great linearity and a very natural-sounding restitution. These characteristics mean the LCD-1 model can also be used as studio headphones.
The lows were deep, the mids detailed and the highs perfectly transparent and sparkling.
In a completely different genre, with Stan Getz and Luiz Bonfa’s So Danço Samba, the Audeze LCD-1 headphones demonstrated great finesse. The plethora of details hidden within the track were flawlessly restituted and highlighted. We could almost imagine each of the guitar’s strings being plucked. The various instruments were excellently spatialized thanks to the LCD-1’s open-back design and were expressed with great ease. Although it was much wider than it would have been with a pair of closed-back headphones, the LCD-1’s soundstage was a little more limited than that of the brand’s more premium headphones, such as the Audeze LCD-4z that we will be reviewing soon. This is due in part to the headphones’ passive isolation which blocks out background noise rather well and stops the music from being too audible to those around you. As a result, the drivers didn’t “breathe” as much as they would inside a pair of completely open headphones. However, the advantage of this design is that we were able to listen to the Audeze LCD-1 headphones in an open plan office without disturbing our work colleagues.
The plethora of details hidden in the track were flawlessly restituted and highlighted.
We continued our review of the Audeze LCD-1 headphones with the track Smooth Criminal by Michael Jackson. The Audeze headphones displayed excellent responsiveness here. The sound was incredibly dynamic, with sparkling percussion instruments that effectively rhythmed the music. The King of Pop’s voice was reproduced naturally and perfectly centered. Even the highest intonations were delivered with extreme precision. The sound was lively and engaging.
Audeze LCD-1: compared to…
Beyerdynamic Amiron Home: featuring dynamic drivers with Tesla magnetic technology, these open-back Beyerdynamic headphones have a very similar frequency response to the LCD-1: 5Hz to 40kHz for the Beyerdynamic model compared to 10Hz to 50kHz for the Audeze. Concerning sound, the Audeze LCD-1 is more dynamic and a little smoother in the high frequencies. However, the Beyerdynamic Amiron Home had a wider soundstage and deeper lows. It is also more comfortable, mostly thanks to its more generously padded headband. That said, it is harder to drive due to its high impedance of 250 ohms.
Audeze Mobius: sold for €399, the Audeze Mobius uses 4” drivers with Planar Magnetic technology. Designed mainly for gaming, it can be connected via mini-jack, Bluetooth or USB to a computer or a game console. It is equipped with a removable microphone and features one of the most powerful 3D spatialization systems on the market. The latter lets you modify the sound restitution of the headphones according to the movements of the listener’s head. For all of these reasons, the Mobius is much more effective at reproducing video game and movie soundtracks. Its musical restitution is also good, with detailed and dynamic sound. However, the soundstage is much narrower due to its closed-back design.
HiFiMAN Sundara: marketed at €349, these HiFiMAN headphones have an over-ear, open-back design and are equipped with 2” Planar Magnetic drivers. It features a double headband in steel combined with a wide strip of leather, giving it the advantage of being more comfortable than the LCD-1. It has the typical Planar Magnetic sound: warm and highly linear. However, the HiFiMAN provides more generous lows and a wider frequency response in the highs. The Audeze LCD-1’s soundstage is more spacious and dynamic.
Audeze LCD-1: conclusion
With the Audeze LCD-1 headphones, the American manufacturer provides an appealing entry ticket into the world of Planar Magnetic headphones. Extremely versatile, the Audeze LCD-1 proved to be very effective with all of the various music genres we listened to. From jazz to rock, electro and pop, the Audeze LCD-1 headphones provided a sound that was consistently dynamic, warm and bursting with details. Although it wasn’t quite as impressive as that of the ultra high-end Audeze LCD-4z, the soundstage was very wide and provided an excellent spatialization for the different instruments. Despite its low impedance of 16 ohms it is highly recommended to use a relatively powerful DAP or headphone amplifier to power the large drivers correctly.
What we liked:
- The dynamics
- The tonal accuracy
- The value for money
What we would have liked:
- A symmetrical cable
- For the headphones to have been easier to drive