Today we reviewed the Audeze LCD-4z headphones, an over-ear, open-back model that truly pushes the limits of high fidelity. Flagship of the American brand, these €4.499 headphones use Planar Magnetic technology to bring music to life. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that we can already tell you these Audeze headphones completely won us over.
Audeze LCD-4z: the brand
Audeze is an American company that specializes in designing headphones and earphones. It’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. To do this, they approached Dragoslav Colich, who had over 30 years of experience designing Planar Magnetic drivers. This is how the first Audeze LCD-2 headphones were created. They became a huge success among the audiophile community and were promptly followed by the iconic Audeze LCD-3 headphones, and then by the Audeze LCD-X and Audeze XC models. Three prestigious pairs of headphones that provide unrivalled musicality.
More recently, the American manufacturer 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 best 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).
In late 2018, Audeze released the Audeze LCD-4z high fidelity headphones that we reviewed today. They are a new version of the iconic Audeze LCD-4 headphones with a lower impedance (15 ohms vs 200 ohms), allowing them to be used with a headphone amplifier that has a relatively modest output power or a DAP (for home use), or to be connected to the headphone output of a stereo amplifier or CD player.
Audeze LCD-4z: packaging & accessories
The Audeze LCD-4z hi-fi headphones make a bold statement as soon as you receive the package. They come in a cardboard box inside of which is an elegant, hard travel case. The case has a folding handle and is decorated with the name of the brand and the model.
Inside this case, the Audeze LCD-4z sits in a recess cut out of protective packing foam. It comes with a 2.5 meter-long braided and silver plated cable that features mini-XLR connectors to connect to the earpieces and a 6.35mm jack connector for the source. A warranty card and a USB flash drive containing the user manual are also included.
Audeze LCD-4z: design
Entirely designed and handcrafted in California, the design quality of the high-end Audeze LCD-4z headphones is flawless. Both ear cups are made from a single piece of metal that features a large perforated grille on the side to allow the transducers to breathe. A second, finer golden grille is placed behind these perforations to protect the transducers from debris and to give the LCD-4z headphones a unique look. These ear cups are mounted onto a metal arc that allows them to be easily adjusted and rotated. This arc is screwed onto the end of a notched bar used to adjust the height of the headphones. However, the adjustment isn’t very smooth. You have to force the arc somewhat, and the height can only be adjusted by 3mm steps (the distance between each notch). But once you’ve found the right setting, the position will always stay the same, even after putting the headphones on and taking them off countless times.
The Audeze LCD-4z headphones feature a double headband made of carbon fiber. The headband has a hole cut out of the center and features a very wide leather band to distribute the weight of the headphones evenly across the listener’s head. The latter has several perforations to remain breathable. This double headband system proved to be particularly effective, despite the fact that the headphones weigh 600 grams. During our multiple tests, the Audeze LCD-4z headphones always were very comfortable and never got too warm, even after several hours of use.
The Audeze LCD-4z headphones are an over-ear model featuring an open-back design. The ear pads are wide and entirely cover the listener’s ears. Their memory foam padding varies in thickness (approximately 4.5cm at the back of the headphones and 3.5cm at the front) to ensure a perfect fit. The Audeze LCD-4z headphones are extremely comfortable to wear. The ear pads leave enough room for the ears and don’t put pressure on the jaw. You quickly forget about the headphones which allows you to focus only on the music.
Audeze LCD-4z: Planar Magnetic transducers
Like all of the headphones and earphones from the American brand, the Audeze LCD-4z headphones feature Planar Magnetic transducers that overcome the restrictions imposed by traditional dynamic transducers. As a quick reminder, a Planar Magnetic transducer is comprised of two elements: an extremely thin diaphragm that has electrical conductors running through it and two powerful magnets (usually neodymium) that generate a very strong permanent magnetic field parallel to the surface formed by the diaphragm. This diaphragm, which is much lighter than that of a standard dynamic transducer, is suspended in the magnetic field. When the diaphragm’s circuit receives an audio signal, the magnetic field that is formed 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. It can be found in certain HiFiMAN headphones such as the HiFiMAN Sundara, HiFiMAN Susvara, HiFiMAN Ananda and HiFiMAN HE-1000 V2, as well as in the iconic Romanian Meze Empyrean headphones. However, Audeze 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 (106mm in diameter and 0.5 microns thick for the Audeze LCD-4z), Fluxor magnets as well as classic neodymium magnets, and Fazor technology. This technology consists in placing two grilles on either side of the magnetic structures to guide the sound towards the ear. As a result, the phase response is optimized, the frequency range is wider and spatialization is better, as we will see later in this review of the Audeze LCD-4z headphones.
Thanks to these different technologies, the Audeze LCD-4z has 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 98dB at 15 ohms. Consequently, it is necessary to boost the volume slightly to power its large drivers correctly and a minimum amplification power of 250 mW is recommended.
Audeze LCD-4z: braided audiophile cable
Each earpiece of these Audeze Planar Magnetic headphones features a gold plated mini-XLR connector underneath to accommodate the removable cable. The cable that comes with the headphones is a braided model with a 6.5mm jack connector that is also gold plated. Measuring 2.5 meters in length, it is equipped with conductors made from multiple strands of very high purity silver plated single-crystal OCC copper. The silver plating improves the transmission of high frequencies, making the Audeze LCD-4z headphones perfectly suited for listening to Hi-Res music. In addition, the conductors have undergone cryogenic treatment meant to stabilize their physical properties to ensure perfect signal transmission quality. They are also effectively protected from interference thanks to a braided sheath.
The Audeze LCD-4z’s XLR connectors don’t have three, but four gold-plated contact pins to half resistance and provide a higher current carrying capacity as well as a more dynamic sound. Naturally, these 4-pin connectors are compatible with any 3-pin mini-XLR cable. As a result, it is possible to modify the cable according to one’s preferences and the system used with the headphones. For our review, we were able to use a Meze mini-XLR to 4.4mm mini-jack cable for a balanced connection.
Audeze LCD-4z: listening conditions
For our review, we first paired the Audeze LCD-4z headphones with the iFi Audio iDSD Pro 4.4mm DAC and headphone amplifier using a balanced Meze cable. Capable of delivering up to 4200 mW into 16 ohms, this amp has no trouble powering the Audeze LCD-4z. We also paired the headphones with the McIntosh MA352 hybrid amplifier using the included 6.35mm jack cable. We focused on home hi-fi listening with powerful, high-end headphone amplifiers. Of course, the Audeze LCD-4z headphones can be used with many other systems with a lower output power, such as the Cayin HA-1A MK2 and Aune Audio S6 Pro headphone amplifiers or the iFi Audio xDSD portable headphone amp. With their wide bandwidths, these three systems are able to get the best performance out of the Audeze LCD-4z headphones.
Audeze LCD-4z: listening impressions
With the Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 in D major, K. 385 performed by Karl Bohm, the Audeze LCD-4z headphones displayed great dynamism. The responsiveness of the transducers was exceptional. The music truly came alive, with phenomenal intensity and power. The soundstage was incredibly wide, with instruments that had room to breathe and unfolded fully. The orchestra was perfectly embodied and almost seemed to materialize in front of us.
The excellent responsiveness of the Audeze LCD-4z headphones is also ideal for rock music. On the track One World by Dire Straits in 24-bit/88kHz, the Audeze LCD-4z impressed us right from the very first notes. The percussion was extremely transparent and reached high harmonics. The same was true for the highest notes of the electric guitar, which were reproduced very delicately. We found ourselves tapping our foot along to the rhythm of the bass drum which produced full and substantial lows. The sound was lively, detailed and engaging.
In a completely different style with Corcovado by the duo Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, the Audeze LCD-4z displayed a lot of softness. The sound was warm, textured and imbued with serenity. The soundstage was packed with countless details that unfolded perfectly and were beautifully highlighted. Once again, the Audeze LCD-4z headphones impressed us with the amplitude they were able to bring to the music. These features accentuated Stan Getz’s performance with his iconic tenor saxophone, which was able to express itself with ease. Each tiny tonal variation was perfectly reproduced and perceptible.
With Michael Jackson’s track Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, the King of Pop’s voice sounded incredibly natural and was perfectly centered. The Audeze LCD-4z managed to maintain a very high level of accuracy, even during the highest notes. The soundstage was very spacious and allowed the music to fully express countless details. The percussion was clear, lively and exhilarating. The bass was dynamic and precise, but lacked a little presence for this type of music. That said, we were easily able to correct this with the 5-band equalizer of the McIntosh MA325 amplifier (read our review of the McIntosh MA352).
Audeze LCD-4z: compared to…
Audeze LCD-4: twin of the LCD-4z, the LCD-4 headphones feature the same 4” Planar Magnetic transducers powered by a 1.5 tesla magnetic field. Concerning sound, both headphones are strictly identical, with a dynamic and detailed restitution. However, the LCD-4 have a higher impedance: 200 ohms compared to only 15 ohms for the LCD-4z. This makes them suitable for use with more powerful amplifiers (more than 1 watt). The LCD-4z headphones are much easier to drive. Consequently, the choice between these two models essentially depends on the amplifier or the associated source.
Meze Empyrean: also equipped with Planar Magnetic isodynamic transducers, the Meze Empyrean headphones are an open-back model that provide monumental spaciousness, as well as a highly detailed restitution and amazing balance. The sound signatures of both headphones are very similar, although the Meze Empyreans are a little more generous in the lows. However, the Audeze LCD-4z headphones have a greater dynamic range and offer a higher vertical soundstage.
Focal Utopia: equipped with 40mm dynamic transducers with pure Beryllium domes, the Focal Utopia headphones provide a very analytical sound. They aren’t very demonstrative and do not offer thundering lows or overly emphasized mids. The soundstage is wide, but is less impressive than that of the Audeze LCD-4z. The latter provide more magnitude, a more dynamic sound and softer highs.
Audeze LCD-4z: conclusion
With the high-end Audeze LCD-4z headphones, the American manufacturer provides the ideal solution for fully enjoying everything your music has to offer. The headphones impressed us as soon as we began using them as they were extremely comfortable and produced an incredibly wide soundstage. The spaciousness and spatialization were monumental, providing a dynamic, soft and natural listening experience that was bursting with details. Despite their low impedance of 15 ohms, we strongly recommend using a relatively powerful amplifier (250 mW minimum) to drive the transducers correctly and to fully enjoy the performance of these headphones that really push the limits of high-fidelity.
What we liked:
- The comfort
- The spaciousness of the soundstage
- The wide dynamic range
- The flawless build quality
What we would have liked:
- For the manufacturer to have included a balanced cable