Audeze LCD-1 Headphones

hfnoutstandingIf you have an expectation of Audeze circumaural headphones that they are large and heavy and not something you'd want to schlep around, the LCD-1 is a mould-breaker

When we reviewed the LCD-2 [HFN Mar '13], Audeze was in the vanguard of what was to become the rebirth of isodynamic driver technology, more commonly known today as 'planar magnetic'. To those of us who'd lived through the high-profile launch of the original PM headphone, the futuristic looking Wharfedale Isodynamic, 40 years earlier, it came as a surprise. But given that Wharfedale was hamstrung by previous-era magnet technology, perhaps it shouldn't have. Neodymium-iron-boron magnets had already revolutionised the design of moving-coil drive units, so it seems perfectly obvious now that it would also be exploited to revisit Wharfedale's planar diaphragm headphone.

While much, much more sensitive than the Isodynamic had been, the LCD-2 was not as sensitive as typical moving-coil competitors, and it was bulkier and heavier too. Plus it had tell-tale signs of being a first product from a small new manufacturer, most notably in the prominent fasteners attaching the back plate to the capsule. The LCD-2's offspring were much the same, chips off the old block.

Next Generation
But then came a step-change in the form of the EL-8 [HFN Oct '15], which was lighter, much more sensitive and a proper modern product thanks to industrial design by Designworks, a BMW spin-off based, like Audeze, in California. The EL-8 is no more, sadly, but here we have arguably its spiritual successor, the £399 LCD-1. It's more sensitive again, less costly again, lighter again, and still carries the LCD moniker.

In its effort to make the LCD-1 lighter and smaller than other LCD models, Audeze took two important design decisions. To reduce weight, it has used – as it did in the discontinued EL-8 – a single-sided PM driver unit, with an array of profiled bar magnets on one side of the diaphragm only, not on both sides as with the LCD-2 and its immediate successors. While the LCD-1's distortion will be worse at very high output levels, at 90dB SPL we recorded less than 0.1% THD at both 100Hz and 1kHz, so in practice this is unlikely to be a serious enough issue for many users.


More likely to be a concern for some are the smaller earpads, commensurate with the reduced capsule dimensions. The LCD-1 is a circumaural headphone, but like many others its earpads don't have a large enough opening to surround the entire ear – unless your lugs are notably dainty, that is. So despite its low weight – 253g for the headset alone, which is remarkably trim for a PM design – and its modest head clamping force (I measured 5.5N for 150mm head width), comfort will still be influenced by the design of your head…

Also, variability at the lower end of the spectrum in our frequency response testing suggests that the LCD-1 is at least moderately sensitive to the integrity of the earpad seal. Avoiding leaks is an imperative if you want to enjoy the prodigious bass extension that PM 'phones usually deliver, and of which the LCD-1 is certainly capable.

On The Move
While the evidence – high sensitivity, fold-up capsules, hardshell carrying case – is strong for the LCD-1 being a headphone intended for use with mobile music players, it is curiously not supplied with a short connecting lead. The one included cable is almost 2.1m in length and divides 37cm short of the capsules to connect separately to each via gold-plated 3.5mm TRS mini-jack plugs. The same connector is fitted at the source end of the lead, with a clip-on (rather than screw-on) adapter provided for ¼in jack outlets.

Given that the LCD-1 has the potential for being driven from a balanced output, I thought that maybe Audeze offers an accessory cable for this, but perusal of its accessories web page suggests not. Likewise, there appears not to be a short cable option on offer either. With plenty of third-party cables available, this is hardly a problem, but do be aware that the supplied lead has no channel identification on the headset plugs – whereas the capsules themselves are clearly labelled on the inside of the headband. So you have a 50% chance of left and right channels being swapped! Gratifyingly, while the lead has a braided sheath, this is not a headphone prone to disconcerting levels of capsule noise when the cable drags across clothing or furniture.

Beauty, as we know, is in the eye of the beholder so while some may consider the LCD-1 a little bland, perhaps a little ordinary compared to the EL-8, it has necessarily been engineered to a price. In many respects this seems like the least idiosyncratic Audeze headphone ever – which piles pressure on it to deliver sound quality that the marque's devotees have come to expect…

sqnote Mastery Of Sound
As one who's used Audeze headphones for several years, writes Ken Kessler, I was reticent about reviewing the LCD-1. Its big sisters, like the mind-blowing £3599 LCD-4z, have spoiled me rotten. However, Audeze has also shown mastery with affordable kit, including my choice for train travel: the sealed-back, on-ear Sine. But the less-costly LCD-1 seduces me because it is open-backed and more 'hi-fi', so to speak.

Audeze LLC
California, USA
Supplied by: Exertis UK, Essex
01279 822822