Audeze LCD-1: Audeze takes a chance and goes portable.

Pros: Portable.
Affordable.
Audeze name.
Very competent overall.

Cons: Don’t expect the top-end Audeze sound.
Mostly plastic.
Could be more dynamic.

Audeze LCD-1 ($399): Audeze takes a chance and goes portable.

Many thanks to Todd from TTVJ for the loan of the LCD-1. This is the first stop on a tour. Having participated in many of Todd’s tours (and purchases afterwards, sigh…) he is a boon to the society, and just an upstanding guy. Cheers Todd and thank you!

TTVJ site:
https://www.ttvjaudio.com/Audeze-LCD-1-Planar-Headphone-p/aud9000001.htm



Features:

  • Enhanced transparency and sound stage – Open Circumaural Design
  • Incredibly wide dynamic range – 90mm Over-Ear Planar Drivers
  • Unparalleled sonic detail and accuracy – Ultra-thin Uniforce™ Diaphragms
  • Powerful sound and efficiency – Fluxor™ Magnets
  • Deep rich bass with low audible distortion – Fazor Wave Guides
  • Light-weight construction with robust memory foam ear pads and headband for extended comfort during long listening sessions
  • Robust foldable design, perfect for mixing on the go
  • 3.5mm premium braided cable for tangle-free connection, with reversible headphone connectors for ease of setup
  • 1/4” adapter included
  • Memory foam, genuine lambskin leather earpads
  • Designed and built in the USA with imported and US made parts

What’s included?

  • 2m 3.5mm to dual 3.5mm cable with reversible connectors
  • 3.5mm to 6.35mm adapter
  • Zippered travel case
  • Certificate of Authenticity

Specs:

Style – Over-ear, open-circumaural
Transducer type – Planar Magnetic
Magnetic structure – Single-sided Fluxor™ magnet array
Phase management – Fazor
Magnet Type – Neodymium N50
Diaphragm type – Ultra-thin Uniforce™
Transducer size – 90 mm
Maximum power handling – 5W RMS
Maximum SPL – >120dB
Frequency response – 10Hz – 50KHz
THD – <0.1% @ 100dB
Impedance – 16 ohms
Sensitivity – 99 dB/1mW (at Drum Reference Point)
Ear Pads – Memory foam, genuine lambskin leather
Weight – 250g



Initiale:
I will admit I was in the market for two things: a TOTL open-back and another at the $500-700 range for testing purposes. In checking the for-sale thread, I found and purchased a TOTL open-back, the Audeze LCD-3. After settling that, I came across the thread from TTVJ regarding the LCD-1. I had never heard an Audeze unit before, only listened to PinkyPowers gloat over his LCD-3. He wouldn’t even bring it to our mini meets, which of course was his right. After much reading, I did pull the string, and awaited the LCD-1 tour unit as well.

As luck would have it, we had a snow day Friday, so I could sit by my mailbox in the rain, snow, sleet, freezing rain awaiting our postman; who will not come up my drive and honk as requested due to our dog. I have repeatedly told him she cannot reach the driveway, but to no avail. He saw me sitting there (after an hour and a half…), took pity upon me and cut his route to give me the two units. He really is a nice guy and treats us well. We give him Christmas cookies as well, but that’s another story. So, having never heard an Audeze, I purposely opened the LCD-1 first to give a listen as I did not want to taint the signature in my mind. After assuring all was good, and the sound worked, I placed the critter on my Shanling M2x for burn in over the next two days. I always do this, even though Audeze espouses that the units come “burned in.” I want you the reader to get the impression of what the unit sounds like 6 months down the road. I am glad I did the listen, which turned into about an hour before retiring the unit for the night. I then blissfully spent the rest of the evening with the LCD-3’s perched upon my cranial matter.

That initial hour was of good quality, and I am glad I listened before moving on to the LCD-3. I knew going in (based upon reviews) that the bass would not be of such high quality, but it really is not meant to be that shattering. I could get a sense of all sound represented well, with no peakiness or lacks.

Gear used/compared:

All prices in USD, unless noted otherwise

Audeze LCD-3 ($1945)
Sendy Aiva ($399)
VModa Crossfade II ($299)
Verum Audio Verum 1 ($349)


Cayin N6 mk2
Dethonray DTR1/HA-2 Class A amp
Shanling M2x
XDuoo x10t ii/iFi Pro iDSD

Songs used:

Tidal Premium and SD card

Coldplay-All I Can think About Is You
Coldplay-A Message
Coldplay-White Shadows
Dona Onete-Sonos de Adolescente
Los Lonely Boys- Heaven (en Espanol)
twenty one pilots-Trees
twenty one pilots-Car Radio
twenty one pilots-Heathens
Damian Marley-Everybody Wants To Be Somebody
Damian Marley-So A Child May Follow
Damian Marley-The Struggle Discontinues
Ziggy Marley-Lighthouse
Ziggy Marely-See Dem Fake Leaders
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
The new twenty one pilots album, Trench
The new Mark Knopfler album, Down The Road Wherever
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Lindsey Stirling



Unboxing:


The LCD-1 comes in a tasteful glossy black box, with a lid over the bottom half. With sides that do not go all the way to the bottom half, the lid comes off easily, not like some where you need the strength of a body builder to open… Upon opening, you are met with a glossy sleeve, which contains the short manual and the “credit card,” which carries the serial number as a means of authenticity. Lifting the sleeve off, you are met with the clamshell semi-rigid case, which contains the good stuff. Opening the case, the two sides came protected with foam layers covering each cup for protection. A thoughtful aspect, as these will shift during shipping.

After pulling the unit out, the cable comes next, with its 3.5mm connectors going into each side after removing the cable from the fishnet sleeve. An interesting twist is the inclusion of a felt-like Velcro laden cover. I assume this is set so you can tuck the cable underneath and not have to worry about it or the adapter falling out of the fishnet sleeve. A nice addition. Once those items are out, that is it. No other extras. And that is all right. Too often today, we expect audio companies to fill the boot with free extra kit, which to be honest will hardly get used. I’d rather the price be kept moderate so one could spend that extra on a new cable or pads.


Design/Fit-n-Finish:

There is no getting around it, the Audeze are smaller than their sibling, and made mostly of plastic. That seems to be the norm now in the sub-$500 price and sometimes beyond (think other portables such as the CA Cascade or VModa Crossfade II, which to its credit has a fair bit of metal). Using this material brings two factors into play: they are lighter, and also better suited to portability requirements such as folding and taking less space. So, in that regard, I’m OK with that. If one has had the pleasure of trying/owning/using the high end Audeze LCD-series though, you might be disappointed in plastic. Well, I would say you need not worry for the quality of build is quite good, with only the occasional creak coming out of one cup from where the cable enters. I will play around with that later to determine the cause in more detail.

Since this is an over-ear, and portable it must draw a fine line between accommodating larger ears and portability. For my slightly larger than normal ears (they are getting bigger as I age), the fit worked, and I could get comfortable. These are not as portable as say the VModa Crossfade II but close to the Cascade. For the purposes of a very nice planar, it is quite acceptable. Plus, with enough movement fore/aft, up/down I had no trouble achieving a good fit.

Other than the creak, the LCD-1 are built well, with no visible imperfections, and at this price I would hope not. Since Audeze has straightened their processes out, they have very little trouble if any, and the LCD-1 shows good work in the assembly-line based process. Adjustment was quick and easy with enough movement of the cups to give me a good fit, unlike others such as HiFiMan, which could learn a thing or two regarding the fit of their headphones from other companies such as Audeze. To not have fore/aft movement of the cup is a disservice. And a deal breaker in my mind. With the LCD-1 there is enough play that the fore/aft movement makes for a solid fit and seal.

The headband uses a combination of memory foam and Lambskin for a soft supple feel, even if it is a one-piece. So far so good, and the softness should aid in using the unit for longer listening sessions. The earcups are made of the same material and supple as well. I had a bit of discomfort due to the tighter grip, but it was not as tight as the VModa’s. Those are like a soft-cup vice grip. Tolerable but tight.

Sound:

I will admit I was a bit underwhelmed upon first listen, but that changed as I adjusted to the planar sound. What I might had conveyed as a lack of bass came across as competent, tight and sufficient. Certainly not as much as the LCD-3, but when utilizing the smaller sized planar that is to be expected. In that vein, the LCD-1 performed well. I will also admit that much of what I read came across as gushing praise for the Audeze. Some even mentioned product of the year status. I’m not sure I would go that far, but I was becoming enamored with the mini-me of the bigger brethren.

Laid back mids lend itself to a relaxing listen as opposed to some portables, which have a much more forward signature. I am not a fan of in your face mids and prefer them to meld into the overall schema of the sound. Much like the Legend X on the IEM side and the LCD-3 of headphone variety. In this regard, the LCD-1 is competent and very willing to be used in that regard.

With regard to the top end, thankfully it is pleasantly rolled off (to me) for my tastes. I cannot tolerate grating or spikey treble but do prefer a bit of sparkle to highlight to uppers. With regard to that, the LCD-1 falls short. There is not the sparkle, which would have made the LCD-1 simply stellar. But it is competent again, and unoffending. For those who prefer more up top, you might be able to EQ some in, but I am not sure. I did find a somewhat interesting notion of cymbal hits on certain songs, which to me gave them an artificiality and separation from the overall sound. I had to listen several times to a twenty one pilots song in order to isolate it. But it was there. Almost an anomaly, but listening closely to other cymbal hits, I could discern it in a scant couple others. I’m not sure I am the best for discerning the source or sorcery in play, but I did notice it.

Since it is a smaller planar, and portable, sound stage suffers a bit, but not as much to me as some have mentioned. I find it satisfyingly wide and tall. With good depth to boot, there is definite space, which allows the note to breath enough for quite nice detail and clarity. This is a pleasant listen, with enough of the above to make for an enjoyable ride. Isolation for an open back is actually quite good, which I have noticed may be an Audeze trait (albeit sample size of two., mind you…), with hearing the pounding of my keyboard and the hockey game on the tele as mild distractions. In that regard, the LCD-1 is quite good. Of course, that would drop noticeably upon a commute. But that isn’t always bad as hearing your surroundings isn’t a bad thing.

As far as portability, the LCD-1 does not really limit much of the sound, which I do believe was Audeze’s point. Sufficient layering to keep you interested, and good separation allow the listener to imagine a larger concert hall as needed. Notice I did not say experience. One would be stretching that point. But there is enough there to allow the listener to enjoy the feel if not the actual.

Comparisons:

Audeze LCD-1 ($399) vs Audeze LCD-3 ($1945):

I bring this is to show the heritage (I know a reach, but I just got them and love the 3’s). With some critical listening, it becomes apparent that the LCD-1 comes from the Audeze line. On Do What You Have To Do, the piano and vocal duet form a concerted almost sensuous sound on both. The LCD-1 holds its own nicely but cannot compare really. This become apparent on Don’t Talk from 10,000 Maniacs. Sounding a bit shallow, the difference is marked. So, some sound good while others tolerant. That is not a knock against the LCD-1 no, but rather praise for the LCD-3.

Audeze LCD-1 ($399) vs Sendy Aiva ($399):

The look of the Aiva alone took me in. Yes, I fell victim to an impulse, “flavor of the month” purchase. But, after breaking it in, and listening for well over 150 hours, I still like the sound. A bit middling in the mids, which are a tad veiled to me, nonetheless female vocals come out magnificently. Easy to drive, gorgeous at which to look, and more sub bass allow the Aiva to rightly hold a place in my regular lineup. The downside? It isn’t portable (that much), isolation is average to below (but it is an open back) plus the looks alone make me not want to take the unit out in public. It is not built for commuting, but rather an office where you have a solo office, or fine home listening.

Overall, I find the clarity to be better in the Aiva, but the Audeze sound is still quite good. I can clearly hear everything outside the Aiva, so the LCD-1 wins there as well. The Aiva is an excellent product, which many are now copying. Either that or they all come from the same factory but are tailored to the individual companies tastes.


Audeze LCD-1 ($399) vs VModa Crossfade II ($299):

Some time ago, I was in the market for a portable potentially BT closed-back headphone. The VModa was getting good reviews, so I purchased and open box for a song. BT connectivity was strong, and personally I could hear little difference between cable and BT (I could, but the differences did not bother me. Smaller cups than the LCD-1, this is almost an on-ear. Tailored towards a bassy-response the Crossfade’s have the most bas quantity of the ones listed here. That makes sense as it is the only closed-back of the bunch. But since Audeze is legendary for their bass reproduction, I fell the comparison is merited. I do enjoy the bass.

Easier to drive than the LCD-1, the bass does override the overall signature. This is one of the first “audiophile-type” pair of affordable-portables on the market. As such, compact size and a good dose of bass were warranted as well as a good push in the uppers. On Don’t Talk the best and Achilles of both ends comes through to me. Bass is fairly tight, and quite present supporting Natalie’s sumptuous voice. But the upper becomes a bit grating to me and piercing. This could be my intolerance due to old hearing loss-based ears and would be less of a problem on a commute. But in a listening room, to me it becomes quite apparent, and I have to turn the volume down. I would not tout this as a deficiency of the VModa, no. But rather a factor of the song, and my intolerance. In this regard, the LCD-1 fits my sound signature listening pleasures more.

I really do still like the Crossfade’s and need to find a way for them to fit into my rotation more.

Audeze LCD-1 ($399) vs Verum Audio Verum 1 ($349):

The Verum comparison will be from memory and drawn from my Verum review here: (https://ngoshawksounds.blog/2019/09/08/verum-audio-verum-1-the-story-of-one/). I found the Verum to be a fantastic representation at the price point. I could easily live with it at the sub-$400 price, even with the reports of early QC. The later units have that ironed out as much as one would expect. As far as sound, the Verum sounds “similar” to the Aiva, but without that mid-drop (to me), and hence a bit better clarity. Upon listening, I found myself thinking I had made a mistake in purchasing the Aiva (I didn’t), because I liked the Verum more. Isolation (lack of) is on par with the Aiva, and much less than the LCD-1. Here to me is an excellent benefit of the Audeze. That isolating of sound even though it is an open back. The LCD-1 is good, quite good, but for my purposes I prefer the sound signature of the Verum 1.

Sources:

The LCD-1 does benefit from a better source but performed adequately on those of a more frugal nature. That is kind of the point with the LCD-1, since many will undoubtedly use this with their Smartphone. I did not, but the affordable Shanling M2x would qualify as a budget source.

Cayin N6 mk2: Upon arrival to my abode, the N6 mk2 has been my most used DAP, and my near-reference one as well. The warmth of sound is marvelous, but one does benefit from a higher-end source to receive the true benefit. Tidal Premium sounds full and rich, with a bit less warmth than the LCD-3, but that is to be expected. La Venganza de Los Pelados sounds quite nice, even with that lack of warmth. I can turn the volume up and enjoy the sound without trouble though. The limitations of the LCD-1 show through, but the sound is so good, you can pretty much gloss over them.

Dethonray DTR1/HA-2 Class A amp: For those who have not experienced the DTR1, I named it my portable audio product of the year. @Wiljen warned me that it was good, and upon hearing his, I purchased one. When it comes down to it, it really is about the sound, and few that I have heard can match that in the Dethonray. Playing Crazy Mary through the combo provides a superb balance between warmth, bass depth and clarity. The HA-2 adds nicely to the already stellar DTR1 sound, and alone it is quite exquisite. Throw on the Class-A HA-2 and you get that added power for when you need it. I was already smitten with the DTR1, and then to add more magic from Anson in the form of the HA-2, simply adds more icing and ice cream to the mix. I like ice cream.

Shanling M2x: Primarily used as my portable on the go unit, the M2x has replaced my M5s in that regard. As such to me it provides about 85% of the sound for 50% of the price. That is a pretty fair trade off all around. Using Crazy Mary again, the sound while not as vibrant as either the N6ii or Dethonray combo is quite acceptable. This envisions to me where Audeze wants to proceed. Have very good sound for the portable market at an affordable price. Many say that you should upgrade headphones or source first, and for those who only want to use their Smart-device or small DAP, the LCD-1 fits well. I would be quite happy with the pairing listed here as my go to portable set up. Of course, under the guise of fairly noise-free situations.

XDuoo x10t ii/iFi xDSD: Another pairing of which I am quite fond provides a sound quite close to the Dethonray combo. In fact, for many situations I like this pairing more due to the additional features on the xDSD. This is still a superb little amp and with the added bonus of the 3D+ and Bass+ features you can add the holography missing in some headphones such as the LCD-1 and add some bass. I will admit I enjoy pretty much anything I hook up to this pair and as fancy needs switch the two “eq” settings on and off. To me with the LCD-1, they sound a little listless with the pair off, so on they stay!

Conclusion:

With all the hype surrounding the LCD-1, one would be right in considering it as product of the year. Ears more versed than mine would be able to better espouse the finer virtues of what I may miss. I do think that I try and look at most sound to give an honest representation of what is heard. But it is those others who may better be able to describe in better musical detail.

With that said, the LCD-1 is quite good. Not spectacular (to me) in any vein, but very competent in most. That laid-back signature is more akin to my tastes in a headphone as such, and once I heard the LCD-3, I knew I had made the right decision in purchasing a pair. The Audeze sound is one, which is different than other brands of the same price stratosphere. And it can hold its place among those best to me. Here is where I think Audeze did some reverse engineering to accommodate a lower price. Largely to me they have succeeded. The LCD-1 is indeed portable (with to me a quite acceptable size), has very good build quality (even with mostly plastic due to price and portability), and has sound, which should appeal to many looking for an entry into the Audeze sound. I found myself sitting back and turning the volume up a bit more to see if my better half and daughter-unit could hear the critter. Once I drew the dirty looks, I knew I had reached the threshold. But with the LCD-1 it was much higher than most open backs I own, which I consider a win.

If one is looking for an affordable-portable from a high-end company such as Audeze and like a bit of laid-back sound with good bass reach and good fit one should consider the LCD-1.

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