I’ve been spending a lot of time lately testing wireless headphones with Active Noise Cancellation. ANC is the current “it” factor for promoting new headphones, now that Bluetooth wireless connectivity has become mainstream. However, there is still a strong case to made for old school wired headphones, as I was reminded over the past several months while evaluating the LCD-1 headphones from Audeze.
The Audeze LCD-1 headphones are equipped with 90mm planar magnetic drivers. This is a good thing, with the ability to deliver deeper bass response and a flatter overall frequency response than traditional headphone drivers. To learn more about the difference, check out Ken Denmead’s showdown comparison pitting the Audeze Sine headphones against Sennheiser’s HD6XX headphones.
The downside to planar headphones has been their price, weight, and the need to use a DAC if you wanted to plug them into a laptop or smartphone.
The Audeze LCD-1 headphones are priced at $399. That’s not inexpensive, but it’s also far from the high end of the range—Apple’s Beats Pro over-ear headphones will set you back just as much. So the LCD-1s bring planar technology down to the level where music lovers other than deep-pocketed audiophiles can afford them.
Audeze used a lot of plastic in the construction of the LCD-1 headphones. They don’t feel cheap (far from it), but that has helped with some serious weight reduction. The folding design is highly portable—a zippered hardshell travel case is included—and the headphones weigh just 8.8 ounces. That is pretty light for this class.
As for a DAC, you can plug the Audeze LCD-1 headphones directly into a laptop or a smartphone (assuming you can find a smartphone with a headphone jack). The audio isn’t as good as you’ll get by plugging into a decent amplifier, but it’s still very good.
I was expecting the Audeze LCD-1 headphones to sound good, but the reality really blew me away. First, I want to mention the fact that these headphones are very comfortable. They are quite light and the padded headband puts just enough pressure to keep the headphones in place. In addition, the open back design helps keep your ears from getting sweaty. Add the highly-padded lambskin ear cups, and these headphones are extremely comfortable to wear for extended sessions.
The first time I put them on, they were feeling awkward, especially after an hour of use. Then I realized I had them on backward. Lesson learned: read the labels to make sure the right cup is on the right ear. Correct positioning made a world of difference…
Speaking of making sure you get left and right correct, these headphones have removable cables. I couldn’t find a right or left label for the 3.5mm lacks that plug into each of the ear cups. But no worry there, the cables use reversible connectors so the correct left and right channel info are delivered no matter which way you plug them in.
I listen to music while I’m working, but usually through speakers. I plugged the Audeze LCD-1 headphones into my laptop and streamed Apple Music, which was a very enjoyable listening experience. The headphones do deliver impressive low-end response but without an overwhelming bass-heavy bias. They aren’t as punchy or energetic as some headphones, but I appreciate the more accurate, flat response. They really proved to be outstanding when I used the included 1/4-inch adapter to plug into my receiver and listen to records. With a decent amplifier in the mix, the audio quality hits a new level.
When I was stressing, I spent hours listening to Steely Dan records (one of my go-to bands when the pressure is on) over the Audeze LCD-1 headphones, and it was a transformative experience. The music showed incredible detail, a wide soundstage, just enough warmth—it was just excellent. And amazing for a pair of $399 headphones.
You have to be aware of cables, the open-back design does bleed sound a bit so other people in the room might be able to hear what you’re listening to, and there’s no ANC (although the over-ear design does block most background noise), but I forgot all about those factors when listening to music with the Audeze LCD-1 headphones.
• Open-back, circumaural over-ear design
• 90mm over-ear planar magnetic drivers
• Ultra-thin Uniforce™ diaphragms
• Frequency response 10Hz to 50kHz
• Memory foam-padded ear cups and headband
• Lambskin ear cup covers
• Ear cups rotate, pivot, foldable design
• 6.5 foot premium braided cable with reversible connectors (L and R), 3.5mm + 1/4-inch adapter
• Designed and handcrafted in California (certificate of authenticity included)
• Weight 8.8 ounces
• Includes zippered hardshell travel case
• MSRP $399
I’m Canadian, so I don’t really have a horse in this race, but with the current relationship between China and the U.S., many consumers have a preference for buying American where possible. That’s pretty difficult when it comes to consumer electronics, with much of the global supply chain located in China.
Individual parts are imported from other (unspecified) countries, but the Audeze LCD-1 headphones are designed and hand-assembled in California. They even come with a certificate of authenticity. This ensures adherence to strict quality control standards and if buying American is a priority, then you have a pretty solid headphones option in the LCD-1s.
There are some very nice headphones in the $399 price range, many of them offering the convenience of wireless connectivity and active noise cancellation. Those are great for commuting and isolating yourself from background noise while working from home. Some also offer pretty decent audio.
However, the Audeze LCD-1 headphones show just how good music can sound on a pair of $399 headphones when the focus is purely on audio performance. If you want a pair of headphones that make your music sound its best, with the comfort for hours of listening at a time—without spending a fortune—you owe it to yourself to check out the Audeze LCD-1s.
Disclosure: Audeze provided headphones for evaluation but had no input into this review. As an Amazon Associate, I earn affiliate fees from qualifying purchases.
This post was last modified on October 2, 2020 12:52 pm
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