Review: Audeze LCD-XC – a personal take

Audeze LCD-XC

*This is a review without NEW measurements as Keith Howard, based in the UK, will not have our new measurement rig formally ready for a few more weeks. That said the original measurements on the old rig can be found at: https://www.innerfidelity.com/images/AudezeLCDXC.pdf

Several of the people on the crowded bus stared at me. Like I was big bug or something.

Maybe it was because I was wearing the Audeze LCD-XC in Bubinga and they wanted to straight-up take them off my head and run. That, or the XCs made me stand out like I had head gear on.

I’m talking about the old-school head gear of the kind that children of the ‘70s with braces had to endure during grade school (I had a couple friends growing up who had them, I used to share my grape drink box with one on the school bus home).

Back when bullies with names like Moe mercilessly tormented them about it.

You don’t see that anymore because they have modern solutions like Invisalign which are actually braces that you can’t even see from inches away.

But, like I said, it wasn’t like that when I was growing up.

We may have had Dig-Dug to play at the local mom-and-pop arcade instead of Pokémon Go on a smart phone, but getting there without having your video-game money stolen was like a modern day Call of Duty for some of us.

They’re weren’t cyber-bullies back then, there were just straight-up bullies who physically confronted you and you either had to fight or flight.

I’ve got the physical scars to show my choices. But damned if I wasn’t going to play my favourite video game after school. And damned if I wasn’t going to wear these headphones out regardless if someone wanted to try and take them off me.

This was what was going through my mind as I stood listening to George Harrison's All Things Must Pass through the XCs. I was going back and forth between using an Astell&Kern KANN digital audio player and my iPhone 6s. Both tucked into my jeans pockets while riding the bus to the train station that would take me downtown.

As I mentioned at the drop, a number of commuters clocked me as I got on the bus because the XCs are uuuuuge. They’re also beautiful and they have a kind of royal air about them with those rosewood ear cups.

Also, not everyone looked at me like I was a bug, there were some definite admirers who gave me a “hell yeah.” nod and smile. I even got a raised eyebrow side-smile from a guy who was rocking a Mr. Speakers Ether C Flow.

The smattering of Beats disciples on the bus and train seemed mildly intrigued by the big XCs, but I could tell by what I could glimpse on their phone screens that they were too social-media focused or preoccupied texting to care much about them more than that.

Walking around the city with the XCs cradling my skull and empowering my day with a sonic shield of head-bobbing tunes was painless, as they do a great job of isolating you from the outside world. They are super posh in their level of comfort on the head, with their wide headband suspension made of steel and leather preventing any ‘hot spots’ of pressure after extended use and the fat, squishy, yet form-fitting memory-foam ear pads never had me rubbing my lobes or my scalp to massage away pinching or fatigue.

The ear cup armatures are solid, do not flex and feel like it would take serious torque to bend them out of shape. The four-pin XLR connectors terminating the braided wire cables feel solid and precise when they lock-in or lock-out of place and the cables never bunched-up on me regardless of the t-shirt, sweat top or hoodie that I had on. A real plus for listening on-the-go. The LCD-XC comes with a heavy-duty industrial-grade flight case and a 3.5mm adaptor.

The rosewood cups are a thing of beauty to behold and you can tell they will just get more burnished and develop a glossy, deep patina unique to them alone over time with use, just like any bespoke wood product.

Throwing on a $2k pair of headphones and hitting the hustling high-streets of a big city is a social experiment of sorts. It’s like wearing a crown and not caring if people are curious, envious or making weird eye contact.

One dreadlocked rasta-looking guy broke into a huge smile and high-fived me as we passed each other on a sketchy side street in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Plus-one for musical respect.

I’m not sure how many readers have actually had the chance to spend time with a pair of big Audezes, but this is a headphone about recreating a two-channel, living-room experience that you can take with you anywhere and the LCD-XC delivers a genuine musical experience.

The pair I was loaned for review were fresh out of the box, so I ran them for about six or seven days straight after initial listening revealed them to be a bit thin sounding, and lacking the smooth frequency response from the mids through the lower-mids and bottom end I'm used to from Audeze. As with hi-fi gear or speakers, I find break-in time is critical for proper evaluation of any audiophile product.

Every day or so I’d put them back on and run the same few tracks through them (Us and Them, Song For The Boys, and Where Did Everyone Go? to see how they were breaking-in and after about 150 hours of solid playback on them through Tidal Radio they really started to open up and become incredibly lifelike throughout the frequency spectrum.

Pitch, timbre and tone sounded effortless and natural, and bass – while muscular – did not ever overpower, nor did any particular part of the auditory range draw attention to itself in a negative or distracting way. Again, a neutral balance seemed to prevail.

If a particular peaky blast from Miles Davis’ trumpet startled me, then yes, I was focused on how the planar diaphragms (thinner than a human hair!) handled the distortion. But there was never a particular audible band that I kept “noticing” or that “stood out.”

Regardless of music genre or type, the XCs were articulate, coherent, transparent and fast.

Speed of attack on notes was another major factor in what the Audeze planar-magnetic Fazor™technology was bringing to the listening experience for me. There are a few basic driver types for over-ear/on-ear headphones (planar-magnetic, electrostatic and dynamic), all have their benefits and detriments, but one thing I’ve found is that planar and electrostatic are very good at translating the speed of a transient response with the least audible pre-echo.

Audeze has set-up their planar diaphragms (which the company claims are four-times larger than a typical headphone driver surface area) to be manipulated by “Double-sided magnet arrays [which] deliver a uniform driving force across the entire diaphragm for near zero distortion… Patented Fazor™ elements guide internal headphone sound waves to avoid resonances for a more accurate waveform.”

OK, those diaphragms can move some serious air, I agree that more surface area helps to create a more spatially-neutral listening experience as well. If you’ve ever spent time with big Magnepan magnetic-planar loudspeakers than you know that one of the greatest strengths of their designs (besides gorgeous tonality, timbral accuracy, open-sky upper frequencies and clean, dynamic bass) is that they are not “sweet spot” dependent speakers per se.

You can walk all around a room being pressurized by a pair of Maggies and get almost exactly the same listening experience as if you were sitting in the proper “Golden Ratio” position. The waveform is coming from the front and back simultaneously and that creates a very unique set of parameters to translate sound into a room and it does a similar trick when focused through an ear cup attached to your head.

The difference with the XCs is that I found as great a job as they can do creating that magnetic-planar listening experience, closing up the backs does change the size of the imaging I’m used to from Audeze’s open back models.

Does it change it to the point where I’m put off? Not at all, but I did notice it.

But I’d say that’s part of the trade-off when designing something where you are forced to compromise to achieve a certain goal. The goal was the amazing Audeze open-back sound in a closed-back design that could be taken on the road or more importantly, into the studio.

No easy task, so I asked Sankar Thiagasamudram of Audeze to explain some of the engineering issues his team had to tackle to get the sound they wanted and needed in a closed-back model.

“Why did we do the LCD-XC?” asked Thiagasamudram.

“When [CTO Dragoslav Colich and Director of DSP, Dr. Manivannan] helped introduce the LCD series, we noticed a fairly substantial number of our sales came from professional users. Studios and audio engineers started using them in their workflow. One issue they ran into was the audio bleed around microphones. Lack of isolation in some environments was also an issue. In more mainstream markets, a closed back is preferred, so some of our recent headphones like Mobius and Sine feature closed back designs as well.”

Thiagasamudram said “Our goal when designing the XC was to maintain the dynamics, micro-details and also carefully damp the system. For this to work, careful selection of absorption material within the cup is extremely important. It should absorb most of the high frequency energy as sound travels twice through the material, once on its way to the cup walls and once after it reflects from the cup coming back through the diaphragm combining the sound-wave radiation.

“For lower frequency range (mids and lows) sound wavelengths are larger than the cup size and we are dealing with pressure waves.” According to Thiagasamudram one of the main problems were standing waves and resonances of the internal air and resonances of the cup walls. He said wall resonances can be taken care of with cup shape, the wall thickness and material selection of the ear cup. “The LCD-XC uses machined solid-wood cups which are treated outside and inside with custom-developed resin coatings to minimize wall resonances.”

Thiagasamudram stressed that Audeze employs extremely thin diaphragm material in all their planar-magnetic transducers, which in open-back headphones – that have their free-radiating diaphragm area exposed to the external environment – are very sensitive to changes in back pressure.

“It is enough to even bring your hand close to the grille to hear dramatic tonal-balance change. Some of the back sound waves would reflect from the hand and go back through the diaphragm combining with the front radiation. This causes irregular frequency response with a lot of ripples and phase problems.”  

“Sound radiating from the rear of the transducer diaphragm will hit the rear wall of the cup and reflect back. The inner shape of the cup is important to properly diffuse the reflections. Typically reflections happen at high frequencies, going down in the frequency range, wavelengths become longer and the shape of the cup wall doesn’t matter as much.”

For Audeze to present proper low frequency response in a closed-back design, Thiagasamudram said engineers realized the volume of the air within the ear cup has a profound effect and that typically bigger is better. But, since the back side of the transducer cannot be hermetically sealed, they designed controlled-acoustical gaps filled with carefully chosen acoustically-resistive materials. Audeze individually tunes each XC for the best low frequency response.  

“In general, it is impossible to achieve the response and transparency of open and closed back to be the same, but we believe we have come to the closest-possible performance of the open-back headphones with high acoustical attenuation of external sounds.

“Our goal has always been to design the best response we can get from the physical transducer and headphone,” said Thiagasamudram. “We have used other techniques more recently. For passive headphones (like the EL8, or Sine), we have added an LC Circuit to smoothen some sharp peaks.”

Listening to "Figure 8' off FKA Twigs (nee Tahliah Debrett Barnett) album M3LL155X (FLAC 16/44.1) through the XC and the Astell&Kern KANN was insightful. Yes, insightful. I’d never thought I’d use that word to describe the violent, aural maelstrom this five-track EP lays down. Calling M3LL155X a riotous EP is an understatement. It evokes a wall-of-sound atmosphere which can easily overload most headphones (or five-figure, two-channel home systems for that matter) causing them to blow into distortion on the bottom end, taint vocal arrangements, smear transients and blur the definition between instrumentation. Not so with the XC. Everything was in its right place and I have to admit, the XC gave me a clearer, more crisply articulated snapshot of the chaotic sonic landscape which producer/collaborator Jordan “Boots” Asher helped create for the album.

Freewheeling jazz classics like 1963’s Monk’s Dream by the Thelonious Monk Quartet (FLAC 16/44.1) through the XCs becomes a seat in the studio space of the recording session. Producer Teo Macero recorded the LP over about a week at the end of October and into the beginning of November in 1962 and the subtle cues to a slight change in placement of the musicians between cuts “Bye-Ya” and “Bolivar Blues” compared to “Bright Mississippi” and “Five Spot Blues” recorded a few days later was never apparent to me until hearing the album through the XCs via the Naim DAC-V1.

Monk is like a cement bench on the piano, locking everyone else into time and space with his playing. The tenor sax work of Charlie Rouse (a personal favourite of mine) comes across with a sophisticated communication between John Ore on bass and Frankie Dunlop on skins that I never fully grokked before the XC listening session. The weight to Monk’s key strokes and pedal work perfectly place the size and displacement of the piano’s internal volume, adding real gravitas to the mix. Ditto to the brassy, tonal and blousy depth of Rouse’s horn work and the subtly dry-paper brush work by Dunlop on the rack toms which is so defined as to create an image of a hundred separate fibres caressing that taut drum skin. Lots of texture to immerse oneself in here.

Conclusions The Audeze LCD-XC is a planar-magnetic over-ear headphone of high caliber which has a very linear response across the frequency spectrum. For a closed-back headphone/speaker comparison it put me in mind of the Harbeth M30.1 monitor: Incredibly transparent, muscular bass, capable of handling large dynamic swings, open and airy on the top end, with a punchy midrange that never sacrificed warmth for resolution regardless of the recorded material I fed it. A bit over textured on certain cuts, but again it added more to the experience than it did in taking away anything. I’d see that as plus if I was a recording engineer and look at these headphones more as mastering tools than luxury stereo play things.

The XC sounded full-bodied and had emotional nuance to delicate classical or acoustic passages when connected to my iPhone 6s streaming Tidal, and came further into the spectrum of high-fidelity punch and tonal colour when partnered with the Astell&Kern KANN DAP. But it was while connected to the Naim DAC-V1 being fed high-res files from a MacBook Air via a totaldac USB GIGAFILTER that the XC truly shined, bringing all the weighty Audeze technology, research & development and extensive listening sessions to bear in the design execution of this, their only closed-back LCD design.

While probably not the most ruler-flat response curve on an Audeze LCD that I’ve heard, its overall presentation is definitely neutral and very linear while having what I would refer to as a ‘curated’ character of tonal/timbral texture, but it is one that doesn’t incur sighs of disappointment, just the opposite for me, it shows great engineering in my opinion with the emphasis on detail retrieval.

The XC offers a truly transparent view through the window of recorded events that I could definitely see both mastering engineers and headphone cognoscenti appreciating. Highly recommended.

Specifications

  • Price: $1,799 USD
  • •Style: Over-ear, closed-back
  • Transducer type: Planar magnetic
  • Magnetic structure: Proprietary magnet array
  • Phase management: FAZOR
  • Magnet type: Neodymium N50
  • Diaphragm type: Ultra-thin
  • Transducer size: 106 mm
  • Maximum power handling: 15W
  • Maximum SPL: >130dB
  • Frequency response: 10Hz – 50kHz
  • THD: <0.1% @ 100dB
  • Sensitivity: 100dB/1mw (at Drum Reference Point)
  • Minimum power requirement: >100mW
  • Recommended power level: 1 - 4W
COMPANY INFO
Audeze
3412 S. Susan St, Santa Ana California 92704, USA
info@audeze.com
1-714-581-8010

COMMENTS
Rthomas's picture

Hi Rafe,

I highly doubt that 'burn in' is a factor with Audeze headphones.

''Before Shipping we have now added a long burn in test on every headphone with Pink Noise at average level of 95 dB''

This is a direct quote from an Audeze blog post from 2011. So unless they themselves don't know how to burn in their headphones they should sound as intended fresh out of the box.....

Original link here:

https://www.audeze.com/lcd-2-update

Regards

Thomas

Rafe Arnott's picture

Hi Thomas, thanks for chiming in.

You're most welcome to "highly doubt" whatever you like. I'm not here to convince people.

Factory burn-in has had very little impact on most high-end gear I've reviewed as once the gear has been "burned-in" if it then sits on a shelf, or in a box, unused for months or even just weeks, the burn-in means nothing.

The electrons need to be aligned once again. Diaphragms need to be re-stretched, it's like a car that sits without being driven, things change, react differently over time, etc.

Internet commenters with little to no experience with high-end gear love to argue ad nauseam about burn-in, and its effects – or not, oh and cables too.

I don't see those arguments ever changing.

laluzex's picture

Hey Rafe,
Long time reader, first time commenter here. This post is troubling to me as a fan of innerfidelity in general. I do think you're a great writer, and your opinions so far have been quite alright with a few exceptions (more on this later). I know you probably get a lot of trolling but this isn't that and I hope you sincerely read what I say and at least consider it.

First, I do not think it's a good idea to denigrate your audience no matter what they say. To suggest that a subsection of your viewers with whom you disagree with "have little to no experience with high-end gear" and "love to argue ad nauseam [...]" is off-putting to say the least. I can't tell you how to run your site, nor do I pretend I know what's best for it. What I do know is my personal reaction to something like this, which I'm sure is shared by many of your viewers. After all, for every one of me, there are tens, or even hundreds of others who simply click on, and are less inclined to visit innerfidelity. Making blanket statements and generalizations about people is pretty much always a bad idea, in my experience. I probably fall into the category of people you would dismiss, yet I defy your stereotype (I own multiple $1000+ headphones, including the STAX L700 and Omega II). However, I still don't believe in "electron alignment" - I simply don't see a rational scientific argument as to why this would make an audible difference. If you have any literature on the matter, I'd love to give it a read. I haven't personally noticed burn in to have ANY effect at all including on Audeze's.

I know you stated you're not out to convince people, and to be honest, neither was Tyll in my view. However, Tyll didn't denigrate entire sections of his viewership while making fiery statements about controversial issues (at least controversial in audio!) - he simply presented the evidence and let his viewers draw their own conclusions. See his article on this very topic, burn in, for what I'm talking about.

Rafe Arnott's picture
Hi Laluzex,

Thanks for the post, I appreciate you taking the time to engage. Your comment is very kind.

I will say that my opinions are my own, it's not up to me to convince any of my readership of them.

I merely lay them out, it's up to you, the reader to take them at face value and do what you want with them. The opinions I share may align with your own, or they may not.

Also, to be PERFECTLY CLEAR, I never said anything about "a subsection of [my] viewers with whom [I] disagree with..." that's all you.

I said "Internet commenters with little to no experience with high-end gear love to argue ad nauseam about burn-in..."

Ever been to an audiophile forum on the Internet? Check it out, I think you'll find my statement accurate.

Again, thanks for writing, but if mentioning burning-in a product before reviewing it means I "denigrate entire sections of [my] viewership while making fiery statements about controversial issues..." then man, has this become one boring hobby.

How about we change that? OK? Let's make it fun again.

Simply Nobody's picture

Hi Rafe ........ Thanks for the great review of Lcd-Xc .......... You mentioned that you are going to get a chord DAC ......... If it is a portable Chord DAC like a Hugo2 or Mojo, could you please review that DAC with the Lcd-Xc? ......... Thanks ...........

Simply Nobody's picture

I forgot to say Chord DAC/headphone amp ......... Thanks

Rafe Arnott's picture
I have several Chord components en route, I'm not sure if I'll still have the LCD-XCs then or not, but I will have other Audeze headphones on hand for those reviews.
KaiS's picture

It's hard to show some physical evidence for the process of burning in, even with mechanical transducers like headphones.

But - at least, if you, as described, listen to the headphones from time to time during the burn in process, your auditorial system will "burn in" = adapt to the sound of the headphones.

Finally the musical pieces selected for auditioning the headphones have extremely great impact on how you will receive them.
This is especially true if you don't use other headphones or sound sources as reference.
Quite often I fit certain headphones and musical pieces together to get the most enjoyable results.

detlev24's picture

There is no doubt that some parts, like some diaphragms, which regularly are exposed to forces, will go through irreversible mechanical changes over time. The amount of impact will depend on the types of material, the finalised construction etc. and on how long, how strong a force has been applied (i.e., how long a signal of which frequency bands has been played at what dB SPL). Just an example: 150 hours of whatever playback on one headphone/loudspeaker might have a different impact (or reasonably none) on another transducer.

The biggest >negative< influence on a headphone's sound will have wear and tear of the ear pads!

It is also true, that for our hearing to be able to pick up a change there must be a major impact in any of the domains that define audio fidelity: The main categories hereby are frequency response, noise and distortion. The changes that some describe to happen during their uncontrolled burn-in processes must therefore be of an even bigger scale; as listeners describe to be able to easily hear the effect(s). Despite the fact, that they were listening to the piece of equipment during that whole period of time and all changes (if any) would just have happened gradually and at a very small magnitude - which our brain would get used to and not be able to differentiate from anymore. [Unless there are serious quality issues.] Only a controlled side-by-side listening comparison could maybe reveal those changes; which naturally is impossible to realize.

On the other hand, there are accurate measurements. Yes, you could measure the device before burn-in and thereafter. In a [once again] controlled environment, changes (even very subtle ones) could be repeatedly verified by measurements. Then the remaining question to answer would be if those changes, that might show on measurements were of a magnitude high enough to penetrate our hearing/brain. As an example, most professional audio gear allows to change volume by 0.5 dB steps only. Why? Because below that, we as human beings will not be able to notice any differences.

===
Ultimately, "audio" is not about believe. It is an interesting and very complex field of physics!

steaxauce's picture

Hi Rafe,

Congrats on the inaugural review, and I’m glad you like the headphones. However, I want to offer the criticism that, after reading this, I don’t have a good sense of how the headphones sound. It’d be helpful if you could answer these questions: What are their flaws? How do they compare to some other headphones? You mention that they’re relatively flat but also have a “curated” character; could you be more specific, e.g. what’s their overall balance like and where do they deviate from neutral?

I find reviews are most helpful when they’re clearly interpretable, and unambiguous and simple in their terminology. The main idea is that I should have a pretty good guess about how the headphones will sound to me if I ever get the chance to listen to them, just from reading the review. I want to be able to know if *I* will like them, regardless of whether the reviewer does. Plain language with clearly defined terms are important here. Your approach was mainly to describe the music you listened to as you heard it through the headphones, but I felt like I learned more about the music than the headphones (I’m going to check out that recording!). In other words, I wasn’t really able to map your impressions to cut-and-dry qualities like overall balance (dark vs light), coloration and where coloration occurs, peaks or anomalies, emphasis or de-emphasis of different areas of the frequency spectrum, etc.

Comparison to other headphones is also really valuable. Presumably most people considering buying a $2000 pair of headphones have already heard a few other four-figure models and have a sense of what sound they like; take advantage of this to help convey how this model sounds. As a reader, my main question is: How does this model’s individual character fit in with the other offerings out there? Does it fit my preferences? Simply saying that a $2K pair of headphones sounds good doesn’t add much information; that should almost go without saying.

I’m personally not a huge fan of headphone measurements. That’s not because I don’t think they’re valuable, but because they’re difficult to interpret, especially to me as a layperson. However, I would strongly distinguish faith in measurements from objectivity, which, on the other hand, is something I believe in applying wherever possible. What you’re reviewing is clearly subjective, but that doesn’t mean the review process shouldn’t be concrete and methodical. I’d encourage you to approach it by formulating and answering clear-cut questions about how the headphones sound.

Even creative visualizations can help a lot. Measured frequency response of headphones doesn’t always match subjective frequency response for a variety of reasons. One thing I always thought would be a great exercise for a reviewer (and especially valuable in the case of headphones, because of the limitations of measurement procedures) would be to draw out a frequency response curve subjectively. This would be pretty hard and likely imprecise, but that’s fine; it would still add a lot of value, and keep you (the reviewer) honest. You could simplify the task by just making a bar chart with five frequency ranges. Or you could draw a curve, but make it blurrier in ranges where you’re not sure, or where there are a lot of dips and spikes. Feel free to use music, pink noise, test tones, etc. as part of the process: whatever helps.

I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about how your predecessor did things, and I think Tyll was far from perfect himself and left a lot of things on which you could improve. But one thing I think he did really well—and which kept me coming back to this site—was to be consistent in his impressions and try to describe things as plainly as possible. There were times when he liked a headphone, but I could still tell from his review that I wouldn’t like it, and there were other times when the opposite happened. (This concrete review process also helped inoculate him from praising gear that was objectively pretty bad, which is something I’ve seen a lot of reviewers end up doing.) I didn’t have exactly the same preferences he did, but his reviews were still very useful to me, in large part because he tried to make himself a known quantity.

Glad to have you here, and best of luck. You have big shoes to fill!

sszorin's picture

I concur.We are missing the negatives.

MFHRaptor's picture

Greetings, Mr. Arnott.

Thanks for the enjoyable read.. but you know what's also enjoyable and more relevant in this great time of digital journalism?

The answer is: Video journalism.

Will you please continue on the great work done by Tyll and continue his legacy by also providing video reviews on the YouTube channel? Please don't be camera shy!

That channel is our beloved interface to some of the innerworkings of InnerFidelity website and a look at few of the big audio conventions. Tyll and Jana provided us with easy-to-swallow doses of the awesomeness that is InnerFidelity. Please, don't let that rhetoric fall into the past tense.

Three Toes of Fury's picture

GREAT review Rafe. A friend of mine recently got these and he shares your opinion..they are great.

Keep up the great work sir!!

Peace .n. Living in Stereo

3ToF

brause's picture

Do we really now discuss the "alignment of electrons" being beneficial for the sound? Did you ever entertain the idea that such "alignment" could produce a sound that is less palatable for our sound perception than before? The electrons in my headphone, these little rascals, unfortunately, don't know my personal preferences. What I need is an "electron alignment training device". I am sure audioquest are working on one.

As to cables: the best cable upgrade for a high-end headphone is simply using the cable money for buying an even higher-grade headphone. This unambiguously improves the sound.

Did you ever read the story of a speaker company rep who had forgotten his cables at a trade show. He went and bought an orange Black and Decker lawnmower chord for 30 pounds, which he trimmed with a knife. People loved the orange colour and the great cable sound.

Rafe Arnott's picture
Hi Brause,

No, we don't really need to discuss it, but I didn't bring it up in the comments section, someone else did.

The more hours on a product (especially transducers in my experience) the more "settled" or "stable" or "consistent" their sound becomes. This makes reviewing easier because one has a baseline.

That's my opinion. Yours may be different. It's also one I've had shared with me by most well-known, credible reviewers or audio engineers I've had extended conversations with in the industry.

As for cables, yes I've heard similar stories. Usually lamp cord though.

Simply Nobody's picture

Are we gonna discuss about "Pythagorean" alignment of planets next? :-) ..............

Buddha Khan's picture

Nice review Rafe. Keep your chin up fella.

These or the Koss Porta Pros?

Rafe Arnott's picture
Dear Buddha Khan,

For real? Made me smile either way.

The price difference and design precis of these two 'phones are radically different.

I've not listened to the Koss for years but owned a pair for quite a while (when they weren't getting borrowed by friends) and I remember enjoying the hell out of them.

Different strokes...

Buddha Khan's picture

Rafe,

I was trying to inject a little fun with my question but in a way it's possibly relevant.

If I was responsible for the best headphone site on the web I'd have a drawer full of reference headphones for comparison during reviews. If that's something you agree with, what's planned to be in yours?

Maybe pop down to Wallmart and snag yourself a pair of Porta Pros for old times sake?

Al T.'s picture

Burn in may not audibly change headphones. But that's not the point. Burn in, if believed in by the listener, will likely connect the listener more emotionally to the headphone. And thus more strongly to the emotional tenor of the music when played through that headphone. This is, if I have understood correctly, how new innerfidelity will judge audio gear. In this context audio fidelity may play only a minor role.

Please feel free to correct me, Rafe, if I have missed the point.

Rafe Arnott's picture
Dear Al T.

I will not review headphones, or any headphone-related product or piece of hi-fi gear without allowing it time to bed in with music running through it.

Your comment, or was it a question? – "This is, if I have understood correctly, how new innerfidelity [sic] will judge audio gear. In this context audio fidelity may play only a minor role." Seems to prove that you have missed several points.

JAYKAY47's picture

Arguably burn in on estats and planar headphones can be attributed to the tension on the diaphragms loosening up.

MajesticSquirrel's picture

Didn't expect this article to be good after reading the nostalgic start with (intended?) connection to cyber bullies :), but the fact you were thinking about these things makes it interesting and separates the review from typical ones. Also, great thing you explain the relationship between audio gear and concrete songs in a good detail. Keep going, Rafe, waiting anxiously for measurements gear.

Leffen's picture

Thanks for this quality review. Pleasant to read and informative on a headphone I sort of missed along the way.

Funny thing about burn-in,
The types who observe it tend to be the sorts of folks who have an observant, experimental relationship with their own subjectivity.

The types who deny it often do so seemingly hurriedly or anxiously. They seem uncomfortable that subjectivity could ever observe something not described by current scientific theory, and not measured by current test equipment or tests.

But science sprung from subjectivity...and ultimately answers to it, to Human skepticism. We are the editors. All of the measurements and tests were invented from a subjective perspective, and are edited and evolved the same way.

Asking the right questions in science always begins in the gut, in the intuition. It is an art. There is no playbook for deciding which paths of inquiry to take, and how to take them.

The rigor gets applied after the creative phase is over. Observing burn-in and pondering it is squarely in the creative phase. It is the sort of experience that informs and inspires good inquiry.

"Lots of people seem to observe burn-in. Could be placebo, could be real and as-yet unmeasured/uncorrelated, let's investigate rigorously!"

But to say "it can't be real"....this is really close minded. It's a thin, toxic non-skepticism. If you deny your own observations of reality outright, you deny the entire base of science.

It honestly disturbs me how many people these days are so adamant to deny that a human could ever observe something not yet theorized or measured. It's truly frightening. It halts inquiry. It kills wonder, and wondering.

Alifatemi's picture

Thanks for review, any comparison between Audeze XC and X please?

Rafe Arnott's picture

Haven't heard them yet (other than five minutes at a show), so, no comparison.

Audeze is sending me a number of headphones for review and to try out, so if the X is in the box I'll definitely compare the two.

Simply Nobody's picture

Hi Rafe ........ Would you be reviewing Audeze Mobius wired/wireless headphones, if they were sent to you? .......... Thanks :-) ..........

Rafe Arnott's picture
I've been in contact with Audeze, and can ask about the Mobius delivery date.
Simply Nobody's picture

Hi Rafe ......... Would you be interested in checking out the Smythe research realizer headphone surround sound system? ........... Thanks ..........

Mrsnikoph78's picture

No offense, but in all of this 2,500+ word review, I found about 177 words that seem to be focused, like a laser, on actually conveying how you felt the headphones sounded. Stuff on fit and finish read pretty well, so thanks for that. Indeed a $2,000 headphones should be 4 times more comfortable and better built than a $500 headphone. Do you think that is the case here?

The initial impression was "thin sounding", "lacking a smooth response". Uh-Oh, not good. Post-burn you said, "a neutral balance seemed to prevail". You noted they were "fast". By the time you reached conclusions, you were certain they were "definitely neutral", "very linear" but with a "curated" character. "It shows great engineering in my opinion with the emphasis on detail retrieval". I'm not sure what good engineering is in a $2,000 headphone, but "detail retrieval" sounds like they might be "unforgiving" (e.g. will not be kind to clipped/hot recordings) - can you elaborate?

I think neutral headphones, like neutral speakers usually sound the best across a wide range of music recordings, but a headphone cannot be both neutral and "curated" - that suggests some "flavoring" of the sound. Of course "neutral" is somewhat controversial as most recently the Harmon curve has been shown to be preferential - even if not all audiophiles love it (I'd tend to re-balance bass or treble to taste, probably, or mood). Can you unpack what you meant by "curated"? When you say "neutral", do you mean NAD Viso neutral (warmish), PSB M4U1 neutral (a tad bass light), or HD 600 neutral (the original benchmark)? Did you mean that the headphone was curated by engineers at LCD to be close to neutral? You interviewed them - what sort of target response do they like? Note what I am suggesting here is that having a benchmark might be very helpful in orienting readers about the response you think you are hearing.

Instead of comparing them to Maggies or The Harbeth 30.1 (both room speakers), could you try comparing them to actual headphones, with all the compromises that entails? We might want headphones to sound like good speakers in a good room, but you listened to the XCs out in traffic, for example. Obviously to some extent headphones are headphones and should be compared mostly to other headphones.

I own a pair of planars and "speed" is a defining characteristic. They can play back the pops and cracks of clipped recordings (most of today's pop music) so well that I too call them "unforgiving". But with that speed I would think recordings would seem to have a lot of "depth" - it is easy to hear the component parts of the whole if you choose to focus on them. That is what I think "detail retrieval" means, but it can be a con as it might make you think you have a "dirty" signal or, worse, a failing piece of equipment.

What do you think the measurements will convey based on your subjective impressions? When they are completed, will you adjust your impressions? Did you at least track the volume at which you listened? One thing I never liked about Tyll was that I wasn't sure what SPLs he measured at - only for THD. Most of us probably don't listen at 90 dB or 100 dB as that is painful. It is important for drivers to reach solid SPLs without breaking up or distorting heavily, but I'd love to see a measurements at 70 dB / 80 dB as well. Or at least, disclosure of levels listened at.

Also thanks, keep the reviews coming - I can't wait to see the measurements!

Simply Nobody's picture

Being "neutral" is a good thing in the case of all audio equipment, including headphones (IEMs) and loudspeakers, IMO ......... One can modify the sound with external EQ, tube equipment etc. to suit personal taste ..........

JRT's picture

At 10:59am on July 06, 2018, Mrsnikoph78 posted the comment that, "...a $2,000 headphones should be 4 times more comfortable and better built than a $500 headphone. Do you think that is the case here?"

I would most certainly not have that expectation in most things, headphones included.

While most people are not as rational in their behavior as classical economics would try to teach us, 19th century Hermann Heinrich Gossen's First Law holds well among most real humans, and I would point you to Gossen's First Law in this case.

From http://www.economicsdiscussion.net/economists/gossens-first-and-second-l... ...
Gossen’s First Law:
It states that “The amount of one and the same enjoyment diminishes continuously as we proceed with that enjoyment without interruption, until satisfaction is reached”. In modern times, this law is known as the 'Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility'. In other words, the law tells that the marginal utility of a good for a person diminishes with every increase in the stock that he already has.

Mrsnikoph78's picture

You misuse your fundamental economic "law". You are relying on an idea that suggests that consumers get less pleasure (er, "utility") from something the more of that something they consume. That would apply in this case only when consuming your second, third, and 100th identical LCD headphone. Someone might purchase 13 different headphones at 13 different price points and find themselves content. In any case the economist escapes all nuance by asserting that the choice wouldn't have been made if it weren't optimal given the consumers tastes, preferences, and endowments (e.g. income). Where in this logic is the notion of just getting screwed? Flim-flammed? Ripped off? You seem to be suggesting that one should expect less in some proportion to the amount of money they spend. Seriously, why? Just because? That is the way the world turns? If a restaurant served you 1 oz of lasagna for $15 dollars, would you just shrug and order 10? Depends on how starved you were I suppose.

My statement relates to the idea that, as one spends more, one should get more. More what? in the case of headphones, more comfort, more sound quality. Maybe a sticker, and a case. Not because it is rational, but because it suggests good business. A firm that develops a superior product for $1 and sells 100,000 they make for $200 is, IMO, a better and eventually richer firm than a firm that develops an inferior product for $2 and sells 1,000 of them for $2,000 (about $2m). The better company gets more customers by offering more value.

Which reminds me that the utility theory of value might be adapted to explain consumer logic in textbooks, but it is also for explaining why the "capitalist" experiences decreasing returns to scale. At some point marginal cost (of the next unit) and marginal revenue (from sale of that unit) converges and then - dang, you're losing money (profits). The "optimal" firm is really a wasteful firm because there is an assumption at work that, at a certain point, any additional production generates waste.

There is also the "labor theory of value", which during the same century correctly noticed that the cost of something relates to the time it took a paid laborer to produce it whilst utilizing all that "capital". In other words, the LCD might not be "4 times better" because the price difference relates to the cost of producing it and not its performance relative to competing products.

abvolt's picture

I just got a pair of these hp's and everything you said is very true, They are my new favorites now..

JRT's picture

I have both open LCD-X and enclosed LCD-XC (and others) and I significantly prefer the LCD-X over the LCD-XC, but sometimes need the isolation of the LCD-XC.

Matias's picture

I also had X and XC and significantly prefer the XC over the X, so that I sold the X. Kept both the isolation and preferred sound quality, yay.

X