Katz’s Corner Episode 14: Guest Listeners Shoot out Audeze LCD-4 vs. Focal Utopia Aaron Gandia
Aaron Gandia’s Listen/Eval
[Aaron says his tonal bias is to prefer warm and natural presentations. Most of the time he listened without his glasses as I requested (thanks, Tyll for the pointer). These are Aaron’s own words]
Photo 14-1. Aaron Gandia contemplates Nirvana
Alejandra Robles [see Episode 13 for descriptions of these recordings]:
Both headphones have very different qualities, but both in a good hi-fi way. Each headphone is built on a different point of view of how to go about it.
The Utopia is all about the top end. It has a lot of definition, but some upper frequencies are getting over emphasized. It’s missing the bottom octave 20-50 Hz. From 60-200 it seems a little underwhelming. I don’t get the same dynamic range that I get in the upper mids, which is also a problem I observe in Focal Beryllium tweeters. I always feel the sensitivity of the Focal tweeter is too much. [BK note: Spoken like a true loudspeaker designer]. Dynamic material sounds harsh. It’s deemphasizing the presence of the bass instrument and pushes it back, making it a much smaller instrument. It sounds like from 300 Hz below it’s shelved downward, thinner.
The LCD-4 has a fuller representation of the music. I hear to the lowest depths of what I would expect from a premium headphone. The bass and the lower mid seem more dynamic in comparison to the Focals and the response is what I would expect. The LCD-4 gives the appearance of a wider stereo image. Even though the Focal is just as wide, its greater brilliance range produces a comparative lack of stereo separation in the mids. Because of the representation of the low end on the LCD-4s the placement of each instrument in the soundstage is different. Comparatively, the Focals move too many instruments forward. I felt with the LCD-4, fewer instruments got in the way of the vocal than with the Focal. Going back and forth between one headphone and the other, I want to hear more top end detail from the Audeze. But once you settle on the Audeze it seems to have adequate top end up to a certain frequency. Comparatively, the LCD-4 bass is fuller and richer and it’s easier to focus on the bass instrument.
Ray Charles and Norah Jones, Here We Go Again:
The Focal Utopia does not seem to prejudice the male versus the female vocal, which is a good sign. Its tonal balance is consistent for both the male and female vocalists. Dynamics: The Focals almost make me think the whole mix is less dynamic, but the snare pops out more on the Focal than on the LCD-4. So there’s more dynamic range in the Focal on the top end. But the Focals are giving me more dynamic range in only a small portion of the music.
The Audeze LCD-4: I feel the dynamic movement throughout the song more than with the Focals. I hear more subtlety and nuance than on the Focals.
FB Pocket Orchestra, I Lost My Girl From Memphis:
Focal: Makes this brighter arrangement so bright and there’s so much high register stuff I’m not sure I could listen to a whole album on these cans. But there’s a lot of good high end definition and harmonic resolution on the top end of the brass.
Audeze: I wish it had a pinch (only a pinch) of what the Focals have but not all of it! If you start listening to this piece on the Audeze you get used to it, but going the opposite way it sounds more fun on the Focals because all the detail lives in the high register on this song.
Aaron next listened to some of his unreleased mixes. First up, a highly-compressed pop song:
LCD-4: On this highly compressed song, the singer sounds like he is in my head singing to me, more like a real performance.
Focals: In contrast this sounds more like a really good recording or transcription, as opposed to a real performance. On a compressed song like this, I can see why many listeners prefer the Focals. If you listen to a lot of strongly compressed pop music you might prefer the Utopias to the LCD-4s.
Next, an acoustic, open but processed song:
LCD-4: I can hear every subtlety that I created way better than I even heard it in my room with loudspeakers! This is very revealing. I’m sold on the LCD-4s: Acoustic reality!
Focal: Sound very good. I enjoy them a lot. I can hear the changes but the lead vocal sounds like a representation of the source, like I’m watching a movie on a good projector, while with the Audeze, the music is in my head, I’m with the performers.
Morph the Cat by Donald Fagen:
Focal: Sounds real good with this, real enjoyable. The whirly stereo effect sounds really cool. I hear the high hat direct sound where it’s supposed to be but the rest of the details of the hat are missing...the ambience of the room which should be beside the high hat is missing. Still, I enjoyed this recording a lot on the Focals. My conclusion is if you want to listen to music critically and be critical as well as musical, then choose the LCD-4s but if your goal is just enjoyment, you’ll be fine with the Focals; I can really enjoy the music on both sets of excellent headphones.
LCD-4: Wow! Can I take these home!!! I can detect the smearing of the high hat image, discover that the high hat is panned outward from the overheads so I hear the initial transient of the high hat from outside but the bleed of the high hat from the room is inward from that edge. [BK note: Spoken like a true mixing engineer!].
You Lied (52nd Street Blues Project):
Focals: The imaging is great. Who did this recording!!! It’s fantastic. It has a lesser transient response than the LCD-4s, it’s a skewed transient response.
LCD-4s: I hear paper rustling and claps moving in front of the mike. I hear more details on these than on the Focals. Conclusion: The Focals are great listening to music but the critical listening you can do with the LCD-4s is amazing. The LCD-4 transient response is more coherent and over a wider frequency range, on each music auditioned for this test.
Aaron Gandia’s ratings
Scale 1-10 with 10 being the best it can get.
|Attribute||Audeze LCD-4||Focal Utopia|
|Comfort||9 (because they’re so heavy, but the cushions are so great you quickly forget any initial comfort issues)||10|
|Accuracy bass- sub 20-40||9.5, because a little hyped||7|
|Accuracy Mid bass 50-80||9.5||9|
|Accuracy Upper bass 80-110||9||9.5|
|Accuracy Low mids 200-1k||9||9.5|
|Accuracy mids 2k-5k||10||9.5|
|Accuracy Upper mids 5k-8k||10||9.5|
|Accuracy Treble 9k-12k||9||9.5 excessive|
|Accuracy Extreme Treble 13k+||8.5 (a bit attenuated)||9.5 but a bit hyped|
|Wow! Factor (Impressiveness of sound)||10||8.5|
|Transparency/Clarity||9.5 because of the top end being down a bit||8|
|Impact and transient response||10 (very even from bottom to top)||9.5 (but they punch better in the mid bass)|
|Any harshness (10 means none)||10||10|
|Design and look||Bulky but functional||Well thought out, modern, stylish and beautiful, very attractive|