Katz’s Corner Episode 14: Guest Listeners Shoot out Audeze LCD-4 vs. Focal Utopia

[Editor's Note: Through a long and tedious process it was found that the Focal Utopia and Audeze LCD-4 reviewed here at InnerFidelity in numerous articles were found to be not representative of currently manufactured product. This article is therefore not entirely indicative of our current impressions of this product. To get a complete understanding of our evaluation the reader should start with this summary article and work back through the articles leading up to our current understanding.]

It’s nice to hear different listeners’ perspectives: Each listener brings something different to the table. I learned a lot about how different people perceive sound and their preferences when putting together this post about experienced listeners listening. Our quintet of expert listeners consists of:

  • Aaron Gandia, chief engineer of Phat Planet Studios in Orlando; he is a recording, mixing and mastering engineer and also an audiophile-grade loudspeaker designer. He’s produced two excellent loudspeaker systems which impress me with their tonal accuracy and impact.
  • Matt Davis is my intern; he is a professional mastering engineer, a musician and an audiophile; he has a BS in music engineering, a Master in Music Technology, and is studying for his masters in Electrical Engineering.
  • Andrew Diaz is one of my mixing engineers, with a discerning ear, he’s a graduate of Full Sail. He’s learned a lot from me about how to mix recordings, how to analyze subtle sonic differences, balance instruments and produce space and depth in mixes. Andrew’s working with a team of professional musicians looking for a Grammy, let’s wish Andrew the best!
  • Paige Coley has an A.S. degree in Music Production and Sound Technology. She’s a musician, member of a rock band, producer and mixing engineer.
  • Veit Renn is a music producer and engineer. He’s a great vocal producer, was the producer for N’Sync and Back Street Boys and many other styles including straight ahead jazz and smooth jazz. You can find Veit’s credits at allmusic.com or rennmusic.com. He is also a professor at Full Sail University teaching audio engineering techniques.

There’s a lot to learn about these two phones from expert listeners’ nuanced responses. More than one of my listeners is sitting on the fence about which headphone he (or she) prefers, very much depending on the application. Each listener has a different preference for attributes such as detail and space. I present them in the order I interviewed each participant, and also the order in which they listened to the headphones since I alternated which was auditioned first for each musical cut.

Photographer Mary Kent kindly produced lovely formal portraits of all but one of the participants with her Nikon and excellent eye. I took Aaron Gandia’s photo with my Iphone. Let’s meet and greet our herd of hearers.

Serious's picture

I admit I haven't read all of it yet, but so far it seems to me this is more a FR comparison between the two headphones and not a test of their inherent capabilities. Might make more sense to compare them EQed.
In the end I'd still take my modded HD800 over either phone, but apart from FR I don't see why I would take the LCD-4 over the Utopia. The Utopia sounds weird tonally and the LCD-4 isn't that great either, tonally speaking.

Also all of the rankings feel too heavily biased towards the upper end of the spectrum, as if the lower 5-7 points were meaningless. For example comfort ... how the hell can a headphone even get a good comfort rating? If speakers are a 9 or 10 I'd maybe put the HD800 at 6 and Utopia at 4 (too much clamping) and LCD-4 at 3 (too heavy and too much clamp). It's never comfortable to wear headphones. I find my CIEMs much better and those are annoying too.

bogdanb's picture

this is more of a letter than a comment.
I just love how you and your talks with Tyll made me aware of what mastering can do. But it was not until recent that I did actually end up not buying an album because it really sounded horrible.

Who am I and what I bought- Long story longer:
My audiophile, connoisseur path started with headphones. I might have bought my speakers system before the first pair of headphones, but I really can't tell for sure. I remember clearly spending a lot of time searching for the first affordable set of headphones. Tyll convinced me of the Sony MDR zx700, a year or so later I bought the NAD viso's HP50. I went to all the shops that let me listen to headphones in Romania at the time and I head the pleasure to sample listening to 6-7 different types, among which the hd 800's. It was a joy searching for a set, ended up blind ordering a set of HP 50's and I don't regret that, ended up buying another set since the first one broke for a second and final time - story could be longer.

You talk a lot about how different headphones sound, and that is so important when I buy new stuff. What I find really important: fit, comfort clearly, the forgiveness factor also has a big role, TONAL BALANCE oh yeah that is extremely important. Something you talk less is "soundstage" spacing stuff, probably I have an issue with my HP 50's imaging close to my ears and never imaging something 2 cm further than the axis between my ears and thus making me interested in the next upgrade.

To the point:
I was obsessed with flac, 88/96 stuff and listening to variances setting my mac's digital output. A month or so ago I was lost in some youtube recordings. WOW, even my HP'50s if I close my eyes I would imagine perfectly and the recordings were so detailed. Never my ears were so exited by sound. these guys audiotree make some live recording stuff on youtube. wow! I did not find a copy on an album of a certain band that sounded as nice as the recording they did. So I listen it of youtube. Hardcore audiophiles will probably want to shoot me right now.
It was a time a watched all the review sites for headphones. I stopped and I fallow 99% innerfidelity. I learned more from here that anywhere else about audio. chapeau!

why not talk about who does good recordings and review them too. Also companies, also teams of engineers.
David Chesky, Audiotree and other's I might not have heard of.
Or just let's talk more about this. help me and others understand why it is good and if it is good audio, and help us discern better. (I can pm you with the exact examples that make me write all this)
Isn't it your target to help us listen to good audio!?

Thank you!

P.S. yap a PS was needed :) it was hard to write and edit what to say to explain correctly myself, present myself and present what is my point while on a post about extremely expensive headphones. Sorry and thank you!

ADU's picture

Fwiw, I think you did a very nice job expressing yourself. I love Romanian music btw, esp. "Doctor" Costi (and his lovely Bulgarian friend, Andrea), Sava, A. Balan, and the G Girls.
(LOL) But many others as well. : )

Kpop (and some Albanian pop) is my current obsession at the moment though. Fwiw, you can find some of my favorite down-tempo Kpop tracks in the Comments here...

Taeyeon and Ailee are two of my favorites...

I'll try to put my thinking cap on, and suggest a few cantareti romani as well.

I agree btw that tonal balance is extremely important. But it's also one of the easiest characteristics of headphones to correct, especially on closed HPs.

ADU's picture

Taeyeon and Ailee are two of my favorites...

There are some fairly loud station IDs at the end of these 3 videos. So watch volume levels toward the end.

markus's picture

Somebody get Mr Diaz a real good amp! Sub-bass presence and separation are not dynamics.

hanshopf's picture

Thank you so much for these detailed expert-impressions! With these highly resolving headphones even slight product variances can fundamentally change one's impressions. I listened to four pairs of Utopia (three of them at the same day and two of them side by side, all of them with the same amp and music) and all of them sounded differently, ranging from harsh and loosely defined to very well grounded and spot-on neutral. They even differed in size with different clamping pressure on my (small) head. I also had a listen to LCD-4, but obviously had a "bad" sample of that one. Conclusion: no end to the debate... .

Jim Tavegia's picture

I will bet that Bob can almost (almost) make each set of cans sound nearly identical. The trick is how to do that in as transparent a way as possible.

For most of us it is cheap and easy these days to buy a dual 31 band EQ, but to do it right I am thinking that you must do at least Rane quality, and probably better to not mess with the phase relationships that reside in all music.

I eagerly await this next installment. I should add that I was able to sell my Focal Spirit Pros to someone who does not have hearing loss like I do and was able to replace them with a 3rd pair of AKG K271s that I really enjoy in my studio. They work best for me and my hearing deficiencies.

We just replaced the speaker system in our church and something is really amiss as it sounds very bad to me, much worse than what we had before. It is clearly not EQ'd right for our sanctuary. I am resisting saying anything as I do not want to hurt anyones' feelings.

Jazz Casual's picture

Thanks to you Bob and your colleagues for this series. It's been an interesting one to follow and I look forward to the next episode. It's outraged some Utopia fans over at Head-Fi, which is to be expected and has been amusing to witness.

LMagoo's picture

Great to hear how several people perceive the sound of two different 'phones. Especially having a gal on board to get her takes in makes for a interesting read! Great work!

Bob Katz's picture

Thanks so much guys for your kind words (and even your disparaging words :-). For those Focal fans who are quite miffed at the results, the best I can suggest is you send your better-sounding Focal sample down here and I'll compare it with the LCD-4 again, as objectively as I can, and even bring in some other listeners for opinions. I would have to say that the LCD-4 and the Utopia have both become controversial cans since Tyll is not so thrilled and is quite thrilled with the Utopia, while John Atkinson and Bob Katz love the LCD-4. All reviewers say that their favorites are either "best I've ever heard" or "worthy of great merit". Is it possible that having different samples of the Focal, which seems to be quite variant, could be the cause of this controversy? I'm 100% convinced that I do not like the Focal's stridency, I wouldn't ever have it in this room, and most of my expert listeners concurred with the comparison. So the gauntlet is thrown.... bring your Focal samples here and compare for yourselves. We'll report here and not obfuscate! Personallly I'm skeptical, I've not been seduced by the bright side of the force. We shall see if Focal can give us a sample that's radically improved from the one that I got to hear.

in my next episode not only will I be EQ'ing and comparing Stax vs. Audeze but also have an improved DAC that almost makes me want to hear the Focal all over again. And the beat goes on :-)

hanshopf's picture

Hi Bob, I'd send my Utopias, but am based in Germany, which makes it a bit impractical. But I am not a fan anyway and with my initial pair had the same issues as all of you had with your pair. Of the four pairs I had the chance to listen to only one has been really excellent without any issues in FR.
My current pair are so spot on neutral (ok, still lacking sub bass), that remaining issues are only soundstage (but greatly improved with crossfeed) and comfort.
The drivers a rather small, which is one reason why the sound changes significantly with position. Even a millimeter up or down your head changes FR. The steps on the headband are rather rough. I put paper tissues of different sizes under the headband until I found the perfect fit to "fine tune" the FR.
In a system which is so sensitive to even slight positional changes it's no wonder that there are variances in production. It may even be impossible to build these headphones more consistently. Anyway, for that prize they should listen to each pair individually before selling them and sort out some of the lesser than ideal ones. The same seems to apply for Audeze.

Bob Katz's picture

It seems that unit-to-unit variation in headphone response, especially with the Focal and possibly with the Audeze... is a problem. But we cannot say it's "position on the ears" because six listeners (including me) is a pretty good combined assessment of a single unit.

The poster who denied the reports based on saying that I am the other expert listeners mentors sounds like someone who would deny global climate change on the basis of a snowfall in his back yard. Re-read the biographies of each of the expert listeners, and their entire unexpurgated comments before leaping to conclusions. Some of my experts would be insulted at your thoughts that they were influenced by my own conclusions, especially those of my listeners who have Grammys and major credits on their walls which were certainly not obtained through my influence :-). If your hobby is reading between the lines, then your glasses must be fogged.

In short, you are entitled to your opinion, but it should be clear to most of the readers here that the aggregate opinions of six expert listeners has a lot of weight. By all means loan me your sample of Focal Utopia and I'll ask some independent experts to come in and write down their own opinions without me being in the room and we'll see if the results are any different.

Or maybe we should just attribute your post to your personal prejudices and let the reviews in toto speak for themselves.

hanshopf's picture

I did not want to be understood as if I meant "it's position on the ears". My first sample of Utopias sounded harsh and unfocused even after several experiments with slightly different positions. My point is that Utopias are more sensible to positioning than most other headphones and that - in case you are lucky to get a "good" sample - one should put some effort in finding the ideal positioning.

The other poster whom you are also referring to in reply to my post seems to be the naughty type of person. Best to ignore these guys, who rudely complain about something other persons are doing for free.

Bob Katz's picture

You seem a very sensible guy! Forgive me for misinterpreting your post about position, because you are right. Anyway, I figure if 6 people are switching back and forth between two headphones and each time putting brand A and B back on their heads, that we get a good average of positions. It seems to me If it takes serious time to find the best position for a given headphone that headphone should not be rated so high.

I'm happy I took the bait from the "nasty" poster.... It gave me a chance to defend some of my expert listeners who are quite independent in their thoughts, as anyone who read Aaron, Veit or Paige's reports would have to agree! Yes, there is some unscientific prejudice in there, but I certify that I transcribed each listener's reactions verbatim, and furthermore, I sent each one a copy of their report to proof read and ensure that I had transcribed their reactions accurately! It's as scientific as this underpaid reviewer knows how to get :-).

Best wishes and thanks,


hanshopf's picture

Hi Bob,

you are right, the Utopia is of course overrated: it's too expensive for having to try several samples and experiment with head-position. I'd rather prefer another headphone to sound as perfect for me as they do! But the Stax 007 needs a port mod and some expert knowledge to find a suitable sample (ranging from Mk1 to Mk2.9 or something?) and the Audeze is heavy like a stone and needs additional EQ and some luck with the stability of their drivers. Seems, we are living in world full of overrated things. Starting to get philosophical... . ;)

24bitbob's picture

A bunch of guys are asked by their boss / mentor to confirm a prejudice that he already holds. There should be no surprise that the results are what they are.

A more interesting result would arise if the 'match' were to take place on neutral ground, with an unbiased referee.

Maybe this comment is tad poor taste; like vinegar for a bee sting perhaps.

tomb's picture

sort of glad someone else said it first, though. Still, kudos to Tyll for publishing opposing views.

amartignano's picture

Thank you for the very interesting multi-user comparison with different tracks. It has been a very good read. But I have a small critic: the absence of a good recording symphonic orchestra track, maybe one of the few cases in which we can have an idea of a sort of a "root mean square" reality to compare the headphones to. This is an "issue" seen in many reviews. By the way, good work!

Bob Katz's picture

Agreed... It was my prejudice that picked each of the tracks that we used for each of their attributes and did not include a classical symphonic recording. But in the next episode you will see that the Vienna Philharmonic plays a pivotal role as tie breaker.

Keep in mind that the "You Lied" cut which is totally live and audiophile, is as natural a recording as can get and recorded in a similar fashion to how symphonic recordings are made. Coming from an audiophile background I tend to pick recordings, even pop recordings, which have a natural tonality. That's the only defense I can give for having missed using a symphonic recording in this group of samples.

amartignano's picture

Ooohh the gorgeous sound of the Wieners... :) Thank you for the reply Mr. Katz.

MRC01's picture

I also noted the lack of a music source consisting of pure acoustic sounds. If reality - the sound of acoustic music in natural spaces - is the absolute reference, it's hard to compare sonics against the absolute reference if you don't have the absolute reference. I'm glad you're including this in the next round. It would be great to hear both small (soloist, chamber music) and large ensemble (symphony, choir).

tony's picture

Beats latest headphones do better than 5, I'm told.

Of course you folks are Audio Professionals, who work with performing Artists, whom you record First Generation and are quite adjusted to near perfection, as technology permits.

On balance, I know people that feel Bose loudspeakers are superb ( all models from cheapest to the 901s )

I'm suspecting that your numerical ratings are not 100% to 50% but rather 100% to 95% in range. It's simply that you are probably intolerant of less than 100%, as I would expect from Pro people.

I'm thinking that these Headphone Manufacturers should have "critical" ears working Quality Control just as we Auto Manufactures have our "Final Inspection" team at the end of every process. ( Ideally )

If I'm Focal, I'm already knowing about this TEST and sending a responsible technical person down to Florida to investigate, unless they already know they have a problem. ( my CEO would have two engineers down there doing discovery and reporting )

Darn smart of Mr.Katz to have a group's confirmation of this problem.

To Focal: I'll expect a full report, on my desk, in the morning! and I'll expect an complete final ( traceable ) inspection of each individual headphone to be included with each headphone. This is exactly the sort of thing that can't be tolerated!!! The entire Brand is suffering.

Tony in Michigan

ab_ba's picture

Sounds to me like we need Big Sound 2017!

Since getting the Utopias I've gotten way more into vinyl. There's just a beautiful synergy between vinyl's warmth and the clarity of the Utopias. I think that goes along with what these listeners describe.

I am very eager to try the LCD-4's side by side with the Utopias. I'm not sure my goal for headphones is that they sound like speakers in a room. Rather, they provide a different perspective on music - headphones can convey mirco-detail that only the best speakers can render.

Bob Katz's picture

If we're going to have the LCD-4s against the Utopias at Big Sound, let's make sure that each one is a pair which an experienced listener says represents the best that each brand can deliver. There's a lot of concern about unit-to-unit variations. I know that Audeze made certain that my LCD-4s met specs as they made this pair knowing it was for me and I waited two-three weeks for it.

tony's picture

Something is causing a wide range of performance, something intermittent. These transducers can't perform such a wide range of qualities between listener without a causal source.

2% to 3% variance could be acceptable, 20% to 30% variance points to multiple problems.

Geez Bob, if I have 6 skilled individuals looking at something and they all report completely differing data, something is very wrong.

Tony in Michigan

ps. look for at least 3 causes.

MRC01's picture

Since HRTF varies significantly by individual, and it applies only to headphones not to speakers or source components, we expect more variance in opinions on which headphones sound most realistic than we do on speakers or source components.

hanshopf's picture

Good point, but I think a bit off the mark in this discussion, where we saw, that 6 experienced listeners had very similar impressions and only very gradual variance in opinions. HRTF variances seem to be a minor problem assessing headphones compared to other aspects. One of these seems to be unit-to-unit variations.

tony's picture

These performance numbers are all "over the map".

Harmon's Olive trains his listeners for his research purposes, kinda putting them all on the "same page" so to speak.

I would still like to see a proper audit, these results are exaggeratedly inconsistent. Even our Auto Industry performance ratings carry a "Your Milage May Vary" caution but vary by only a few percentage points despite some driver's aggressive driving style, like my wife, she manages to get only a few percentage points below established norms. This test is like my wife getting 1/2 of a car's MPG. rating with the next person getting 100% but the next getting 80%.

I've been to headphone meets where HeadFi's Jude brought a car full of headphone gear for everyone to try ( evaluate ), we even had a very wide range of amplification to use. A few headphones and two Amps were consistent in getting "outstanding" ratings : Sennheiser HD800 & Audeze 3 on a Valhalla 2 Amp with Russian Tubes. The Bottlehead also won vast approvals. We had most of the Schiit range on hand, including the RAG integrated and Yggy Dac.

Yes, we can expect some variance but not a 5 out of a possible 10 from a top performing headphone class transducer system, something or somethings are wrong.

Tony in Michigan

ps. we have an interesting puzzle here, I'm figuring Bob Katz is working this out and will report. Stay Tuned

Bob Katz's picture

I didn't see a wide range of variance among the listeners in this review. There was concensus on the sonic differences, just a variance in interpretation of the importance of those differences. In other words, while Paige was more inclined to the Focal than the other listeners (for certain purposes), she still agreed as to the nature of the difference in sonics between the two headphones.

tony's picture


The charts show a horror story. I'm expecting Focal to step-up, making me worry about Focal's support, hmmm.

Thanks for writing back,

Tony in Michigan

elmura's picture

I question the accuracy of the comparison when such different amplifiers are being used. An accurate comparison requires a level playing field. From source through to amp.

Bob Katz's picture

Hi guys. First of all, I made it clear in this and the previous episode that we carefully compared the Deckard against the AMB and they are effectively sister amplifiers, at least down to almost the sub bass range. So the amplifier is not, in my not so humble opinion, the cause of the differences.

Secondly, there are some VERY strong all acoustic recordings in the listening set. For example, "You Lied" is a purist audiophile all acoustic performance without amplification. There are natural sources including vocal at a distance from a stereo pair in a natural room ambience, and unamplified acoustic upright bass. There are other tracks of that sort, so acoustic sources were well represented in the gist of tracks used. No puzzle here: Be careful not to be seduced by the bright side :-). Bright, thin, and no bass is not better. Furthermore, given my ears, do you really think I would include an amplifier for audition that was not quite neutral tonally?

Nevertheless, there's more to discuss and some surprises in the next episodes with some sweeter-sounding amplifiers, but the Focal headphone is long gone so those of you who are stuck on it for some reason will not have it for comparison unless you want to send it down to me here for a new comparison with an even sweeter amplifier. Assuming it's not a bandaid, and in this case I don't think the new amplifier that I've got for testing is a bandaid. It could mollify the Focal, but you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. And I'm not a fan of using bandaids to "repair' tonal issues that shouldn't exist in the first place.... I stand by the judgments of the Focal Utopia which was supplied to me.

tony's picture

I'll accept your summary and keep it in the back of my mind that you had a bad sample of product.

You may have simply pulled the curtain back on a Manufacturing / Design problem. If I'm Focal I'd be all over this result, unless....

I'm staying on this exciting report series.

Tony in Michigan

Rthomas's picture

Dear Bob,

Thanks for arranging this amazing test with a panel of audio professionals who know what they should be hearing. Please ignore the marketing brainwashed people from Headfi who cannot comprehend the fact that two amps can sound the same and that you don’t need a $4000+ amp to ‘’properly’’ drive a high efficiency headphone.

They are currently busy discussing the merits of various $1500 to $3000 silver-gold cables, 1000 hour burn in times for the Utopias and of course for the cables and amps as well. Its better we leave them to it!

MRC01's picture

Bob, I got the same impression - observations were surprisingly consistent, even if they were expressed in different words and led to different preferences.

That's an important distinction: preferences are different from observations. Well-trained and experienced listeners are more likely to agree on observations than preferences. One thing I liked about this comparison is it was observation-focused, even though preferences were expressed.

quangtan's picture

I want to have it . Like a boss. camera wifi

JVG's picture

This was an interesting but frustrating read overall. I love the format of having multiple experienced listeners weigh in on the same comparison, and there is no such thing as unanimity of opinion, so I think everyone should relax a bit about the fact that Tyll and Bob have such different takes on these two headphones. It shouldn't be that surprising. That being said, the value of this multi-review and of Bob's personal review are undercut by what---I'm sorry, Bob---is a very flawed method of comparison and arrogant communication of the results.

The comparison is flawed for many reasons, first and foremost by the absurd and counterproductive idea of judging headphones against the "reference" of one specific speaker setup in one specific room. First of all, and most obviously, headphones are not speakers. The whole methodology is torpedoed by this false equivalence. Headphones and speakers have different strengths and weaknesses, different use cases, and their sound is perceived completely differently. Large multi-driver speaker systems interacting with room acoustics and traveling through large volumes of air to get to the listener are different than small single drivers strapped to your head and firing directly into your ears. I love speakers and headphones, but I couldn't possibly care less which headphones sound more like some particular pair of speakers. I care about which is the better headphone. Furthermore, even if we accept the headphone-speaker equivalency, the way you talk about your speaker rig, Bob, as if it is some objectively perfect and neutral reference against which all the world's sound reproduction devices can be measured, is, again, absurd on its face. I'm sure it is an amazingly good, well tuned rig, but it is but one of many amazingly good, well-tuned rigs belonging to countless other very talented and experienced audio professionals and enthusiasts around the world, all of which will incorporate different gear and exhibit countless differences in frequency response, timbral characteristics, room acoustics, and subjective personal preference. Which one is right? None---there is no such thing. So if you want to say the LCD-4s sound more like your speakers than the Utopias do, fine. But it simply does not follow that the LCD-4s are therefore the better headphones. The fact that all of these listeners' impressions were poisoned from the beginning by first listening to these tracks on that speaker system as the reference against which to compare the headphones means that the rest is of little value. Especially if the Audezes and the speakers had similar frequency response. We all know how easy it is for the brain to latch on to a certain balance, making another significantly different balance sound terribly wrong until the brain then adjusts to the new one. If these listeners got used to the speakers, and then tested one headphone with a very similar balance and another with a very different balance, the result is predictable. Combine that with a pre-existing conscious or subconscious expectation bias based on Bob's prior opinion, and it's even more so.

Other flaws have already been noted by others. The different amps driving the headphones is one, but I agree this is of only minor consequence and wouldn't account for hugely significant differences compared to the difference between the headphones. (Though the arrogant remark about how we should all simply accept your decree that the two amps are basically identical---based on....I don't know what exactly---doesn't help.) Much more significant is the almost complete lack of evaluation of anything beyond frequency response and tonal balance. I won't waste time explaining why this is such a huge failing of this comparison. Especially since we are talking about two completely different driver technologies.

Also very significant and previously mentioned is the lack of variety in musical material and the omission of classical music. This is important to me not only because that is my most frequently listened-to genre, but also because it offers the purest timbral reference coupled with a full and complete frequency range. The latter is especially important. It is much easier to evaluate and be bothered by tuning, frequency response, and timbral weirdness/non-linearities/holes when you have similar acoustic, unmanipulated instruments covering the whole range from the lowest notes of a string bass to the highest notes of a violin. Recordings that have bigger gaps between instrumental ranges and timbres and less complete coverage of the range much more easily hide these things.

Finally, your constant, not-so-subtle implications that your experience and expertise makes your rig and your subjective impressions infallible and that you don't care what the non Grammy-winning-mixing-engineers hear because they don't have your golden ears, do nothing but display hubris and a lack of recognition of the infinitely variable and subjective nature of this sort of thing. Let's start with the fact that Tyll thinks the complete opposite of what you think about these two headphones. He is not a recording professional, true. But frankly, it's obvious from your respective writings that he has exponentially more experience listening to and evaluating and comparing hi-fi headphones than you do. You are both experts, but you have different expertise. So whose opinion is more expert? Neither. You'll notice that he does not deliver his opinions as if they were handed down immaculately from on high and brook no disagreement. No one can argue that they are MORE qualified than Tyll to evaluate a pair of headphones, and yet he makes it clear that he respects conflicting opinions and recognizes the fundamentally subjective nature of this exercise. (He even PUBLISHED a rebuttal of his findings by the manufacturer of the headphones he reviewed negatively---an incredible display of open-mindedness and confidence that a conflicting opinion does not make his own any less valid.) Your lack of that understanding and your clear attitude that you are right and anyone who disagrees is wrong, including Tyll (even suggesting that if only he would come listen to your "perfect" speaker rig he would see the light and the error of his ways), makes you less credible, not more.

Where do I stand on the comparison? Nowhere. I've never heard the LCD-4. I'd love to, and when I have a chance, I hope that they are everything you say they are. I'm always happy when the bar is raised. And whether I end up agreeing or not, I believe that you honestly hold the opinion that you do, and that you are entitled to that opinion and that it is just as valid as the opinion of any other experienced listener.

I do own the Utopias, as well as the LCD-3s, the HD800s, HD650s, TH-X00 Ebonys, and several other lesser headphones. And I've owned many, many other models over the 15 years I've spent listening seriously to headphones. All I can say is that in my opinion, the Utopias are the best headphones I've heard overall. They are not perfect. They are slightly bright, they have a narrow band of slightly unnatural timbre in the upper mids, they could use a slight bump in the lower mids, and they have a smallish soundstage. And they are overpriced, as is pretty much any headphone in this price range. But as a complete package, they are the best I've heard. They do so much so very well, and so few things wrong.

For all I know, once I hear the LCD-4, I might agree that they are better. But if they share, in any way, the general character of the LCD-3s, I will not. There are things I love about the LCD-3---the strong, textured, even bass, and the very linear and natural response from the subbass to the low mids, for example. But in my opinion, they are deeply flawed headphones. The upper mids and low treble are extremely suppressed, and worse, in addition to being far too low in level, those regions are extremely muffled sounding, missing all the overtones and killing the timbre. The effect of this is that orchestral music sounds almost comically unnatural and wrong. (Some other types of music don't show this issue very clearly and can sound very good. It just depends. This is why the music selection for this comparison troubles me.) In addition, the high treble then suddenly comes out of nowhere, and sort of ends up sounding like distortion because it often consists of the high overtones of notes whose fundamentals are super low in the mix. Also, they sound extremely congested in busy, loud passages, which kills the energy and momentum of the music in these moments. Reading between the lines of Tyll's review, it sounds like these basic issues are still there in the LCD-4. As if the good aspects are even better but the bad aspects aren't completely fixed. Nothing about the measurements, or many other people's impressions compared to what they thought of the LCD-3, seem to indicate otherwise. Again, you obviously feel differently, and I haven't heard them, so I have no opinion. Just explaining why I feel the way I do about the Utopias and another Audeze headphone.

I've been a musician since I was 6 years old. I know what this music sounds like up close. I now work in the classical music industry in New York, and I attend performances by the world's best musicians multiple times a week. I know what this music sounds like as an audience member. When I put on a pair of headphones and listen to this type of music, I know whether it sounds right or not, to my ears, based on my experience. If your ears and your experience tell you something different, I'm not going to tell you you're wrong. But neither will I be told that I'm wrong. Rather, I'll ask what you think and why, and see what we agree on and where we have to agree to disagree.

Thank you for bringing another expert viewpoint to this website, but I'd encourage you to learn from how Tyll has made it such a good place for people to get informed, useful, balanced information in the first place. The forums have enough of the "people who like X and not Y headphone are idiots/shills/deaf" crowd who only deal in black and white, us vs them. We don't need it here.

daveemac's picture

Hi Bob

Thanks for sharing your tilt EQ suggestions for Oppo PM-3.

I've not yet been able to find an iOS EQ app that has tilt. Are you aware of any?

If not, what non-tilt EQ would you suggest for devices where tilt is unavailable?


Dub-Yeah's picture

After reading the first few paragraphs of the first article (The Katz comparison) I had kinda dismissed this whole experiment out of hand. I think it was pretty clear from the onset that Mr. Katz has a pretty strong affinity for the Audeze brand. And that affinity, even if acknowledged (which I'm not sure it ever was), is pretty hard to set aside when attempting to make an objective assessment.I would've been very surprised had he not found in favor of the LCD4.

All those tribal components of human nature, brand loyalty, and pride of ownership are strong enough for us to wrap "FORD" or "CHEVY" or PITTSBURGH STEELERS into our identity. They exert influence on us, whether we like it or not.

I had compared the Elear and the LCD2 and the Elear was in a different league than the LCD2. The LCD2 sounded anemic and lifeless in comparison. I figured Bob would gush about the LCD4 but I expected his roster of listeners to favor the Focal, assuming (WRONGLY) that the top shelf units from Focal and Audeze would compare similarly to their smaller siblings.

Apparently not. Instead Bob's roster of listeners seem to support his findings regarding the flagship models. I guess you can't judge a book by its cover.

The LCD4 may sound extraordinary, but I do think bringing it to market in the same basic chassis as the LCD2 and LCD3 makes the steep jump in price tough to swallow.

The carbon fiber headband looks tacky (to me), and because it is the same basic design with the same acoustics with the same cup volume, and overall shape, you're talking about an ADDITIONAL $2,0000 for just the new driver, since everything else is pretty much equal. That same criticism can be directed at Focal... The Utopia has the same driver configuration as the Elear, with more exotic materials and some carbon fiber thrown in.

I don't see a whole lot of value in that. I suppose if they did glitz up the LCD4 and change the chassis I'd be complaining about that too. That you're paying $2,000 for aesthetics. In some ways I suppose its more honest.

And I guess what has bothered me about this whole thing is it normalizes the price point.

Articles like this lend credence to these $4k and $5k specimens like there is value to be had. It makes inroads towards normalizing this trend. And I don't see these specimens as providing value to the market. I see them more as companies testing pricing thresholds. Can we get away with this?

If one company is able to move some units at $4k, 6 months later there are a half dozen more asking $3500 to $5k.

I see it as an aberration, unscrupulous pricing that outta be challenged or pushed back against.

If Sony can apply all the engineering and R&D assets they have at their disposal and bring a bonafide flagship to market for less than half the cost of these. WTF?

Sennheiser is one of the oldest and most storied headphone manufacturer in the world... And their (consumer) flagship is 1/3 the cost of these. WTF?

I appreciate that Bob and his team feel that the LCD4 is offering State of the Art sound. I just think $4k is too much for a headphone... And I don't want it to become normal.
I don't want to get to a point where $500 gets you "plastic entry level" and I think these $4k monsters are pushing it that direction.

Anyway, no offense, as I said, it got me thinking and that is better than most things on the internet these days.

Koyaani's picture

In my next episode I’ll reveal the EQ that I’ve cooked up that takes the LCD-4 from a solid A performer to an A+ standout, as well as compare them with the precious Stax 007 Mk2, both EQ’d and not EQ’d. You’ll never guess the winner of that shootout!

I was really looking forward to this episode, but you seem to have skipped it (there's #16 right after #14)... Quite frustrating. Did I miss something?