Audeze LCD-X Headphones Review
Are Audeze one of the best headphones for music and mixing?
The In-Depth Review
Early Eye and Ear Impressions
The most money I have ever spent on headphones is around $300, for Sony WH-1000mx3 noise cancelling headphones. With the Audeze LCD-X headphones four times the price, I asked myself whether the quality can be four times better. Do you have to spend over $1,000 if you aspire to buy the best headphones money can buy?
Let's first look at whether the construction and materials used justify the price premium. The Audeze LCD-X are open back, meaning they are not meant to keep the sound out of the environment, like closed back or even noise cancelling headphones. Now, I wanted to review the Audeze as studio headphones for music production, mixing and mastering. With the open back construction, microphone recordings in the same room are out of the question due to natural audio spill from the headphones. But for mixing and mastering, I was hoping to encounter a more controllable listening environment than my Genelec 2080 speakers* in my untreated room.
Did you know you pronounce Audeze "Odessey", not "Audeeze"? I didn't.
The Audeze LCD-X headphones look expensive. They are heavy, weighing in at around 600g, probably due to their use of large magnets as part of the Planar Magnetic Technology. They are big and solid, with most parts made from metal. I was concerned about the comfort instantly, but more of that later. The Audeze headphones however will not win a beauty contest in my opinion. They look quality, yes, but have a stark industrial, high-tech look about them in all black that is not too attractive in my view.
The Creator version I was loaned by Audeze came well packaged with a high quality, sturdy metal case with custom foam inserts. I can imagine the case withstanding some knocks, or even taking them on an air plane to mix somewhere else. You have to first insert the cable into both the headphones and your headphone amplifier. The mini XLR connector felt fine to me, requiring a specific orientation to insert them, and clicking reassuringly into place so you cannot accidentally unplug them. There is a small release button if you wish to remove or replace the cable, or store it in the carry case. As picky as it may sound, it was unclear to me which connector goes into which side, so I had to consult the manual. It turns out the connector with the small red sleeve goes into the right side, the other connector into the left side.
When the Devil wears Prada, do Angels wear Audeze?
Given the heavy duty construction and heavy weight, I was concerned about comfort when wearing the Audeze LCD-X. In practice, I didn't find the headphones too heavy on my head. Only when I wore the Audeze for over 1h at a time, did the LCD-X start to feel a tight and slightly uncomfortable on the top of my head. But not to the point where I could not wear them longer if needed.
The ear pads of the Audeze headphones supplied to me for the test were made from soft and supple leather. Vegans don't worry. You can choose a leather-free option as an alternative. The ear pads enclosed my ears with a snug fit, yet with not too much pressure on my head. Audeze offers a good warranty: 3 years on the drivers, and 1 year on the ear pads/ head band and cables. But then for the price you would expect that.
What really matters in the end is the sound, of course. Audeze promises us an ace up their sleeve: Planar Magnetic Technology. Is this just a fancy marketing term? We don't think so. There is a real difference in the construction of the how sounds are created.
Most headphones use dynamic cone drivers, which are basically mini speakers. The drawback is that those drivers can struggle to move the amount of air needed to accurately reproduce bass frequencies.
Magnetic planar technology, in contrast, due to its different construction and materials, allows for more uniform movement of air at low frequencies, and they react quicker to changes in amplitude.
The $1,200 question is: Does this fancy technology translate into a fabulous sound?
The Sound of Magnets
Immediately, I was impressed. The Audeze LCD-X sounded open, immersive and transparent. I noticed far less distortion than my speakers, and cheaper headphones. The Audeze appeared to translate music into a less compressed experience, by rendering a more dynamic reproduction.
While I did not conduct a technical measurement, I could not detect a marked frequency peak or dip across the frequency range. The Audeze headphones sounded neutral, just like you want it for mixing and mastering. Yes, I would describe the Audeze as more clinical than pleasing. But this is a benefit when producing, mixing and mastering music. The low end impressed me most of all. I could not believe my ears how low the Audeze headphones could go. So I tested it. By applying a brickwall high cut filter, I confirmed I could hear sub bass at 30-40 Hz.
Not only was the frequency response neutral and extending into sub bass. The way the Audeze headphones handled transients impressed me most. I noticed sharp transients like snares can sound a bit distorted in other headphones, and they can resonate for longer. Not so in the Audeze. The attack phase was instant with no noticable lag, and the decay sounded more precise and shorter in my impression.
Overall, the Audeze LCD-X easily shows flaws in your music and sound. Which is highly desirable for music producers and engineers. That is why Audeze LCD-X are a strong contender to be one of the best headphones for mixing. I would also use the Audeze headphones as another environment to listen to my mixes, in addition to studio speakers, car stereo, ear phones, laptops and other such places where music is consumed nowadays.
In the absence of room interference that speakers can introduce, and given the Audeze are easily portable, these headphones could be a quality listening environment away from your studio.
Finally, what was noticeable was the precise imaging. I was able to precisely place sounds in the stereo field, more so than using my speakers or other headphones. The Audeze LCD-X sounded almost surround.
Listening to Reference Tracks
Ólafur Arnalds, JFDR: Back To The Sky
The Audeze LCD-X headphones sounded pleasingly open on this atmospheric track, with strong imaging throughout. The depth and accuracy of the electronic percussion coming in and out throughout the track was exceptional. JFDR's voice was centred and felt intimate, as if she sang from a stage in the middle of my head. The cello sounded so full character I could almost smell the wood and rosin.
Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm: 20:17
At first I was startled and looked around, as the noises at the start of the track sounded so immersive and surround-like, I thought somebody dropped something behind me in my room. Subtle noises coming from the prepared piano were expertly captured by the Audeze, amplified by the room reverberation, and both brought the track to life more than my Genelec speakers.
Donald Fagen: Snowbound
Donald Fagen's 1993 release Snowbound lets the Audeze LCD-X show off the precision with which it can reproduce the gnarly Rhodes keyboard. I never noticed the clattering bass notes Donald plays on this keyboard at 0:12. The Audeze headphones excel in playing snappy drum transients, with a snare as tight as a rock, and the room reverb sounding just as Walter Becker, the other half of Steely Dan and the producer, must have intended.
Peter Gabriel: Sledgehammer
Synths to the left, brass on right, with Tony Levin’s bass, the Chapman Stick, filling out the bottom end, and Peter's voice sitting right on top. This classic 1980s track still sounds epic on the Audeze headphones. The imaging is so precise, I can imagine mixing complex multi-tracks across the stereo field is eminently easy.
Norah Jones: Sunshine
The Audeze made Norah Jones' raspy voice sound intimate and personal. Such a sparse track, with a wide dynamic range, helps these headphones shine through a wide stereo field.
Martin Garrix, Tove Lo: Pressure
I chose this as a reference track due to its sparse arrangement for an electronic track, and dominating bass synth sound. The Audeze LCD-X mastered the challenge with aplomb. The bass sounded wide, warm, without nasty resonances or overtaking the track. I had never noticed the subtle slap delay at 0:40, a very short ping pong delay from left to right in the synth melody. The Audeze revealed this extra layer.
NGHTMARE, Subtronics: Nuclear Bass Face
When I want to test the bass response, I used Nuclear Bass Face as the reference track. For me, this is the ultimate test of the bass response and dynamics across the whole frequency spectrum, with it being so loudly limited, aggressive track. I could hear the bass drop before the main drop at 0:45 all the way down the frequency spectrum. The following drop hit so hard, the snare felt literally someone hitting you in the face with a drum stick, yet I was able to discern the room decay.
kx5, deadmou5, Kaskade: Escape (feat. Hayla)
With the signature warm pulsing synths deadmou5 injected into this track, the Audeze headphone's transient was what I was listening out for. I noticed the kick was well controlled, with a short decay, sounding punchy, not muddy.
Flux Pavilion: Twitterbird
Twitterbird is another electronic reference track to help me judge dynamics, transients, frequency control and imaging. Noticeably, the hi-hats were fizzing left and right. I heard a depth of sound, noticing the warm reverb on the melody, which sounded pleasing. Chocalate melted when the warm bass sequence kicked in, whilst being wide and full. I noticed the cow bell in the percussion track for the first time, which makes me think the Audeze LCD-X could make a predictable precision tool for mixing.
Edvard Grieg, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra: Peer Gynt Suite no.1 op.46, II. Ases dod (The Death of Ase)
The final two reference tracks I chose were classic music. I have enjoyed many live classical orchestras, and it is never experienced the stirring emotions this evoked listening to recordings. The emotional character and acoustics are so hard to capture. Having said that, headphones usually do not as rich as the Audeze headphones when I play classical music. Overall, however, I felt the Audeze were competent rather than impressive.
Johann Sebastian Bach: Toccata und Fuge D-Moll BWV 565
Now on this classical track, the Audeze headphones came into its own. The wide frequency spectrum hit me straight away, from highs to lows, the natural cathedral reverb coming across rich yet defined. Listening to the organ transported me back to when I once stepped into Cologne Cathedral, and I was blessed to listen to the organist rehearsing, with a stunning ambient sound. Another track lifted by the Audeze headphones.
All Reference Tracks on the musicmanta Spotify Reference Playlist
Going The Extra Mile: Audeze Reveal+ Software
Audeze offer a payable piece of software that claims to personalise the headphone sound, and re-create different studio environments. What sounded particularly intriguing was how the personalisation is conducted. You take a picture of your ear, send it to Audeze, and they claim to use this for personalising the sound profile in the Reveal+ software.
This sounds more complicated than it was. The set up was fairly easy, with videos provided on how to take the photo of your right ear, and a QR code to help you upload your photo.
Now I was dubious to put this mildly before I tried Audeze Reveal+. And I have to say, I was right to be. I did not hear much difference when personalising the sound. In addition, the software offers a few studio emulations. To my ears, those sounded worse, insofar as they introduced a more coloured, less neutral frequency spectrum.
The software is expensive at $199 full price, discounted to $99 when you buy Audeze headphones such as LCD-X. A 14 days trial is however available.
The Test Rig
- Version Tested: Audeze LCD-X Headphones*, Creator Package with Leather Earpads. Provided for a two week long loan to conduct the review by Audeze, fulfilled via Scan Computers.
- Headphone Amp: Universal Audio Apollo Twin mkII*.
- Reference Tracks: Spotify Playlist. Logic Pro X Demo Songs (Billie Eilish: Ocean Eyes, Lil Nas X: Montero)
- Computer Used: Apple iMac 5K 27-inch, 4 GHz Quad Core Intel i7, 32 GB RAM, macOS Catalina.
The Pros and Cons
- Impressively wide frequency range down to below 40 Hz
- Sounds neutral and revealing across the spectrum
- Precise imaging that sounds almost surround
- Outstanding transient response
- Sturdy build quality that should last
- 30 day return policy - time to try and to make up your mind
- High quality comes at a high price
- Not the most comfortable headphones when wearing for longer
I was sceptical. How can headphones be worth $1,200? Do they sound much better than headphones, which are 10 times cheaper?
The short answer is yes.
These Audeze LCD-X are by far the best pair of headphones ever to grace my head. The sound is simply stunning, like having a studio wrapped around my head. The headphones sound balanced and revealing from the lowest lows to the highest highs. I could hear as low as 30-40 Hz through the Audeze. I heard little distortion, compared to other headphones or my monitors. The imaging is top notch, and I was able to discern sounds across a wider stereo field, which almost sounded surround. What impressed me the most are the transients. Attacks and decays of short sounds were extremely accurate.
The Audeze LCD-X are a marvel of technology, translated into one of the best headphones for music, mixing and mastering.
Get this if you want one of the best headphones on the market.
Don't get this if you cannot afford this expensive piece of kit.
Audeze LCD-X headphones:
$1,199 Creator Package: Audeze LCD-X Headphones, standard single-ended 1/4" braided OCC copper cable and economy travel case. Leather or Leather-Free ear pads.
$1,699 Premium Package: Audeze LCD-X Headphones, 4-pin balanced XLR and single-ended 1/4" braided OCC Copper cable, a 1/4" to 1/8" stereo adapter, and premium travel case for the toughest protection. Leather or Leather-Free ear pads.
Audeze Reveal+ Software:
$199 Lifetime Purchase or $99 Lifetime Purchase, discounted when bought together with Audeze LCD-X, LCD-XC, or LCD-MX4)
$9.99 Monthly Subscription
Discounts, Deals & Demos
- Bill Schnee: Musician, Mastering Engineer and Producer
- Iain Cook: Musician in Chvrches
- Marc Daniel Nelson: Mix Engineer and Producer
- Brent Burge: Oscar winning sound editor
The Other Reviews
4 December 2021
"I found the LCD-X headphones to be the perfect 'final arbiter.' They were useful well after I had finished a mix to my satisfaction on monitor speakers, or when I would later hear the mastered version."
3 December 2021
"Incredibly detailed headphones that can be used for studio monitoring."
"The LCD-X is an incredible headphone that wows with its detail, instrument separation, and imaging. The LCD-X is a headphone that just sounds confident in its technicalities, and it responds incredibly well to EQ. From music producers to music lovers, the LCD-X can satisfy anyone looking for excellent sound."
"As for the flagship LCD-X — well, they are in a class of their own. If the idea of spending a four-figure sum on a pair of headphones seems ridiculous to you, these might just change your mind."