Audeze LCD-XC Headphones Review
Can the closed-back version match our 5 star rated Audeze LCD-X headphones?
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The In-Depth Review
When selecting headphones for music production and mixing, copious choices can go to your head. Where do you even start? Your budget is a good beginning. If you have more than $1,000 to spend, the Audeze LCD-X headphones are an excellent choice. We were immensely impressed by the sound quality and awarded them 5 stars.
Are you open or closed?
Sound and price are just some of the factors to consider. How you intend to use your headphones is essential. The Audeze LCD-X we tested before had one characteristic which may exclude it from typical studio applications: With its open-back design, sound spills from the headphones. Following perceived wisdom, the open-backed design sound of the LCD-X should sound better than a closed-back design. But in many situations, when audio spill should be minimal, closed-back headphones are better suited.
The question is, can you still achieve a top sound with a closed-back design? That is what Audeze promises with the Audeze LCD-XC, the closed-back version of the LCD-X. Let's explore whether they achieved this engineering feat or not.
Meet the metal head
Uncovering these mighty headphones is impressive. I measured the ear pad diameter at 12 cm (or 5 inches) in diameter. The outside of the ear pads looks like carbon fiber. But Audeze confirmed they made the ear pads from plastic, with a carbon fiber-looking wrap. Overall, the headphones feel sturdy and of high quality. The construction is mostly metal, with only outer covers, ear pads, and the headband made from other materials. The small details create leaves an impression of craftsmanship. For example, the hinges and the screws look like Audeze engineered them to last, which is what you would expect for headphones costing over $1,000.
So let's move on to connecting the headphones. Audeze includes a baffling amount of cables in the premium package. Unusually, one or two thin straight wires go into each headphone side. The 1.9m long braided cable offers two connectors, a small 4-pin male into a female connector and one in headphones. Disappointingly, the headphones don't have any markings for left or right channels on the cable or the headphones, apart from one of the two cables having a red marking. I assumed "red means right", right? Audeze should address this.
Making the case
You can buy the Audeze in two versions, standard or premium. Audeze sent me the premium version on loan.
The premium edition includes a durable case that looks and feels indestructible. With polycarbonate material, the case inspires confidence that you can keep your expensive headphones safe, even during travels. The thought that has gone into the enclosure is laudable. The handle is rubberized and so well made that the case can accidentally open during transport. The box is so secure it took me a minute or two to work out how to open it, and I discovered that you have to press hidden buttons before lifting both latches.
The top layer reveals the headphones, enveloped in custom-fitted grey foam inserts. Audeze's attention to detail is apparent in small touches, such as custom foam to protect the headphones' inside. Lift the top layer with two straps to reveal the bottom insert. It contains all cables and two credit card-sized documents - one certificate of authenticity with serial number, signed by the quality inspector. A reassuring touch that a human tested and inspected the headphones. Audeze offers a decent warranty; three years on the drivers; one year on the ear pads, headband, and cables.
Going to your head
The weight is most noticeable when removing the Audeze from its foam blanket. At 677 g, the LCD-XC is slightly heavier than its sibling LCD-X, which 'only' weigh 612 g.
To their credit, the wide headband distributed the weight well across the top of my head. When tilting my head back and forth rapidly, the Audeze didn't feel particularly secure. If you love energetically nodding in sync with your music or are prone to occasional headbanging, you might be worried that the headphones will slip off your head.
Audeze's large ear pads fully envelop your ears, helping to shield any sounds from spilling out. They felt tight yet comfortable around my ears. Not too close, not too loose, just right, like Goldi-Ears said. You can choose between leather-free ear pads or leather, costing the same.
Most headphones use dynamic cone drivers, which act like mini speakers. However, those speakers need help to move as rapidly and sufficiently shift enough air needed for bass notes. Magnetic planar speakers used in the Audeze in contract allow for more uniform air movements at low frequencies and can react more quickly.
Now, does this fancy technology translate into the LCD-XC sounding better?
The sound of space
From the first listen, the Audeze sound clean and detailed. Listening to Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm's track, I instinctively turned around because I thought noises in the track came from behind me. The headphones sounded crisp and clear, like a veil lifted from the sound. Another analogy I would use is that with the Audeze, it sounds like you are standing right in front of the stage, whereas my reference headphones (Sony WH-1000MX3) sound like you listened to the concert from around a corner 50 meters away.
One positive side effect of the planar technology is that the LCD-XC sounds clear and balanced even at lower volumes. I was not tempted to increase the volume to hear all frequencies during mixing.
The most impressive characteristic, however, is the imaging. You can precisely locate individual sounds in the imaginary space around you. Without exaggeration, the Audeze LCD-XC almost sounds 3D.
"Who needs Dolby Atmos when you have Audeze Atmos ?"
The headphones' precision enabled me to notice layers like never before, even in songs I have listened to hundreds of times. Sledge Hammer by Peter Gabriel revealed how the artist panned a Clavinet motif from left to right in the second verse (at 2:15), something I had never noticed before.
Now, while I no longer have a pair of LCD-X headphones for comparison, the LCD-XC exhibited a slightly less balanced bass response. To ensure my audio memory did not trick me, I tested the LCX-XC using a brick wall high pass filter set at between 40 to 60 Hz. I could still hear frequencies at such an extremely low end of the frequency spectrum. If you trust the specification from Audeze, the company officially claims an enormous range from 10Hz - 50kHz. That is below and above any human hearing. If you are interested in the more technical aspects of the Audeze, you can read a comprehensive review, including acoustic measurements.
Reference List Spotify
Ólafur Arnalds, JFDR: Back To The Sky
Both the spatial panning and stereo stage were impressive, immersive, and intimate. I felt more emotionally connected to the song, with the analog kick exuding warmth and sounding full-bodied.
Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm: 20:17
This song sounded the most 3D of all reference tracks. What a beautifully realistic piano, capturing every click and crack.
Donald Fagen: Snowbound
I noticed how the shakers cut through the mix, with sharp transients making the groove bounce more than I was used to.
Peter Gabriel: Sledgehammer
What a start, with the shakuhachi sample from the Fairlight. The depth of sound was impressive, and I noticed an apparent room reverb decay whenever the snare hit hard. With the Chapman stick growling underneath, all frequencies played their role without ever sounding muddy.
Norah Jones: Sunshine
This subdued track benefits from the extensive use of a stereo field, spreading its sparse instruments across the stereo field. The guitars were panned left and right, with a clear high-frequency response letting the gently brushed snare sit underneath and Norah's warm voice nestling on top.
Martin Garrix, Tove Lo: Pressure
This track tested the transient bass response and the frequency coverage. With a dominating modulated synth bass, the Audeze reveals an instrument full of character. Most impressive was the bass drop at around 40 seconds, where I could follow the lowest lows right to what felt like sub-sonics.
NGHTMARE, Subtronics: Nuclear Bass Face
With so many sounds in the hard-hitting track, I never felt that the distorted voice sounded grating but instead added character. The impressive bass riser and 0:49 is pure ear candy. Due to its remarkable separation and clarity, I noticed an exhale at 1:30 for the first time.
kx5, deadmou5, Kaskade: Escape (feat. Hayla)
The sound of the characterful piano, including hammer noises, contracts well with the syncopated bass synth chords, which in themselves are as warm as bright sunshine. Hayla's voice sits well right on top of the track, sounding raspy, clean, and classy. The vocal stacks at 2:20 are impressive, and the reverb creates a roomy, spacey effect.
Flux Pavilion: Twitterbird
With the Audeze, I could experience the full glory of the vocal melody synth, complete with ping-pong Hi-Hat panning. At 1:20, the bass pulse has a clear transient that doesn't smear. Be sure to check out the making-of video.
Edvard Grieg, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra: Peer Gynt Suite no.1 op.46, II. Ases dod (The Death of Ase)
The headphones were so precise that I could hear the quiet rustling movements of the musicians playing at 1:12. However, the contrabass and cellos could have exuded more warmth and more expansive imaging, but this could be due to the mix.
Johann Sebastian Bach: Toccata und Fuge D-Moll BWV 565
This track is a masterpiece of classical recording, with a frequency response that is flat yet pleasing. The soundstage feels immense, as if you are standing in the middle of a cathedral.
All Reference Tracks on the musicmanta Spotify Reference Playlist
The Test Rig
- Version Tested: Audeze LCD-XC Headphones*, Premium Package. Provided for the review on loan for a few weeks by Audeze, fulfilled via KS Distribution.
- 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
- Neutral frequency response
- Fantastic transient response
- Immersive imaging
- High build quality
- Comfortable for wearing for longer than one hour at a time
- Hardly a noticeable difference from its open-back sibling
- Top quality comes with a top price tag
- $100 premium to LCD-X
- Slightly diminished bass response compared to LCD-X
The Audeze LCD-XC headphones sound incredibly similar to their sibling, the LCD-X. The difference in sound is minimal. I noticed that the bass response in the closed-back version was tailed off compared to the open-backed LCD-X. But I cannot be 100% confident, as I couldn't compare both side-by-side.
Although the weight is even higher than the LCD-X, the headphones are comfortable, and you can comfortably wear them for more than one hour.
These expensive headphones come in a portable, secure, and high-quality case for professional producers to use on the go. The case is not just an accessory but is vital for typical applications. Think about producers and engineers working in hotel rooms and other studios or when you cannot have any audio spill from your headphones. The Audeze LCD-XC enables you to take a familiar, consistent sound with you, wherever you are.
Despite slight reservations about the sound, these are the best closed-back headphones I have ever tried, earning another 5-star rating.
This product is a super-premium choice for hobbyists and could be an intelligent investment for modern mobile professionals.
Get this if you need a “travelling mixing studio”.
Don't get this if you cannot afford this expensive piece of kit.
$1,299 Creator Package: Audeze LCD-XC Headphones, 1/4" cable (1.9m), standard travel case. Leather or Leather-Free ear pads.
$1,799 Premium Package (as tested): Audeze LCD-XC Headphones, braided 4-pin balanced XLR cable (1.9m), 1/4" braided cable (1.9m), 1/4" to 1/8" stereo adapter, premium travel case. Leather or Leather-Free ear pads.