Towards the end of the summer my friend Sankar Thiagasamudram, CEO of Audeze, mentioned that he was going to send me something new to audition after I’d submitted my review of the very impressive EL-8 open headphones. I had no idea whatsoever it was going to be, so imagine my complete shock and joy when I learned a few months later it was to be Audeze’s new top-of-the-line (TOTL) LCD-4 headphones. As I stated in my EL-8 review (http://headphone.guru/the-open-audesze-el-8-headphone-the-baby-lcd-x/), I’ve been a big fan of Audeze headphones right from the release of their ground-breaking LCD-2s many years ago. That admiration has continued through the LCD-3, LCD-XC, LCD-X, and the EL-8 headphones. So waiting for them to arrive after the many positive impressions from RMAF was for me like waiting for Santa!
A few weeks back I got an email from Sankar with a tracking number for the LCD-4s, and to my surprise they were due to arrive the next day! So after I did an Ed Grimley dance from Martin Short’s character on SNL. I waited for them to arrive with baited breath (https://media4.giphy.com/media/2SgG852XPNhTy/200.gif). The next morning at work everything went by very slowly; I had them scheduled for delivery to my office.
The clock struck 12 and FedEx had yet to show up. So I went out for a quick bite and on my return the box was on my desk. The shipping folks had dropped it off in my absence. I quickly closed my office door and opened it up like I actually was a kid on Christmas morning. My jaw dropped when I opened the rugged storage / carrying case from Audeze and I finally got to see the new LCD-4s in person. The photos from various meets and advertising simply have not done them justice. The finish of the Cocobolo wood was just beautiful; throw in the new carbon fiber headband with leather underlay and it looks like a work of art! The new chrome finish of the earcups is the final touch on what is the most beautifully built pair of headphones I’ve come across! So it appeared Christmas had come a bit early this year for me.
The new LCD-4s continue the innovations introduced by Audeze in many of their previous offerings but this time takes things to a whole new level. The new drivers use “Double Fluxor” magnet arrays (similar to the single Fluxor array introduced with the EL-8 headphones but doubled) and now include an incredibly thin nano-grade “Uniforce” diaphragm. When coupled together, the LCD-4s outputs a whopping 1.5 Tesla units of flux density. That is the most of any headphone that I know of.
The “Fazor” elements introduced with the release of their LCD-X and LCD-XC headphones are included in the LCD-4s as well. They serve as waveform guides to the drivers and enhance both the frequency response and extension in the higher octaves with better detail and clarity. Audeze has put a lot of hard work and design into these new headphones and the fit, finish and sound quality really shine through!
The headphones themselves are fairly efficient though aren’t as easy to drive as the LCD-X or LCD-XC. They come in at 100dB/mW efficiency. In comparison their LCD-X reference headphones are rated at 103dB/mW and the previous flagship LCD-3s are rated at 102 dB/mW. So they’re not too difficult to drive and a super powerful amplifier is not required to get them to sound great. However, you will need a bit more juice to get them going when compared to the other headphones in the LCD line up.
There full specifications are:
|Transducer type||Planar Magnetic|
|Magnetic arrays||Double Fluxor Magnets|
|Transducer size||106 mm|
|Maximum power handling||15W (for 200ms)|
|Sound pressure level||>130dB with 15W|
|Frequency response||5Hz – 20kHz extended out to 50kHz|
|Total harmonic distortion||<1% through entire frequency range|
|Efficiency||100dB / 1mW|
|Optimal power requirement||1 – 4W|
While the weight of the LCD-4 is ever so slightly more than say the LCD-X or LCD-3, the overall comfort factor has actually improved because of the design of their new carbon fiber and leather suspension headband. So not only does the new headband help make these headphones “pop” in terms of looks, it strongly contributes to a more comfortable listening experience. I can keep these on my head for literally hours without any discomfort. I noticed it as soon as I put them on my head, and confirmed it over and over again with several listening sessions that went on for hours.
As I didn’t have a 1/4” to 1/8” stereo adapter handy, I sadly couldn’t listen to the LCD-4s at my office and had to wait until I got home that evening. Thankfully the kids went to bed without too much trouble so I ran downstairs to my main listening rig and quickly got the LCD-4s plugged in!
The new headphone cable by Audeze is a big step up from their previous versions. It is on par with some of the pricier after-market cables that many use. But as my GS-X Mk2 headphone amplifier by Head Amp is a fully-balanced design, I chose my balanced Q-Audio Silk cable (4-pin XLR terminations). The DAC I used in this setup was the very impressive Chord Electronics Hugo TT. Per my previous review of this DAC/headphone amplifier, I was so thoroughly impressed with its performance that I couldn’t bear to send it back and as a result, I purchased the review unit as to my ears it was a clear upgrade over what I had before.
As my excitement and curiosity reached its zenith, I selected Patricia Barber’s: “A Distortion of Love”. This is a particular favourite test recording of mine and the DSD version that I used for this listening session is the best one I’ve heard yet. Immediately I could tell that wonderful Audeze “house sound” continues with the LCD-4s. That brilliantly rich and powerful presentation grabbed me right away but there were some differences that I simply hadn’t yet heard from Audeze headphones. There was a spaciousness that was not only expansive front-to-back, but the width of the portrayed soundscape was equally expansive. I also had several moments where I had to turn around thinking that my wife or one of my children had walked in the room. So unless my house has been recently haunted, the LCD-4s were able to throw sounds around my head that truly gave me a wonderful “out of the head” and spacious image that I didn’t think possible with planar magnetic headphones.
The other immediate difference I noticed occurred when “Subway Station #5” first began playing. The previous versions of the LCD Collection headphones were always very good at extracting the smallest details from a recording, but the LCD-4s were on a whole new level. The details of the cymbals and the timbre of the trumpet were simply magnificent. This was a big step forward in my opinion as these details didn’t arrive with added treble to make them seem more present, but rather they were mined from the deepest recesses of the recordings and reproduced in the most realistic portrayal that I’ve heard from a very select group of headphones, namely the Stax SR-009, Sennheiser HD800 and Hifiman HE1000s. Again, I want to stress that the previous versions of the LCD Collection did a fantastic job in this regard, but the LCD-4s have truly brought realism to a whole new level reserved for the very best headphones that extract absolutely everything from a recording.
Patricia’s vocals were full and upfront. Throughout her wide vocal range I never once felt that the LCD-4s failed to keep up with her, and as a result it seemed that I was there in the jazz club with Patricia and her band. These were simply some of the very best vocals I’ve ever heard through a pair of headphones… period. The bass is what you’d expect from the LCD line up: rich, powerful, detailed and controlled. The LCD-4s definitely continue in this tradition, but offer even more detail and texture from the lowest octaves than their predecessors.
To get this level of bass impact you usually end up sacrificing quickness and detail retrieval. But Audeze’s headphones have always allowed you to have your cake and eat it too. The LCD-4s continue to improve on an already impressive legacy with a level of responsiveness that typically only comes from headphones that can’t offer the same “oomph” factor as the Stax SR-009s or Sennheiser HD800s. Imagine having that level of performance AND the feel of a proper speaker setup where you not only hear the bass but feel it too. Through the LCD-4s it is simply a magical experience.
The treble follows the path of Audeze’s philosophy of pushing it back slightly to account for the close proximity of the headphone’s drivers to the listener’s ears. As you can see by the frequency response below, it starts getting pushed back at approximately 2kHz and is fairly flat from that point on to the upper treble. I find this sound signature very natural sounding and rarely if ever fatiguing.
The HD800s certainly do not follow this design viewpoint, but as a result I do find them a bit tiresome with extended listening sessions; especially with a brighter recording. The LCD-4s instead, while very natural, offer a much more pleasing listening experience and can be enjoyed for hours on end without fatigue. The treble extension, like the improvements in the bass, is simply incredible. No, these are not bright headphones and no, there is no upper midrange glare whatsoever, but the ability of the drivers to go to the highest registers and extract even the smallest detail is simply amazing. I listened to this recording over and over again with the LCD-4s and the only fatigue was my cheeks from constant smiling.
Playing the Patricia Barber album began I had my first ghostly “out of head” experience. I could swear I heard people shuffling around and behind me but when I turned around, no one was there! The LCD-4s portrayed an incredibly believable soundstage, something their previous headphones did an admirable job with, but not at this entirely new level of performance. The LCD-4s compete very strongly with other TOTL headphones that I hold in very high regard in terms of soundstaging performance. The engineers at Audeze put a lot of effort into the LCD-4’s driver and the ability to portray incredibly real soundstaging is the result of all their hard work.
Next up was Tool’s “Lateralus”. I’m a big fan of the band and love the energy of their music. The bass on this recording is simply epic and as a result it serves as a favourite test track of mine along with 10 000 Days. Previously, the LCD-3s and LCD-Xs were my favourite headphones with this album. Well, they have now been demoted to #2 thanks to the LCD-4s. All that wonderfully rich texturing that Audeze headphones provide is certainly still there, but with improved dynamics, soundstaging, tonal balance and detail retrieval.
Listening to “Schism” was simply a fantastic experience. And I could swear I was able to hear minute details that I couldn’t with many other headphones. The LCD-4s have brought detail retrieval to a whole new level. The spatial clues are that much more prevalent and when combined together create a more realistic experience. Everything from the slam of the bass, to the energy of the guitars, to the snap of the cymbals was perfectly rendered and offered outstanding musicality, all while being very natural in presentation. An airy, rich and musical presentation are the key characteristics of these headphones.
Finally, what great pair of headphones could I review without throwing at least one Rush recording at it? Well, for the purposes of this review, I selected “Moving Pictures”. This has to be one of my absolute favourite recordings of all time! I was again thoroughly impressed with how the LCD-4s played this truly classic album. I actually listened to it three times back to back-to-back. I couldn’t believe how great Geddy’s vocals sounded. And Alex’s guitar work was oh-so-satisfying.
It was as if I was back in Maple Leaf Gardens listening to our local Toronto band playing “Tom Sawyer” in 1986. The drum tracks laid down by the greatest living drummer, Neil Peart, sounded absolutely stunning! His raw energy and extreme nimbleness on drums was perfectly captured. I never felt that the LCD-4s lagged behind in any way, even compared to my Stax SR-009s. I used to think that my Grado PS1000e headphones offered some of the best guitar reproduction I’ve ever heard but I was wrong. The LCD-4s capture every small detail and delivers an incredibly musical presentation.
Now these are not cheap headphones by any means. At $3995 USD, an impulse buy they are not. But if you’re a big fan of the other LCD Collection headphones by Audeze and want the absolute best, well, the LCD-4s are certainly the headphones for you. In fact, they rank in the top two or three headphones I’ve ever heard. Picking between these two or three is almost impossible for me as it really depends on my mood or music preference that evening. What I can say is that the LCD-4s are a tour de force that offered some of the most enjoyment I’ve ever had from many of my favourite recordings. When used with a front-end chain that is up to the task, the LCD-4s truly offer a world-class audio experience!