From first listen, it was apparent that the LCD-1 absolutely nails my preference for a balanced and linear sounding over-ear headphone. As my measurement rig doesn’t perform will with headphones, I loaded up a sine sweep that revealed a very even-handed response. In turn, they provide excellent tri-frequency balance and an accurate timbre throughout. The note presentation is also delivered with mastery so as to provide strong fine detail retrieval and coherence. On a side note, I found that angling the drivers slightly back towards my ears, compressed slightly at the front and positioned so that my ears were closer to the back of the earpad as well, provided slightly more stable imaging.
Immediately, the voicing is accurate, balanced and linear, but that is not to say lacking dynamics or engagement. This is not an anemic headphone, nor a bass emphasized one, sitting in-line with the other frequencies and providing satiating presence. Sub-bass extension is good but not the best for a planar headphone despite the large driver size. It isn’t the most solid and physical in its impact at the very bottom as a result, but remains tight with a concise slam and defined, visceral rumble. The presentation is even otherwise, perhaps just a smidge warm through the mid-bass but overall, very balanced with a faithful portrayal of bass instrumentation.
Without notable emphasis or colouration, the LCD-1 offers a very clean and well-defined bass performance. Driver control is excellent, note attack is quick and concise, aiding engagement and timing. Meanwhile, decay comes across to me as quite natural, not too short, which helps to retain texture and dynamics. They aren’t the hardest-hitting and most dynamic performer I’ve heard, but accurate with strong separation and good note definition too. The LCD-1’s excellent PRAT ensure that its balanced and linear bass tuning remains engaging and musical.
This is my favourite aspect of the LCD-1 as a region that I am especially sensitive to; I have struggled to find a headphone around this price range that offers a linear tuning and accurate vocal timbre. The LCD-1 delivers accuracy here in spades. Of course, don’t expect huge clarity, intimacy and a revealing tuning, the LCD-1 is even right into and including the lower-treble. This includes a smooth, linear bass/midrange transition and, in turn, neutral vocal body alongside strong tonal transparency. Vocal positioning is accurate and sits in harmony with instruments due to the linear lower-midrange especially, the presentation is overall very coherent. In turn, a thin or fatiguing headphone this is not.
The top-end too is linear and even with no peaks or troughs. There’s a slight smoothing of the 3kHz region so though vocals sound a little larger than neutral to my ears, they aren’t pushed especially forwards. As the transition from upper-midrange to lower-treble is gradual and balanced in quantity, articulation is accurate and a good level of openness is still maintained. Again, the LCD-1 isn’t especially revealing or vivid but offers respectable definition and good vocal clarity without sacrificing a hint of coherence or body. It is simply a highly inviting tuning that is faithful to the source material, albeit just a touch smooth making them more suitable for long listening sessions.
I initially thought the LCD-1 had a small lower-treble peak. However, this was not the case when listening to a sine sweep that revealed an even response from 5-8 kHz with a small uptick of emphasis in the upper-treble. Rather, the LCD-1 offers sharp attack here, with a very clean transient response contributing to outstanding fine detail retrieval in the foreground and a slightly crisper note delivery. Percussion especially is quite crisp and instruments such as cymbals and strings are presented with excellent attack and detail density. Nonetheless, there is a mostly accurate body above alongside a slightly tizzy decay on behalf of the upper-treble lift.
Accordingly, instruments are presented with great texture and strong resolution even of the highest octaves. The background is clean, a touch laid-back but not lacking much air or headroom. Accordingly, there is good contrast to the focused foreground detail presentation and a defined and layered presentation. Sparkle is well-present too with a slight enhancement of micro-details over most headphones. The LCD-1 isn’t a treble forward headphone by any stretch, in fact, it’s a touch dark and on the cleaner side. However, it does offer a slightly aggressive detail presentation in the foreground that keeps the listener engaged without introducing much sharpness or fatigue for longer listening sessions.
The LCD-1 isn’t an especially spacious headphone, especially for an open-back, but they do still offer more expansion than most closed headphones. Width extends just beyond the head while depth projects just a little less forming a slightly oval presentation. There isn’t huge bass to fill out its stage nor an especially open vocal image which can contrast to a lot of headphones that, to me, appear quite laid-back in the midrange providing the impression of a larger stage. What the LCD-1 excels with instead is imaging, with especially accurate localization and distance perception through its space. Directional cues are tack sharp and well-defined making them a good choice for both music and gaming. Separation receives high marks as well given its linear and balanced signature. The background is clean which provides defined, distinct layers and offers enhanced perception of the foreground when the track gets busy.
The LCD-1 is easy to drive for a planar magnetic headphone given its low 16-ohm impedance and efficient 99dB sensitivity. This means it requires vastly less driving power than most designs of this kind and open-back competitors in general. Being a planar magnetic driver, it theoretically should benefit from a very flat impedance curve relative to even a single dynamic driver model. As such, even a low-cost amplifier such as the Topping L30 delivered a close to optimal performance here.
I found that the LCD-1 benefit from a lower output impedance, however, wasn’t drastically affected by a higher impedance source. To test, I ran the LCD-1 from the Hiby R6 compared to the Shanling M2X which revealed a slightly leaner sound on the Hiby. It had slightly less bass extension and a slight treble prominence relative to the more balanced Shanling. In turn, I generally would not recommend running the LCD-1 from tube amps or those with an especially high output impedance, but you surely do not need an especially low output impedance either as several ohms will remain acceptable here.
The LCD-1 does benefit from a higher output power source despite its efficiency. In particular, compared the THX 789 to the Shanling M2X revealed yet another noticeable step up in sub-bass extension and authority. It wasn’t transformative, still sounding balanced on the Shanling, but surely the LCD-1 was more dynamic and expressive from the desktop amplifier. Cutting back a bit on the budget, the Topping L30 did a wonderful job as well, being very similar to the THX 789, just a little narrower in terms of soundstaging but, otherwise, delivering excellent control and refinement. Users should not feel the need to spend big on the source, as other options such as the JDS Atom will provide a highly desirable sound at a low cost.
Suggested Pair Ups
This will be up to personal preferences, but as usual I found the LCD-1 to sound best from a reference orientated source like the L30, Atom and THX789. Warmer sources are acceptable too but can push the midrange a bit too warm and full given that it is already on the smoother and warmer side. Instead, a source with a weighty, dynamic bass like the THX789 is ideal for engagement while a slightly brighter source such as the Oppo HA-2 using older generation ESS DAC chips delivers a bit more openness without worry of glare or fatigue.
Oppo PM3 ($250): The PM3 is a closed-back portable planar headphone but balanced enough that some consider it appropriate for similar uses to the LCD-1. Despite being similar in size, it is heavier and the pu leather surfaces can flake unlike the lambskin Audeze. In return, it feels like a much more premium product with a more solid slider and hinge design alongside mostly metal surfaces. Both are very comfortable, the LCD-1 has an advantage here, however, being immediately lighter and also offering a more breathable open design.
To sum up the sound differences in a nutshell, the LCD-1 simply sounds more open than the PM3 and it is also a bit more balanced to my ears. Both offer similar bass quantity, the PM3 being a touch bassier. The PM3 also offers more sub-bass extension and a slightly fuller mid-bass. In turn, the PM3 has thicker, weightier bass notes while the LCD-1 has quite a bit more separation with a higher definition mid-bass and a generally more agile response with better detail retrieval. The midrange is a bit more laid-back on the PM3 but openness is partially redeemed by its more articulate lower-treble. In turn, the PM3 has a slightly higher contrast sound with a bit more rasp and less coherent note delivery. The LCD-1 has a more accurate vocal positioning and a more linear tuning.
The PM3 has a small lower-treble peak and a generally even tuning above with some roll off in the middle-treble forming a dark, clean background. The LCD1 has more accurate instrument body here, and a cleaner transient response, being more detailed despite being less forward. The LCD-1 also sounds more open with greater sparkle and generally higher resolution. The PM3 is darker up top and doesn’t have the same headroom. Similarly, the LCD-1 has a larger soundstage and its imaging is sharper. Of course, it has the advantage here simply by design. The PM3 is an older design but that is not to say that it is redundant, and I still enjoy my pair. It has better build quality, can be found for cheap and offers almost as much balance in a closed-form factor. However, being discontinued, there is limited warranty and support for those that depend on their gear for livelihood.
Hifiman Sundara ($350): The Sundara is likely the most popular and immediate point of comparison to the similarly priced LCD-1. IT has a larger form factor, but also a subjectively sturdier feeling all-metal metal build. The Sundara breathes a bit better with its hybrid fabric/pleather pads while the LCD-1’s lambskin outfit feels softer and more readily conforming to the head. I found both similarly comfortable, preferring the more even weight distribution of the Sundara’s suspension headband, but conversely, the more adjustable hangers and softer lambskin pads on the LCD-1.
Sonically, both headphones are quite reminiscent of each other. The LCD-1 is a little more linear and balanced while the Sundara is slightly more engaging with a smoother and fuller signature; neither really deviating much. Both offer similar levels of bass overall and a reasonably similar tuning, with an uptick of fullness but not too much emphasis over the other frequencies. The Sundara has a little more presence, especially in the sub-bass alongside providing slightly better extension. In turn, it is a weightier, more dynamic and simply larger sound. Meanwhile, the LCD-1 is slightly more balanced and a bit faster in both attack and decay, providing slightly higher note definition and detail retrieval but lacking the same depth.
The midrange on both headphones come across as natural and refined. The LCD-1 is more coherent with a more gradual transition from the bass while the Sundara has a small lower-midrange dip to heighten separation alongside slightly greater upper-midrange presence, offering an uptick of definition and openness. The Sundara also has a dip in the centre-midrange that provides a more laid-back vocal range especially in context of its bigger bass. The LCD-1 offers better balance with a more accurate vocal positioning and more coherent note presentation, it is the flatter sounding headphone for better or for worse depending on your preferences. Up top, the Sundara has a slightly smoother lower-treble and a small middle-treble peak while the LCD-1 is more linear with a bit more sparkle at the very top. In turn, the LCD-1 offers slightly higher fine detail retrieval in the foreground and a darker background with better contrast between layers. The Sundara is a bit more vibrant by comparison, offering slightly higher clarity and bringing small details more to the fore, however, at the expense of texture and instrument body.
Although the Sundara is brighter by a hair and a bit airier, In found the LCD-1 to be the more focused and detailed performer here. The Sundara does have a noticeably larger soundstage, however, and this impression is reinforced by its larger bass and more laid-back vocals. The LCD-1 has much more stable imaging though within a smaller space. The Sundara also has better separation in the midrange since it has a little less body and slightly higher clarity. For sure, deciding between these two headphones is very difficult and they feel somewhat like two sides of the same coin. Subjectively, the LCD-1 appears slightly more detailed, accurate and balanced for purists and professionals while the Sundara provides a more spacious, musical and engaging sound tuning.
The LCD-1 surely is not one of those epiphany headphones that awe on first listen. Its plastic build and bass extension will certainly leave some listeners wanting. Similarly, the soundstage is hardly as open as their form factor may suggest. However, it is often these unassuming headphones that bode best for long critical listening sessions. As, even to the keen eared, the LCD-1 is simply a headphone that comes across as sounding “correct”. That’s not to say that this is a perfectly balanced headphone, but one that upholds a very even and faithful representation throughout the entire spectrum. Enhancing this impression is the agile transient response that aids fine detail retrieval alongside their lightweight design with soft lambskin leather that maintains comfort all day long. There are some competitors doing similar things at a cheaper price or with a little more engagement, but none quite strike the same balance of qualities as the LCD-1. This is a strong recommendation from me for those looking to buy a comfortable and very well-balanced open-back headphone at a reasonable price.
The LCD-1 is available from Amazon (International) for $374.99 USD at the time of writing. Please see my affiliate link for the most updated pricing, availability and configurations.
Track List –
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Archive – Controlling Crows (Parts I – III)
AKMU – SAILING
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How Your Really Feel
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
John Legend – Once Again
MAMAMOO – reality in BLACK
MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
Modest House – Good News For People Who Love Bad News
NIKI – lowkey
Nirvana – Nervermind
Radiohead – OK Computer
Social House – Haunt You
suggi – cheer up!
Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
Vaundy – strobo