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Audeze LCD-X Review – Blast from the Past

Sound –

Tonality –

Load up a graph and you’ll likely see some angry faces, especially from those accustomed to the Harman headphone target. For the LCD-X barely glances the Harman target in parts, even with Audeze’s Reveal+ corrective eQ preset. What it provides instead is a very even-handed and superbly coherent sound to my ears forming, in my subjective opinion, a very enjoyable musical experience.

Unlike IEMs, headphones do interact with the outer-ear so the tuning is invariably quite different – and the LCD-X almost seems to compensate for frequency ranges amplified by the human ear, aiming for absolute flatness rather than the widest appeal. I confirmed by booting up a sine sweep which revealed a very even bass with excellent extension and control into the sub-bass before a small hump in the upper-bass and lower-midrange. The midrange itself sounded surprisingly even, with a bump around 2kHz and a noticeable dip at 4kHz. Unlike in measurement, I did not hear any overt treble peaks, but some emphasis around 7kHz was apparent to me.

This means the LCD-X is slightly dark and laid-back in its upper-half, and not for those craving great energy and engagement nor a revealing presentation. Rather, the LCD-X appears tuned for an accurate timbre and great linearity, it has a powerful voicing and bold note structure with a sensational technical performance and top-octave lift playing in tandem to provide an enhanced neutrality.

Audeze Reveal+ –

Reveal+ is a subscription-based plugin offered by Audeze that can be used via equaliser APO (system-wide) and Roon. It offers spatial audio functionality in addition to an AI engine that customises the sound to your unique ear shape. The software is easy to install and use, simply requiring the user to photograph their outer ear and upload the photos to Audeze’s servers upon which a sound profile is created. For me personally, I am not a huge fan of spatial audio processing that I find to sound unnatural, albeit Audeze’s is fairly tame. What was more interesting to me were the eQ presets that are custom tailored for each LCD model to bring them in line with Audeze’s target curve. Of course, given that each model has a different target demographic, not all target neutrality out of the box.

For the LCD-X, this means bringing the headphone about halfway to the Harman curve; boosting the sub-bass and upper-midrange by a few dB. And indeed, the listening experience here is more orthodox with a bit more separation and contrast in addition to stronger clarity and higher energy. For my preferences, I did enjoy the sub-bass bump and didn’t find the upper-midrange emphasis to overly diminish vocals either. This is a tasteful middle-ground that I find in very good taste as I am not personally the largest fan of the Harman curve. Given that this is a paid service and Roon and Equaliser APO may not be accessible or convenient for everyone, I will be evaluating the headphone in its stock form for the sake of consistency. Do not take this as criticism as I am always a proponent of choice and Audeze’s solution here is very effective and simplifies the equalisation experience for the user, albeit at additional cost.

Bass –

If there’s one thing I recall about Audeze reviews of old, it was the emphasis on bass performance. The LCD-X doesn’t draw focus to this region like the warmer 2 and 3, being instead tamer and more even. However, the same intoxicating qualities remain and it’s easy to see why so many Audeze critics quickly became fans. The LCD-X offers excellent extension and bass resolution throughout. It augments this with a reasonably clean tuning that aids separation. There are some niggles, chiefly, the sub-bass is somewhat laid-back and the upper-bass sits slightly forward. This means the timbre isn’t perfect; the X sounds a little tubbier and fuller than neutral and it can lack the physical slam provided by some competitors more faithful to the Harman curve. Still, extension, speed and definition remains very strong performers, so the LCD-X is ultimately a tactile performer; delivering bass with great immediacy and zero bloom or drone. The LCD-X epitomises quality over quantity yet never appears to lack quantity either due to its fuller voicing.

Articulate is an apt descriptor here, its tonality is never to the detriment of quality and the lesser degree of deviation here isn’t something that would bother the vast majority. Bass control is terrific, and the LCD-X slices through quick and complex arrangements with great poise. Both attack and decay are agile, decay especially, forming a more aggressive presentation with focus on separation and high fine detail retrieval over full, textured lingering notes. Sure, some competitors are able to offer a more dynamic or textured experience, however, combine the LCD-X’s even tuning with its high control and speed, and the headphone provides outstanding mid-bass definition and timing that these models don’t glimpse. In turn, don’t expect huge bass and heavy slam, though also not a headphone that is lacking body or weight in any manifestation. This is a very punchy headphone with heaps of detail if one that doesn’t quite excel with dynamics due to the sub-bass tuning.

Mids –

Though the LCD-X may not have the biggest bass or most energetic treble, its midrange still sits in harmony with the rest of its sound; neither stealing attention nor fading into the background. Vocals and instruments achieve delightful parity that has become rare in the current era where manufacturers and listeners are increasingly preferring contrast over coherence. The LCD-X is a reminder of our roots, perhaps due to it being an older design, albeit one that receives constant update. And ultimately, it offers a faithful representation of music to my ears. So, though not modern in its approach, so too is the LCD-X not outdated. Most impressive, is that is able to craft almost perfect coherence with minimal tonal colouration. To clarify, that is not to say it is perfectly linear; there is a small 2k bump that instigates enlarged vocals if not excessively forward ones due to the upper-midrange trough.

To counterbalance, there’s an uptick of body down low in addition to increased density and smoothness up top. Yet, the LCD-X enjoys zero tonal colouration due to the clean mid-bass tuning and lack of any emphasis over the midrange. In turn, the headphone has a powerful and focused voicing. Vocal timbre is natural but with a smooth articulation and strong definition. The LCD-X doesn’t sound veiled or muffled in the slightest, but its smoothness does mean it isn’t the most open and extended sounding headphone either. Those wanting a revealing and open sound should look away. Rather, it is those prioritising coherence whilst retaining a highly defined yet whole note structure who will delight in Audeze’s fine creation.   

Highs –

The top-end tuning is quite intriguing here being even for the most part through the lower-treble and roughly on par with the midrange but not aggressive or emphasized at all. Instead, the LCD-X employs an upper-treble lift to imbue openness and clarity, an unorthodox choice. Still, the linearity in the foreground works much to its benefit. Treble is a touch laid-back here and doesn’t wear on the ear over time, ideal for extended listening if not for those wanting superb clarity and crispness. Percussion and strings retain ample bite alongside convincing body and texture. The transient response is very clean so, despite not being forward in any way, the LCD-X offers very strong fine detail retrieval that is almost amplified by the lack of emphasis surrounding it. In turn, though no detail is emphasized, similarly, nothing is overshadowed. Meanwhile, middle-treble is even and slightly dark.

The background is clean in turn and offers good contrast to the foreground especially with its enhanced upper-treble that draws some focus to background details. Micro-detail retrieval and resolution are both very strong performers and headroom is admirable if not overtly massive as on some competitors. There’s a very enjoyable sparkle at the very top that grants the LCD-X a heightened energy and immersion, helping to keep the listener engaged despite its smoothness elsewhere. The result is a very resolving presentation but one that doesn’t call for much attention. And I feel this is a recurring theme of this headphone, the technical performance is wicked, but it can be hard to appreciate on first impression. The LCD-X is clearly geared for long listening sessions with its smooth and coherent tuning and manages to make micro-details pop without a hint of brightness.

Soundstage –

As a result of its forward vocals and generally more even sound, the LCD-X can appear a little intimate on first listen. However, after some time it became apparent this headphone is quite capable with staging. In particular, width is very strong, far from the level of the infamous HD800, but surely in the upper-pack of open-back headphones I’ve heard. Depth as well achiev es good projection but is generally more intimate due to the vocal presentation. Imaging is a standout, the LCD-X layers very well with excellent contrast between its rich, intimate foreground and dark, clean background. It has the ability to localise laterally and coronally, crafting a multi-dimensional image. Though not the highest energy performer nor especially holographic, imaging is sharp and each element easy to pinpoint in location. Separation is not its strong point, focussing instead on high coherence. Though its notes are not too warm or full and each is well-defined, there is not too much space between each.

Driveability –

Surely a strength of the LCD-X is that it is easily driven with a higher 103dB sensitivity and lower 20ohm impedance. It was noticeably more efficient that competitors requiring less power to reach the same listening volume, in fact, the LCD-X is as easy to drive as some of my IEMs in terms of volume. Of course, volume doesn’t tell the full story. being a full-size headphone it isn’t prone to hiss either.

Output Impedance Sensitivity

Switching between the Hiby R6 (10-ohms) and Shanling M2X (1-ohm) reveals that the LCD-X is reasonably source agnostic when it comes to output impedance. It had a very similar sonic balance and signature from both sources. Any changes here, I would attribute to colouration of the sources themselves. In turn, the LCD-X is suitable for higher impedance sources.

Driving Power

Switching over to my desktop stack with THX789 and SMSL SU-9 revealed the LCD-X scales well with higher end sources. Though it easily reaches high volumes and has a fairly consistent signature across the majority of sources, the desktop stack was noticeably more dynamic and detailed. Bass was much tighter and harder-hitting in the sub-bass on the THX amp. In addition, treble was more linear and refined with a considerable jump in headroom. In turn, so too was the soundstage more expansive and imaging, sharper, more layered and more immersive. Though the sound signature was very similar across my sources, not all of them were able to extract as much quality.

Suggested Pair Ups

The LCD-X is an odd one when it comes to source synergy due to its eclectic mix of qualities. On one hand, it isn’t at all sensitive to hiss or output impedance nor does it require much volume. If you are content with a balanced sound, even a smartphone will suffice. However, should you want to experience the full resolving power of the headphone, a dedicated desktop stack will work magic. In terms of tonality as well, again, I was surprised. Given there’s already an uptick of warmth in the low-end, I didn’t find myself enjoying the LCD-X with warm sources. I most preferred more dynamic sources with a sharper note delivery like the THX789 that I found to introduce more focus into the LCD-X’s sound. Whereas more laid-back sources could overly smooth the sound.

Next Page: Comparisons & Verdict

5 thoughts on “Audeze LCD-X Review – Blast from the Past Leave a comment

    • Hey Noah,

      The eQ presets are built into Audeze reveal which works with equaliser APO and Roon. They are automatically applied once you choose your specific model of headphone. I believe you can find the exact settings online too, I would check audio science review, Amirm had good ears.

      Cheers,
      Ryan.

      Like

      • Thanks for the quick reply!

        I found an EQ preset to use with my RME ADI-2 DAC buried in Reddit that seems to help. Thinking about getting a portable DAC and then would need to EQ that as well.

        Like

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