Can Audiophile headphones cut it in the world of music production?

I was introduced to the Audeze (pronounced Odyssey) LCD-X headphones at the 2017 winter NAMM show. I’ve spent enough time in the audiophile world to be familiar with the Audeze name and reputation, but I had yet to experience the joy of listening through a pair of its headphones. While audiophile and pro audio have a lot in common, audio products often work well in one of these worlds but not the other. This is no real surprise since the goal of an audiophile is to enjoy music as accurately as possible and the goal of the audio professional is to do the highest-quality audio work possible.

California-based Audeze has built an amazing reputation for its LCD Series of planar magnetic headphones in a rather short amount of time (the company has only been around for a decade). Planar magnetic headphones are operationally similar to moving coil (dynamic) headphones as they both utilize the interaction of two magnetic fields to cause motion, but rather than moving a voice coil, Planar magnetic technology uses a thin, largely flat film as a diaphragm, and instead of focusing energy on a small area, it spreads it across the entire diaphragm. This generally requires more magnets that are larger and stronger than a dynamic driver, as they are needed on both sides of the larger diaphragm. This explains why the majority of planar magnetic headphones are somewhat large and often heavy.

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The Audeze LCD-X ($1,699) is an over-the-ear, open-back black headphone that is fit with either lambskin or Microsuede ear pads. The beautiful headphones are packaged in a small, rugged SKB flight case. In addition to the headphones, the case includes numerous cables and connectors, providing for quarter-inch, 3.5 mm, and balanced inputs (sadly, a lightning adapter isn’t included). The headphones weigh nearly 1.5 pounds, which seems a bit steep but is quite average for a planar magnetic design, and they are designed so well, you would never guess they weigh that much when they are sitting on your head. The build-quality is fantastic and they are extremely comfortable, even after lengthy listening periods—I’ve used them for over 5 hours in a single sitting multiple times and they never became uncomfortable or burdensome.

One of the reasons the LCD-X is an attractive headphone for the music community is that it was designed with efficiency in mind and it requires far less power than other planar magnetic headphones for optimum performance. This is important, as I know that in addition to listening to audio through a high-quality headphone amp, artists, producers and engineers need the ability to reference mixes on their phone, and I found the LCD-X to work surprisingly well with the headphone amps in my iPhone 6, iPad Pro and MacBook Pro. While the iPhone and iPad don't have the necessary amplification to fully maximize the potential of the LCD-X, they still do an impressive job powering the headphones.

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I have incorporated the LCD-X into my regular mixing workflow, utilizing them to check my mixes and reference other material, and I’ve been thrilled with the results. Their accuracy is mind-boggling. They instantly reveal weaknesses in my work, saving substantial time during the mix process. Not only are they staggeringly accurate, they are a complete pleasure to listen to for enjoyment. Over the past several months, I’ve spent countless hours enjoying some of my favorite recordings, including Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, James Taylor’s JT and Hourglass, Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and, of course, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon—and it’s been wonderful. The headphones have a transparent and open soundstage with immaculate imaging, and they are neutral and smooth across the full frequency spectrum. The majority of my listening has been via the headphone amp in the Grace Design M905 monitor controller, but I’ve also spent considerable time listening through the Benchmark DAC 1 and the TEAC HA-P90SD. All three yielded fantastic results.

The Audeze LCD-X headphones are a sonic chef-d'oeuvre. Their sound is unmatched in any under $2K headphone that I’ve encountered. While there are sadly no perfect headphones (nor is there a perfect speaker, microphone or mic pre for that matter), the Audeze LCD-X come closer than anything I have encountered. They are amazingly comfortable while providing near perfect sound and requiring minimal power. Regardless, whether you are listening to improve the quality of your work or to enjoy your music library more thoroughly, the Audeze LCD-X is a perfect headphone solution.

Audeze •