Back in 2008 there was a new entrant into the quality headphone market: Audeze hit the market with a set of large, over-ear, open-backed, planar magnetic headphones. They were called the Audeze LCD-2. They proved such a real success that a whole bevy of other planar magnetic models followed from the firm.
Somewhat unusually, Audeze continued to develop this model while retaining the same name, eventually making a significant change by including its newly developed Fazor technology. (That involved attaching shaped elements halfway between cones and domes on the flat magnet surfaces above the planar diaphragm. These act like the phase plugs you see on some loudspeaker drivers, controlling the interactions between the wavefronts from different parts of the diaphragm.)
The Audeze LCD-2C – also known as LCD-2 Classic, and sometimes LCD-2C Classic – headphones are a return to the original design. Not entirely. Some practical changes developed over the years have been retained.
- Open-backed, over-ear, full sized headphones
- 106mm planar magnetic drivers with neodymium N50 proprietary magnet array
- Premium leather earpads
- Suspension headband
- Frequency response: 10-50,000 hertz
- Impedance: 70 ohms
- Sensitivity: 101dB for 1mW
- THD: <0.1% @ 100dB
- Minimum power requirement: 100mW
- Recommended power level: more than 250mW
- Maximum power handling: 5W “RMS”
- Maximum SPL: >130dB
- Weight: 544 grams
- Summary: Comfortable, large scale headphones which produce a lovely, large scale sound. Detailed and delicate as required, with fine bass. Not ideal for portable use, except for high output devices.
- Price: $1329
- Available from fine high-fidelity retailers or direct from here.
More on the Audeze LCD-2C Classic headphones
These are large headphones and moderately heavy at over half a kilogram. The pads are thick: around 40mm at the back and over 20mm at the front. That differential tends to angle the drivers in slightly from the front. My ears fit easily into the earcups and didn’t even brush the material covering the driver.
A soft, perforated material suspended below the spring steel headband sits on your head. I found it comfortable, conforming smoothly to the shape of my head, providing even support. I found the wearing experience pleasant. The grip on my head was firm – despite the weight, there wasn’t much movement when I swung my head from side to side – but the padding was so soft that I didn’t feel the slightest discomfort even after hours of use. Well, except that my ears could get warm from the lack of ventilation. That goes with the territory with over-ears headphones.
The cable is removeable, and thus replaceable. At the headphone end there are two 4-pin mini-XLR plugs for joining onto the headphones. At the other end of the braided cable, 1.9 metres away, is a gold-plated 6.35mm stereo plug. No adaptor for 3.5mm outputs is provided. Not surprising really, since with that minimum power handling of 100mW, Audeze is pretty much discouraging use of these headphones with portable devices. You can always purchase an different-brand adaptor separately. Below we’ll see whether these headphones did work with portable gear. As for the supplied cable, it’s well built and the headphone ends are colour coded red and blue, which makes it easy to put the headphones on the right way around at just a glance.
Although the shape of the headphones makes that fairly intuitive anyway. Worn normally, the two connections actually poke out at an angle towards the front.
Listening to music using the Audeze LCD-2C headphones
Detailed, powerful, and delivering a certain magic. Those are just a few of the words I’d use to characterise the sound of the Audeze LCD-2C headphones. I’ve got no idea if the Fazor addition improves the sound in the LCD-2 headphones, but if so, the absence of that improvement is by no means obvious with these ones.
I still had the playlist up in JRiver Media Center that I’d most recently used in reviewing the new Grado Prestige Series headphones, so I started by running through those tracks, via a Topping E30 DAC and thence to the iFi ZEN CAN headphone amplifier.
First up was “Six Blade Knife” from the Dire Straits self-titled debut (DSD64). The bass guitar was full, rich and clean, lacking nothing in the way of bass extension or power. The simple cymbal strike throughout the opening ticked sharply and precisely, if a little higher in the mix than I’m used to, while later the subtle little cymbal fills were nicely discernible through the mix, precisely located at 45 degrees to the right. Knopfler’s voice was mostly smooth, with just one or two slight excursions into sibilance.
The delivery of instruments and their harmonics was utterly tight in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”. Even through the chorus, every tiny element of the music was clear, well placed and well defined. The synth elements sounded synthetic even during the loud bits.
That first-class timing came through especially with “Killing in the Name” from the debut Rage Against the Machine album (this one CD-standard). The opening guitar riffs were perfectly balanced. The vocalist’s voice was very natural, without undue emphasis on the upper frequencies. And the headphone’s planar magnetic diaphragms stopped dead exactly as demanded by the signal, allowing the air in the recording to come through.
They had no trouble pumping out some impressively deep bass on the Bach Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor. It was at least the 32 hertz harmonic delivered in full, and I did feel, more than hear, a hint of the 16 hertz fundamental. Blood, Sweat and Tear’s “Spinning Wheel” (back to DSD64) did its raw stuff, with the headphones providing a beautifully clean window into the recording studio. The naively captured drums, seemingly with no artificial dynamic compression applied in the studio, were also seemingly subject to no dynamic compression by the headphones. Meanwhile the bass guitar growled through its surprisingly complex accompaniment, with a steady, strong level, and with utter clarity of every note.
There was a very high-pitched whistle every time Deborah Harry sang an “S” in Blondie’s “In The Flesh”, and when the chorus kicked in everything was a mushy mess, with the voices sounding like they were being reproduced from a sample on a Mellotron. And I hate the sound of Mellotrons. That track was from The Best of Blondie CD, which I ripped to my server years ago. I went to check it out on TIDAL. It had a similarly messy one, but also a remastered version, which brought Harry’s voice forward in the mix, removed a sense of hollowness in the midrange and entirely eliminated that imitation of the Mellotron. A fine case of fine headphones revealing problems, and of a remastered version that actually fixed them.
Driving the Audeze LCD-2C headphones
Note above that Audeze recommends a minimum power of at least 100mW and recommends 250mW. That would seem to rule out a lot of portable devices, as well as many desktop DACs with headphone outputs that use off-the-shelf amplifier chips. Output specifications for headphone amplifiers don’t typically include the power into 70-ohm loads. You may have more luck looking at voltage. 100mW into 70 ohms requires a 2.65-volt input. 250mW requires 4.2 volts.
All that said I found I could achieve an adequate volume with an Apple Lightning headphone adaptor on an iPhone 8. It did tend to get a bit ragged, along with the sound closing in as I pushed it up towards the top of the range. Things were much better with the Astell&Kern A&futura SE200 digital audio player. This unit is good for around 2.7 volts (from the AKM output) into a 300-ohm load. It probably won’t quite reach that into 70 ohms but is likely good for over 2 volts. As I’m typing I’m listening to “P’lod In The House” from The Hidden Land by Béla Fleck & The Flecktones. The clarity and precision is excellent, and the deep bass elements of the music are powerful and clean.
So, the Audeze LCD-2C headphones are best with a proper desktop headphone amplifier, or a high quality, high output portable device.
How about devices such as many home theatre receivers which have a large inline resistance on their outputs? Well, one thing I can say for sure is that these headphones will not cause those outputs to deliver unpredictable frequency balance anomalies. Here’s the signal that is delivered to these headphones from such an output:
Unlike the multi-decibel wobble that appears with many dynamic headphones, these planar magnetic headphones – in common with many of the breed – vary by no more than one decibel (white trace). And that’s in the unrealistic condition of them not being loaded by being on your head. On my fake test head, even that wobble is flattened out, so that the full audible bandwidth fits within an ±0.15dB band (green trace).
But do such outputs produce enough power? These typically have huge voltage outputs (they’re often just redirecting their main power amps, thus the big resistors placed in line) of 25 or more volts into an open circuit. The voltage divider effect reduces the amount actually delivered to headphones enormously. With a typical such output producing 30 volts, the maximum voltage able to be delivered to the headphones would be 4.5 volts, which comes to 290 milliwatts. Plenty.
The Audeze LCD-2C Classic planar magnetic headphones made for a delightful listening experience, one that was comfortable and left me feeling that I was missing absolutely nothing from the music. But if you want headphones principally for portable use, you’d probably do better to look elsewhere.