Audeze LCD-5 Reference Planar Magnetic Open Back Headphones review

The Audeze “LCD” series has rightly held a unique place in the upper echelons of the head-fi pantheon since the release of the original LCD-2 all the way back in 2009. While I’ve had a mixed relationship with them over the years - mainly due to the fact that I prefer brighter-sounding headphones - I’ve always admired them for their astonishing technical capabilities, superb craftsmanship as well as for Audeze’s steadfast commitment to maintaining a unique “house sound”. One glance at the huge round earcups, signature grille pattern and inimitable chunky silhouette of a pair of LCD headphones and there’s no mistaking that you’re looking at none other than Audeze’s flagship planar magnetic line - they’re immediately recognisable by those who know as a pair of high-end headphones that deserves a place in any audiophile’s collection at some point in time. 

So, a bit like when Tool decides to go and drop a new album, Audeze’s announcement of the launch of their brand-new range-topping planar magnetic headphone - the $7899 LCD-5 reference planar magnetic open back headphones - was A Pretty Big Deal in my books. The previous range-topping Audeze planars, the LCD-4 and LCD-3 were (pretty substantial!) incremental improvements on their legendary progenitor, the LCD-2, in terms of their sonic capabilities, underlying technology as well as their fit and finish, but they definitely stayed true to the legendary LCD form-factor by carrying-over the same girthy chassis and overall design. The fact that these three headphones are each still available for sale says a lot about the impact that they’ve made on the audiophile community, and they each have their own unique “take” on Audeze’s signature planar-magnetic sound. 

However, Audeze took a rather sharp 90-degree turn when it came to the development of the new LCD-5, taking their new flagship planar in a radically different direction compared to their legacy LCD headphones. It seems that the Santa Ana, California-based manufacturer listened to both market and enthusiast feedback on their previous models and went back to the drawing board to create an altogether different of beast - both sonically, and physically. The new LCD-5 benefits from years of Audeze’s hard-won know-how when it comes to planar-magnetic technology, but it’s a different-sounding beast altogether. However, the most stark change with the latest iteration of the LCD range is the fact that it arrives in a drastically different-looking, different-feeling chassis that sets it apart from every headphone bearing the “LCD” badge that came before it. We’d better take a closer look at what’s new in the new LCD-5 and what sets it apart not only from every LCD that came before it, but also from every other high-end headphone on the market. The LCD-5 is a pretty special kinda unicorn, as I’ll go on to explain, but I think Audeze has also gone and it made their most accessible, most universally-appealing flagship yet.  

Unboxing the Audeze LCD-5

Let’s not beat around the bush - the LCD-5 is a “summit-fi” pair of headphones in every regard, and they ain’t cheap. However, the from the moment you open up the innocuous-looking protective cardboard box they arrive in, it’s certainly a “flagship”-worthy experience from the get-go. The LCD-5 ships in a serious-looking aluminium briefcase that’s a step above the more rugged pelican-style case deemed worthy for earlier LCD models. The LCD-5’s fancy-looking case is weatherproof, and won’t look out of place in the overhead compartment in business class…should you need to take world-class sound with you while you’re travelling. Inside the case, the headphones themselves are nestled securely inside a snug foam cutout, and you’ll feel extra secure thanks to a set of keys that are also provided for locking your LCD-5s away safely inside. 

You know you’re getting the white glove treatment for your new audio investment when it comes shipped with just that - a pair of white gloves. Dust and fingerprints can be the bane of many an audiophile’s existence, and while I didn’t feel the urge to put them on while handling or cleaning the LCD-5, they’re a nice inclusion. 

The LCD-5 is equipped with a terrific-quality cable made from four individual woven strands of plastic-sheathed OCC copper wire, and attaches to the two earcups via mini XLR adapters. I’m a big fan of the stock cables that Audeze equips their LCD line of headphones with, and it’s no different here - it’s supple, non microphonic and not prone to tangling. The LCD-5 review unit I had for evaluation was equipped with a single-ended 6.3mm cable, but later production models will have a balanced 4-pin XLR cable with a single-ended adapter, so check with your nearest Addicted To Audio store to find a cable solution that will work best for you. Of course, being detachable cables you’ll be able to source any number of after-market options depending on your audio, aesthetic or amplifier needs. 

Audeze LCD-5 design and form-factor

One of the largest points of criticism given to previous LCD models was their…largeness. The LCD line of headphones (up until now) haven’t exactly been shrinking violets, and feel like you’re wearing a large, soft audiophile “helmet” of sorts. Needless to say, they also have a rather conspicuous profile and certainly won’t go unnoticed if you’re wearing them in public. The previous Audeze flagship, the LCD-4, also weighed-in at a somewhat portly 690 grams. I wouldn’t exactly call the LCD-4 an uncomfortable headphone thanks to its terrifically-comfortable pads and excellent weight distribution, but I find that I do need to take a break from time to time as you’re certainly reminded that you’re wearing close the best part of a kilogram’s worth of headphone on your noggin. 

The scalpel has most certainly been applied to the new LCD-5, which weighs in at a mere 420 grams - not insubstantial, but positively featherweight by Audeze LCD standards. While the LCD-5 definitely retains the family DNA in terms of its large, circular cups and familiar ribbed grille coverings, it’s an altogether more svelte and purposeful design thank to a complete chassis overhaul. Gone are the wooden earcup rings - in their place Audeze has used a dark acetate resin with a nice shiny finish and dark “wood-like” swirls. Obviously this was a key weight-saving measure, but it does remove some of the “heirloom” vibes that the wooden finish lent to previous LCD headphones. Being a gloss finish I suspect it will be more prone to scratches if not handled carefully, but luckily you have a nice pair of white gloves for that, right? The large chrome-finished metal grilles of the LCD-4 have been replaced with a more rounded, contoured matte plastic that gives the LCD-5 a more streamlined and less “blingy” vibe that’s altogether more purposeful whilst feeling solid and well-engineered. 

As well as having the earcup design overhauled, the LCD-5 features an all-new headband design that makes it lighter, more comfortable, and less bulky than its predecessors. Metal rod-blocks connect the earcup gimbals directly into the carbon fibre headband, making for a “flusher” fit (and look!) than previous LCD configurations. The rod-blocks “click” into place upwards and downwards with reassuring security when adjusting for height, and there’s also plenty of “spin” and “tilt” in the gimbal assembly to find a nice snug fit for your head. Clamping tension is managed by the flexible carbon headband itself, and it makes for a rather different wearing sensation compared to the LCD-4, whose weight was mostly managed via the weight of the earcups themselves against your ears. Underneath the carbon fibre headband is a leather suspension strap, which did a great job of evenly bearing weight across the top of my head without revealing any annoying “hot spots”. 

Aside from the lighter weight, one of the key reasons why the LCD-5 feels entirely different to its forebears is the new earpad design. Rather than having large flat surfaces that rest against the side of your head around your ears, the LCD-5 has more “concave”-shaped earpads with tapered, sloping sides that create more  space around your ears with less contact against your head, but this also has the effect of creating more of a “seal” on the edges of the pads that are in contact with your head.

The pads themselves are wonderfully soft to the touch, being made from supple lambskin leather, but there’s a touch more clamp-force present with this newest LCD - it feels a lot more secure on your head and you can definitely tilt your head back while wearing them (something I wouldn’t do with the LCD-4), but it does feel a little more aggressively “grippy”. The 30% reduction in weight over the LCD-4 more than makes up for this however, and not once did I ever feel like the LCD-5 was getting uncomfortable - even during an 8-hour work day.  

While the LCD-5 might not have the same sumptuous “grandiosity” as the LCD-4 in terms of its overall design and aesthetics, it’s still certainly a substantial looking and feeling headphone - I’d call it a more mature design that’s more business-like while retaining touches of elegance and luxury. 

All-new planar-magnetic technology

Audeze are known for their pioneering work in planar-magnetic driver design, and they’ve used an entirely new driver design for their latest flagship. The overall driver circumference has dropped from 106mm down to 90mm, hence the more svelte design in earcups housing the new “Nano-Scale, Ultra-Thin, Parallel-force” drivers, which are in fact thinner than the diameter of a red blood cell by a factor of ten, and weigh less than the air that they are moving! 

Further space and weight has been saved by opting for a single-sided “Fluxor” magnet array, versus the double-sided configuration used in the LCD-4. The Fluxor system uses powerful Neomoydium N50 magnets working in convert with Audeze’s Patent-pending Parallel Uniforce voice coils to motivate the planar diaphragms with high levels of control (they can resonate backward and forward up to 20,000 times per second!) and low distortion. 

Looking inside the cups, you’ll be able to see the familiar parallel bars of Audeze’s “Fazor” waveguides, which have been specially redesigned for the LCD-5 to better control the flow of sound-waves toward your ears while reducing interference. Their flatter design also helps to create more room inside the earcups - not once did I feel like my ears were rubbing up against anything, there was plenty of room for them on all sides. 

Listening to the Audeze LCD-5

Like I hinted at before, I’ve always admired the Audeze LCD line but I never really found them to be quite my cup of tea when it comes to sound preference. I can appreciate the dark, “velvet sledgehammer” that is best epitomised in the LCD-4, but I’ve always yearned for an extra dose of upper mids and treble presence from the Audeze flagship line, which I’ve always found to be somewhat laid-back and restrained in the air department - even the more “studio-focused” LCD-X.

As well as giving the LCD-5 the complete “do-over” in terms of aesthetics, Audeze has given the LCD-5 a completely different voicing that I can only call a significant departure from where the LCD series has been previously. After only a short listen, I could immediately tell that the LCD-5 has been imbued with a far more balanced and coherent sound that’s much more in line with the somewhat nebulous standard that for the sake of convenience we’ll call “neutral”. It’s not a bright headphone by any means, but I’d call the LCD-5 very present sounding - there’s astonishing levels of detail and clarity, particularly in the upper mid range and treble that feels as though you’ve taken off your sunglasses while watching TV. 

Now please keep in mind that I’m applying these descriptions in relative “Audeze” terms, but putting that aside for a moment, the interesting thing about the LCD-5 at first, is that they sound altogether unremarkable. Wait, hear me out. I don’t mean that in the sense that they are a bad, or unexciting headphone, on the contrary. What the LCD-5 does so well, is that they basically do everything exceptionally well, in an extremely coherent and linear sense, so that nothing really stands out. There’s no thumping bass. There’s no zing or added spiciness of sparkling upper treble. They just sound very…correct. This might all seem a little underwhelming at a first read, but when you spend time to start doing some serious listening with the LCD-5 you quickly get an appreciation for just how technically peerless they are, combined with a tuning that’s frankly very approachable. Because they are such a natural-sounding headphone, they’re both very easy to listen to, and extremely versatile across genres. They’re the sort of headphone that I’d suggest most people would “warm” to in terms of tuning in the same way that the far (far) humbler Sennheiser HD650 will. Oh, and like the HD650, I absolutely loved listening to vinyl with the LCD-5! Their inherent smoothness works a treat when paired with a well-mastered and pressed recording like Daft Punk's Random Access Memories

The LCD-5 displays a far more even-handed approach to delivering bass than the LCD-4, and if you’re looking for thump and slam, you might even find them a bit “polite” in that regard. Show you the Way by Thundercat is a great test for headphone bass extension and impact from one of the best (and weirdest) bass players in the business. The LCD-5’s bass is ruler-flat with super low reach, displaying no apparent roll-off whatsoever, with frankly perfect texture and definition around the leading and trailing edges of low-end notes. The ultra-visceral low-end slam as the LCD-4 definitely isn’t here, in case you’re looking for it. However, it’s plenty in my books, and I think it’s actually a more accurate sculpted depiction of what bass notes should sound like in a balanced headphone. Being stupendously low in distortion, the LCD-5 will happily take more than a few decibels of bass-shelf EQ-ing if that’s your cup of tea, but I honestly loved it right out of the briefcase. 

The excellent cover of Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters by Phoebe Bridgers shows off the stunning mid-range capabilities of the LCD-5, which is where I think its best attributes lie. Not only are the vocals and instrumental parts super present, they’re actually somewhat forward - not aggressively so, but enough to say that the midrange characteristics of the LCD-5 makes them a rather intimate and revealing headphone in a way that might take you by surprise. There are startling amounts of texture and detail apparent in every note, and every breath in the lead vocal part, and you can vividly pick apart each separate multi-track vocal harmony in the chorus - the LCD-5 resolves every last part with aplomb. 

I can see some listeners finding the LCD-5 to be a fraction too forward in the mid-range, but I think that taming the presence region with EQ does clip the LCD-5’s wings in terms of the way that it makes music come alive. There’s a nice amount of air and treble extension on display in orchestral strings and cymbal-hits - the LCD-5’s highest octave is well controlled and show off plenty of detail, but it’s also slightly restrained and leans more towards “smooth” rather than “shiny”. 

The LCD-5 is so controlled and linear in the treble that it never even comes close to approaching sibilance. Nirvana’s live track Oh me can be super-grating on headphones that have a grainier and harsher treble, but it’s super-well balanced on the LCD-5 whilst delivering an absolutely transparent “live” feeling to the recording. The acoustic guitars are smooth, organic and super well detailed - the LCD-5 is so revealing that you’ll hear absolutely everything that went into the microphones in that recording including every last sound of the strings buzzing and fingers sliding across the fretboard. 

The LCD-5 has a well-defined sense of soundstage that favours separation and image clarity over sheer width. Listening to Tool’s Invincible I definitely got a “beyond head” feeling from the LCD-5 that does make you forget that you’re listening to headphones, which is perhaps one of the greatest compliments you can pay a headphone. There’s a good sense of height as well as left/right/centre placements of individual tracks, and because the LCD-5 is a blazingly fast and revealing headphone, there’s no unwanted lingering or smearing of notes that can tend to blunt the sense of imaging and separation. The breakdown at the 9:35 mark in this track is an absolute hoot on the LCD-5, which can most definitely “rock out” with a brimful of energy and alacrity in the chugging guitar parts. The LCD-5’s low-end control and speed and the way it renders the palpable hits of the kick-drums are just stunning.   

Powering and source pairing 

With an impedance of only 14-ohms and a sensitivity of 90dB, the LCD-5 has been designed to be rather easy to drive and pair with modestly-powered sources - especially compared to the 200-ohm impedance of the LCD-4. Most discrete headphone amplifiers will extract a decent performance from the LCD-5, as will some more powerful portable sources. However, being perhaps the most revealing headphone I can recall listening to, the LCD-5 does shine with higher-quality amplification and added headroom which I found to elicit a more pronounced sense of image separation as well as added dynamics. Due to its low output impedance of 14-ohms, solid state amplifiers with a low output impedance are the best match with the LCD-5 in order to get as correct a frequency response out of them as possible, although I did find that it did get a sense of a very mild yet still extremely tasteful lift in mid-bass from the Matrix Audio Element X2 Music Streamer whose output impedance is <12dB. 

The Fiio M17 may “technically” be a DAP, but it’s pretty bloody powerful as DAPs go. I didn’t need to go beyond 45/120 on the volume pot running the LCD-5 from the 6.3mm single-ended jack before Atoms For Peace’s AMOK started to get a little too loud - although it sounded so bloody good I was a little tempted to give the wheel a bit more of a nudge. AMOK features Radiohead’s Thom Yorke on vocals, Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s Flea on bass, and is produced by long-term Radiohead contributor Nigel Godrich. It’s a brilliantly-created mish-mash of soundscapes, fast-paced and constantly changing rhythms, and low-key melodies - and it’s also a great test of how well a device can manage intricate transients, deliver abrupt dynamic swings, and place sudden electronic noises into a believable “stage” around your head. The M17 acquitted itself absolutely brilliantly on all accounts with the LCD-5 and more than stepped up to the mark. Playing the same track over the eminently more powerful Burson Audio Soloist 3X Grand Tourer Headphone Amplifier (which can manage up to 10 Watts into 16-ohms), and surprisingly, the M17 really didn’t leave that much on the table. The electronic “dripping tap” effect coming from the right channel in the track Ingenue did feel a bit closer and less ethereal-sounding on the M17 than it did on the Burson GT, but it did reveal that there was a degree more dynamic impact from the ear-tickling, staccato-like percussion on the full-sized desktop amp. 

Medium gain on the Soloist GT proved to be simply too loud on the LCD-5 (even with the volume set to “01”), so low gain was the appropriate setting for a two-hour and two-minute listening session with Smashing Pumpkin’s Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. One thing that struck me about the listening to the LCD-5 on the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer was the fact that I didn’t need to crank it especially loud to reveal a properly finessed and yet still dynamic performance (“15” was plenty) from the LCD-5, even in some of the quieter tracks like Galapogas where I was treated to a nice, visceral feeling of real percussion from Jimmy Chamberlin’s kick-drums counterbalanced with lovely airy strings and (not so lovely, but certainly “distinctive”) textured vocals from Billy Corgan. 

Listening to the LCD-5 via the MOON 430HAD solid state amplifier + DAC via an XLR Cardas Audio Clear Headphone Cable was nothing short of revelatory. Going back to a 24-bit/96kHz FLAC recording of Tool’s 2019 album (it’s still their “new” one, right?) Fear Innoculum was the closest I’ve come to reliving the heart-thumping, brutal experience of the track Pneuma since I saw them play it live in Sydney back in early 2020 (just before the world went haywire). The MOON 430HA helps unleash every last iota of unbridled detail from the LCD-5, even to the point that I realised that there was some unpleasant distortion in the recording at the 8:45 mark - yep, the LCD-5 will tell you the truth, warts and all. The bongos at the 7-minute mark seemed to swirl around in cosmic patterns reminiscent of the wild 3D animations from their live production, and the breakdown at 9:35 was simply nothing short of ferocious head-banging bliss. It was amazing stuff. 

And for something completely different, it was time to indulge in a little bit of my guilty pleasure - a bit of country, and there’s no better voice in country than Chris Stapleton. In fact, I think he might just be the best living male vocalist out there, irrespective of genre. His track Either Way from the 24-bit/96kHz Qobuz edition of his album From a Room: Volume 1 is a raw, stripped-back emotive performance with just Chris and an acoustic guitar, and yet listening to the LCD-5 with the 430HAD made me have a genuine moment - the lingering echo of his voice and the guitar made me believe that I was in a small untreated performance studio with an audience of one: me. 

Final thoughts

Being such a dramatic departure from previous LCD models, I can understand why you might have been worried if Audeze had gone and thrown the baby out with the bathwater with the all new form-factor and tuning of the LCD-5. Is it completely different to the LCD-4? Yes. Is it a move for the better? You betcha. 

By creating a headphone that’s easier to drive and pair with source equipment, easier to wear, and easier to approach tuning-wise I suspect that Audeze will attract far more audiophiles to the pointy end of their product catalogue than with their more “characterful” LCD-4. It took me several weeks to figure out just how I felt about the LCD-5, and that’s unusual for me. I can usually tell how I feel about a pair of headphones right away. It was only after I moved back to some other headphones that I found that I missed the LCD-5 because I realised that they had become my new benchmark for just about everything that I’m looking for in a headphone, without needing to shout or dazzle in any one idiosyncratic aspect. The LCD-5 sounds utterly natural, it’s fast and revealing, and “ups” the already-great Audeze build quality in a whole new way that makes you want to listen to music even longer - regardless of what your playlist throws at you. 

“All-rounder” might seem like a boring title to give to a headphone, but if you’re looking at getting yourself one headphone that can comfortably replace pretty much everything else, then you’re probably looking at it. 

AudezeOpen-back headphones