In the past few years, planar-magnetic headphones have taken the audiophile world by storm delivering previously unheard sound quality into the ears of music freaks everywhere. The Audeze LCD-XC is among the first full-size planar-magnetic headphones geared for reference portable and personal listening. As always, musical bliss doesn’t come cheap.
Like the free-flowing Yellowstone River rushing near our headphone.com lab headquarters, the headphone industry moves fast and turbulent. So the passage of time may have obscured the fact that Audeze single-handedly revitalized the audiophile planar-magnetic headphone category with the introduction of the original LCD-2 model back in 2009. Since then, Audeze has continued to innovate at a torrid pace releasing an array of planar headphones up and down the performance, application and price point ladder, all geared for deep audiophiles and music lovers. And now several other manufacturers have jumped on the speeding planar-magnetic train, including superb high-end headphones released by HiFiMan and Mr Speakers.
The plana r-magnetic transducer dates back to the early days of the headphone era when they were sometimes termed “Orthodynamic” headphones by companies like Yamaha, but the category was largely suited for studio and recording pros looking for loud, clear, unadulterated sound - not necessarily wearing comfort or exacting sound quality. From the moment the first LCD-2 hit the shelves and dropped our audiophile headphone-loving jaws, Audeze has worked continuously to deliver true reference sound quality and constant advancement with every new product.
The Audeze LCD-XC headphone represents their first foray into the notoriously difficult closed-back earcup category which always presents spiky audio engineering problems given the frequency resonances an enclosed earcup chamber can potentially create versus an open earcup, where no such resonance issues exist. Compared to the Mr Speakers Ether C, another great sealed full-size planar-magnetic audiophile headphone full of proprietary goodness, the LCD-XC is significantly heavier at almost twice the weight (without cable). The extra ounces will add up after several hours of listening, so the ergonomics and wearing comfort factor easily goes to the Ether C. Both headphones are exceedingly well-built in Southern California with the Audeze’s real tonewood outer shells (you can select from iroko, walnut, purple heart, or bubinga wood earcup backs) standing out from the very lightweight but somewhat less distinct-looking grey matte carbon fiber earcups of the Mr Speakers Ether C.
Sonically, both cans also offer different musical strengths with the Ether C slightly besting the Audeze XC in depth of field and soundstage presentation. In fact, the Ether C may be the most ‘open-sounding’ closed/sealed headphone we’ve heard to date; its pinpoint sense of space and ‘air’ around the instruments and voices remains astonishing to our experienced testers. The XC does carry a more ample, richer bass punch in the lows with improved extension versus the Mr Speakers Ether C which has a nicely full, but rather tightly controlled bottom-end. Interestingly, when compared against the Fostex TH-900 Mk II - a dynamic driver headphone manufactured by one of the originators of the planar-magnetic headphone - the Audeze LCD-XC had a somewhat similarly energetic, upfront liveliness with the Fostex offering significantly more low-octave bass kick, but also a muddier sound in the low/mid bass. The Audeze LCD-XC also clearly bests the Fostex in midrange/treble smoothness and silky detail resolution, especially in the uppermost part of the frequency range where the TH-900 MkII can sometimes become unruly with some digital recordings or sources. The Ether C seems to offer a more precise transparency in the highs than either competitor, and its plainly dead-accurate sound up top may also be nice for longer listening sessions without fatigue setting in.
To sum up, the overall acoustic differences between the Mr Speakers Ether C and the Audeze LCD-XC remain close to our ears. Given the superb efficiency and deep clarity of the Audeze XC makes it seem like a logical choice for top portable use. However, the less-efficient Ether C also delivers the sonic goods but in a more ergonomically comfortable design, so the toss-up winner is a pretty close call. We consider both to be truly excellent headphones at the top of the category. In our expert headphone.com opinion, it is these two planar-magnetic models now clearly ruling the sealed-back headphone roost and, provided your wallet can take the blow, it would be hard to go wrong with either choice. As we always say, “Cry once, but always have the best sound in your ears!”We know its not easy deciding among all these ridiculously awesome planar-magnetic headphones, so please feel free to give our expert headphone.com team a call and we’ll be glad to attempt to break it down even further. And keep in mind our easy 30-day return policy ensures you’ll love what your ears hear - or your money back! Read more about Audeze LCD-XC
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