Here at Headphone.com, we get lots of calls asking about top-of-the-line headphones and there's always some exclaiming about the enormous prices becoming common at the extreme high-end of the business. Although its sometimes tough to totally justify the exorbitant prices out there nowadays for a superior headphone, the only honest reply we have is to ask another question back - “Exactly how much is spiritual closeness to your favorite music and accurate ‘you-are-there’ sound worth to you?”
Without a doubt, headphones like the $4,000 Audeze LCD-4 are frightfully expensive. But to uncompromising rock, soul, EDM or classical lovers wanting to hear their music with unparalleled fidelity, or to those aficionados who simply just need to get deep inside the sound, or those who wish to virtually sit in front of a guitar hero’s amp or at the console cutting the final master, that elusive aesthetic experience can often be worth a hell of a lot. What exactly should you pay for tingles?
The Audeze LCD-4 headphones do indeed cost a lot, but they also give a whole lot back in return to the music-loving listener. We frankly hear no close competitors to the LCD-4’s definitive authority, sublime sense of timing and powerful, easy pacing, all melded with a boundless depth of field that dissolves to the edges of space like moonlight in a cloudless sky.
The LCD-4 combines a wholly unique mix of potent precision with a delicate transparency that almost belies its raw power quietly waiting in the wings, ready to perfectly track and reproduce every lightning-fast transient or vast dynamic leap in the recording. The LCD-4 certainly shows off a lot of deeply chiseled brawn, but with an articulate warmth and musical elegance that is a wholly uncommon combination in audiophile headphone land.
The expansiveness of the Audeze LCD-4 soundstage image is just as delightful and presents one of the most ‘outside the head’ headphone listening experiences around. Even when compared to the Sennheiser HD800S very highly touted imaging, the LCD-4 completely held its own with a similarly open sense of space and unburdened airiness freely breathing and moving around the voices and instruments.
Unlike the HD800S, the lower register of the Audeze is a wondrous experience and covers the sub-basement with deep aplomb sans any trace of excess or bloat despite the head-pinning low-end torque. Slam and punch abound but, again, with a revelatory sense of control and texture that no other headphone can match.
On Steely Dan’s classic “Josie”, the LCD-4 perfectly handled the sharp, powerful snare thwack first heard when the full band comes in to where we could seemingly detect when Jim Keltner’s stick bead is perfectly dead center on the snare - or millimeters off dead center - by virtue of suddenly audible, minute changes in attack and timbre. Other headphones either completely altered the snare strike tone and changed the presence or reproduced the stick thwack but without the resonant body of the drum underneath, or vice versa. To us headphone geeks, these little differences are the stuff of legend.
Perhaps the closest competitor to the Audeze LCD-4 is the HiFiMAN HE-1000 another stellar high-end planar magnetic headphone but with a completely different signature sound. The HE1000 is lighter in tonality and bass weight but is equally detailed in the upper mids & highs where its crystalline extension may perhaps supercede the LCD-4 in places. Impact and punch are also lessened in the HE 1000, replaced by a more incisive but less muscular presentation that is gentler and more dynamically benign compared to the grab-you-by-the-cojones pull of the LCD-4.
To its great credit, the HE1000 treble ranges sound slightly more unified and cohesive with an arguably equal level of resolution and transparency compared to the LCD-4, which is priced at a thousand dollars more. The fit ergonomics of the HiFiMAN are also lighter and less bulky on the noggin than the beastly LCD-4. However, we’d give the build quality and durability nod to the California-manufactured Audeze which is resplendent in its slatted chrome grills, angled leather pads and sweet dark wood earcup rings. We also prefer the secure mini-XLR pin cable connectors on the Audeze headphones versus the less desirable 2.5mm mini-plugs found on the detachable HiFiMAN HE 1000 cord system.
Although Audeze is usually like Switzerland and remains neutral on any claimed high-end audiophile cable improvements, they have wisely included a brand-new cord type with the LCD-4 exclusively created by Lee Weiland of Locus Design featuring a special cryogenic braiding process and proprietary cabling. When the limited blue Locus Design cord supply is exhausted, Audeze will select another quality supplier for the next iteration of the LCD-4 headphone cable.
As to exactly how much better the LCD-4 is over the Audeze LCD-3, the rather unfortunate answer for previous adopters is significantly. Nope, it’s not a ‘night & day’ 2X difference - but it is plainly audible to our ears. The LCD-4 delivers a copious improvement in bass extension, drive and low-end tightness in addition to a highly refined level of midrange detail resolution that the LCD-3 merely hints at. The upper highs also have more transparent air and less glassy sparkle than heard in the LCD-3 with smoother leading edges that verge on the silky, but without any loss of microscopic detail or analytic clarity.
All we can say is several of our rather jaded expert headphone review team got suddenly dreamy-eyed and drooly listening to the LCD-4, rating it as likely the best headphone available in the industry today. High praise indeed.
As a final aside, we noted that Audeze has recently stated all LCD-series drivers would be re-tooled in early 2016. Although the updates are considered incremental, they are nevertheless notable - Audeze is planning to implement a thinner film sandwiched in between the magnet driver structures that is said to improve overall response and linearity. Our Audeze LCD-4 review sample construction date was signed-off by Audeze technicians on April 26, 2016.
Given their unassuming start as a tiny Southern California audio company building headphones by hand - something they still do for many of their models - Audeze’s growth and well-earned rise to the top has been a pleasure to witness and hear. Sure, their headphones are expensive. But it may help to keep in mind that classic electrostatic headphone/amp systems cost many thousands of dollars way back before the 1980s, meaning today’s uber high-end headphones still remain in league with the top-tier pricing of the best headphone products of almost 40 years ago.
And there’s really little question the modern headphones of today simply demolish anything ever made back then, so in our humble headphone.com opinion, the Audeze LCD-4’s ‘bang-for-the-buck’ remains justifiable for music lovers seeking intimacy, accuracy and total sensory immersion into the breathing, beating nerve center of their favorite recordings.
So to repeat our infamous corporate motto for the past 20 years, “Go ahead and cry once (*or twice in this case! -ed . ) but always have the very best sound in your ears.”
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