Let’s not beat around the bush here - these headphones aren’t cheap. It’s the first thing you'll notice about Audeze and with so many good quality headphones on the market, why would you pay $2799 on a brand that you’ve possibly not even heard of before?
It’s a good question so let's have a look at this relative newcomer to the headphone market and find out if the price is justified.
On review are the:
I should mention that these headphones were tested on the Audeze DECKARD Class A USB DAC and headphone amp. As a reference, I used the Audio Technica R70X and Beyerdynamic DT1990, two headphones I know very well.
Before going into detail on the headphones, let me take you through the DECKARD DAC/AMP. This unit is top class in the looks department - all brushed aluminium. Hooking it up was a breeze. I gave it power, plugged the USB cable into my Mac Book Air and presto it instantly showed up in my Sound Preferences – EASY!
The DECKARD has one headphone output, a parallel line level output and line level input on RCA connectors and USB. The front panel has an input selector switching between between USB and Line, and a high - mid - low selector to make up for any level discrepancies between different impedance headphones and a nice big volume dial.
In operation the DECKARD exhibits tones of pure, clean level without any noticeable distortion. Everything you want from a DAC/AMP of this quality. I felt I could keep turning that dial without any artefacts or noise and felt like I had good clean gain for days. It does run pretty hot though and after a small amount of time it was like a nice little heater sitting next to me.
I love the look of these headphones! - Minimal in design with a simple cork like strip around the outside of the headphone cups. The build is outstanding and they just scream quality! They feel snug when on and I immediately remark to my work mates on how comfortable they feel. I could easily wear these for long periods without issue.
I listened to 2 distinctly different songs. The first song was Robert Plant's “Killing the Blues” from the Raising Sand Album. This song is recorded using Ribbon microphones and has a very somber tone which really lets the instruments speak for themselves. I’ve heard this on many different headphones and high-end $12000 speakers and was surprised that I heard things I’d never heard before when listening on the EL-8’s. I could clearly hear the natural space the instruments were recorded in. The vocals sounded incredible. Exactly where I would have placed them had I mixed the track myself. The sound stage seemed full, yet there were only a few instruments and these instruments sounded like they were intrinsically tied to the song. So far so good.
The second song I listened to was Moderat “Running”, taken from their latest Moderat III album. This song couldn’t be any more different from the previous track and is more in tune with the music I typically listen to. Sometimes it’s not about how something sounds but how it makes you feel and I always thought this song really wasn’t up to the quality of the tracks from the previous Moderat II album. When I listened to it on these headphones, I instantly connected with it though and felt foolish that I had previously brushed it aside. I was transported away and when it finished I just wanted to listen to it again. Now I can’t exactly explain why this is, however I have a feeling that these headphones revealed how beautifully this song was mixed. It has space that sucked you up and took you away. The detail was incredible. I can only wait to hear this same song on the LCD-X model.
When you open up a box and the headphones have their own Pelican style brief case, you just know you are in a totally different level of quality. These headphones are gorgeous. The ear cups are the most plush I’ve seen on any headphone in any price range. They must be about an inch and a half deep and are made from the softest leather. Where the EL-8 have a stylish, designer look to them, the LCD-X seem to have taken a page out of the Steampunk handbook and would look entirely at home on a submarine Captain in 20 Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. I love this retro yet modern look!.
There is this law of diminishing returns, which essentially means that when you start to enter stratospheric prices for a product the return in quality begins to get smaller and smaller. You see this in all types of products when you are at the upper end of the market. So does this apply to the LCD-X? Well I guess you would have to say yes when compared to the EL-8’s, which are already at an exceptionally high quality. Yet up against the R70X and DT1990's which I have used a lot, and know are really quite good, the difference was instantly obvious! It’s not that the those headphones are bad it’s just that the LCD-X are extraordinary. They really are the Ferrari of the headphone world.
Again I listened to the same two songs to provide consistency.
When plugged into the DECKARD both EL-8 and LCD-X sit at pretty much the same gain output, which is nice, as my reference headphones seemed to be all over the place. The main difference was in sound stage and detail. When compared to the EL-8, the LCD-X just seemed to be wider and fuller. I am not talking extreme here – this is subtle. I immediately had the very same connection to the Moderat song that I had when listening on the EL-8's, yet when listening on the LCD-X, I was paying closer attention to the detail. This is where the LCD-X shines. I could visually pinpoint where every individual sound was placed by the mix engineer. You can say this about many headphones but it is really true with these. There’s depth without sounding like someone has cranked the bass, there's air and there's balance. When I listen to music, I will often deconstruct the track in my mind to discover how a producer achieved a particular sound. The LCD-X makes this a breeze. I don't know how you could improve on these headphones and believe the Audeze LCD-X is the benchmark to which all other models will now be measured.
So is the price justified?
At first, I was quite taken a back by the price of these headphones - especially the LCD-X. I’ve never dropped that much cash on a set of headphones before; it’s a figure that never entered my consciousness. But then this thought crossed my mind. I do a fair bit of cycling (stay with me here), I don’t do it professionally, I just like to ride... kind of a hobby. I have 3 bikes, 2 road and one mountain bike, and each one cost me over $5000 and one costs in excess of $7000. Once I made this reality check, dropping $2799 on a set of headphones really doesn’t seem all that much, especially if I were a professional making a living out of producing, mixing or mastering music.
As professionals, we always strive for excellence in all the gear we own. If you are looking for the very best set of headphones you could possibly own, and money is not an issue, then make the investment in the LCD-X and you will not look back. You will not have buyers remorse and you will have peace of mind knowing you have the very best that money can buy. Second to monitors, headphones are one of the most important tools you can invest in. If you are struggling with the thought of dropping $2799 on the LCD-X, then I suggest you check out the EL-8 headphones; they really are good and won’t hit your pocket so hard.
Yes, you do! The good news is that many of the better quality audio interfaces available will have a decent headphone amp built in that will be powerful enough to drive these headphones. And that is what it’s really about. Having the power so when you turn it up, it’s not struggling. If you have a $300 sound card you will struggle, however audio interfaces from RME, Apogee, Universal Audio and Audient for example will be sufficient. If you really want to go all out, then the DECKARD or the Rupert Neve headphone amp would be a nice addition.
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