Wednesday, 7 September 2011

My first post-Audeze LCD 2 Rev 2

This is my first post and it’s a comprehensive review of my current favourite piece of audio gear, the Audeze LCD-2 Revision 2 Headphones. I have owned this pair since July and prior to that had their previous rendition. They are a pair of open backed planar magnetic headphones, with Carribean rosewood cups, sheepskin leather headband and pads. As you would have noticed the ‘Revision 2’ in their name, these are an updated model, recently released in July. I will therefore be referring to it as the Rev 2 and the original model which I previously owned as the LCD 2. The changes made compared to the original LCD 2 headphone include the new leather headband, improved pads and most importantly thinner, lighter headphone drivers. The drivers used are of course planar magnetic, basically a cross-over between the conventional dynamic drivers that are found in most headphones from the Beats by Dr Dre range to the Sennheiser HD800 and the electrostatic ones found in products like the Stax series of headphones and the Sennheiser HE-90 Orpheus. For a very nice personal touch, each pair of headphones is shipped with a unique serial number and frequency graph of your particular pair’s sound signature.

My experience with these headphones has led me to some positive and negative conclusions, though mostly the former. I will now elaborate upon separate aspects of their sound.
On the whole, the sound produced by these headphones is very impressive. They have a very smooth sound signature, with seamless transition from the bass to the mids and to the highs. Furthermore, in my opinion, they are a huge step up from the original LCD 2s in terms of the soundstage which is now much more coherent, consistent and life-like.

Firstly, the treble is a portion of the frequency range that has been highlighted as a weakness in the original LCD 2s by owners of these headphones on various forums and even in reviews. This was one of the key reasons why Audeze decided to update their headphones. The Rev 2’s still have a very smooth treble which in my opinion is not the least bit sibilant or annoying at any time under a wide range of music. It is slightly more detailed and airy than the original LCD 2s and is very clear and precise. However, I believe that if you are used to or enjoy headphones with slightly more treble such as the AKG K701s, Sennheiser HD800, etc. it may take some time getting used to these headphones as they will probably sound dark to you at first. However, after getting used to the sound signature, I suspect that you will find it very hard to go back to headphones with sharper more emphasized treble as those headphones will probably sound slightly annoying now.

This was arguably the strongest suit of the original LCD 2s and much of it is retained. However, in my opinion. This is one area where perhaps the Rev 2 may be considered a small step back from the original model. Firstly, both the original and the Rev 2s have a supremely rich, creamy and life-like midrange. It is very detailed and allows you to hear the nuance in your music, such as the breath of the performer, the moving of chairs in a studio. However, the Rev 2s are slightly less forward and dense as the originals, which gives the impression of them being slightly less full and rich if compared side by side. This may be taken as an improvement though as now the vocals seem to integrate better with the instruments in music than before in which the vocals took centre stage while instruments seemed pushed back or to the sides. On the whole, without hearing the original LCD 2s, the Rev 2s probably have a nigh perfect midrange which anchors these headphone’s sound signature.

Ah, bass, the bane of so many headphones. Bass is probably the area in which the majority of headphones fail, as many manufacturers opt to increase the mid-bass region while allowing the lower bass to roll-off. The Rev 2s suffer no such problem, having more or less a perfectly flat bass response from about 1 khz down to 5 hz as seen in the frequency chart that comes with your hreadphone. In practice, this is also very audible. While they do not overpower the music with bass unlike certain other headphones which I have tried and completely disliked, the Rev 2s have deep, textured and powerful bass when the music requires it, such as in Squarepusher's 'do you know squarepusher', an electronic album. Furthermore, the drums in music such as the opening sequence in U2’s ‘Bullet the blue sky’ come to life, allowing you to picture the drums being played right in front of you. The bass also intergrates fabulously with the mids and highs and do not overpower them but instead complement them.

Soundstage and Presentation
The LCD 2 Rev 2s have a very enjoyable and realistic soundstage to me, they create a rough hemisphere of sound in front of your head in which instruments, vocals and sounds are all mixed. The instrument separation is good if not class leading and there is adequate “air” about the instruments. However, what I like most about their soundstage and presentation is the way that even though it is not the widest soundstage (Look at the HD800), it is supremely coherent and filled. I find that there are no gaps in the sound hemisphere in front of you and sounds can appear from anywhere within that space. This is something that I have found no other headphones, save the HD800 and AKG K1000 could do.

Build and Comfort
Moving on to the physical build of the headphones. They are very comfortable if a tad heavy to me. Weighing in at over 500grams, making them over twice as heavy as some other headphones, they certainly are not light. However, the feel pretty balanced to me and the soft leather headband and ear cups are very comfortable. They are also very well made, with beautifully finished wooden ear cups, nice connectors and very good cables for a stock cable (ADZ-5/6). I do hope to be able to test them soon with some aftermarket cables though, namely the Apuresound v3 and Alo audio Reference 8 Copper/Silver.

Conclusion and Value
On the whole, I would definitely recommend these headphones to anyone seeking a high-end headphone solution. However, I would suggest that you try them first if possible as their heavy weight may cause potential discomfort for certain users, thus ruining your experience. Potential buyers should also note that this review was conducted using several high quality Digital Analogue Converters (which will be the subject of upcoming reviews) as well as the Schiit Lyr and Woo Audio Wa 5 headphone amplifiers. I have also tried the LCD 2 Rev 2s through a Hifiman 601, Ipod touch and Sony Ericsson Walkman phone and found the sound though acceptably loud to be significantly poorer than through my home set-up. Furthermore, they are of course open backed and thus leak noise both in and out of the headphone. Hence these would not be recommended in portability is a high priority. I would also note that they come with what is in my opinion a very ordinary 1 year warranty. Though these headphones retail at $945-995 depending on the choice of headband, they are a very high value proposition in my opinion and are actually significantly cheaper than almost any competitive headphone.

Rating (Upon 10)
Overall Sound-9.5
Overall (Upon 100)-83

Supporting Gear
Desktop Sources- Moon 750D CD Transport, HP HDX16 AND DV4 Laptops, Apple iMac 27inch 2010
Portable Sources-Hifiman 601, Apple Ipod Touch 3G, Sony Ericsson W995 Walkman, Motorola Atrix 4G
DACs- Moon 750D DAC
Headphone Amplifiers- Woo Audio Wa5, Schiit Lyr

I hope you enjoyed and found this article helpful. P.s. pictures will be added very soon so stay tuned.