Budget buyers beware: you have entered the realm of the premium. Today, we're reviewing what are widely regarded to be the best headphones in the world; the Audeze LCD-3 and LCD-X. At Rs. 1,34,900 and Rs. 1,19,900 respectively, these headphones cost more than your average motorcycle, and are only for that rare breed of buyers with money to burn, who insist on only the finest things in life.
Although the two pairs of headphones look similar, there is one key difference between them - apart from the obvious Rs. 15,000 price gap. The LCD-3 is a high-impedance headset which requires external amplification, while the LCD-X has a low enough impedance to be comfortably driven even by portable source devices such as smartphones and media players. Both use planar magnetic drivers, which are known for their high-fidelity sound. Do these headphones live up to the supposed 'best headphones in the world' tag? Let's find out.
Specifications, design and comfort
The Audeze LCD-3 is an over-ear open-backed planar magnetic headset with a wood-finish casing. The large magnets in the casing result in the LCD-3 weighing a hefty 543g. Frequency response ranges from 5-20,000Hz (extended out to 50,000Hz), sensitivity measures in at 102dB, and impedance is a significant 110Ohms. The two included cables are both 2.5m in length, and plug into the headphones using dual mini-XLR plugs. The other ends of the cables are 6.35mm and 4-pin XLR respectively. A 6.35mm-to-3.5mm adapter has also been included.
The LCD-X is similar in size, styling and specifications. There are a couple of significant differences, though; this pair is even heavier than the LCD-3 at 612g thanks to the use of metal in the casing, and the impedance is lower at 20Ohms. This means that the LCD-X can be powered by portable devices and doesn't necessarily need amplification. Audeze recommends the use of an external amplifier nonetheless, but the existence of the option to use it without one makes it more flexible.
Both headphones come with huge hard carry-cases, and the entire package is no less than what you'd expect from a product that costs upwards of Rs. 1,00,000. The open-backed structure of the casings means that these headphones leak sound all over the place. Anyone seated within a ten-foot radius of you will be able to hear what you're listening to with the volume even at 60 percent, and it's safe to say the LCD series is best used at home. Although the LCD-X can be taken with you wherever you go, the size and leaking sound will make you the centre of a lot of (unwanted) attention.
The Audeze LCD-3 and LCD-X have been designed to look retro and classy. The exposed screws, heavy use of leather and metal, and the patterned outer grille all give the impression that these headphones belong to a bygone age. It's a beautiful look that gives the LCD-3 and LCD-X aesthetic appeal and a real premium feel.
Both headphones feature large casings and thick leather padding. While the LCD-3 uses wood in the casing, the LCD-X makes use of metal. The fit itself is comfortable, since the ear cups wrap completely around your ears. The weight of the headsets is a problem though, and they become hard to wear over long periods. Since you're likely to only use these headphones at home for comfortable listening sessions, this probably won't be a serious issue.
The cables and plugs are standard, with no real element of design to them. Both headphones have straight, flat cables with simple Y-splitters. This does fit in with the functional, retro look and feel of the headphones, although we do feel that the cables look too plain for a product of this calibre. However, there are no doubts about the quality of the build, which is definitely sturdy and solid.
We tested the Audeze LCD-3 and LCD-X using an extensive range of equipment. The distributor for Audeze in India lent us an Audeze Deckard DAC and headphone amplifier which we connected to a Windows laptop. We also used our reference Fiio X1 and an Android smartphone with the LCD-X to test its performance without dedicated amplification. Focus tracks were Nucleya's Heer, Enigma's Age Of Loneliness and Michael Jackson's You Rock My World.
We started with Heer, directly through the portable devices. Although both our devices could drive the headphones comfortably, there was a definite sense of weakness in the performance of the high-impedance LCD-3. The LCD-X sounded meatier and fuller in comparison. The sound is truly defined, weighty and exciting. It's got thump in all the right places, just the right amount of sparkle, and more detail than we've ever heard before. It's a beautiful sound with just the right amount of everything.
Next we moved on to Age Of Loneliness, this time with the headphones connected to the Deckard amp. This brought the absolute best out of the setup, and highlighted the raw quality of the midrange frequencies. The mids are so accurate and balanced that the highs and lows get to shine as well. There is subtlety and feeling in every bit of bass thump and high-end twinkle, and this is all supported by the excellent midrange handling.
The quality of the sound is similar between the LCD-3 and LCD-X, but the impedance difference means that the LCD-X can get much louder. The more expensive and capable LCD-3 produces a slightly more detailed and calculated sound because of its better handling of amplification. The LCD-3 is also a much more capable performer at high volumes, although the LCD-X is no slouch in this department. Unfortunately, the louder you go, the more sound leaks. At the highest volumes, the Audeze headphones are as good as small speakers.
Finally, we had a listen to You Rock My World. From the soundstaging to the imaging, from the gentle attack in the bass to the capable mids and highs, from the openness and airy nature of the open-backed sound to the clarity and detail, there is very little to fault in the sound offered by the Audeze pair. It's natural, neutral and true to the recording. This also means that it's brutally revealing with poor-quality recordings, and deserves to be fed only the best audio inputs.
Experts around the world have referred to the Audeze LCD series as the 'best headphones in the world', and we have to agree. Built beautifully, uncompromising in sound quality and an absolute pleasure to listen to, the Audeze LCD-3 and LCD-X are the headphones you should aspire to own. Speakers that offer a similar level of insight, detail and sonic pleasure would cost multiple times this amount, so audiophiles are doing themselves a favour by using these cans.
Either option would still be an expensive package by any standard, and although the LCD-X is easily driven by even a smartphone, you'd be better served with good amplification and source equipment, which will cost a substantial additional amount. However, if price is no bar, this is the pinnacle of personal audio. The Audeze LCD-3 and LCD-X are the best headphones money can buy, and they're available now through headphonezone.in.
Price (MRP): Audeze LCD-3: Rs. 1,34,900; Audeze LCD-X: Rs. 1,19,900 Pros
- Flawless, open, natural sound
- Revealing and calculated sonic performance
- The best mid-range we've ever heard
- Classy retro looks, excellent build
- LCD-X can be driven by portable devices
- Heavy and uncomfortable to wear over time
- LCD-3 needs an amplifier
Ratings (Out of 5)
- Design: 4.5
- Performance: 5
- Value for money: 3
- Overall: 4.5