Flagship headphones tend to either be quickly supplanted, or live forever. The Audeze LCD-4 seems to be doing its best to live forever. It’s now been five years since the LCD-4’s original release, and the LCD-4 remains Audeze’s flagship headphone, and is still considered to be one of the best headphones in the world. So, five years late, what’s so great about the LCD-4?
The Build and Design
The LCD-4 represents the culmination of Audeze’s LCD design. With the same metal frame and suspension system you get starting with the LCD-2, you also get beautifully finished ebony wood trim, and a chrome grill cover. The chrome is a small design departure from previous models, which simply use a black grill. Put it all together, and the LCD-4 is simply an icon of American headphone design.
The package includes the headphones, cable, and a heavy duty travel case, in addition to a pair of white gloves for handling the headphones without getting any fingerprints on them – an interesting little bonus. In terms of actually using the headphones, they’re quite heavy – the cost of those big planar magnetic drivers, and being built from metal, wood, and leather – but the weight is well-balanced and distributed. I’ve said this in other reviews, but it should be noted that being well balanced and not hurting your head doesn’t equate to not putting extra weight on your neck. So while I find the LCD-4 to be supremely comfortable from the earpads to the head strap, they might still give you a bit of a neck workout.
Another thing I’ve found about the fit of the LCD-4 is that the sound can be dependent on the placement of the headphones on your head. Both the soundstage and bass can be heavily altered by the positioning of the headphones, and the quality of the seal that the earcups are making on your head.
The LCD-4 provides out of this world detail and resolution wrapped up in a clean, natural presentation. Hidden just below the surface is a creamy center filled with tight powerful bass. The soundstage is expansive, putting the music in a large concert hall, and the listener at the center of it all. The imaging is likewise strong, providing detailed, holographic perception of different instruments and voices in the mix.
The LCD-4 has a reputation for bass, and while it’s not undeserved, the tuning is still quite neutral, with very little – if any – bass emphasis. However, with the right amp, and the right song, the LCD-4 delivers some of the tightest, deepest bass you can imagine. There’s also an incredible level of articulation in the bass, with a smooth, tight delivery.
The mids are also quite strong. They provide thick and well layered detail and presence to the music. There’s some recessions in the upper mids that end up pulling some vocals back a bit. Because the bass and mids are largely linear while the treble is slightly recessed, the mids can become a little too prominent if the LCD-4 is not getting enough power to properly drive the low end.
The treble is pulled back a little bit, but has good upward extension and air. For the most part, you lose the sibilance and harsher tones, while retaining some good brightness, sparkle, and sizzle in the upper registers.
Like I talked about in my review of the LCD-3, one aspect of the LCD-4 that makes them an incredible headphone is that they’re very capable of being tuned by the listener through EQ. If the natural impact that the LCD-4 provides out of the box isn’t enough for you, there are ridiculous, thick mounds of bass that can be coaxed out of these drivers. And it’s possible to do so without damaging or redefining the core nature of the LCD-4.
Thirty Seconds to Mars’ “Rescue Me” provides a wholesale demonstration of the LCD-4’s prowess. The low bass and bass synth reaches deep into the subbass, while the kick has a tight, hard punch. The mids are clean and crisp, highlighting Jared Leto’s vocals, and building engaging layers around him. And the LCD-4’s soundstage puts you in an arena with all of this sound just washing over you.
Ryuchi Sakamoto’s Three album features the pianist and composer performing in a trio with a cellist and violinist, and demonstrates the softer, more delicate side of the LCD-4. There’s an insane amount of detail and texture in the violin and cello, along with a smoothness reaching emotionally piercing highs without becoming eardrum piercing highs. The album has a huge dynamic range, from passages of soft piano, to crescendos with all three musicians playing with seemingly all their might. The LCD-4 is just as strong in presenting the quiet details as it is in presenting the power and impact of the biggest moments.
The interplay between the synthesizer, keyboard, and bass on the intro to “New World Man” by Rush, is deftly layered and delivered by the LCD-4. The bass drum has a tight impact that complements the well articulated bassline. The guitars provide a new wave/reggae groove while the throbbing synth weaves in and out of the mix. I can practically see Geddy Lee at the mic as his vocals come in right down the middle – whether you wanted them to or not. Each element is filled with immaculate detail and texture, and layered in such a way that you can single out any of the layers and pick out each of those details.
Trilogy 2 features an extended live performance by jazz piano legend Chick Corea, along with Christian McBride and Brian Blade. Being a live album, the LCD-4 doesn’t just get the instrument placement and detail and all of that, it also really gets the ambience of the whole thing. It’s not just making the piano sound natural, or capturing the tight cymbalwork, it’s the immersive nature of the combination of soundstage, imaging, impact, and detail presentation that puts you right in the middle of the crowd.
The LCD-4 is quite the power hungry headphone, with Audeze recommending that you feed it 500mW @ 200ohm, with 100mW being the minimum. Ideally you’ll want one of the big boys like the Conductor 3 Reference, but most desktop amps, like the Questyle CMA Twelve or Phonitor SE are going to provide plenty of power and slam.
Comparison: Meze Empyrean, Final D8000 Pro
If you enjoy rock or electronic music, a little extra low-end slam, or are just looking for a more musical, less analytical sound from your flagship headphones, you’ve got a couple choices, the LCD-4, Meze Empyrean, and Final D8000 Pro among them. All three offer different takes on the balance between summit-fi performance and sheer musical enjoyment.
In terms of the tuning, the LCD-4 is the most “true neutral” of the three, with its very linear feeling response that gives you a balanced response from the mids down through the subbass, and despite some small recessions has excellent treble extension into the upper registers. The Meze Empyrean has a warmer take, with a small mid-bass and lower mid emphasis, as well as a smoother top end. The Final D8000 Pro is neutral, but with a more prominent bass boost than the rest of the pack.
In terms of the technical performance, from the speed of the drivers to the presentation of detail and the soundstage and imaging, the LCD-4 is the overall strongest performer, but each of the other headphones has aspects where they shine. Both the Empyrean and D8000 pro have smaller soundstages. The D8000 Pro is neck and neck with the LCD-4 in terms of detail presentation, while the Empyrean – though not as detailed – has a sense of dynamics and impact that matches the LCD-4. So between the three, there’s a lot of shared characteristics, but a different balance between those characteristics.
In terms of comfort, the Empyrean is definitely the king. The LCD-4 does an admirable job balancing its significant heft, but it can still become fatiguing to wear for long periods. The D80000 Pro is lighter than the LCD-4, but due to some combination of the headband design and clamping force doesn’t quite achieve the comfort levels of the Empyrean.
The Bottom Line
The Audeze LCD-4 is without a doubt one of the greatest headphones in the world. With its incredible detail, massive soundstage, fast response, and addictive tuning, the LCD-4 strikes the balance between being a technical marvel and simply being a joy to listen to.