The Audeze LCD-X is an interesting beast. Created as reference headphones for sound engineers and music industry professionals, it’s also likely Audeze’s most popular model in the audiophile market. Audeze recently updated the LCD-X and LCD-XC with new earpads and some changes to the internal workings. So let’s take a look at the LCD-X and see how the latest version sounds in 2021.
The Build and Design
In a switch from the polished wood trimmed designs of the rest of the LCD series, the LCD-X just has a simple, utilitarian black brushed metal look. The headphones themselves are pretty heavy, and also quite sturdy. The build quality is great, and I always appreciate Audeze’s use of user serviceable parts throughout. The weight is well-distributed, but it still might give you a sore neck if you’re sensitive to heavier headphones. The new pads feel slightly stiffer than the original LCD-X pads, or other Audeze pads, and give a good consistent seal, with balanced clamping force.
Another new thing: the case. The LCD-X was originally available in a $1699 package which included the Audeze flight case, and then in a $1199 “Creator Package” which included only the headphones and cable in a small, nondescript white box. Now, the $1199 version includes an economy case. The case isn’t of quite the same size or durability level as the flight case, but it’s a pretty nice, solid case. In fact, if you’re not frequently traveling with the LCD-X and just want something to store it in, or pack for the occasional trip, the slightly smaller and more aesthetic “economy” case might actually be preferable.
Ostensibly designed for professional, critical listening applications, the LCD-X doesn’t strike me as the most neutral, accurate set of cans I’ve heard in recent memory. They’re certainly in the general realm of neutral, just with a little extra midbass, some small recessions in the upper-midrange, and a little bit of extra sparkle on top. They’re neutral, but almost anti-reference in some aspects: some headphones provide detail in an unforgiving manner with poorly recorded tracks; the LCD-X gives you just as much detail, but somehow it makes everything sound great.
The bass is deep and full. Low end instruments are nicely highlighted, but not overpowering. There’s good depth and extension with a sense of detail and texture in the bass that adds realism and natural color to even the deepest reaching bass tones. There is a palpable, physical characteristic that lets you feel as well as hear.
The mids are generally well placed and have a good amount of body. Voices and instruments that reside in the lower midrange through the “true” midrange have a good weight and feel. The upper mids feel slightly recessed, with some vocals in the female contralto to male tenor range lacking the weight of vocals just a little bit higher or lower.
My initial impression of the LCD-X was that it was slightly dark, but there’s actually a good amount of air and a little bit of sparkle coming in from the top end. Instruments like cymbals and snare drums have just the right amount of sizzle and splash that aids in a good resolving sound. While the presentation feels slightly weighted toward the lower mids into the bass, it’s well balanced all around and doesn’t forget about the higher ranges.
The general performance and quality of the LCD-X makes it seem very competitive with significantly more expensive headphones. However, the key element separating it from headphones costing $1000+ more is the soundstage and imaging. While there’s a decent sense of space, and good separation, the soundstage is on the medium to small end, without a ton of width, and the imaging comes in short of feeling “holographic.” That’s not to say that these aspects of the headphone are bad or underperform by any means, just that in some ways the LCD-X sounds and performs on a level with $2000+ headphones, but it’s presentation of the 3D image is one factor that keeps it a little more grounded.
“Helsinki” by Iiro Rantala is a rolicking jazz romp that moves through a number of different moods and styles in a short amount of time. The LCD-X delivers the dynamics and feeling in the performance with aplomb. The piano feels massive and delicate at the same, while the guitar has a smooth delivery whether it’s being strummed or playing fast, deftly executed runs. The presentation practically puts you on stage in between the two performers.
“Shy Away” by twenty one pilots gives you a good sense of the LCD-X’s low end impact and bass delivery. The bass drum hits with a solid punch, the various bass and synth tones envelope the bass hits with texture both above and below. The blend of guitars, synths, and drums are well balanced and layered with the vocals. The low end of the song is very dense but the LCD-X lets you unpack the layers to hear each part without compromising the power and impact of the music.
On Paul McCartney’s “Long Tailed Winter Bird,” the introductory guitar is vivid and lifelike. In the mix of instruments that follows, each is well layered and positioned with great detail and texture. McCartney’s scattered vocals are a soft punctuation to the repetitive loops which come and go in layers. The LCD-X’s natural, transparent feeling almost gives you a window into Sir Paul McCartney’s home quarantine studio where he recorded the album.
Cream’s “White Room” is the sort of track the LCD-X is perfect for. The three-piece band is laid out by the engineer with Eric Clapton on the right, Jack Bruce’s bass to the right – with his vocals front and center, and Ginger Baker’s drumset extending seemingly the width of the stage. The LCD-X gives you a great sense of impact form the drums, with some color added front he bass guitar. The rhythm guitars have an incendiary roar, while the lead parts take on a searing scream. The LCD-X balances the band quite well, with drum fills moving across the stage while Clapton’s soulful licks hit you like they’re straight out of his Marshall stack.
Comparison: Focal Clear MG and LCD-3
The Focal Clear and Audeze LCD-X have long been rivals in the space where audiophile and pro-audio needs collide. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and I’m sure fans of each would defend why theirs is better to their last breath. I’m throwing the LCD-3 in here too because we just reviewed the LCD-3 and it’s helpful to provide a broader perspective on what the LCD-X does well, and what separates it from headphones the next tier up.
Note: I had originally reviewed the Clear MG and used that in my comparison to the LCD-3 in a previous review, but this time around I had a Clear MG Professional. I found the Clear MG Professional to be indistinguishable from the standard Clear MG, but I am a sucker for a red and black color scheme.
In terms of the build and comfort, well, it’s pretty simple: the LCD-X and LCD-3 are heavy, and the LCD-3 and Focal Clear MG are pretty. All three are comfortable – so long as being heavy isn’t a problem. The LCD-3 does have some level of comfort advantage over the LCD-X. The pads on the LCD-3 are softer, while the LCD-X is generally stiffer with a little bit of a tighter fit.
The basic tuning of each ends up being a story of different levels and types of neutral. The LCD-3 is largely neutral with a little more presence in the low mids, and a little less in the upper mids, while the LCD-X has more neutral mids and a little more power and impact in the low end. The Clear MG is probably the most “true neutral” of the three, with a very linear presentation of bass and mids, and well balanced treble. The Clear MG also strikes me as the easiest to listen to. It has a very well balanced, smooth presentation that gives you loads of detail without any harshness.
In terms of the technical aspects – like the imaging, soundstage, speed, and response the LCD-3 demonstrates the most complete, consistent technical performance. The Clear MG has strong imaging and soundstage, while the LCD-X’s soundstage isn’t quite as impressive. However, the LCD-X has a similar level of speed and resolution to the LCD-3, and feels faster and tighter than the Clear MG. As mentioned in the LCD-3 review, the LCD-3 takes being EQed quite well, and the LCD-X is similar in that fashion. I wasn’t quite able to achieve the same level of greatness while EQing the LCD-X, but I prefer the LCD-X’s factory tuning the LCD-3.
While both the Clear MG and LCD-X have some degree of pro-audio pedigree there’s definitely a difference in their execution. The Clear MG has the more honest, true neutral tuning, but the LCD-X has a better sense to me of making music sound “how it’s supposed to sound.”
The Bottom Line
So, the LCD-X is indeed an interesting beast. Somewhere between a studio reference and a mainstream tuning you get these incredible musical, dynamic headphones. With excellent bass, and detail to match, the LCD-X are about as close as you can get to headphones that anyone listening to any genre can instantly appreciate and enjoy.