Along with the LCD-X, the LCD-XC closed-back received a number of updates for 2021, including some tweaks to the drivers and ergonomics as well as adding a case to the popular Creator Package. While Audeze is most famous for their open-back headphones, the LCD-XC has always been regarded as a great closed-back option. Let’s take a look at the latest revision of and see how it continues the legacy of the LCD-X series of headphones.
The Build and Design
If you’re familiar with the look of Audeze’s LCD line of headphones, the LCD-XC fits right in, except that rather than a grill on each earcup to let the drivers breathe, it has a slightly rounded carbon fiber cup keeping your music in and everyone else’s noise out. The overall build exudes quality and durability. Audeze headphones’ liberal use of leather, aluminum, and stainless steel – and in this case carbon fiber – creates a modern, industrial design that’s every bit as sturdy as it looks.
The isolation provided by the leather pads and carbon fiber cups is really quite good, with moderate volume music being inaudible to the outside world, and the same level of music blocking out nearly everything from said outside world. The comfort is also great outside of weight concerns. These are lighter than previous iterations, and the suspension system combines with the soft leather-wrapped ear pads to provide good weight distribution across your head and generally solid comfort, but some might still find them to be too heavy.
The package has also been updated for 2021 with the inclusion of a case being the big change. Now, rather than receiving a white cardboard box containing the headphones, the 6.3mm cable, and warranty/registration information, you get a solid black case to carry or store the headphones. The case might not be as heavy duty as the Audeze flight case that’s included with the LCD-3 and LCD-4, but it’s nice looking and a classic overall design.
The core of the LCD-XC’s sound is a neutral, reference tuning, with strong linear bass extension and plenty of air and definition in the treble. The soundstage is a good size for a closed-back, but not huge, while the imaging is quite good. Overall it puts the music into a moderately sized, but well organized space with a cohesive feel.
The bass is deep and thick, but well under control. While it’s generally more neutral leaning, when you put a little bit of extra power into it, it really comes alive, adding more punch and rumble. The transition into the lower mids is cohesive as the linear bass doesn’t step on or overpower the mids.
The mids provide loads of detail, and good presence for vocals, guitars, pianos, and other instruments that get most of their feeling from the midrange. There’s a good sense of texture to bass and lower percussion instruments in the low mids as well.
The highs are strong with a touch of brightness and a bit of an analytical bend at points. There’s a slightly unforgiving characteristic to the treble where it can bring out the flaws in poorly done recordings that I really noticed in some live performances. This provides a bit of a contrast with the open-back LCD-X which has a smooth upper register and comes off a bit more forgiving.
The drivers are fast – really fast – providing a tight, clean response across the full spectrum. Whether it’s double bass drumming on a metal album, or blazing fast violin work on a Bach sonata, the LCD-XC can deliver both pulverizing impact and stunning detail with speed and accuracy. That speed also lends to a natural, realistic response, and the LCD-XC has a natural, if sometimes slightly bright, timbre with acoustic instruments and vocals.
In terms of sensitivity and power needs, the LCD-XC is generally easy to drive, and can get a good response on most DAPs. Even running unbalanced into the iBasso DX160, I felt like it had a bit of headroom and a well developed soundstage. Give it a little more power and it opens up even more. The bass in particular benefits from more power, and something like the iFi micro iDSD Signature really opens up the bass and adds a stronger sense of space – of course, if you plug it into something with some real power like an SPL Phonitor SE you’ll get an even more dynamic low end.
On Miles Davis’ “So What,” the LCD-XC gives you a smooth textured baseline as the start of the call and response with the trumpet and then piano. The saxophone and trumpet hit you from the left and right with a smooth attack. While the drums, bass, and piano all sound clear and natural, the trumpet and saxophone are so realistic and sound so up close and personal you can almost taste the saxophone’s mouthpiece reed. The personal, transparent detail of the LCD-XC puts you a couple tables back from the stage in a smoky jazz club in 1959.
The somewhat airy sounding mix on Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Zephyr Song” coupled with the LCD-XC’s strong definition lay bare the different parts of the song, allowing the listener to easily pick apart the layers of vocal harmonies, guitars, bass, and drums. The drums sound tight, with a bit of a “wet” slap to the snare drum, while the cymbals are tight and crisp. The bass guitar is thick and deep, while the guitar seems to float above the rest of the mix. The element which the LCD-XC highlighted in a way that I had never noticed before was the background vocals which provide various “oohs,” “ahhs,” and “yeah yeahs.” With this song, I really felt like the LCD-XC put me behind the control console on the mix board, hearing the song like the engineer heard it in the studio.
The bass on the intro to BTS’s “Butter” is deep and impactful. The detail and clarity provides clear differentiation between each of the vocalists as they take turns taking the lead and providing harmonies. While the bass is the star of the show, the various synth leads and vocals are never overpowered by the beat. Little details, like the panning on the hi-hats, are clear and easy to pick out in between the forward vocals and the powerful low end.
Comparison: Focal Celestee
The Focal Celestee and Audeze LCD-XC are two of the best closed back headphones under $1500. They’re so good as to be competitive with many open-back headphones in the same price range in terms of many sound and performance factors. So let’s see how they stack up by comparison.
The overall tonality is quite similar with largely neutral tunings with a touch of brightness, and a little bit of punch in the bass. There are some clear differences between the two though. Starting with the bass, the LCD-XC has a deep bass that’s largely linear with excellent extension while the Celestee peaks in the midbass and has a slow roll-off into a subbass that’s not quite as strong. The LCD-XC can also handle significantly more of a bass boost. You’re going to need to be positively abusive to that low-end to get distortion, while the Celestee will start having some distortion with smaller amounts of low end boost.
The mids tell a similar story with both providing a good transition from the bass to the mids without notable congestion, and plenty of detail. The Celestee’s mids are a little bit more sculpted though, with the LCD-XC providing a flatter response with thicker overall mids. The treble is where they’re most similar, with a bright, airy top end with strong definition.
From a technical standpoint the LCD-XC tends to be a stronger as well, with stronger imaging, and a noticeably faster response in the high with things like cymbal crashes and hi-hats, and also in the low end with fast drumming or complex work happening deep in the bass registers. Overall, if you’re in the market for closed-back headphones, and not ready to reach up to the $3000 range of the Stellia, they should both be near the top of your list.
The Bottom Line
Natural and honest, the LCD-XC has one of the most balanced, crisp sound signatures of any closed back headphone under $2000. With the latest revision of the LCD-XC, Audeze has created a truly great closed-back headphone that lives up to the pedigree of the LCD-X.