As of this writing, the Audeze LCD-3 are the world's best dynamic (moving conductor) headphones. What really sets these headphones apart is a complete lack of resonance or response peaks in the critical upper midrange (3 kc ~ 10 kc) that plague just about every other dynamic headphone. With the LCD-3, music sounds uncannily like the original performance, minus the glare and artifacts added by just about every other dynamic headphone or loudspeaker that clue our brains into knowing it's just a recording.
Specifically, the LCD-3 are unusual in being able to reproduce the smoothly detailed sound we usually only hear in the concert hall, without the usual artificial resonances that our brains use to identify a recording instead of the real thing.
The LCD-3 are a very inexpensive way to get fantastic sound for a very long time to come. You'd have to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on loudspeakers and acoustic room treatments and refitments to get sound as smooth, clean, natural and revealing as these headphones give you for a tiny fraction of the price. You could easily spend far more on a pair of small B&W or KEF speakers and get inferior sound, much less bass and they'd be made in China. These headphones are the real Made-in-USA thing.
While most people think nothing of blowing several thousand dollars on 8k/4k/3D/OLED/HD/plasma/flat panel TVs every other year as they obsolete each other or stop working, serious audio equipment, especially passive transducers like loudspeakers and headphones, last for decades and decades with no need for service — and sound great doing it.
Spend less than you're considering for your next disposable TV or DSLR on these headphones, and you should be enjoying unbeaten sound quality for decades to come. There's nothing to wear out or go obsolete here; the LCD-3 are completely passive transducers that can be used with your choice of headphone amplifier, or plugged right into your iPod, iPhone or iPad with a $15 cable adapter.
I'm very serious about the price of these being a non-issue. My Beyer DT-990 headphones I bought in 1988 still sound even more fantastic than today's newest version, and my Koss 4AA headphones still work as well as when I bought them back in the 1970s. My favorite loudspeakers I enjoy all the time are my original sealed-box B&W 801s made back in 1979, and my Quad ESL-63 that I bought used back in 1986. When you own the best, you have no need or interest in swapping it out for the latest fad every few years; heck, if I bought the newest Quad ESL speakers today, they're made in China, not England as mine are. When it comes to transducers, never skimp, since the quality lasts essentially forever, long after the price has been forgotten. Don't get sucked into the same idiocy that surrounds disposable consumer electronics; these LCD-3 ought to last for many decades and decades.
Even if you didn't love the fantastic sound, these are premium American-made headphones crafted from Zebrano wood, with super-soft leather earpads, and the whole thing comes in a virtually indestructible waterproof sailing safari case so you can get these to and from your gigs undamaged. Optional are super suede earpads instead of leather, and a showy wood case instead of the waterproof one.
These are real headphones for serious listening. They have no remote iPod control, and come with two cables: one for the usual professional ¼" headphone jacks, and the second with a 4-pin XLR plug for balanced use.
The LCD-3 are extremely well made and better-sounding headphones on an absolute scale. There's no comparison to the plastic stuff for which most people pay almost as much. With the LCD-3, you'll never feel like you were ripped-off or settled for what passes for quality today. These are made right here in the USA, not offshored to the lowest-bidding country.
The leather is super soft and comfortable for all day and all night enjoyment.
By "dynamic," I mean any transducer which generates sound by passing current through a conductor in a magnetic field. The conductors move, and vibrate some sort of diaphragm. This is how most speakers and most headphones work. They place a coil of wire inside a magnet, and then glue the coil to the center of a vibrating cone. Dynamic drivers are cheap and durable, but subject to a lot of coloration due to the various resonances of the relatively heavy cones.
Unlike most headphones, these LCD-3 are more specifically planar magnetic. The LCD-3's conductors instead are zig-zagged all across the face of a large diaphragm, and this entire diaphragm rests inside a large flat magnet structure. Therefore, the entire diaphragm is driven directly and evenly by the forces on these conductors, and gives many of the same advantages of electrostatic headphones without needing any of the big and finicky high-voltage sources and amplifiers.
Electrostatic technology is completely different than any dynamic or planar magnetic driver like the LCD-3. Electrostatic drivers use no current, and instead place a static electric charge on a virtually weightless diaphragm which rests between two perforated stators. A very high audio voltage is applied across the two stators, and the sound is generated instead by the attraction and repulsion of the static charge on the diaphragm in response to the voltage gradients across the stators. Electrostatic headphones can sound even better than these LCD-3, however they are delicate and require special dedicated high-voltage amplifiers.
Rear, Audeze LCD-3 Headphones. bigger.
Driver, Audeze LCD-3 Headphones. bigger.
Around-the-ear planar magnetic.
Precision crafted, hand-selected Zebrano wood earcups.
Specially designed acoustically shaped foam inserts deliver the right amount of firmness and acoustical balance.
Premium lambskin or leather-free super suede covers.
Cables and Connectors
Socket, Audeze LCD-3 Headphones. bigger.
Comes with two flat, straight cables. Each has one plug, which splits into two female mini-XLR plugs to attach to the sockets on each earpiece shown above. The cables remind me of Stax' cables, but narrower.
Each cable is 2.5 meters (8 feet) long.
Each ends with two female 4-pin mini-XLRs to attach to the earpieces.
One (part number ADZ6SE) has a ¼" plug for most uses.
The other (part number ADZ6B4) has a 4-pin XLR plug for balanced use.
High-grade Neodymium magnets.
Proprietary self-closing magnetic design.
The magnetic structure is claimed to be acoustically transparent (just like grill cloth).
2.5mm peak-to-peak diaphragm excursion.
39.8 cm2 (6.17 square inch) active diaphragm area.
5 Hz ~ 20 kHz, unqualified.
"Usable high-frequency extension:" 50 kHz.
Driver pairs are matched to within ±½ dB.
91 dB at 1 mW.
My math tells me that 212 mV makes 1 mW into 45 Ω, so 1 V input ought to return 104.5 dB SPL.
Driver pairs are matched to within ±½ dB.
Rated 45 Ω, purely resistive.
< 1% from 5 Hz and up (no level specified).
Recommended Amplifier Power
1 to 4 watts into 45 Ω.
I calculate 1 to 4 W into 45 Ω is 6.7 to 13.4 volts. 6.7 to 13.4 volts into 8 Ω is 5.6 to 22.5 W, meaning you can pair these with a loudspeaker power amplifier rated at about 5 to 25 W into 8 Ω.
15 watts for 200 mS.
I calculate 15 W into 45 Ω is 26.0 volts. 26 V into 8 Ω is 84 W, meaning you can hit these with the full output that a loudspeaker power amplifier rated at about 85W into 8Ω can belt out for 1/5 of a second at a time.
130 dB SPL.
From my math above, that's probably with an 18.8 V (7.9 watt) input, although if there's power compression, maybe it's with the 15 W input above. I don't care; my ears don't want to be anywhere near 130 dB.
543.0 g (19.155 oz.), measured without cord, in Zebrano wood.
Rated at 548 g (19.33 oz), without cord, in Zebrano wood.
3 years on the transducer, headbands and cables.
There isn't anything to wear out; it ought to last for decades. I'd only look out for the foam deteriorating and replace it if needed. Actually, the biggest worry is if you don't treat the living wood and leather properly; this isn't just plastic and vinyl: this is fine furniture.
I don't know that the warranty is transferable, but from my experience with other hand-made premium products like this, I wouldn't be surprised if something went wrong outside of the warranty period that you'd have a pretty high chance of getting good-will warranty coverage.
Headphones in Zebrano wood.
Wood care kit.
ADZ6SE Cable (single-ended): ¼” TRS to 2x4-pin mini XLR.
ADZ6B4 Cable (balanced): 4-pin XLR to 2x4-pin mini XLR.
Wood case or ruggedized Pelican-like SKB road & sea case.
Individual frequency response graph.
The LCD-3 have the uncanny ability to reproduce sound much as it's heard in the concert hall.
Its sound tends more towards smooth and distant; the sound we hear towards the rear of the hall. It is not bright or etched as are most traditional headphones, with their midrange and low treble peaks and resonances.
You know that unique sound we get in the concert hall; that smooth and completely detailed sound devoid of any resonances, grit, distortion or harshness? That's the scary thing about these headphones: given a great recording, they deliver this sound unlike anything else with a ¼" plug on it!
The LCD-3 excel for real acoustic symphonic music, as well as for popular music and everything else. The LCD-3 also shine for enjoying classic recordings, since their lack of presence boosts mean that they'll never accentuate the noise and distortion present in older recordings, especially if you're a hermit still listening to LPs, 45s, 78s and 160 RPM 2" wax cylinders. (At least wax cylinders never had any of the playback tracking and warp problems of disk recordings like LPs.)
Obviously nothing is boosted or hyped in the LCD-3. If you prefer jacked bass, tweaked treble or squawky midrange, you won't be impressed by the LCD-3. If you want to hear what when on in the concert hall or hear exactly what's in your recording presented as pleasantly as possible, the LCD-3 are it.
The LCD-3 err pleasantly on the side of distance. If you prefer brighter, closer and clearer, an ordinary set of headphones like the $72 Sony MDR-V6 are better for professional monitoring where you want to hear what's wrong while you're still producing the music. These LCD-3 are for enjoying what's right in a recording after it's done.
The LCD-3 always sound nice, soft and warm. They are smooth and never wiry. Because they lack the peaks and resonances in the low treble and upper midrange common to ordinary headphones, they at first won't seem to be as forward or as "detailed" to the non-professional listener, but be assured that this cleanliness of sound is precisely allows us to hear so much more than heard through ordinary headphones like the Ultrasone Edition 8.
There is little variation in sound with changes in position on my head.
Just as with electrostatic headphones, the sound will change if you hold your hands over the outside of the headphones! Sound comes out of the back of the headphones, and if it bounces back it will interfere with the direct sound. You usually won't hear this with common headphones; it is a good thing that the sound from the LCD-3 is so neutral that this is audible.
The LCD-3 have completely natural bass. It's not boosted or bumped-up as in many ordinary headphones. Headphones that boost the deep bass like the Audio-Technica ATH-M50, Velodyne vPulse or Sony MDR-V6 will have more entertaining, but less accurate, bass.
The bass of the LCD-3 is as solid as a lead brick. It's big, thick, solid, smooth, strong powerful. The LCD-3 has unstoppable, unrelenting bass — but never boomy or boosted.
Here's another very good thing: while the LCD-3 deserve a great amplifier, they have plenty of sensitivity to be enjoyed plugged directly into an iPod, iPad or iPhone. All you need is a 3.5mm adapter. I prefer the Grado cable adapter.
In fact, the LCD-3 have more voltage sensitivity than the 600 Ω Beyer DT880!
While most headphones only need an iPad level control set to 1/2 for movie sound, I usually have it around 3/4 to full on my iPad with the LCD-3. I never need more gain than I have, so all is good.
With movies on an iPad, the sound is big and natural, with plenty of bass. There's no deep-bass boost, but no Altec A7-style presence boost either.
The LCD-3 are plenty sensitive with an iPod, even for classical music recorded correctly. If you want to listen to bad music, like 0 dBFS sine waves, avoid the top gain setting. Drop the gain a click from maximum; with these 45 Ω headphones there is some clipping from an iPod at 0 dBFS at full gain. That's the limitations of the drive current of the iPod or iPhone; not the headphones.
The LCD-3 also have plenty of sensitivity used with any headphone jack. For instance, the Sony SCD-XA777ES SACD player's headphone output has more than enough output to deafen you with the LCD-3.
These are open headphones, but they do offer a little bit of high-frequency isolation. It's more of a slight muffling of the outside world than any significant isolation.
What's weird with their half-isolating design is when an outside sound suddenly comes through and breaks the magic.
These are open headphones, and everyone will hear you if they are close to you and you have them cranked up.
As an advantage, if you sit these on your desk and turn them up, they can replace small speakers!
If you keep them quiet and have a reasonable spouse, they probably won't be bothered at night.
These are big and very comfortable headphones to enjoy for many uninterrupted hours at a time.
They are heavy, but for comfort, don't use much head pressure. They are designed for fantastic sound quality, not mobility. If you want to walk around the studio with them on, they may fall off if you move too fast. These are not for wearing around in public; they don't clamp to your head that tightly.
The swivels all have stops to limit their angles of motion, so they never tangle. Likewise, you can't rotate the cups that much if you want to listen with only one ear, or share with someone else at the same time.
They don't fold for travel.
The angled earcup connectors make it easy to put them on correctly in the dark.
Better than electrostatic headphones, the LCD-3 doesn't care as it's moved around your head; there isn't any popping since there's nothing to short out.
The harp is a little harder and smaller than I'd expect, and it's still comfortable.
Thank goodness there are very solid click stops on the harp. Is it just me, or don't you hate other headphones that always readjust themselves every time you put them on? With the LCD-3, they stay as you left them.
I'd prefer a coiled cord; the LCD-3 have straight cords.
I love the tough waterproof road case. Every expensive set of headphones ought to come with a solid road case as do the LCD-3. (You also have your choice of a showy wooden case; I didn't order it.)
Oddly, the waterproof case requires that the earpieces be readjusted all the way up and that one one removes the cords from the earpieces to fit it in. The cords easily fit in the case once removed, and there's plenty of room for a Grado cable adapter, too.
The big latches on the LCD-3 case are very easy to use.
Save the closed-cell foam piece that goes inside the earpieces. It keeps the earpads from getting squished against each other.
Probably because the LCD-3 have such smooth and reserved sound as well as practically unlimited output levels, they often sound better played louder. Crank it up and see what happens.
It's easy to damage your hearing. If your ears start ringing or buzzing, even if long after you've been listening, cool it for a while.
While plenty sensitive to be plugged directly into an iPod, oddly the LCD-3 are the only headphones I've used that sound different with different amplifiers. What makes this weirder is that they are a simple resistive load that ought to be easy to drive with anything, but what makes sense is that they have such high performance that they may be the only low-impedance dynamic headphones to have enough purity to show amplifier differences. I don't believe in amplifiers having much effect on sound (good sound is mostly a function of your recording and the transducer), and it could be my imagination, but I found that the LCD-3 sounded best driven from the Benchmark DAC1 HDR, Woo WA7 and Woo WA6-SE.
The LCD-3 sound better driven from the Benchmark DAC1 HDR, Woo WA7 or Woo WA6-SE than they sound driven from regular headphone jacks on iPods or the Sony SCD-XA777ES. It's not a huge difference, but sounds bigger and cleaner when driven by a serious headphone amplifier. I haven't bothered with any of the overpriced foreign-made headphone amps. The mail-order ones that use wall-wart power supplies or come in plastic cases often are worse than the iPod's native output — but cost about the same as Benchmark or Woo! Be careful; I'd suggest the Woo WA7 as the best sounding, and the price is right. The Woo WA7 is better than most amplifiers; you can pay a lot more and get a lot less.
I prefer the Woo WA7 because its sound is perfect with the LCD-3, maybe even a bit smoother in my imagination than the Benchmark DAC1 HDR, and the WA7 has a much better-feeling volume control that works over a wider range with more precision than the DAC1 HDR.
The Benchmark DAC1 HDR also sounds fantastic, but its channel balance can suffer from poor volume control channel tracking; the image can shift slightly towards one side at low settings, and the DAC1's volume control doesn't feel anywhere near as good to turn. If you get beyond my petty whining, the DAC1 HDR's headphone amplifier is also unbeaten sonically, and the DAC1 HDR is built pro-tough to take physical abuse that the tube amps won't take.
The Woo WA6-SE also sounds great, and is smooth beyond imagination. I prefer the bass response of the other two amplifiers.
Audeze is adamant that your amplifier ought to be able to deliver about 2 watts into 45 Ω, which is something only a loudspeaker amplifier can do. I'm not sure what amplifier they intend that can belt out this much into 45 Ω. Neither the Benchmark DAC1 HDR, Woo WA7 or Woo WA6-SE can put out even a one undistorted watt into 45 Ω.
Plugs, Cables and Adapters
The LCD-3 comes with separate cables for standard professional ¼" and balanced 4-pin XLR plugs.
For use with consumer doo-dads with their standard 3.5mm jacks, I prefer the Grado Mini Adapter Cable instead of a simple plug adapter. When you use a plug adapter attached to the 1/4" plug, you now have a three-inch-long metal plug jammed into your iPod, and one wrong move and you'll bend or break-off the 3.5mm plug inside your iPod. With the Grado Mini Adapter Cable all you have is a small plug in your iPad so it's much less likely to get damaged.
Compared to the Ultrasone Edition 8
The LCD-3 are unmatched compared to almost anything else. The Ultrasone Edition 8 almost sound broken by comparison; the upper-midrange peaks in the Ultrasone are less than other ordinary headphones, but compared to the LCD-3, they stick out and make the Ultrasones sound harsh. The Edition 8 boost the deep bass, which the LCD-3 does not, and the Edition 8 is an isolating headphone.
Compared to the Beyer DT-880
The Beyer DT-880 (600Ω) are brighter.
Your choice between these two is simple: if you want big, warm, smooth sound, it's the LCD-3, and if you prefer brighter, lighter sound, it's the DT-880.
I prefer the LCD-3 for enjoying music, but the DT-880 for mixing or mastering.
Compared to the Stax SR-Lambda Pro
Compared to the classic 1980's Stax SR-Lambda Pro, I thought my old Lambda Pros had a little more deep bass. I thought the LCD-3's bass sounded a little more fluffy, puffy and tubby than the Lambda Pro, almost as if the LCD-3 had a mild low-Q boost around 80Hz. (The LCD-3's bass is very similar to the Stax SR-007 Omega MK2.)
What's bizarre is that Audeze compared the LCD-3 Stax SR-Lambda Pro more sceintifically, and found exactly the opposite relationship, right down to measuring an 80 Hz bump in the Stax as I thought heard in the Audeze, and the Audeze was super-flat and extended instead.
Either I got my notes flipped, or we're splitting hairs comparing to an ancient set of electrostatic headphones. Don't sweat it; whatever I heard was very slight, no more than a dB or two here or there.
Compared to the reference Stax SR-007 Omega MK2.
The LCD-3 sound awesome compared to anything until compared to the Stax SR-007 Omega MK2.
I don't compare many headphones to the reference Stax SR-007 Omega MK2 (about $2,400 direct from Japan and they also need a dedicated high-voltage amplifier) because it's not fair — the Stax SR-007 and SR-009 offer the world's best sound at any price, and when you whip them out, nothing comes close for careful eyes-closed listening.
The Stax, as expected, is cleaner, more detailed, clearer and airier all the time, also without any resonances or peaked response.
The Omega are also a huge pair of headphones about the same size as the LCD-3, but much lighter than the Audeze. The Stax don't need all the magnetics of the LCD-3. You can see through the mostly optically transparent drivers of the Stax, but not the Audeze.
The thin, supple earpad leather is very similar between them, and so is the hugh size of the comfy leather pads.
The Stax cable is wider, and also more flexible — and probably much more delicate.
Here's the crazy good part: while the clarity and immediacy of the Stax is unequalled (I close my eyes, and with the Stax, I AM in the concert hall), these LCD-3 aren't that far off. The sound of the LCD-3 is more muffled and distant by a couple of dB, and otherwise, the two have very similar sound. The LCD-3 are a bit more veiled, as if listening through a very thin piece of paper, compared to the Omega II.
I don't know if a little boost of EQ in the presence range would let these LCD-3 duplicate the somewhat better clarity, presence and openness of the Stax, or possibly not. The two use entirely different technologies.
The bass of the LCD-3 pretty well matches the bass of the reference Stax SR-007 Omega MK2. I spent hours comparing the two, and which was better was usually a toss-up depending on the recording. These LCD-3 tended to have more deep bass, while the Stax had a little more midbass boom - slightly. (I hate the fact that a dB or two here or there is a big difference to me; most people wouldn't notice.)
The real question is where do you want to listen? If you're in a quiet studio with shore-power for the Stax amplifier, the Stax always win. However, if you also want to use these in the field, plug them into portable devices, run on batteries, or be able to plug these into regular headphone jacks (the Stax amplifiers only run from ¼" RCA pairs or XLR sources), the Stax won't work since they need their dedicated high-voltage sources. Also, I would not want to subject my Stax to any beating around or even dust and dirt, which can get sucked in and cause arcing. For use in the field, the Audeze ought to take a beating and enjoy it. Either goes more than loud enough to damage your hearing permanently — all with no distortion.
If you need durability and need to work without an outboard amplifier, the LCD-3 is the best there is. The Stax are delicate, these LCD-3 are not.
Compared to Chinese Copies
I haven't bothered to audition any of the Chinese planar-magnetic copies. Why would I bother? As I covered above, cost isn't an issue with audio equipment if you're serious about enjoying your music, as opposed to preferring to buy new equipment all the time.
The Audeze LCD-3 are the best-sounding headphones that plug into a standard headphone jack. The LCD-3 bring us the sound of the concert hall, and also have an amazing ability to rejuvenate classic old recordings into something much cleaner and smoother than we thought possible, as well as make the newest recordings sound astonishing. The only better sound I've heard is from much more delicate electrostatic headphones which require their own special voltage sources — but electrostatics aren't as kind to old recordings or LPs as are these LCD-3.
If using these with iPods and iPads, use the Grado Mini Adapter Cable so you don't break anything.
The LCD-3 are for enjoying music. The LCD-3 make everything sound fantastic. The LCD-3 let us hear what's great about music. They sound great with every kind of music and every recording medium; I couldn't find anything that didn't sound wonderful on them.
Although people do use the LCD-3 for mixing and mastering, I wouldn't. If you create your music to sound good on these, your albums will probably be too harsh when heard on most other transducers that will emphasize one or another part of the presence range. The LCD-3 are good for mastering and mixing bass, for which they extremely neural. Get the bass to sound good on the LCD-3, and it's going to sound awesome on anything.
The LCD-3 likewise aren't great for monitoring recordings, because they don't highlight defects. If you're monitoring recordings for defects, lesser headphones like the Sony MDR-7506, Sony MDR-V6 and Audio-Technica ATH-M50 emphasize what's wrong. The LCD-3 lets us enjoy what's right. Monitor on the Sony MDR-7506 for defects, mix and master on the DT-880 for its clarity and neutrality, and when you get home and want to enjoy your work, it's the LCD-3 to make it sound fantastic.
As I also covered at the top, these are inexpensive when you realize that you'll probably be enjoying these for decades to come. People think nothing of buying a DSLR camera for even more money, and that camera will be nearly worthless in a few years. Unlike imported consumer electronics, American audio gear is forever. Heck; I'm still enjoying my Hafler DH-200 today that I built from a kit back in 1980!
When you own the best, the quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten. Play your cards right, and your kids will be fighting over these long after you're gone. They're that good.
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