Audeze LCD-X headphones Page 2
Driven by the BlockHead, however, the Audeze headphones reproduced this recording with stunning smoothness. The clearly presented interplay between the two similar-sounding sopranos in O Salutaris Hostia, one positioned mid-left, the other mid-right, raised goose bumps every time I listened to it. And even with the closely miked and multitracked Phil Collinses in "Tearing and Breaking Down," from Johnny Boy Would Love This . . . A Tribute to John Martyn (256kbps AAC file), I could follow each of the vocal lines with the BlockHead-powered balanced LCD-Xes more readily than when they were conventionally connected with a ¼" jack plug.
As always when I review a transducer of some kind, I check the low-frequency behavior by playing the half-stepspaced tonebursts on Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2). Driven by the Benchmark DAC1, the Audeze LCD-Xes spoke cleanly and evenly in the bass, with no doubling (second-harmonic distortion) audiblea difficult test for headphones to pass. These tones stop at 32Hz; the 1/3-octave warble tone at 25Hz was also clean, and I could just hear the tone at 20Hz at normal listening levels.
For my comparisons, I used my Benchmark DAC1, with its two headphone outputs, fed S/PDIF data via TosLink. I did my best to match playback levels with pink noise, but with the lower sensitivities of the Sennheisers compared with the Audezes, this was a little more approximate than I would have liked.
At $500, the Sennheiser HD650s are less than a third the price of the LCD-Xes, but they've been my reference headphones for the past 10 years or so. Some have said that the HD650s are too polite and lacking in the top octave, but I've always found their balance easy on the eara positive factor in prolonged listening sessions.
Tonally, the HD650s sounded very similar to the LCD-Xes. In "Fever," from the Tierney Sutton Band's Desire (ALAC files ripped from CD, Telarc CD-83685), Sutton's voice sounded very close through both sets of headphones. The duetting double basses in this track, however, sounded a little constrained and too tubby with the Sennheisers, with less low bass apparent. As much as I enjoyed the HD650s, the LCD-Xes retrieved more detail from this beautifully recorded track. There was more space around the snare drum, and the closer perspective on the hi-hat cymbals compared with the snare was more obvious. Round One to the LCD-X.
Sennheiser's HD800 headphones, at $1500, go almost head-to-head with the $1699 Audezes. In his July 2009 review, Wes Phillips declared that the HD800 "very well may be the best headphone I've ever heard." Wes commented on "how nuanced [were] the shades of soft and softerand loud and louder[were] through the HD800s." Such was also my experience with a borrowed pair of HD800s. In Paul Young's treatment of the Daryl Hall classic "Every Time You Go Away," from Super Hits (256kbps MP3), both the electric sitar and Pino Palladino's fretless bass guitar were reproduced with convincing verisimilitude by the HD800s. But against the Audezes, the Sennheisers sounded somewhat brighter and less laid-back, a balance that was less forgiving of the splashy-sounding snare drum and cymbals in this 1980s recording. Beth Orton's breathy voice in her reading of "Go Down Easy," from the John Martyn tribute (256kbps AAC file), sounded slightly more sibilant through the HD800s than the LCD-Xes, though with noticeably more extended extreme highs.
Although the Audezes were darker than the Sennheisers, they were as good at revealing fine recorded detail. In fact, the LCD-Xes reminded me of the recorded detail that could be heard with Stax's Lambda electrostatics, with the important difference that I didn't become fatigued after long listening sessions, as I used to with the Lambdas.
The LCD-Xes scored when it came to the low frequencies. The HD800s are excellent at bass weight and definition, but with "Get Lucky," from Daft Punk's Random Access Memories (24/88.2k AIFF, Columbia/HDtracks 88883716862), there was more of a growl to the bottom octaves of Nathan East's bass guitar, and slightly better differentiation between the sounds of the bass guitar and kick drum. This edge in low-frequency performance also allowed the LCD-Xes to present a slightly more convincing sense of hall ambience with the Portland State Chamber Choir recording.
"O Salutaris Hostia" sounded deliciously smooth through both headphones; both allowed me to hear deep into the delicate acoustic of the Queens church where I'd recorded Bob Reina's band; both were equally revealing of the reduction in sound quality resulting from downsampling when I played 96kHz files without Pure Music and with the Mac set to 44.1kHz; and both were equally comfortable for long-term listening. Which headphones will be preferred for midrange and high-frequency reproduction will come down to personal taste. For me, its performance in the low frequencies swung the needle toward the Audeze LCD-X.
Although, to my surprise, the Astell&Kern AK100, with its output impedance of 22.5 ohms, could still drive the Audeze LCD-Xes to satisfactorily high levels, I will stick with the Ultimate Ears and JH Audio IEMs for music on the move, as both models provide the necessary suppression of external noise. But for listening at home, the beautifully finished and equally beautiful-sounding Audeze LCD-Xes have seduced me away from my allegiance to Sennheisers. Highly recommended!
Footnote 1: Other than the sound quality, one reason I've stuck with Sennheisers over the years is that almost all the parts are replaceable. Unlike with regular audio components, the listener wears headphones, which means they come in for a lot of physical abuse.
Footnote 2: The last time I auditioned planar-magnetic headphones was in 1978. I had borrowed a pair of the excellent PWBs, designed and manufactured by one Peter W. Belt, later to find fame, if not fortune, with his alternate-reality "tuning" accessories.