Audeze LCDi4 in-ear headphones Page 2

The 1/3-octave warble tones on Editor's Choice (ALAC files ripped from CD, Stereophile STPH016-2) were audible at full level down to 32Hz, and the 25 and 20Hz tones were just audible if I raised the volume. With the half-step toneburst track on Editor's Choice the Audezes spoke cleanly and evenly in the bass, though there was a slight reduction in energy in the 2–4kHz octave. Driving the LCDi4s with Faber Acoustical's SignalSuite app on my iPhone, I heard no distortion in the low bass. This is a difficult test to pass for conventional in-ear headphones that use armatures, though the Ultimate Ears and JH models use multiple armatures at low frequencies to improve linearity. At the other end of the audioband, the Audeze 'phones produced audible output up to my current HF cutoff of 14kHz.

Enough test tones—time for some music. Well, not music. I'd recently been archiving old cassette tapes to digital, and had come across the BBC's 1981 binaural production of Oliver Goldsmith's play She Stoops to Conquer, featuring a young Judi Dench as Miss Hardcastle. The beauty of a good binaural recording is that it places all the acoustic objects outside the head, rather than stringing them on a line between your ears. With the LCDi4s, voices and the instruments playing the incidental music were positioned well to the left and right of me, but voices at the center of the stage remained inside my head instead of being projected forward. This was primarily due to the fact that the transfer function of my outer ears doesn't match that of the dummy head that was used to make the recording. But when Tony Lumpkin (Wayne Sleep) makes his first entry by slamming open a door at far stage right/audience left and running to center stage, I looked around to see what the disturbance in my room was, such was the sense of binaural realism with the Ayre-driven Audezes.


Okay, now it was time for music. With the David Haseltine Trio's treatment of Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," from Dr. Chesky's Ultimate Headphone Demonstration Disc (24/44.1k ALAC, Chesky/HDtracks), this binaural recording through the Audeze LCDi4s relocated me from my listening room to the recording venue, with the piano to the left of me, the drums to the right, and the double bass slightly in front of my nose. But as I'd preordered Stevie Winwood's Greatest Hits Live (2 CDs, Wincraft/Thirty Tigers WM002; see David Sokol's review elsewhere in this issue) and it arrived the day I unpacked the Audezes, I paused Dr. Chesky and, not waiting to rip the CD to the NAD's storage, loaded it into my Ayre C-5xeMP player and fed AES/EBU data to the DAC. Ahh . . . while I would have much preferred there to have been a bass player in the band rather than Winwood using his Hammond for the bass lines, the sound of this album is generally excellent ("While You Take a Chance" being an unfortunate exception). Through the LCDi4s, Winwood's voice sounded as naturally soulful as I remember it from first hearing him sing in the 1960s, the organ's bass pedals had a satisfying combination of weight and extension, and the cymbals had plenty of top-octave air.

With their lack of edge or brightness, the Audeze LCDi4s excelled with electric guitar. José Neto's electric guitar on the Winwood album sounded clean when necessary and overdriven when musically appropriate, as in his solo in "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys." And if I'm mentioning recordings of electric guitar, I must play something by that master of the instrument, Bill Frisell. Listening to "That Was Then," from Live in Tokyo, Japan: July 21, 2000 (16/44.1 FLAC, Bill Frisell Downloads), again I was struck by how the LCDi4s' lack of mid-treble aggression allowed me to appreciate both Frisell's artistry and his artful use of effects. Perhaps some might feel that the Audeze 'phones were taking away some of the instrument's attack, but I didn't feel musically shortchanged.


It's difficult to match levels precisely by ear with in-ear headphones, but for comparisons with my Audeze LCD-Xes ($1699) and Ultimate Ears 18 Pro IEMs ($1350, plus the cost of having an audiologist taking impressions of the owner's inner ears), I played the pink-noise track from Editor's Choice and, using the single-ended ¼" output (where the levels sounded closest) on the Ayre QX-5 Twenty D/A headphone amplifier, noted the Ayre's volume-control settings. This was easier to write than to do, due to the three headphones' different frequency balances, but the LCDi4s seemed to be about 4dB less sensitive than the LCD-Xes, and 10dB less sensitive than the Ultimate Ears.

The 18 Pros sounded considerably more forward in the midrange than the LCDi4s. In addition, there appeared to be less top-octave extension and a reduced sense of weight, despite the fact that the Ultimate Ears' molds completely block my ear canals, thus maximizing the low-frequency performance. With the Silverman Liszt, there was a somewhat diminished sense of the acoustic of the Albuquerque church where I'd made the recording, though the 18 Pros' tonal balance made the piano sound more forceful. With the Frisell, the guitar moved forward in the mix, Kenny Wollesen's drums and Tony Scherr's double bass both took a couple of steps back, and the cymbals had less HF extension.

Changing to the LCD-Xes gave a balance in "That Was Then" that was much closer to that with the LCDi4s, but with a touch less top-octave air and overall delicacy. This was somewhat offset by an increased sense of low-frequency weight, especially when I switched to a balanced connection. With the Silverman Liszt recording, there was again a slightly diminished sense of the church's acoustic.


I'd used the LCD-Xes for monitoring when recording the Portland State Chamber Choir in 2014 for the CD Into Unknown Worlds (CD Baby: Listening to the 24/88.2k master file of "Hear My Prayer," a brief setting of Psalm 102 composed by Purcell in 1682 that sounds surprisingly modern, the LCD-Xes reproduced this recording exactly as I remembered hearing it at the session. Changing to the LCDi4s, some of the bass bloom was lost, but I got a clearer picture of the complex layering of the vocal parts, and the warmly supportive acoustic of Portland's St. Stephen's Church was a little more apparent than it had been through the LCD-Xes.

Summing Up
I was very impressed by Audeze's LCD-4 open-back, circumaural headphones when I reviewed them in July 2016, but was a bit taken aback by their price: $3995. At $2495, Audeze's LCDi4s are also expensive, but excel in their naturally balanced sound, reproduction of recorded detail, top-octave air, and surprisingly extended low-frequency response for earphones that rely on rubber tips to seal the user's ear canals. The LCDi4s' treble balance might be too polite for some tastes, but I prefer aggression that is encoded in the recording rather than added by the playback gear. The LCDi4s played sufficiently loud with my iPhone 6S, but that's a bit of a moot point considering their lack of acoustic isolation.

I had one quibble: I would have liked a longer cable. Other than that, I have nothing negative to add. I'll miss the LCDi4s when I return them to Audeze; but until I do, I'll continue using them to rediscover forgotten gems in my music library.

Audeze LLC
3412 S. Susan Street
Santa Ana, CA 92704
(714) 581-8010

DougM's picture

Does Nordost make a $1500 cable to improve these earbuds when plugged into your IPhone? Once again, this is a great way to get kids with their disposable Sony or Apple earbuds interested in quality audio, introduce them to $2500 earbuds. I'm sure they can afford them if they save their salary from McDonalds or Pizza Hut. Do you people live in Trump tower? Do you really understand at all how real people live? I don't even know what else to say. I hate earbuds anyway. I'll keep my classic Sennheiser HD424s.
The Emperor has no clothes!

DaleC's picture

How real people live? Like the ones that drop $30k on a bass boat.... or $10k on Sea Doo... or $20k on a Harley... or $25k on an off road buggy???? Drive through middle class neighborhoods and you will see numerous examples of all those things. None of which are used anywhere nearly as often as these earphones.

Cost is relative, but audio is a pretty inexpensive hobby compared to those of "real people".

dwgreven's picture

So true. Well argued. Thank you!

Priaptor's picture

Your assumption (an absurd one at that) is that Audeze's intention is to try to lure "kids" for this premier product that was built not to be used primarily with an iPhone but only as a secondary use. In fact, the first units didn't even include their iPhone cipher cable because that was not their market. In case you haven't noticed they sell much cheaper IEMs which are meant for iPhones.

Enjoy you Senns and try to curtail your wealth envy and anger as it tightens those coronaries.

tonykaz's picture

Audeze transducer designs seem to have achieved a "Gold Standard" level of acceptance, good for them.

I've very much wanted to love Audeze headphones but couldn't, they're too darn heavy, they feel like a motorcycle helmet.

Now I'm thinking that our JA is on to something here, these ( liddle ) Audeze devices could be an option to wearing 300+ gram headphones.

Or, maybe, these low ( ambient noise isolation ) $2,500 IEMs are a Solution to a Problem that doesn't exist. ( at least for me )

I'd like to try a pair of these, for a few weeks, if I could. ( no financial risk ) Could they be a useful option to regular, over the head Headphones?

Tony in Michigan

ps. our Mr.JA seems to be as qualified a Reviewer as is humanly possible. He's the originator of the music he uses to evaluate and knows how to technically evaluate. I'll hope and presume he owns Ears functioning to high levels.

ps.2 folks wearing these devices look rather Goth,hmm, seems like a "in the privacy of one's home" type of device.

dalethorn's picture

I have found that, unlike electrostatic headphones, the full-size planars struggle to present a neutral and extended treble. The three that I've tried, up to the $1500 mark, fell far short of the kind of detail that certain dynamic headphones (Focal Elear, Beyer T1, etc.) present. Perhaps the small size of this mini-planar can overcome the limitations of its big brothers, or, perhaps there's another technology here besides ordinary planar drivers.

DougM's picture

Mu comments weren't so much directed at Audeze, but at the Stereophile staff and the audio world in general, who are always editorializing about how to get more people interested in quality audio. The answer is not with $2500 earphones. Thirty percent of our country (that's nearly one third) earn less than $25k a year. They can no more afford a boat or a Harley than a pair of $2500 earbuds. They struggle just to pay their rent. They would have to save for a long time, or go into debt, just to afford a $1000-$1500 audio system. If you want to get more people into audio, then show them how they can assemble a great sounding system with under $500 amps, CD players (or DACs), and speakers, for a total cost of $1500 or less. The British hi-fi magazines like What Hi-Fi cover equipment like this all the time, and therefore generate more interest in audio equipment from the general public than Stereophile or TAS, who seem to want to cater to the one percent.

Glotz's picture

None of these products are marketed to people with incomes at the $25k mark, nor is the review written to that audience. Most of the people in that income bracket aren't concerned with better quality audio, or even listen to music on a regular basis outside of their low-priced, ear bud consumption..

Stereophile is catering to the high-end of the market. They review, and have reviewed, lower-priced gear of all types. While they need to focus on lower-priced equipment as they have more in the past, reviews like this are about the best of the best. I know their sister publications offer more in reasonably-priced headphone reviews.

You assume the question if the magazine wants to get more people into audio, Stereophile is what they should read. I don't think that is an appropriate question, without some important qualifiers. Stereophile is what one reads when the best in audio is desired. The 'best' has many connotations by a variety of people. What's the best value (as a reader)? I'm not sure that is this magazine's intent.

dalethorn's picture

Just where are those under-$25k earners going to be playing those audiophile speakers at audiophile volume levels? Middle of the day only? What about nighttime? I can't do it, and I'm well above the $25k mark.

DaleC's picture

If you were addressing the lower third of income earners, you should have said so, but you said "real people". By your own definition, 70% of Americans are not "real people".

I doubt very seriously the lower third of American wage earners read this site. If they are buying audiophile gear, their priorities are out of whack.

Regarding low cost audio, there are numerous articles in that vein. Also, a person can read these articles to learn about audio and then buy used gear. That is what I do.

Your first post, along with your "1%" and "cork sniffer" comments expose the wealth envy referred to by other commenters in this thread. I am a looong way from the 1%, as is almost everyone on this site, but these articles interest me and these phones are not out of the question, especially if I ever resume regular air travel for my job.

ok's picture

Audio press has never been about mere buying cheap and going home. Hadn’t this always been the case it would have long vanished for lack of continuing interest and weary anticipation of next generation's newbies – that lately use to never come..

tonykaz's picture

..., I never liked the term.

Still, all of us manufacturing people build for folks with ability to spend.

It takes incomes above $60,000 to live here in the USA, hmm, that is $30 per hour.

Preferably more than one income, per household.

Then comes the expenses :
Gourmand Dining,
Branded Clothes from the Mall ( and plenty of them,phew ),
$100 Tickets to Live Events/ea.,
Dog stuff,
Children Stuff,
Flat Screen 4k 56" TVs,
Bass Boats with two 150hp. 4 Stroke Honda Motors,
Honda's New&Improved Gold Wing Motorcycle,
the Vacation to a poor, Caribbean Island to distribute used ( but still useful ) eye glasses to the "genuinely-needy" ( taking the kids, of course ).

Ca-ching, life here in the $tate$ is expen$ive.

$7.20 per hr. at Taco Bell ?, forgetaboutit !

The stuff reviewed by Stereophile is cheap if you're single, compared to the committed life of "viable" young married folks!

Single Men can indulge themselves with Audio luxuries, even owning Vinyl stuff ( with all it's monetary requirements ), as long as they don't buy Audi S8 Cars, Rolex Watches, GQ Clothes for dates with "high maintenance" types, table cloth & candlelight dinners at the 4 -Seasons and all the rest of the stuff like.....


Reading & Watching Steve Guttenberg and Herb Reichert is about the wonderful wandering life they live as they meander off-course, following their curiosities, filling their apartments with gear reviewed/to-be-reviewed and gear reviewed ages ago ( now owned but mostly unused ) , far-too valuable to simply let-go-of, needing to be 'Endowed' to some youthful & worthy Aspirant. Who inherited Harry Pierson's stuff?

I wonder how many of us are wanna-be or Armchair Reviewers, just hoping for a few days in NY,NY to; visit those remaining Audio Shops that are still choo'ching along, just like the 1970s but without the crowds of customers ?

For us living in Fly-over country, under geographical "house arrest", Stereophile has become invaluable in providing useful knowledge and confidence building when purchasing a well researched audio item ( New from a Retailer or Used on eBay ), there probably isn't a more reliable source of Audio Information available anywhere.

I got the feeling that this magazine is the best we're gonna get, short of attending an RMAF ( next time it comes along ).

Tony in Michigan

ednazarko's picture

When I first saw the picture of these I thought that they were a steam punk thing - a design trick and not an actual unique driver system.

Intrigued by the listening comments. I wondered if getting the drivers out there would expand the soundstage all by itself. But I've learned from painful (literally) experience that for in-ear, I need to stick with CIEMs - with regular IEMs I have a choice between a good seal and pain after an hour or two, or comfort for long listening sessions but crappy seal (and therefore compromised sound.)

DougM's picture

I live in a small (under 400 sq. ft.) studio apartment, and I can play CDs after midnight with no complaints from my neighbors. A good pair of speakers doesn't have to be played at deafening levels to sound good. If yours do, then you need new speakers. And you need earplugs, or you're going to be suffering from tinnitus and hearing loss quite soon.
Anymore corksniffers want to gang up against me?
If you want to attract new readers, and new audiophiles, then you need to cover quality equipment at all price levels.
Anyone remember Bob Reina (RIP) and Stephen Mejias?

dalethorn's picture

Would realistic sound levels, i.e. "audiophile" sound levels, be considered deafening sound levels?

DougM's picture

According to accepted standards, the human ear can only tolerate 91db for two hours, 94db for one hour, 97db for 1/2 hour, and 100db for fifteen minutes before permanent damage ensues.
All these kids with their earbuds blasting are going to be sorry in the coming years. According to experts, this is something even symphony players have to worry about.

dalethorn's picture

Would you be able to play your speakers at audiophile/realistic volume levels late at night, where those volume levels would compare to a symphonic attendee sitting in the first few rows? If not, how much lower would you have to play them?

Mihalis's picture

The LCDi4 sound excellent, in some ways I prefer them to the LCD4. However QC is zero: my pair arrived with all sorts of blemishes and imperfections on both sides of the titanium shells that simply should not have been accepted. Add the many differences in measurements of LCD4s as per Innerfidelity and one has to wonder is there is any QC over there. M.