Big sound without studio monitors

Getting started with the Audeze LCD-2C (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

If you are familiar with planar magnetic headphones, chances are you’ve heard of Audeze as well. Although it’s already the fourth generation of their flagship LCD headset series, the LCD-2 Classic is a tribute to the first Audeze headset that started it all.

I was surprised when I first encountered the LCD-2 Classic because of the standard large travel case that came with the headset. Considering that these headphones are large in size and not really designed to be worn on the go, it made me curious: under what circumstances would someone carry it? I dived to find out.

Steel rods for tension adjustment (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

Great beautiful construction

The Audeze LCD-2 Classic is not built like any typical headset. Instead of the common telescopic strips, LCD screens use a fixed metal strip with two steel rods that slide up and down for tension adjustment. The resulting look is a distinct and industrial feel. The industrial theme continues with the earcup grilles, making it one of the boldest and most masculine headphones I’ve ever seen.

The very thick ear cups (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

Another feature that stands out is the extra thick ear cushions. The wedge-shaped pad signifies at the end closest to the user’s face that it is thin, doubling in thickness towards the back of the head. The result is a helmet that remains more or less parallel to each other when worn on the head, while having a very firm seal on the side of the head.

The durable-looking Mini XLR port (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

The LCD-2C comes with Braided Mini XLR cables that terminate in a 1/4 “jack, which is very strong and will last a long time. There is no fun stuff near the female ports of the headphones, this which means you can easily replace the original cables with third party cables as per your preference.

The LCD-2C paired with the SPL Phonitor xe (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

The need for bigger amplifiers

The Audeze LCD-2C is rated at 70 ohms which is neither high nor low, and I tried it with a few of the smaller DACs / amps I had like the new FiiO K3 and even the FiiO M11 Plus LTD DAP. While I was able to get the volume up, they didn’t do the LCD screen justice in terms of dynamics and resolution.

The LCD-2C with the Schiit Jotunheim II (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

It was until I hooked it up to bigger DACs / amps like the SPL Phonitor xe and the Schiit Jotunheim II that the sound really started to shine. So expect a solid investment for a headphone amplifier, for those who want to maximize the sound on their LCD-2C.

A 100mm planar magnetic pilot inside (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

Strength in sound size

Using the LCD-2C I entered with high expectations, especially in the bass department, from what I heard from friends and critics, but the experience was totally different from what I expected.

Especially with the SPL amp, the LCD-2C’s midrange stood out and had a fantastic texture. However, the texture produced from these headphones is very different from, say, a great pair of IEMs with amazing detail. The 100mm size of planar magnetic speakers does something that expensive dynamic headphones that typically use 50mm drivers can’t: they produce wider sound.

The Open Grids (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

This is the difference between a portable guitar amp and a large Marshall stack – since the size of the source is different, the impact and size of the sound is also going to be different. The LCD-2C that I have found is the perfect size to articulate the voice, and the presence of the voice is one of the best I have heard on headphones.

Besides vocals, the LCD-2C also produces other frequencies, including bass significantly. Just as it has been renowned, it has the ability to produce a terrific bass response, but it’s not the usual punchy bass, instead you get an atmospheric bass that has a lot more width.

This makes the LCD-2C ideal for multi-instrumental music, live music and also for watching movies, where the powerful sound contributes to the immersive experience. The sound that I have found most enjoyable on these headphones is from movies that feature great engine sounds like Need of speed Where 6 Underground, where the explosive sound of engine revving really sings through the planar magnetic headphones.

Even though these are open-back headphones, the soundstage is also not what I expected. It does not have the usual transparency quality of open backs like the beyerdynamic T1 or the Focal Utopia. Instead, it’s more like listening to monitors in a small room where sound fills the room.

The serious travel case that comes with the LCD-2C … but why? (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

Traveling studio monitors

After spending some time with the LCD-2C, I came to the conclusion that it offers quite a different experience than typical headphones, and I would say it shouldn’t be compared to traditional dynamic headphones. I would prefer to place the listening experience between headphones and studio monitors due to the sheer size of sound they produce.

And that brings me back to my original question: if the LCD-2C wasn’t designed as a travel headset, why does it come with a travel case? My response after using them is that they are more like travel monitors. You wouldn’t use them on an airplane, but in a hotel room or office where you have personal space and want a studio monitor experience.

The Audeze Reveal + plugin in the JRiver player (Photo: Audeze)

Audeze Reveal + Plugin

To enhance the studio monitor experience, Audeze released plug-in software called Reveal +, which emulates famous recording studios around the world. Since this is a plugin, you will need to use it with compatible music player software or a digital audio workstation (DAW).

I used the Reveal + with the JRiver player, followed the Embody setup process which uses photos of my ears to create a custom hearing map, and selected the LCD-2C from the list of headphones .

This resulted in high quality soundstage emulation which improved the staging and separation on the LCD screen. Most of the settings can be adjusted and that means you can spend a considerable amount of time tweaking to get the sound the way you like it.

Since I had the SPL Phonitor xe amplifier, which is a master of the art of providing an incredible soundstage, I have not had to resort to the Reveal + software. However, if I only had the Schiit Jotunheim II which only amplified the dynamics of the sound, the Reveal + software is an irreplaceable option for emulating a variety of great soundstages in high quality.

The Audeze LCD-2C looks great on the desk with the Oakywood headphone mount (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

Final verdict

The Audeze LCD-2C is a great headphone – but not for the reasons I expected. It delivers a listening experience that leans towards studio monitors and is a spectacular performer, especially when paired with great headphone amps. Paired with an iconic look, this is a pair of headphones that I recommend to adorn any music lover’s desktop sound setup.

For its impressive sound performance, we award the LCD-2C the IBTimes Recommended badge.

David is a tech enthusiast / writer who is often on the go, but since the lockdown he has been on a mission to explore gadgets to improve his ‘work from home’ job. This is a contribution to an ongoing IBTimes review series on gadgets for home productivity.

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