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The Best-Sounding Audiophile Cans on the Market?

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If you’re an audiophile or a music producer, and you’ve got a few dollars to throw at some serious headphones, then your studio or listening room should absolutely contain a pair of Audeze’s fantastic LCD-5 planar magnetic headphones. This flagship set of cans from the US headphone brand will leave your jaw firmly on the floor and your ears wanting more.

Specifications

  • Brand: Audeze
  • Sensitivity: 90 dB/1mW
  • Transducer Size: 90mm
  • Frequency Response: 5Hz – 50kHz
  • Connection Type: Wired
  • Impedance: 14 Ohms
  • Weight: 420g (15oz)
  • Folding/Storage: Storage attaché case
Pros

  • Incredible clarity
  • Fantastic response time
  • Light for planar magnetic headphones
  • Balanced sound
  • Fantastic craftsmanship
  • Planar magnetic transducers offer excellent resolution
Cons

  • Expensive (but you get what you pay for)
Buy This Product

If you want professional quality from your personal audio set-up, then you should always consider the Californian audiophile brand, Audeze. The LCDi3 in ear monitors impressed me no end when I tested them back in February 2022, and I’ve been lucky enough to try out their amazing LCD-5 planar magnetic headphones.


Now, a quick caveat before we get down to business; these headphones retail at $4500, so they’re not cheap. If you are serious about hi-fi, or about music, or you produce your own music, then these are the cans for you. If you want some headphones to replace your Apple Airpods, then they are not. Saying that, you can pay for them in installments…

Essentially, these are audiophile-quality headphones aimed at serious users, rather than casual listening. Keen to know more? Let’s take a look at the Audeze LCD-5…


Inside the (Amazing) Box

Before we get to the contents of the box, let’s speak first about the box itself. No cardboard nonsense here. No siree. When you get your LCD-5 headphones, they come in a protective clamshell case—which is crafted in aluminum—and they reside snugly in foam so they’re not damaged during transit.

Even the clasps can lock with a provided key, and they’re soft-close clasps, to further protect the delicate planar magnetic arrangement inside each headphone.

Anyway, inside this fantastic, seemingly military-grade protective casing you’ll find:

  • Audeze LCD-5 headphones
  • Braided 2.5m copper 4-Pin XLR balanced cable
  • 4-Pin XLR to 1/4″ adapter
  • Product guides
  • Protective gloves
  • Clasp key

Yes, you get protective gloves for handling your headphones. Don’t want any fingerprints on them, now, do we?! Plus you can lock the box so your eight-year-old nephew doesn’t get curious and start dropping your expensive cans all over the place.

The Testing Setup

If you have audiophile-quality headphones, then you want an audiophile-quality setup to test them on. I used a NAD M10 MK2 streaming amplifier (because this allows me to test Tidal’s MQA tracks in conjunction with the LCD-5 headphones), and an iFi Audio ZEN CAN Signature 6XX dedicated headphone amplifier. I also tested them out with my DJ setup, just to see what they were like in that respect.

Obviously, these are wired headphones, so unless you connect them to a DAC (digital-to-analog converter) you can’t enjoy the freedom Bluetooth headphones offer. However, you won’t be doing the housework while you marvel at the responsive bass and crystal-clear mids these cans boast. Just sit down and enjoy the music, for crying out loud!

A Stunning Form

Just like the box they ship in, the Audeze LCD-5 headphones are truly a sight to behold, and I will wager any audiophile will agree when I say they genuinely look professional and classy in equal measure (even if the aesthetics don’t quite do justice to how good they sound).

They follow an open-back design, which you’ll be used to seeing on a lot of studio-quality headphones. As these are wired headphones, they are free of any cluttered controls, which is what (for me) makes using wired headphones pleasurable. Thus, each headphone has one input—a four-pin XLR socket to plug the braided copper cable into.

The outer face of each ear cup takes a grilled form, giving the headphones their open-back their open-back construction, and carries the Audeze logo. Through the grille, you can see the mesh that stops detritus from entering the inside of the headphones and damaging that polar magnetic setup, while also minimizing any sound reflection and resonance inside the listening chamber.

On the internal face of the ear cup is the leather cushion and, peering in, you’ll see the transducer. The ear cup enclosure itself comes in an attractive tortoise-shell design, crafted from lightweight acetate.

A curved gimbal supports each ear cup, which allows the headphones to pivot on the horizontal axis, providing comfort to the wearer. A metal rod protruding from the top of the headphones affords vertical adjustment, while also fixing the headphones to the carbon fiber headband. The headband also has a comfortable leather strap to prevent pressure on your head, not that you’ll notice much…

They’re light, too, weighing in at a mere 0.9 lbs. Note that the copper cable is fairly heavy, though, especially with the XLR adaptor in the middle of the cable arrangement. That doesn’t put me off at all, though it is a little cumbersome. In all, you’ve got a really beautiful pair of headphones, here.

Powerful on Paper

In terms of specifications, the Audeze LCD-5 headphones have plenty to shout about. I mean, they’re over four grand, so expect premium quality at every turn.

The headphones use a planar magnetic transducer. To explain planar magnetic headphones briefly; inside each ear cup—with most planar magnetic headphones—you have two opposing arrays of magnets, and between these magnets you have a diaphragm, which is all but completely suspended in mid-air between the two magnet arrays.

The LCD-5 eschews the two magnet arrays, instead opting for just one, which results in a much lighter set of headphones. The headphones use Audeze’s trademarked Fluxor magnet arrays, which you’ll have seen mentioned in my LCDi3 review, comprising Neodymium N50 magnets, and which have been updated for this flagship edition in Audeze’s line.

The headphones can reach an SPL (sound pressure level) above 130 dB, and carry a THD (total harmonic distortion) value of less than 0.1% at 100 dB. Basically, this means if you whack the volume right up, the sound won’t distort, and everything will retain clarity. It’ll just be very loud.

In terms of impedance, you’re looking at a surprising 14 ohms. This compares to the 200 ohm LCD-4, hence the figure is somewhat surprising. The lower the number (eight being the minimum before you get noticeable degradation of sound) the less power the headphones take to drive, meaning you can team these up with a less powerful amp than their predecessor, and you’ll still get fantastic sound (within the limits of your amp’s capabilities, of course).

Planar-Perfect Performance

It is fair to say that Audeze are consistently setting standards, both in terms of the general headphone landscape, and also in more focused terms of planar magnetic headphones. Arguably, they make the best headphones you can buy in this price range (yes, if you don’t already know, you can buy headphones that cost significantly more than these).

As I said before, I loved the LCDi3 IEMs. The open-back design coupled with an in-ear form is innovative and performance was exemplary. I’m happy to say that the Audeze LCD-5 blew me away even more.

Quick caveat: we all have different ears and ways of hearing, so I suggest you go and test a pair of any headphones before you buy, if possible. My ears are not your ears, meaning the following is subjective and might not be your experience.

The LCDi3 in-ear monitors afford incredible clarity, and the LCD-5 even more so. The planar magnetic transducers respond fast to a sound signal, meaning that detail is rich in its presentation. You’ll notice this no matter what music you listen to, although listening to music created by instruments, and human hands and mouths, will be more detailed than its all-electric alternative.

Cracking out R.A.P Music by Run the Jewel’s own Killer Mike, and I could practically feel every word. Every plosive and fricative is delivered just as though it was coming directly out of Mike’s mouth and into my face. I swear I felt a bit of spittle at one point during a flurry of P’s, B’s, and K’s.

Imagine watching a band live, and they’re playing their tightest set ever. Every sound perfectly aligned with one another. This is what the LCD-5 headphones do when you listen to music through, them. They sound incredibly bright, punchy, and they deliver the detail rapid-fire. It is this near-perfect response that makes the music you’re listening to sound so good.

This is what I love about listening to music through Audeze cans. They just sound amazing, and they pick up levels of detail I have never heard before, when I use them over cheaper Bluetooth headphones, for example. If you think Nirvana’s classic Smell’s Like Teen Spirit sounds grungy and abrasive, then you need to listen to it through the LCD-5 and hear every single time a plectrum scratches on a steel string.

The LCD-5 replicates stereo perfectly, which allows you to really envisage the positioning of the instruments in the recording. This leads me naturally onto the soundstage, which, although expansive enough, feels a little close at times. It isn’t a claustrophobic soundstage by any stretch of the imagination, though, and as said, it is certainly possible to locate the instruments wherever they are positioned.

In terms of range, the bottom end is relatively reserved, and Audeze haven’t pushed these headphones in terms of bass delivery, making the bass sound closer to reference rather than enhancing bass. This doesn’t mean bass is lacking, although if you like your bass sounds to envelope you, you’d be forgiven for EQing these cans a tad.

While there is no sibilance to speak of, I thought the treble to be a little on the sharp side when I first tested the headphones. However, once I started using them for longer periods, I certainly noticed that the treble mellowed out, meaning I had probably burned the headphones in fully when I noticed this change.

Mids really shine, though, with the LCD-5, and do so from the off. If you like vocal music, or any music where the sound concentrates around the midrange, you’re going to love these headphones. I am genuinely not scared to admit that hearing every lilt of Roberta Flack’s voice in The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, caused my eyes to dampen and a lump to rise in my throat.

On to testing with my DJ equipment, and I was pleasantly surprised. My mixer (a pretty basic Pioneer DJM-250 MK2, coupled with two Pioneer DJ PLX 500s) fared well with these headphones—I wasn’t expecting this to be the case at all.

I don’t know exactly what problem I was envisioning—perhaps a lack of power output to the headphone channel or something—but they sounded bloody amazing. Coldcut’s Timber was a standout for me here, but so was Papua New Guinea by Future Sound of London, and The House Is Mine by The Hypnotist.

This leads me to assert that these headphones would play a wonderful role in a music production set-up. Especially with that reference-level bass. I wouldn’t recommend actually DJing in these things, though, as snapping your neck to tommy gun jungle breaks is not going to do the planar magnetic tech inside any good.

In all, I think these are outstanding headphones and, if you want luscious detail, these should be at the top of your shopping list, budget permitting, of course.

Should You Buy the Audeze LCD-5 Headphones?

This is a difficult one to answer. Obviously, the answer is yes, you should, but I totally appreciate not everyone has Audeze-level budgets to spend on a pair of headphones; I would be naïve to think this the case. However, if you are in the process of building out your hi-fi setup and have the cash to spare, then these cans are more than worthy of your consideration.

In all, you won’t be disappointed at all, even if you do end up notching the bass a touch. That is fine, you’re still going to get incredible levels of detail all delivered in ridiculously fast response times. You get me here? EVERYTHING SOUNDS AMAZING.



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