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    Audeze LCD-4z Review

    Audeze is an American company producing high-end dynamic (magnetic) headphones. The LCD-4zs are marketed as  a high-sensitivity model of the popular LCD-4 which has been the company’s flagship model for some time. The “z” edition was produced to meet the growing demand for headphones that will not only work with high-end, stationary high-powered amplifiers, but can also be driven by line-level devices such as pre-amps and built-in headphone amps in line level equipment. The inference here is that these ‘phones are suitable to be powered by members of the increasingly popular high-quality market for portable gear such as the Chord Hugo-2 battery-powered DAC/headphone amp, the iFi Xcan headphone amp, and indeed, such stand-alone devices as iPhones and iPads as well as the  Android-based competition from such companies as Samsung, Lenovo, Motorola, and the like. But more about that later.

     

     

    First Glance

     

    The LCD-4z's phones look, pretty much exactly like their direct ancestor the Audeze LCD-4. Both models have over-sized round earcups with thick leather ear pads (although non-leather pads are available). These phones are of the circumaural type meaning that they fit over the ear, not touching any part of it. This makes the phones more comfortable, especially for long-term listening, than the on-ear type in which the ear cups sit directly upon the outer ear. Circumaural phones usually can accommodate a larger driver element (though that’s not always the case) for deeper bass due to more driver area. 

     

    The headband on the LCD-4zs is likewise, structurally just like that of the LCD-4. It consists of a cast yoke to encompass the earcups, and allow them to tilt on axis. These are connected to a central pillar  which allows each phone to independently swivel right and left. The pillar is notched where it passes through the headband assembly so that they may be adjusted for different head sizes. The actual headband itself is made from a composite material resembling carbon fiber and the part that rests on one’s head is perforated leather-like material, ostensibly, for air circulation. One can tell a pair of LCD-4s from a pair of LCD-4zs immediately by two cosmetic differences. The LCD-4s have a silver colored earcup back plate while the 4z model’s back plate is black. The pillars on the headband mount are likewise of different colors. The LCD-4 is chrome colored and the 4z’s pillar is gold colored. Both the Audeze LCD-4 and LCD-4z's retail for US$3995. 

     

     

    The Details

     

    The main differences between the LCD-4 and the LCD-4z's are in the details, and not very many of those, at that.  The LCD-4’s have a sensitivity of 97 dB at 1 mW and the LCD-4zs have a sensitivity of 98 dB at 1 mW. The LCD-4s have a nominal impedance of 200Ω while the LCD-4zs have a nominal impedance of only 15Ω. Both headphones have identically specified magnets of Neodymium N50 and both are push-pull phones with magnets on both sides of the diaphragm. The LCD-4s weigh 735 grams and the LCD-4z's weigh-in at 600 grams (the lighter weight of the z’s is due to the fact that Audeze opted to make the earcups on the them out of a magnesium alloy rather than the aluminum of the LCD-4).

     

    Both headphones come in a beautiful, form fitting “Pelican”-style case of ballistic polycarbonate and the case also contains a 1.9m 1/4'' to dual 4-pin mini-XLR cable, as well as a thumb drive containing the headphones’ manual and warranty information.

     

    While I question what the difference one dB in sensitivity would make in a headphone’s suitability for portable, battery-powered use and really wonder why a low impedance of 15Ω would be suitable for such devices as battery-powered amplifiers, I find that a cable that sports only a standard quarter-inch headphone plug (and doesn’t even include a 3.5mm adaptor) is not sending the message that the LCD-4zs are made to be more portable device friendly. Indeed, Audeze’s own spec sheet doesn’t really mention portable devices like iPhones and Chord Hugo-2 devices. The main thrust of Audeze’s description of these headphones is that they are designed to be driven by the line outputs of one’s preamp or the headphone jacks on tape recorders (digital or analog), pre-amps, tuners and the like. While a 15Ω impedance might be fine for these purposes, Ohm’s Law tells us that that the LCD-4 with a sensitivity of 97dB/1mw @ 200 Ω requires a lot less current from the driving device than does the LCD-4z's with a 98dB/1mW sensitivity at 15 Ω. While the lack of full information restricts the actual ability here to calculate these relationships, we can, nonetheless show an example which will illustrate the point:

     

    Using the formula where I (current in Amperes) = E (electromotive force or voltage) divided by Resistance or nominal impedance (in Ohms) arbitrarily using the following parameters – 5 volts at 15 Ω (representing the LCD-4z's’s) and then 5 volts at 200 Ω (representing the LCD-4) we get:

     

    I = 5/15  so I = 0.33 Amperes (LCD-4z's)
    I = 5/200 so I = 0.022 Amperes (LCD-4)

     

    While the numbers in this example are arbitrary and have nothing, per se to do with the either Headphone being discussed here, the mathematical relationship is accurate. In reality, under any conditions of drive voltage the LCD-4z’s will draw more than an order of magnitude more current from the source than will the LCD-4’s. This does not make the z’s more compatible with portable devices than are the LCD-4’s, it makes them LESS likely work well in those applications!

     

     

    Sound

     

    I’m going to be brutally honest here – the LCD-4z's sound wretched! Not only do they sound wretched for $4000 headphones, they would sound wretched for $200 headphones! At first, I assumed that the review pair were defective so they were sent back to Audeze in San Diego. The tech director of Audeze  called a few days later and confirmed that the 4z’s were, indeed defective. He said that they would be replacing the drivers with a new, matched pair. When talking about other headphones in comparison with the 4z’s he cautioned not to expect as good of a midrange as is exhibited by say, the Sennheiser HD-800s (a magnetic phone listed at US$1700). The newly rebuilt phones were soon returned and I have to report that I heard no difference at all through either my Schiit Asgard 2 headphone amplifier, or my friend’s Hugo 2 (also the owner of the Audeze LCD-4zs).

     

    I tried the headphones through the monitor headphone jack of my Otari DTR-8S studio DAT recorder and driven by the line-level headphone output of that DAT machine, I must say that the LCD-4zs did sound a skosh better than through the headphone amplifiers or the Hugo 2 (through which, I might add, my HiFiMan Edition X v.2 sound spectacular!). But the LCD-4zs are still unacceptable! What do they sound like? Well that’s easy. The top end sounds shrill and distorted, even though they are better driven by line level headphone drivers than by portable devices, they are still shrill and distorted. The midrange is a mess, the LCD-4z’s sound like one is listening through an earcup filled with cotton wool. So veiled and muffled are the mids, that I can’t imagine any company releasing anything that sounds like that!

     

    Bass? While there is plenty of it, it’s tubby and loose-sounding. With their 106 mm (4.17 inches) diameter drivers, I would expect good low frequency extension, but with only deep, poor quality bass to commend them, I cannot imagine what Audeze was thinking in releasing these phones to the public at any price, much less almost $4000!

     

     

    Conclusion

     

    Looking for high-end headphones for general or portable listening? My advice is to stick with the aforementioned Sennheiser HD-800s, the HiFiMan Ananda (or even the HiFiMan HE1000se at US$3500). And for your stationary listening, I can heartily recommend the HiFiMan Jade 2 electrostatics at US$2500, with amp, they are a steal! I’ve never heard a pair of Audeze LCD-4’s (without the z) and can’t comment, but I’d definitely give the LCD-4z’z a hard pass! 
     

     

    Product Information:

     

     

     

     

    Audeze Responds To This Review of the LCD-4z headphones

     

     Some of us at Audeze visit CA/Audiophile Style on a regular basis to keep up with current developments in computer audio. Which is why, when we recently came across this review of LCD-4z on the home page of Audiophile Style, it was quite a shock. We were shocked not because Sonis did not like the sound signature, we understand that is a taste preference. We were shocked because of a number of factual errors. Since this was a review commissioned by a reputed forum such as Audiophile Style, we wish we were given the opportunity to respond or clarify as the manufacturer before publication. So, we reached out to Chris and he gracefully agreed to publish our response.

     

    (We have redacted real names for privacy reasons and refer to the reviewer as 'Sonis' and the friend as ' his friend')

     

    Here are a few facts we would like to point out:

    image.png

     

    1. We have no record of speaking to Sonis,  yet he claims the 'Tech Director called a few days later'.  Audeze does not have a 'Technical Director'. We have a CTO, CEO,  VP of Sales and Director R&D. None of us spoke to, emailed or otherwise communicated with either the Friend (the owner of the reviewed 4z)  or Sonis. The only person who contacted us was his friend  who mentioned he passed his LCD-4Z to Sonis for review. The only person his friend was in contact with was our Customer Support staff and we have offered to provide the full email exchange to Chris if needed.

     

    2. We are not located in San Diego and we never were, we are located in Santa Ana.  

     

    3. Sonis makes it appear as if he was the person purchasing/returning/communicating with Audeze, when he clearly was not. 

     

    image (1).png

     

     

    4. In the comments Sonis states that 'I would like Audeze to respond, but they declined to comment'  we very much would have like to respond, but he did not reach out to us for comments, if he did, he did not identify himself and ask to speak to the right person. He goes on to say 'and their technical director said on the phone ...'. Again we do not have a technical director and no one at Audeze would make a statement about HD800 as above. We stand behind our products and take pride in what we create. We create neutral sounding headphones (please take a look at the shoot out done by Bob Katz, a well regarded mastering engineer and this review of LCD-4Z by Rafe of innerfidelity). HD800 is better known for it's wide sound stage and a treble response some like. The only time HD-800 was mentioned in any of the communications was by his friend, who said  'Can’t wait to get HD-800 mids and highs with Audeze authority and lows!'. At the end,  our Customer support staff politely said that LCD-4Z is perhaps not what he is looking for and offered a return. If  his friend or Sonis wanted a HD800 with better bass, the better option would have been get a HD-800 and  try to improve the bass through EQ.

     

    5. He seems to insinuate that we did not replace the drivers, when our customer support clearly told his friend that we have a record of the serial numbers and that they were changed. We offer a generous warranty and we go out of the way to please our customers, it is upsetting to question our integrity when as a reviewer he could have posted it to us directly if he had doubts. We informed his friend that the drivers were out of spec, but out of spec does not mean a broken driver; we replace the drivers even if we notice minor imperfections in order to keep our customers happy, and it will not alter the sound in a discernible fashion.

     

    image (2).png

     

     

    6. If he had doubts regarding the reasoning behind our decision to provide a low impedance option, he could have asked us and we would have explained it; instead he chose to use numbers to support a conclusion he already made. The math is quite simple, reduced impedance would of course draw more current for a fixed voltage, that is simple Ohms law. But reduced impedance increases voltage sensitivity which is needed to provide an increased headroom in portable devices that often max out at 2-3V RMS.

     

    We are familiar with Chord Hugo 2 and we use it as one of our mobile DACs for testing. Let me explain using Chord Hugo 2 as an example. Hugo 2 has a maximum power output rating of about 1W into 8 ohms (based on specs), extrapolating from that, about 0.5W into 15 ohms. Many use Chord Hugo2 to directly drive high efficiency speaker such as Omega Super Alnico Monitors which have a low 8 ohm impedance and a 94.5dB sensitivity, and I have done so myself with very good results for near-field listening. So, current draw is certainly not the issue here as long as the power required is within spec. If it is not an issue for driving a even lower impedance 8 ohm near-field Monitor, why should it be an issue for LCD-4Z with 15 ohms that is inches from the ear drum?

     

    Here is an example, Hugo 2 has a max voltage output of about  3 VRMS, so the current draw at 15 ohms will be 0.2A and the power output will be 0.6W. This enough to cause serious damage to ears with LCD-4Z whose sensitivity is 98db/mW, even if the listening at half the volume (1.5V), LCD-4Z would be very loud with a lot of headroom to spare. Now compare that with With LCD-4 with 200 ohm impedance, the current draw would be 0.015A and a max power draw of about 0.045W. Yes the LCD-4 would draw less current (an order of magnitude less), but it would not be anywhere as loud even at the maximum volume as the power into LCD-4 would also be an order of magnitude less. Though no one would listen even at maximum volumes, at normal listening levels the extra headroom is needed to accommodate the transients and dynamic range of music. 

     

    We may not recommend using a phone to drive the LCD-4Z, however we will not hesitate to recommend good mobile DACs such as Hugo 2. LCD-4Z can sound 'loud' out of a phone or other devices, but would scale better with better DACs and amps. When driving headphones with high sensitivity such as LCD-4z, there is a question of synergy. 4Z can easily expose flaws in the upstream gear. For example, components with a high noise floor would cause diminished sound-stage. High sensitivity would require some amps to operate at low gain and if the noise floor of the amp is high, this would result in a lower SNR and the noise is no longer buried in the background. 

     

     

    image (3).png

     

     

    7. We understand someone not liking a specific signature, but we cannot help but wonder if it were exaggerated for the sake of sounding more dramatic. 'Shrill and distorted top end' is the last thing one would hear in any Audeze not just LCD-4Z and one would be hard pressed to see anyone saying that in comments or in reviews. Audeze drivers have the lowest levels of distortion of any headphones currently being in production. We have measurements to show this and other reviewers such as Tyll Hertsens have published measurements showing the same. Some  with preference to more treble presence have used terms such as 'dark or warm' to describe the sound but certainly not shrill or muffled.  Audeze's are know for their tight and controlled bass going down to 10Hz, tubby and loose sounding is not a phrase one would find in any review positive or otherwise. In fact, in the email response to our support, his friend used to describe the sound were 'Great bass, but muffled midrange and shrill highs'

     

    In conclusion, though we can understand a reviewer not liking a specific signature and educating readers with similar expectations, exaggerating and providing misleading information does not help the reader either. We wish the reviewer had contacted and communicated with us directly. We are thankful to Chris and Audiophile Style  for letting us publish our response. We are also thankful to the readers of Audiophile Style for hearing our side of the story.

     

     



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    15 hours ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    One step at a time. We will cross bridges if needed. 

     

    So what is the second in this two step around?

     

    You put your left foot in and shook it all about.  Do you next take it out?  Hokey reasoning and then pokey investigating? 

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    10 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    Relax. It's all taken care of. People won't be disappointed in our final methodology

     

    You're right, my interest is waning.  

     

    At least in the car racket you get two other supercars Ferrari is holding up the big story being written on.  Months in who cares if one goes up against itself.  Chances are better than good a new variant shows up in the meanwhile anyways.  

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    Wasn't there a whole debate when the LCD-4 was released about sound sig and disparity between supposedly the same phones'? Also blown driver debate? I tried a cursory look at forums with nada but it comes to mind. 

    Audeze definitely need a damage control rep. At their level this shouldn't have even bothered them. If they had a problem then send a bunch of phones out to parties concerned to make double sure. I've owned my LCD 2.2's for years and love them but my big question would still be are they worth a $3000 (retail-you can get these either used or new for around $2500 or less: that alone gives me pause) premium over what I own>

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    This is extraordinary given the history of this well-respected manufacturer. But then look at the HD 800; it took the 800s to correct the bizarre oversight in the original.

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    15 hours ago, rossb said:

    I cannot imagine what is wrong with Sonis's LCD4Zs to be able to review them this badly.

     

    I own a pair of LCD4Z. I also have the LCD4, and have owned the LCD3 and LCD-X. I have HD800s and have owned HD800S and Focal Utopias. I have three pairs of Noble custom IEMs and two pairs of JH Audios. I have some Mr Speakers Ether Flow. I have Sennheiser HD580s, 600s and 650s. I have owned more headphones than I can count over the last 20-30 years.

     

    The LCD4Z sound fantastic. I sold my Focal Utopia because I preferred the 4Z. Ditto the HD800S., The only headphones I like better are the LCD4, but they are not always practical because they are harder to drive. The LCD4Z sound nothing like the way they are described in this review.

     

    There is either something fundamentally wrong with the review sample or there is something fundamentally wrong with Sonis's hearing. In either case this should have been checked before it became a front page review on a reputable website.

    You aren’t paying attention, apparently. 

    1) There couldn’t be anything fundamentally wrong with the review sample, because it was sent back to the manufacturer (Audeze) and completely rebuilt with new matched drivers. Audeze thought that the returned  LCD-4zs met their specifications when they were returned. The phones, before going back to Audeze and after coming back from Audeze sounded identical!

    2) If there is something wrong with my hearing, then the same thing is wrong with the LCD-4z’s owner, because we found virtually the same flaws with the Audeze headphones.

    3) If the LCD-4zs sound fantastic, then real music sounds bad as do the Sennheiser HD-800s, the HiFiMan HE-1000, the Edition X’s, the HiFiMan Anadas, the HiFiMan Jade 2 electrostatics, the Mr. Speakers Voce electrostatics, and the Audeze Isine 20’s. The chances of all these headphones sounding bad and the LCD-4z being the only pair in the group that sound good, is basically between zero and none at all.

    I do a lot of location recording. I know what live music sounds like. Live music does not have shrill, distorted treble, the LCD-4zs do. Real music does not have midrange that sounds like one is listening to music through a pillow, the Audeze LCD-4z does. 

    Finally, Chris has the “review sample” LCD-4zs and the Audeze owner’s Sennheiser HD-800s. When he chimes-in with his opinion, we’ll find out if he agrees with my findings about these phones, or he will agree with those who think that distorted highs, muffled midrange, and loose bass is what real, live music sounds like.

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    I don't disagree with the review. I have never listened to any Audeze headphones and probably never will. It's the premise of and facts in your review that have a million wrongs. And if you (and more importantly Chris) can't see that I don't want to be a number in this site's list of subscribers.

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    20 minutes ago, Veovis said:

    I don't disagree with the review. I have never listened to any Audeze headphones and probably never will. It's the premise of and facts in your review that have a million wrongs. And if you (and more importantly Chris) can't see that I don't want to be a number in this site's list of subscribers.

    Just to clarify this was in response to Sonis saying I was angry because he/she thought I disagree with his/her review after me calling the review a travesty. My and his/her posts were deleted by someone who could. I have made two requests the last few days to have my account deleted with nothing happening. Go figure.

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    4 hours ago, Sonis said:

    Finally, Chris has the “review sample” LCD-4zs and the Audeze owner’s Sennheiser HD-800s. When he chimes-in with his opinion, we’ll find out if he agrees with my findings about these phones, or he will agree with those who think that distorted highs, muffled midrange, and loose bass is what real, live music sounds like.

     

    It’s great that someone else will get a chance to hear these.  But this will put Chris in a tough spot if he disagrees with your assessment.  

     

    Better that he hands it over to another AS member who can call it as he hears without having to be concerned with the implications whereas Chris would have to be concerned with the implications of potentially throwing one of his reviewers under the bus.

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    1 minute ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    This is the subjective part and nobody can be wrong by definition. If I say these are the best headphones I’ve ever heard, it’s just another opinion. If I agree with Sonis, it’s just another opinion in agreement with him. 

     

     

    Of course someone can be wrong. It is subjective whether someone likes the headphones or not. But "distorted highs, muffled midrange and loose bass" are objective facts, not personal preference.

     

    And unless there is something wrong with the review sample - quite possible since Audeze disclaim all knowledge of it - this contradicts the overwhelming majority of user experience and reviews. In other words, it is just wrong. 

     

     

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    7 minutes ago, rossb said:

     

    And unless there is something wrong with the review sample - quite possible since Audeze disclaim all knowledge of it 

     

     

     

    I'm not sure I understand this point. The company in Point 5 of their response clearly said that they replaced the drivers in the headphones and returned them to their owner.  

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    2 hours ago, kennyb123 said:

     

    It’s great that someone else will get a chance to hear these.  But this will put Chris in a tough spot if he disagrees with your assessment.  

     

    Better that he hands it over to another AS member who can call it as he hears without having to be concerned with the implications whereas Chris would have to be concerned with the implications of potentially throwing one of his reviewers under the bus.

    No it won’t put Chris in a tough spot. If he agrees with me (which I expect), it means that my assessment of these phones as being very poor performers (especially for the money) was spot on. If he disagrees, it means that my assessment of these phones is merely my opinion. This is unlikely. I don’t see how I could find other phones like the Sennheiser HD-800s or the various HiFiMan planar-magnetic models or models such as the Mr. Speakers “Voce” electrostatics or the HiFiMan Jade 2 electrostatics to be so consonant with the sound of music while I found these Audeze planar-magnetic so inconsonant with the sound of real music (of which I hear a lot). But, if it is just my opinion, then something is still wrong, but since I have no axe to grind vis-a-vis Audeze, not now, not ever, I don’t know what that could be.

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    1 hour ago, rossb said:

    I really don't mind that Sonis didn't like the the LCD4z. That is his prerogative. My objection is not to his dislike of the headphones, but to this travesty of a review.  The conclusion that these headphones sound "wretched" and worse than cheap, entry level headphones is beyond ridiculous and calls into question the credibility of the reviewer and the venue hosting the review.. 

     

    It was brought to my attention that there was another write-up where Audeze LCD-4 headphones were said to sound “wretched”.  Weird how closely George’s narrative tracks with what Sonis conveyed in his review.  

     

     

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    6 hours ago, rossb said:

     

    Of course someone can be wrong. It is subjective whether someone likes the headphones or not. But "distorted highs, muffled midrange and loose bass" are objective facts, not personal preference.

     

    And unless there is something wrong with the review sample - quite possible since Audeze disclaim all knowledge of it - this contradicts the overwhelming majority of user experience and reviews. In other words, it is just wrong. 

     

     

    What do you mean “Audeze disclaim all knowledge of it” ? The phones were returned to Audeze who rebuilt them with new drivers. How can Audeze disclaim knowledge of a pair of phones that they themselves rebuilt? without any one mentioning any names in the review, Audeze even knew who the owner was. Sorry, but I think you need to enroll in some remedial reading skill classes.😉

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    7 hours ago, Veovis said:

    I don't disagree with the review. I have never listened to any Audeze headphones and probably never will. It's the premise of and facts in your review that have a million wrongs. And if you (and more importantly Chris) can't see that I don't want to be a number in this site's list of subscribers.

    There is a simple solution to your “dilemma”. If you don’t like it here,  just don’t read this forum or post to it. Since it is a free forum, there is really no need for you to formally quit. 

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    3 hours ago, kennyb123 said:

    Weird how closely George’s narrative tracks with what Sonis conveyed in his review.  

     

    They do appear similar, both in narrative (so bad could be defective,  returned to Audeze etc) and through the use of the term “wretched”, which is certainly distinctive phraseology for an audio review.  

     

    On the other hand, maybe it’s simply that the nature of the phones is such that 2 reviewers do come independently to the same conclusions. 

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    As noted by others via email and PM, Sonis is a pseudonym used by George when he writes reviews for us. I would never reveal the identity of a writer that asks to remain anonymous. In this case George did it himself and I was notified that this was the case (LINK). 

     

    In the interest of making sure people have facts and don't mistake one person's opinion for two separate opinions, I needed to make sure everyone else understood the details here, not just those who sent me emails and PMs. 

     

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    6 hours ago, Sonis said:

    There is a simple solution to your “dilemma”. If you don’t like it here,  just don’t read this forum or post to it. Since it is a free forum, there is really no need for you to formally quit. 

    People who send me emails that they want their account deleted are usually just making a statement. It's obviously not a big deal for people who dislike AS to walk away, but some feel the need to make this statement. 

     

    Others want their accounts removed for privacy concerns. Given that privacy died long ago, I don't fully understand this given the nature of AS, but I comply anyway. 

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