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    Flagship Planar Magnetic Headphones Review: Audeze LCD-5, Final D8000 Pro, Meze Elite

     

     

    Flagship Planar Magnetic Headphones Review:

    Audeze LCD-5

    Final D8000 Pro

    Meze Elite

     

     

    It’s been more than 2 years since my last roundup of high-end flagship headphones, and a lot has changed. Yes, of course, the pandemic, but also the arrival of a crop of exciting new flagship headphones. With audio shows on pause until recently, I have not had a chance to demo these at shows as I normally would. So it’s all the more exciting that I was able to bring some of these tasty new entrants chez moi to do a deep dive.

     

    The new flagships that had got me very curious are: the Audeze LCD-5 and the Meze Elite, both of which are planar magnetics, as well as the Audeze CRBN and the Stax SRX-9000, which are electrostatics. This review will cover the planar magnetics, and a review of the electrostatics will follow in early Spring.

     

    In addition to the newly released LCD-5 and Elite, I wanted to cover a couple more interesting planar magnetic flagships that have been out for a while, but I had not heard in my system: the Final D8000 Pro and the HifiMan Susvara. While Audeze, Meze Audio, and Final Audio USA were very accommodating, and were able to get me review samples quite expeditiously, this was not the case with HifiMan, who did not provide Audiophile Style with a review sample of the Susvara.

     

    Accordingly, this article will review the Audeze LCD-5, the Final D8000 Pro, and the Meze Elite.

     

     

    My Listening Setup

     

    image5.jpg

     

     

    Hardware

     

    My system hardware is shown in the picture above. It consists of a chain of audiophile switches, feeding my music server, the Taiko SGM Extreme, equipped with the Taiko USB card upgrade. Audio data is output over USB to an Audiowise SRC-DX bridge, which presents it to the Chord DAVE DAC via its dual BNC S/PDIF inputs. My reference headphones are the Meze Empyrean, the Abyss AB-1266 Phi CC, and a modded Sennheiser HD-800 (SD mod). The switches are powered by independent DC rails supplied by a Paul Hynes SR7MR3DRXLFC10 power supply. AC power is delivered via a 6AWG dedicated circuit to a Sound Application TT-7 Reference power conditioner, to which the amps, the Extreme, and the Paul Hynes PSU are directly connected. Additional details are available in the System Details section below.

     

    The bulk of my listening is through the headphones driven directly from the single-ended 6.3mm jack on the DAVE. Those who know the DAVE know that the sheer transparency of this direct path is incredible, and hard to beat using conventional amps. That said, my system does include a Cavalli Liquid Gold headphone amp. These days, its primary role is to drive the Abyss headphones, as these relatively insensitive ‘phones really benefit from more power than the DAVE can directly provide.

     

     

    Software

     

    The software stack plays a vital role in maximizing the sound quality delivered by the hardware. The foundation is the tuned and highly optimized Windows 10 LTSC OS in the Taiko SGM Extreme. Second is the music player. Taiko developed their own player, Taiko Audio Server (TAS), and its SQ is head and shoulders above Roon’s. Finally, I used PGGB, a remastering tool, to upsample my music files offline, so the DAVE only ever sees 24-bit, 16FS (705.6/768kHz) music streams. Since PGGB remastering only applies to local files, all my critical listening for this review was done with remastered PGGB files stored locally on the Extreme.

     

     

    A Word about the SQ of my System

     

    After several years of intense tweaking, I have reached a fairly stable system topology that is sounding as good as it has ever done. While the resulting sound quality improvements have been in every department, including dynamics, tonality, and freedom from fatigue, the biggest improvements have come in the areas of transparency and transient response. These are attributes I value highly, and are strengths of the Extreme, the DAVE, the DC3 PSU, and PGGB upsampling.

     

    I mention the above to preface the fact that for some time now, the Meze Empyrean has been my primary reference headphones.The transparency and transient response improvements in my system synergize really well with the Empyrean. All the micro-details are there, leading edges are crisp, and they are accompanied of course by the other strengths of the Empyrean: outstanding bass, and a relaxed and smooth tonal character. The reason I love these headphones so much is I can listen to them for hours on end on every genre I throw at it.

     

     

    Review Playlist

     

    Fall 2021 Review Playlist on Qobuz (US)

     

    To enable you to listen to the same tracks that I did, I have created a public playlist on Qobuz USA. This playlist includes the tracks mentioned in this review, as well as some of the others I listened to in the course of this evaluation. Please note that in some cases, the Qobuz track will not match the mastering I listened to, especially since all my listening was with PGGB-upsampled files. Still, this gives you a sense for the music I listened to for evaluation..

     

     

    Review Methodology

     

    With so many headphones on hand, the number of cross-comparisons quickly becomes unmanageable. I’ll first review each headphone in its own section, describe its functional and sound quality attributes, and compare it with my primary reference headphones, the Meze Empyrean. This will then flow into my impressions of these headphones in comparison to each other.

     

     

    A Word About Cables

     

    The Transparent Ultra headphone cable has been my reference headphone cable for over 2 years now.  With every headphone I’ve tested over that period, I’ve found myself invariably preferring the Transparent cables over the stock or upgrade cables.

     

    For this review, in the interest of time, I did all my listening with the Transparent cables on the headphones under test – with one exception: the Final D8000 Pro, due to its unique locking dual-3.5mm connectors. The Transparent 3.5mm connectors were too short to fit in the D8000 Pro. Transparent are sourcing suitably longer, slimmer 3.5mm connectors, but for this review, I listened with the stock OFC silver-coated cable supplied by Final.

     

    image2.jpg image13.jpg

     

     

     

    Final Audio D8000 Pro Edition

     

    image11.jpgI have been intrigued by the Final D8000 headphones ever since I heard them very briefly at a CanJam booth in London a few years ago. I remember immediately liking their smooth refined sound signature. For this review, I have the Final D8000 Pro (MSRP: $4299), which  came out more recently in 2019.

     

    The D8000 Pro (and companion D8000) are planar magnetic headphones that incorporate Final’s Air Film Damping System (AFDS), that is claimed to produce bass response comparable to dynamic headphones.

     

     

    Fit and Function

     

    At 523g, the D8000 Pro was the heaviest headphone in the crop under review, but the distribution of weight is cleverly designed not to feel excessive. The round breathable earpads are big and comfortable, accommodating my larger-than-average ears with ease. The ear cavity was deep enough to avoid having my ear make contact with the diaphragm.

     

    The entire earpiece slides on a yoke, so the length is infinitely adjustable. Combined with a well padded headband, it was very easy to adjust these to one’s head. Because of the infinitely adjustable yokes, the weight can be evenly distributed across the headband, which allowed me to use them comfortably for hours on end. Yes, I was still aware of their weight, but it is amply mitigated by the design. I also have a very wide head, which the D8000 Pro accommodated with no issues, so clamping pressure was never excessive.

     

    The D8000 Pro has a rated impedance of 60Ω and sensitivity of 98dB/mW, and they were driven effortlessly by the DAVE.

     

    Finally, the D8000 Pro comes standard with a 3m OFC silver-coated cable, featuring unique locking 3.5mm connectors on the headphone. As mentioned earlier, I did all my listening on the Final with this cable, rather than the Transparent Ultra on the other flagships.

     

     

    Listening Impressions

     

    Right off the bat, these headphones make an appealing and compelling impression. Switching headphones, even flagships, can be quite jarring until your ears have had enough time to adjust to the new sound signature. Yet switching from the Empyrean to the D8000 Pro was not a jarring experience at all. Both have a smooth and inviting quality that makes you settle into your chair with contentment. Naturally, there are differences!

     

    image8.jpgSince this review coincided with the exciting release of Pink Floyd’s entire catalog in high-res, the review playlist includes tracks from a couple of the standout masterings in this release. On The Trial from The Wall (Remastered 2011 version) (Pink Floyd Records, 24/96), the creaking of the door, the clanging of the bells, and the funereal march of footsteps are all rendered in a suitably weighty and ominous way by the D8000 Pro. The same is true when the judge thunders “The evidence before the court is incontrovertible…” The articulation and depth of the bass are immediately noticeable. The mid-bass is cleaner than the Empyrean, which sounds a bit flabby in contrast. The Empyrean does have a larger soundstage, and a bit more presence and energy (in a good way) in the final “Tear down the wall” crescendos. Still, the dark, foreboding mood of the track comes across particularly well on the D8000 Pro.

     

     

    image4.jpgSwitching gears to another recent release, Bruckner 4: The 3 Versions (Accentus, 24/96), Jakub Hrůša and the Bamberger Symphoniker give us a fascinating reading of Bruckner’s evolving vision for this symphony. Even though the 2nd, 1878 version is the one performed most frequently, I developed a fondness for the 3rd, 1888 version. On the first Ruhig Bewegt movement, the opening heraldic horn calls seem to have more air and longer decays on the Empyrean. When the deeper instruments – cellos, double basses, tuba, and tympani – kicked in, the D8000 Pro rendered them with greater authority and with cleaner articulation. Presentation-wise the D8000 Pro seemed to put the listener closer to the orchestra vs. the Empyrean, but this also caused the Empyrean to have the larger, more enveloping soundstage. In the upper registers, violins, piccolos, and flutes did sound a bit rounded on the D8000 Pro, while the Empyrean seemed to have more clarity in that region.

     

    Ultimately, the D8000 Pro competed very favorably with the Empyrean, with each making their case compellingly, The D8000 Pro excelled in its articulate and extended bass, refined mids and pinpoint instrument placement. The Empyrean, while a bit more laid back in the mids had the bigger soundstage and a more open presentation with more air around instruments. That said, both had comparable resolution and transient response.

     

    One final <grin> point: to be fair, the D8000 Pro are targeted and tuned  by Final Audio for recording engineers, and for rock and pop genres. In hindsight, I should have also requested the D8000 for my tastes in classical music. With that said, the D8000 Pro made such a compelling impression, I urge anyone considering these to audition both.

     

     

    Audeze LCD-5

     

    image14.jpgBesides the glowing accolades the LCD-5 (MSRP: $4500) has garnered since its release, what intrigued me about these headphones were the user reports that it was:

     

    • most un-Audeze-like in its tonal signature, and
    • most un-Audeze-like in its light weight!

     

    To be honest, I have sampled Audeze headphones over the years, and never found them to be appealing for my tastes. Could the LCD-5 change my perception of the brand?

     

    The LCD-5 continues Audeze’s path using planar magnetic drivers, but it were the stated design principles that caught my eye: transparency, resolution, speed, clarity, and imaging. Yes, please! And this thing weighs in at only 420g? This is not your father’s Oldsmobile Audeze!

     

     

    Fit and Function

     

    In one’s hand, the lightness of these headphones is striking. Aesthetically, this is a beautiful set of headphones. The earpieces slide on a yoke with discrete detents. The earpads are nice and thick, with an interesting sloping inner surface, which leads to a relatively narrow area of contact on the edges.

     

    When it came to fit and comfort, I did run into some issues. Admittedly, I have a wide head and large ears, and both presented challenges. The first was an excessive clamping pressure, even at the longest yoke setting. The second was that my outer ear (the helix) was making contact with the diaphragm. This was not overly bothersome, but it was accompanied by a pressure point (actually, a pressure oval) at the perimeter of the earpads, probably due to its wedge shape.

     

    I should point out that these are very likely complete nonissues for those with more normal head geometries.

     

    To their credit, Audeze worked very hard to address these issues. On the clamping pressure, they were already working on an improved headband that they shipped to me as soon as the first production run came in. This band looks identical to the original, but is more flexible and reduces the clamping pressure considerably. As for the pressure from the edge of the earpad, this issue went away with use, as the earpads softened somewhat over time.

     

    With these improvements, the LCD-5 became quite usable, and I could listen for extended periods. They’re still not the most comfortable headphones for my head geometry, but at least it did not detract me from evaluating the sonic attributes of the LCD-5.

     

    With a rated impedance of 14Ω and sensitivity of 90 dB/mW, the LCD-5 do require more power, but the DAVE was able to drive them very well. While I did have to crank up the volume control on the DAVE a few notches, this was only relative to the other, more-efficient headphones under review.

     

     

    Listening Impressions

     

    Unlike the D8000 Pro, the transition from the Empyrean to the LCD-5 was quite startling. In many ways, it reminded me of the reaction I had switching from the Empyrean to the RAAL SR1a. The LCD-5 just grab you right away with their speed, clarity, and resolution. To my ears, they were indeed most un-Audeze-like – in a good way!

     

    image9.jpgThe Scherzo movement of Sibelius’ 1st in Sibelius Symphonies 1 & 4, Osmo Vänskä, Minnesota Orchestra (BIS, 24/96) starts with a staccato melody involving the timpani with various strings and woodwinds kicking in. On the LCD-5, these percussive notes were rendered with crystal clarity by the LCD-5. String sections sounded like a collection of individual instruments, and not a homogeneous mass. The LCD-5 presented a front-row perspective, pulling instruments closer with incredible clarity. In contrast, the Empyrean placed the listener further back, while conveying a bigger soundstage, and more of a sense of space. The LCD-5 rendered deep bass with ease, but did not have the mid-bass heft of the Empyrean. This becomes a matter of preference. The Empyrean gave the timpani more weight and authority, while the LCD-5 delivered outstanding articulation.

     

     

    image7.jpgI don’t know why I love these Christmas Carols from King’s albums — I celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday — but I do! Listening to Once in Royal David’s City on In the Bleak Midwinter (King’s College Cambridge, 24/192), the LCD-5’s rendition of voices was just breathtaking. The individual voices in the chorus are easily discernible, even when singing in concert. The Empyrean pushes these further back while maintaining clarity to a similar degree. When the organ kicks in, the LCD-5 go deep, as required, but it’s the Empyrean that better convey the majesty of the instrument and ambience of the chapel.

     

    I found a lot to admire in the LCD-5. It delivers speed and resolution, along with tremendous dynamics, and articulate bass. While the tracks above are in large spaces, the LCD-5 really shines in more intimate recordings like jazz or solo vocals, where the forward  presentation favors the material. If you value clarity, speed, transient response, and bass articulation, you will love the LCD-5.

     

     

    Meze Audio Elite

     

     

    image6.jpgThe Meze Elite (MSRP: $4000) are the new flagship headphones from Romanian headphone manufacturer Meze Audio, in collaboration with Ukrainian driver manufacturer Rinaro Isodynamics. While they displace the Empyrean as flagships, they don’t replace them, as the latter remains in the lineup. This is intentional. The Elite shares much of the DNA of the Empyrean, but the two are said to have their own individual sonic characters.

     

    The overarching theme with the Elite is one of evolution and extension over the innovations that began with the Empyrean. Design elements such as the pressure distribution wings and magnetic earpads are retained, while advances were made in the new MZ3SE driver, incorporating a new, lower-mass diaphragm, the Rinaro Parus. As Meze describe it:

     

    "The MZ3SE driver builds on the pioneering technology of the flagship MZ3 driver found in the Empyrean headphone. The innovative Isodynamic Hybrid Array technology delivers a more selective acoustic performance to the various areas within the structure of the ear. Advances in diaphragm materials have opened the doors to even higher resolution and accuracy of the sound reproduction, setting a new benchmark in headphone design."

     

    Clearly, improved resolution and accuracy were design goals for the Elite.

     

     

     

     

    Fit and Function

     

    Just like the Empyrean, the Elite are absolutely stunning to look at and to experience. You feel you’re holding a piece of industrial art in your hands. But it’s not just about good looks. They have the same supreme sense of comfort as the Empyrean do. A lot of the credit goes to the patent-pending pressure distribution wings, but it extends to the total design, including the carbon-fiber headband and the comfortable earpads, that snap on and off through a clever locking mechanism that uses “the magnetic field of the drivers to keep the earpads in place.”

     

    As with the Empyrean, the Elite come with 2 sets of earpads, with different sonic and tactile characteristics to suit the listener’s taste. Carried forward unchanged from the Empyrean is the 30mm-deep Alcantara earpad, but it’s accompanied by an all-new hybrid earpad that is 25mm deep, and comprises an Alcantara interior with a leather exterior.

     

    In my experience, and given my head geometry (wide head, big ears), the Empyrean were hands-down the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever experienced. The earpads fit my ears perfectly, clamping pressure was spot on, and the adjustable yokes allowed me to distribute the weight evenly on the pressure-distribution wings. The Elite come very close to the same level of comfort, except in one area: the earpad depth. Yes, the shallower (by 5mm) hybrid earpads cause my outer ears to touch the diaphragm. Just barely, but oh, how I longed for those 5mm of depth back!

     

    The Elite’s key specifications are almost identical to the Empyrean. They weigh in at ~430g, have an impedance of 32Ω, and a sensitivity of 101 dB/mW. As such, they are also as easily driven by the DAVE as the Empyrean.

     

     

    Listening Impressions

     

    I first experimented with the earpads. It didn’t take long. The hybrid earpads just sounded better from the get-go. In contrast, the Alcantara earpads sounded bass-light, and with more smeared transients. Which was a pity, because the reduced 25mm depth of the hybrid earpad was not quite as comfortable as the 30mm-deep Alcantara. I even experimented using the 30mm leather earpads from the Empyrean, hoping that could give me my comfort back, while retaining the sonic benefits. But it was not to be. The Empyrean leather pads sound bloated in the mid-bass, and were a step down from the hybrid earpads as well. I used the hybrid earpads for all my critical listening and the comparisons.

     

    image10.jpgAnother recent remaster that I’ve been listening to is the 2021 Buena Vista Social Club (25th Anniversary Edition) (World Circuit, 24/96). Listening to Amor de Loca Juventud on the Elite, the family resemblance of its sonic signature with the Empyrean is unmistakable, but what makes you sit up and take notice are the improvements. First is the clarity, resolution, and transient response. The crispness of the guitar notes, and the details in the percussion instruments is better on the Elite. Voices have more immediacy and are more forward.  Bass is cleaner, with better articulation, without the slight mid-bass bloom of the Empyrean. Is that bad? No, since the Empyrean bass in contrast sounds a bit loose and uncontrolled.

     

     

     

    image12.jpgNot that I need another recording of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta in my collection, but this new release by Susanna Mälkki, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra (BIS, 24/96) makes a worthy addition. The 2nd Allegro movement really showcases the Elite’s strengths. The staccato chords on the piano, the hammer strokes on the celesta, the strumming of the harp, all have a level of attack and clarity that surpasses the Empyrean. The Elite’s soundstage size and depth are similar to the Empyrean, with the Elite placing the listener closer, so that the listener perceives the instrument to have more realism and immediacy. Double bass and the lower registers of the harp sound more articulate and detailed with the Elite, lacking the thickness of the Empyrean, which is really not missed.

     

    The Empyrean gets a bad rap — unfairly, in my opinion — for lacking in resolution and “technical” ability. In a highly resolving system like mine, I don’t find that to be an issue at all. However, the same system immediately shows just how much better the Elite is. The improvements to the driver and the lower-mass diaphragm are clearly audible, and the more articulate and accurate bass can also be attributed to the new hybrid earpads.

     

     

    Comparing the Flagships

     

    Now to the most interesting listening tests: how do these flagships compare to each other?

     

    image1.jpgFerde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite (Everest, 24/192) is one of those evocative pieces that transport you to the wide open spaces of the American west. This recording from 1960, a magnificent hi-res transfer from the Everest master tapes, features the composer conducting the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. While the mastering is stunning for its age, it does have a tendency to thinness, especially on the crescendos. Listening to the opening Sunrise movement, the LCD-5 presents a good sense of space, with all the details laid bare, including some tape hiss. If it’s in there, you hear it, including the thin crescendos. The Elite is more forgiving, provides a much bigger soundstage, and tames some of the more strident instruments like the piccolo. The D8000 Pro does not have quite the image size or the excitement of the Elite or LCD-5, but presents a balanced, rich tonal palette that has its own attractions.

     

     

    image3.jpgAnother excellent album from the 2021 tranche of Pink Floyd hi-res releases is Animals (Pink Floyd Records, 24/192). On Pigs (Three DIfferent Ones), the LCD-5 does an outstanding job showcasing the clarity of this new remaster, from the details in the opening grunts, to the bite of the guitars. The D8000 Pro excels in the lower registers, rendering the toe-tapping rhythm with satisfying weight and articulation of the bass guitars and drums. The Elite is the all-rounder in the group, equally convincing in the rendition, but just a touch more laid-back in the mids than the LCD-5, and a bit less authoritative on the lower bass than the D8000 Pro..

     

     

     

     

    Concluding thoughts

     

    All through the Fall, as I’ve been listening to these flagships, I’ve been struck by how far TOTL headphones have come. All of the headphones under review here have exemplary sound quality. I’ve had multiple visitors and members of my family listen to these headphones and give me their unofficial ranking. There has been no consensus. Each of these flagships has been on the top of someone’s list.

     

    There are no winners and losers at this level of performance. Each of these flagships is an expression of the current state of its manufacturer’s art, and so which is right for you as the buyer becomes a matter of matching your listening tastes and preferences with the strengths of the headphones.

     

    Given my previous reference is the Meze Empyrean, it should perhaps come as no surprise that the Meze Elite ticked the most boxes for me. I listen to a lot of orchestral and choral music, so I really value its large soundstage, smooth tonal balance, transparency, and articulation which allows me to identify and follow individual instruments even in very dense passages, without sounding congested.

     

    The Audeze LCD-5 is perhaps the most technically resolving and fastest driver in the group, so it would suit those who value ultimate clarity and resolution. Its ability to put the listener in the front row, and its excellent rendition of human voices makes it particularly suitable for vocal music, as well as jazz and chamber music.

     

    The Final D8000 Pro also puts the listener closer to the instruments, hewing to one of its design goals of being an ideal instrument for recording engineers, and best suited for rock and pop. This was certainly borne out in my listening, as the D8000 Pro really excelled on rock tracks, with the best lower bass and bass articulation of the group.

     

    Take your pick and be sure to audition first. One of these flagships will surely rock your world! It’s good to have choices.

     

     

    System Details

     

    Music Computer:          Taiko Audio SGM Extreme Music Server, Taiko USB upgrade

    Headphone Amplifier:  Cavalli Liquid Gold

    Headphones:                 Meze Empyrean, Abyss AB-1266 CC, Sennheiser HD800 (SD mod)

    DAC:                               Chord DAVE

    USB to dual-SPDIF:       Audiowise SRC-DX bridge

    Ethernet Switches:        SOtM sNH-10G, Uptone EtherREGEN,   Buffalo BS-GS2016 (modded for LPS)

    Power supplies:             Paul Hynes SR7MR3DRXL (dual regulation, 3-rail)  for switches

                                             Sean Jacobs DC-3 for DAVE

    Power Details:               Dedicated 30A 6AWG AC circuit, Sound Application TT-7 Reference Power Conditioner

    Power Cables:               Sablon King (wall to TT-7), Sablon Prince (Extreme), 

                                            Cardas Clear Beyond (DC-3, SR-7),

                                            Cardas Clear for all other components

    USB cables:                   Sablon Reserva 2020 USB

    BNC cables:                   High Fidelity Cables CT-2 in Schroeder config, JSSG360’d (DIY)

    Ethernet cables:            Sablon 2020, SOtM dCBL-Cat7, Supra Cat 8

    DC cables:                      Neotech OCC (DC-3), Paul Hynes fine silver (SR-7)

    Interconnects:               Cardas Clear XLR balanced

    Headphone cables:       Transparent Ultra cable system

    Accessories:                  Synergistic Research Tranquility Base XL UEF with Galileo MPC

                                           Synergistic Research MiG 2.0 footers

                                           Taiko Audio Daiza Isolation Platforms

     

     

     

    Acknowledgments

     

    Many thanks to the following companies for supplying cables and accessories to aid in this evaluation:

    • Cardas Audio, for a full loom of Cardas Clear cables.
    • Transparent Audio, for the Transparent Ultra headphone cable with a full complement of headphones leads and source terminators.

     

     

    About the Author

     

    _DSF1457_cropped.thumb.jpg.374fcb00f1b9abf63c1cefcb6168d35e.jpg.63a17d1f62b12d79d1947a67f4da04e2.jpgRajiv Arora — a.k.a. @austinpop — is both a computer geek and a lifelong audiophile. He doesn’t work much, but when he does, it’s as a consultant in the computer industry. Having retired from a corporate career as a researcher, technologist and executive, he now combines his passion for music and audio gear with his computer skills and his love of writing to author reviews and articles about high-end audio.

     

    He  has "a special set of skills" that help him bring technical perspective to the audio hobby. No, they do not involve kicking criminal ass in exotic foreign locales! Starting with his Ph.D. research on computer networks, and extending over his professional career, his area of expertise is the performance and scalability of distributed computing systems. Tuning and optimization are in his blood. He is guided by the scientific method and robust experimental design. That said, he trusts his ears, and how a system or component sounds is always the final determinant in his findings. He does not need every audio effect to be measurable, as long as it is consistently audible.

     

    Finally, he believes in integrity, honesty, civility and community, and this is what he strives to bring to every interaction, both as an author and as a forum contributor.

     

     




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    As always, great stuff Rajiv. This was a great read as I spend the last few days of my vacation  looking out over the Pacific Ocean and dreaming of my next pair of flagship headphones :~)

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    Great article! I'm currently on the search for a good headphone match for the dCS Bartok. The Meze Elite might be a good option. I have the DCA Stealth and they're great, but pushing the limits of the built-in amp. Also tried the HEDDphones, but they clamped my head after short periods of time. 

     

    You're right -- today, we're spoiled for options, and it comes down to prefs and pairings. 

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    4 hours ago, KDinsmore said:

    Hi Rajiv

    No DCA Stealth?

     

    No, because it's a closed-back headphone, which don't interest me. In any case, I've dutifully checked out the latest DCA crop at every show I've gone to, and to be honest, not found them any that interested me enough to want a home evaluation.

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    1 hour ago, Andrewteee said:

    Great article! I'm currently on the search for a good headphone match for the dCS Bartok. The Meze Elite might be a good option. I have the DCA Stealth and they're great, but pushing the limits of the built-in amp. Also tried the HEDDphones, but they clamped my head after short periods of time. 

     

    You're right -- today, we're spoiled for options, and it comes down to prefs and pairings. 

     

    I bet the Elite would make a great pairing with the Bartok. I used the Empyrean for my review of the Bartok, and it was excellent. The Bartok's smooth tonality should mesh well with the transparency and resolution of the Elite.

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    Thanks @austinpop for the great review. As I'm still toying with the idea of upgrading from my current HD800s (although I truly love them), and given that I'm mostly listening to classical music and jazz, it sounds like I should check out the Elite (I liked the Empyrean quite a bit, but preferred the Focal Utopia in a recent comparison, so the additional level of resolution may change the game here). Like you, I never really "got" the Audezes, they were just too heavy for me to even consider. I will have to give the LCD-5s a go as well.

     

    Given that you own the HD800 as well, do you have any comparisons of the Elite and LCD-5 to the Senns?

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    3 hours ago, Musicophile said:

    Thanks @austinpop for the great review. As I'm still toying with the idea of upgrading from my current HD800s (although I truly love them), and given that I'm mostly listening to classical music and jazz, it sounds like I should check out the Elite (I liked the Empyrean quite a bit, but preferred the Focal Utopia in a recent comparison, so the additional level of resolution may change the game here). Like you, I never really "got" the Audezes, they were just too heavy for me to even consider. I will have to give the LCD-5s a go as well.

     

    Given that you own the HD800 as well, do you have any comparisons of the Elite and LCD-5 to the Senns?

     

    Thanks, @Musicophile.

     

    I have now reached a point where my HD800 sits unused. The key areas where both the Elite and the LCD-5 surpass the HD800 quite comprehensively are in resolution and transient accuracy. But it does not stop there. Neither has the infamous brightness of the HD800 either, although we know that can be (and has been) tamed in the HD800S. If there's one area where the HD800 still holds a slight advantage, it is in the size of the image, but the Elite is not far behind. 

     

    I'm a little surprised you talk about the Focal Utopia, coming from an HD800S. The Utopia's image size is much smaller than the HD800S, something I struggled with. So perhaps this aspect is not so important to you? In this case, you may find you like the LCD-5 more than the Elite.

     

    On the whole, if at all possible, do try to audition all 3 of these, and be sure to tell me your impressions. With the Final, given your classical music preference, perhaps you should seek out the D8000 to audition as well.

     

    Good luck!

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    22 hours ago, austinpop said:

     

    No, because it's a closed-back headphone, which don't interest me. In any case, I've dutifully checked out the latest DCA crop at every show I've gone to, and to be honest, not found them any that interested me enough to want a home evaluation.

    FWIW I sold my Empyrean's after I bought the DCA Stealth's. To me a better headphone than the MEZE's.

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    11 hours ago, austinpop said:

     

    Thanks, @Musicophile.

     

    I have now reached a point where my HD800 sits unused. The key areas where both the Elite and the LCD-5 surpass the HD800 quite comprehensively are in resolution and transient accuracy. But it does not stop there. Neither has the infamous brightness of the HD800 either, although we know that can be (and has been) tamed in the HD800S. If there's one area where the HD800 still holds a slight advantage, it is in the size of the image, but the Elite is not far behind. 

     

    I'm a little surprised you talk about the Focal Utopia, coming from an HD800S. The Utopia's image size is much smaller than the HD800S, something I struggled with. So perhaps this aspect is not so important to you? In this case, you may find you like the LCD-5 more than the Elite.

     

    On the whole, if at all possible, do try to audition all 3 of these, and be sure to tell me your impressions. With the Final, given your classical music preference, perhaps you should seek out the D8000 to audition as well.

     

    Good luck!

    Thanks for the feedback. To clarify I own the original HD800 not the S, I bought them just before the S was released. So the brightness doesn’t bother me much.
     

    What I love about the HD800 is the total transparency not the sound stage. 
     

    The reason I preferred the Utopias over both Emplyrean and HifiMan 1000SE in my test at my dealer last year was the feeling of a total “naturalness” if that’s even a word. I listen 98% to acoustical instruments so that factor really is important. And the Utopias just got it “right” in the overall package. 
     

    Anyhow I just noticed that my local dealer has the Elite, the LCD-5 and even the Susvara, so another trip there will be happening shortly. Unfortunately they don’t stock the D8000 

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    "I should point out that these are very likely complete nonissues for those with more normal head geometries."

     

    @austinpop Thank you for my first smile of the day!

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    Hi. Great writing and comparison. Have you noticed that Meze Elite gives more details and punch at the high gain setting on the amp? At least that was my experience with Woo Audio WA33 Elite while I was comparing it to my Abyss ab1266 phi tc and Audeze LCD4. 
    my setting was Synergistic Research UEF12SE, WA33 Elite, Aurender N20, DAVE+Blu MKII

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    Good to know. I did most of my testing with the Elite driven directly from the DAVE headphone output.

     

    I have recently been trying out a fairly high-end speaker amp, the Vinnie Rossi L2i SE, and I can confirm both the Elite and the LCD-5 scale very well to this level of amp. I'm sure the Final would have scaled too, but I no longer had it with me, as it has been returned to the manufacturer.

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