As you may know, these headphones weren't in my review queue until about one week ago. I don't usually review headphones because the topic is a bit out of my wheelhouse and covered much better by our resident headphone experts. However, in the interest of the Audiophile Style community, Audeze, and my own curiosity, I felt the need to follow up the review published September 4, 2019 by @Sonis, with my own purely subjective review. In addition, we have simultaneously published our own objective review of the LCD-4z with measurements and explanations by @mitchco (who was sent a pair of LCD-4z headphones directly from Audeze).
I used the exact same pair of Audeze LCD-4z headphones used by Sonic in his review. Not just the exact same model, but the exact pair. They were shipped to me along with the exact same pair of Sennheiser HD800 headphones used for comparison in his review. I will use both headphones in this review for the sake of consistency and because it illuminates major differences between the two products and enables readers to better understand what each headphone does for music reproduction.
Driving the headphones, I have a Benchmark DAC3 B connected via balanced XLR cables to a Benchmark HPA4 headphone amp. Both were sent to me directly from Benchmark at the request of Audeze. I gladly accepted them and agreed that using a known DAC/amp combination would aid in the review process and ensure a known level of performance. Audeze also sent me a Chord Hugo2 DAC / headphone amp to use during my review.
Over the last week I've listened to everything under the sun. Every kind of music, every instrument, every original master vs remaster, etc... in an effort to hear as much as possible through the Audeze LCD-4z. I wanted to find its strengths and weaknesses. I'll start my subjective listening impression with a track I've been listening to since August 1991, Pearl Jam's Black. This is my favorite track of all time. If I was on a desert island with only one track, this would be it.
Pearl Jam's Black was remixed in 2004 for release on the band's Rearviewmirror greatest hits album (Qobuz link). This is the definitive version of the track. Listening through the Benchmark DAC / amp combo, the LCD-4z had a very distinct sonic signature. The overall sound was pretty colored, with the mid-range up through the highest frequencies sounding quite compressed, while the bottom end was much less defined than other headphones. Let's walk through the track, available on most major streaming platforms, to give readers a sense of what I heard and when I heard it.
At 0:25 the vocals, guitar and drums kick in to get the track going. I could immediately hear a compression as the vocals and instruments sounded blended together. Eddie Vedder's voice didn't have the range that I know is on this track. The second very noticeable shortcoming I hear through the Audeze LCD-4z is the lack of air around the cymbal / hi-hat throughout this part. There is a synthetic sound to the cymbals that is reminiscent of MP3 because it's missing important sonic details.
At the track moves forward past 1:00, Vedder's vocal is the main "instrument" heard through the LCD-4z, like it is pushed very forward in the soundstage or like there's an equalizer bump right in his range. Yet, at the same time there is this compression of all sounds at and above his vocal range. I can only describe this as a compression sandwich. The vocal is compressed as are the other instruments at or higher, but the forward vocal is beneath the rest of the instruments that lay on top. To put it another way, the vocal is one distinct instrument and everything above this is one distinct instrument. They are sandwiched together at this point in the track.
At 1:58, there is a drum transition from the chorus to the second verse. Through the LDC-4z there is clearly something amiss. These drums have very little delineation between them and they sound very compressed with no atmosphere around them. The opposite can be heard through the Sennheiser HD800 headphones. I can identify each drum head as it's hit and I can place each drum in Dave Krusen's drum kit within the soundstage. The sound of this track is absolutely stunning for Pearl Jam fans.
When the track continues past the two-minute mark, Krusen's rhythm on the cymbals and hi-hat are airy and completely separate from the other instruments, but only on the Sennheiser HD800. This is not the case through the LCD-4z.
At 4:06 both the guitar and piano play the oh-so-familiar outro that has grit, grime, and an elegant piano sound through the HD800. Through the LCD-4z the sound is a jumbled mess. I hate to say it but Black doesn't sound like this now that is has been remixed. In a way, the LCD-4z put a spin on the sound that makes it similar to the original 1991 release.
Switching tracks and versions to Jeremy off the 24/88.2 remaster of Ten from 2009 (Qobuz link), the LCD-4z shows its sonic signature right on the opening bass lines and continuing through the song. The best way I can describe the bass is pretty loose and lacking definition. Each pluck of the string and finger slide to change chords is clearly audible through the Sennheiser HD800. Not so through the Audeze LCD-4z. I don't understand enough about headphone design to know why, but I always thought a planar transducer would provide the ultimate in detail. This is absolutely not what I experienced through the LCD-4z. The bass throughout Jeremy's 5:18 is quite sloppy sounding and similar to one note bass heard through less than good subwoofer implementations.
Listening to Ike Quebec's Blue and Sentimental track of the Blue & Sentimental album at 24/192 from Qobuz (Link), I initially thought I heard some redeeming qualities through the LCD-4z. I like the sound of Ike's sax and heard Paul Chambers' bass as deep and authoritative. This was a fun sound although not what I consider the most neutral. Then I switched to the HD800 and thought wow, what a difference. I can see how the LCD-4z would be enjoyable on this album, but the HD800 sounded far more nuanced and neutral. The sound of Philly Joe Jones' hi-hat and cymbal taps are delicate with texture through the HD800. I just don't hear that texture and humanistic lifelike sound through the LCD-4z. The LCD-4z sounds a bit like a vivid setting on a TV would sound, some colors / frequencies bumped while others aren't. With respect to the cymbals, the loudest hit is certainly present, but all the micro details and nuance that sends one's mind into the recording venue is gone through the 4z.
One example at 3:00 of the first track one can hear a guitar loud and clear, but it over powers the cymbals and hi-hat. It's overbearing, with loose bass laying the foundation. There is no air or texture to the cymbals. The presentation through the Sennheiser HD800 is completely opposite. Sure the guitar is more up front than the other instruments but the base groove is just that, a nuanced groove not a lumpy low range sound. The cymbal work from Jones is delicate and airy like a butterfly keeping time for the rest of the band.
I went into this review with a very open mind. I had a very positive feeling about planar drivers due to their speed and the physics behind the technology. In fact, I own a pair of Audeze LCD-XC closed back headphones. I was well aware that Sonis didn't like the LCD-4z, but I didn't let that cloud my judgement at all. I owed it to the Audiophile Style community, Audeze, and myself to give this headphone a fair shake. I think it would've been easier to fall in love with this headphone because the people at Audeze have been so great behind the scenes, sending a pair of headphones for review and making sure I had proper amplification etc... Audeze truly believes in this headphone and that can be convincing in and of itself. If I'd have disagreed with Sonis, no harm, no foul. We have different tastes.
However, I'm in agreement with Sonis about much of how the LCD-4z sounds. Although I didn't use the same adjectives as he did and I don't consider the sound wretched, I don't believe the LCD-4z is a headphone I could enjoy for long. The sonic signature was just too much for me. The coloration was the equivalent of watching television with a sepia tone filter. I can see how it's neat to some people, but it isn't my cup of tea.
I look forward to hearing other products from Audeze because I still believe in its technology and know the company puts more into R&D than many HiFi companies combined. Hopefully a better experience for me won't be too far off in the future.
- Product: Audeze LCD-4z Headphones ($3,995)
- Source: Roon ROCK, 2018 MacBook Pro Running Roon, JRiver (Windows 10 and macOS Mojave)
- DAC: dCS Rossini, EMM Labs DV2
- D-to-D Converter: Sonore Signature Rendu SE (optical), APL HiFi DNP-SR
- Amplifiers: Constellation Audio Mono 1.0 / Monoblock Power Amplifiers
- Preamplifier: Constellation Audio PreAmp 1.0
- Loudspeakers: Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2
- Remote Control Software: Roon Remote, JRemote, Aurender Conductor
- Remote Control Hardware: iPad Pro
- Playback Software: Roon, JRiver,
- Network Attached Storage (NAS): Synology DS1812+, CAPS v4 Cortes Server
- Audio Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Interconnects (XLR & RCA), Transparent Audio Reference 110-Ohm AES/EBU Digital Link, Transparent Audio Reference Speaker Cables
- USB Cables: Transparent Audio Premium USB Cable
- Power Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Power Cables
- Power Isolation: Transparent Audio Reference Power Isolator
- Ethernet Cables: Transparent Audio High Performance Ethernet Cables
- Acoustic Room Treatments: Vicoustic Diffusion and Absorption, ATS Acoustics Bass Traps
- Network: Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 24, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 8-150W x2, Ubiquiti UniFi Security Gateway Pro 4, Ubiquiti UniFi AP HD x2, Ubiquiti FC-SM-300 Fiber Optic Cable x2, UF-SM-1G-S Fiber Optic Modules x4, Calix 716GE-I Optical Network Terminal, CenturyLink 1 Gbps download / upload