Audeze LCD-X (2021) Measurements and Impressions: Audeze Strikes Back

Discussion in 'Headphones' started by Vtory, Apr 14, 2021.

  1. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    Disclaimer: Audeze has stated continuous tweaks on every batch which I believe they keep doing in 2021. I don't think within-batch quality variance as horrible as before, but between-batch experience can vary drastically. Potential buyers should always acknowledge this and do the best to understand what they get (e.g., contacting customer service prior to purchases could be one way). Also see this.

    IMG_7211.jpg

    I originally intended to write up a 3000 word essay to describe a semi love-hate relationship with the company and how it transitioned dramatically, but instead I decided to keep it short and simple.

    Audeze did their homework. But they poorly label versions. This 2021 one should be given a dedicated name and product code.

    On behalf of Audeze, I’d like to first define what the f*** the “2021” version is.

    According to the company, substantial acoustic updates applied to LCD-X and LCD-XC models including new pads material and magnetic circuit revisions. Serials pasted from Audeze's subsequent post in HF.

    Enjoying them for slightly more than half a month, I should confess I was deeply impressed. Both subjectively and objectively. To the extent I personally think the so-called “dark age” is over.

    Let me start from the subjective side.

    New LCD-X (for my convenience, I will call it just LCD-X henceforth) is not only a complete reboot of LCD-X OG, but also experience-wise a tasteful mixture of every good LCD-2 and LCD-3 pair I ever heard... at much much higher technicality level.

    When we say Audeze bass (or planar bass in general) is good, we used to associate it with certain traits of bass reproduction. Clean, hard-hitting, and very neutral. This time around, LCD-X’s bass departed from its house bass characters a little. Lowest registers below 30-35hz feel a bit withdrawn, but anything upper sounds very organic and well-textured. The level of delicacy is leagues away from any LCD-2 I remember. Very slight bloom was also heard, which I have never observed in any of the previous Audeze products.

    Clear Mg did bass deeper and technically better in that bass stops with greater precisions, controls, and higher clarity. But not by a big margin. LCD-X’s gigantic drivers instead ensure less artificial, more engaging, and simply bigger bass. It’s quite obvious CMG shows its limitations possibly due to smaller driver sizes.

    Lower to middle treble was interesting. Audeze has given up the presence region for unknown reasons in their products. That could result in a little off stereo imaging of objects in certain angles (some may call this “three bulbs”). LCD-X lifted this region to meet agreeable tonal balance, and as a result, staging, layering, and placement are all consistent with today’s top league players. But Audeze kept mid treble recessed to make less forwarding and more laid back sounding. Conjunction from lower to mid treble was surprisingly cohesive and didn’t feel muted to my ears. There are small CMG-like sparkles in upper highs, which added a spot-on clarity to its dark-tilted tonality.

    The entire voicing largely feels like souped-up Focal open back with being rotated clockwise. Interesting to see both companies released products that seemed to benchmark each other smartly. Lol.

    The amount of perceived information is honestly no less than CMG. Except one LCD-4 I favorably heard years ago, I have not seen any Audeze products this much capable in technicality. Note that the LCD-4 I mentioned had less agreeable tonality than this. Overall, I can comfortably say LCD-X is the best (and actually the first as well) Audeze that doesn’t urge me to eq/mod/pad-roll.

    Great job, Audeze! But please please label this distinctly.

    PS. All my evaluation done with Soekris DAC 2541 and Schiit Jotunheim 2.
     
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    Last edited: Apr 15, 2021
  2. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    Ok, let's look at measurements then.

    lcdx2021_fr_lr.jpg

    Frequency response plot reiterates what I’ve said in the subjective evaluation.

    lcdx2021_dist_l.jpg lcdx2021_dist_r.jpg

    Audeze always excels in distortion measurements. It’s a little interesting to see there is not much increase below 30hz where FR decreased a bit. My interpretation is drivers still move nicely there but pads leak (the changed material did not ensure as perfect seal as before) made spl drops. Those who are not familiar with EARS distortion measurements should ignore peaks at 4.5khz as usual.

    lcdx2021_waterfall_l.jpg lcdx2021_waterfall_r.jpg

    Holy, Shit!

    This is where I was the most surprised. It’s the cleanest result among any planars I measured. Very minute hint of ortho wall still exists, but barely visible (I don’t think I hear them, either). LCD-X is even cleaner than the modded NAD RP18 Kapton which is already jaw dropping. Attaching some other csds for your comparison (to get some idea how other planars measured with EARS).

    aiwa_hp500_csd_l.jpg he400_waterfall.jpg nad_rp18_waterplot_l.jpg
     
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  3. Empyah

    Empyah Facebook Friend

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    Holy shit this looks like a true renaissance! Seriously interested to hear this, big fan of my (unicorn?) LCD2.2 pf.
    And very eager too see what will happen at the upper echelon, if this is their middle offering, man...
     
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  4. wormcycle

    wormcycle Friend

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    Looks great. How do I know I am buying new LCD-X?
    Sorry should have read the serial number.
     
  5. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    1. Serial number is the surest way to check. I think I already pasted it in the OP, but anyway..
    • LCD-X w/ leather-free pads: S/N 7527615 or greater
    • LCD-X w/ leather pads: S/N 7527600 or greater

    2. Less straightforward than #1, but pads obviously different. Pictures below (also pasted from HF).

    Old ones:
    [​IMG]

    New ones:
    [​IMG]
     
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  6. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    Can you lower the floor for the Audeze CSD measurement? It sort of has an advantage with respect to CSDs because the upper-mids are pushed down.
     
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  7. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    Sure. Here are 60db range (top/bottom) graphs for LCD-X along with the second-best measuring planar and "the standard" dynamic ones. Previous ones were 40db range btw.

    lcdx2021_waterfall_60db.jpg

    nad_rp18_waterplot_60db.jpg
    (Modded by RD)

    Senn_HD650S_waterfall_60db.jpg
     
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  8. 9suns

    9suns [insert unearned title here]

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    Great job, @Vtory!

    Nice to see that the new revisions are that good, but...friendly reminder:
    https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...ze-lcd-4-again-anyone.462/page-11#post-273502

    "Our philosophy has always been to make the best headphones we can, every time we make them. As with most any manufacturer striving for constant improvement, we make small incremental changes to nearly every batch of headphones we build. Sometimes those changes are based on what we learned making the last batch and sometimes they're based on new knowledge from other sources. Our hope is that every change leads to some improvement in either sonics, reliability or efficiency. Over time these changes can add up to larger differences that may be noticeable when comparing older and newer examples."

    Grab that "good batch" fast LOL.
     
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  9. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    Yeah that really sucks. Wish them to at least speak to customers regarding acoustic treatments and expected outcomes. Not to mention final approvals.

    and like I said in the op, different experience generating products should be titled differently. How does this sell with the same name as the one I regard the epic fail (2019 unit I heard) of the company?
     
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  10. dasman66

    dasman66 Self proclaimed lazy ass - friend

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    I guess this makes a good argument for not buying their stuff used... who knows what "version" you're going to get? Especially if the changes are as dramatic as this?
     
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  11. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    Disclaimer and link to the @9suns 's kind reminder added on top of the post.

    This time around it's rather good to announce which serial numbers for this revision. It worked to find the right demo pairs and quickly check upon product arrivals. If they don't want to change product names (no idea why they don't do it tho), at least they should transparently open revision history publicly just like they did for this version. I don't think HF is a very good place for public announcements. But better than nothing.
     
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  12. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    UPDATE: FU post here https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...-audeze-strikes-back.10865/page-2#post-345238

    By the way, there was a funny (or maybe horrible) story behind this case. I almost forgot it until today, but I think I should share on the courtesy of SBAF.

    I managed to get a chance to hear the 2021 demo unit shortly early last month. The session was very promising I think. Enough to motivate me to get my own pair as a bass-head or planar reference as I am looking forward to interesting loaner stuffs incoming.

    Unfortunately, the "first" pair I got was defective on arrival. One channel sounds a little off and weird (subjectively limited, clipped and crinkled). I tried to control every confounder but concluded left channel broken.

    Pretty ridiculously, the measurement for that channel was largely ok.

    Except distortions.

    See below. Be aware that Y axis is described as dbr (which I believe better present the situation).

    bad_lcd_x_dist.jpg
    Fr, CSD, Impulse/step were all fine with this channel. I tried to sweep at different levels, all screwed in distortions only.

    I immediately contacted the dealer with supporting evidence I could provide. They sent me the replacement unit the next day (I was happy with responsive and quick communication). And they sound and measure just good.

    I am still scratching my head. Because I rushed to pack and return it to the dealer asap, I could not investigate enough. But I don't fully understand what happened. The distortion pattern reminded me of the defective Ether 2, but E2 were consistently terrible across all measurement items.

    The other channel of the defective pair, by the way, was very normal. Consistent with the results in my measurement post. Subjectively audition pair, right ch of the broken pair, and the pair I am having now all sound not too different. I do think my pair (the replacement unit) sounded the best, but that's possibly synergy with my favorite dac-amp combination (J2 and 2541).

    PS. Another fun part: The response I got from the dealer was like "Hey three people heard your unit but couldn't find any troubles you identified. But I will send you the replacement unit anyway..." I never thought myself a nitpicking or over-sensitive person. lol.
    (And because of his response, I was ready to contact Audeze directly if replacement unit shows the same problem)
     
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    Last edited: Apr 17, 2021
  13. wormcycle

    wormcycle Friend

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    Located a new batch in Toronto with Audeze help at www.headfoneshop.com, May be my first Audeze ever
    upload_2021-4-15_12-38-16.png
     
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  14. netforce

    netforce MOT: Headphones.com

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    Little info about the LCD-X and new pads. New shipments from this year from Audeze were shipping with latest revisions for months prior since the original announcement. We had shipments from Feb that were coming with the latest revisions on the LCD-X and the rest of the Audeze headphones shipped featured the new pads.

    The LCD-X and XC had the biggest impact from the new pads.
     
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  15. penguins

    penguins Friend, formerly known as fp627

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    Intrigued. Although the LCD-X was my least favorite full sized Audeze amongst ones that I've heard in the past, glad to see that they're back to improving the product instead relying more on random business maneuvers + product line expansions that didn't seem to catch enough interest (or at least in a way noticeable to me as a random person looking in).

    Also did a quick google search and see many places selling them for $1200 now. IIRC the last time I saw an LCD-X it was $1800 new - felt like they would have been more appropriately priced at $900-1100, maybe $750-800 now that there are more DCA and HFM products to compete against. Granted, I doubt $750-800 leaves enough room for dealer markups, etc. Hopefully this is also a sign of "more better" to come from Audeze.

    @Vtory - Just want to explicitly ask - it seems like you're saying that you didn't get a one off A+++ super pixie dust sample correct?
     
  16. wnmnkh

    wnmnkh Friend

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    Those 1200 ones are so called "creative package" which does not include balanced cable and fancier box compared to 1700 normal version.

    This really intrigues me. How's the QA of Audeze these days? QA issues are really reason I stopped buying their headphones.
     
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  17. penguins

    penguins Friend, formerly known as fp627

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    Now I know. Would gladly give up a $100 Pelican/similar case + use my own cables to save the $500+.
     
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  18. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    Unless the dealer is a superhuman, he could neither identify unicorn BNIB nor is motivated to do so (as he had zero info about me regarding forum activity). lol

    And want to make clear that what I am having is not a review sample (I purchased the pair for myself).

    I am not fully sure as it is kinda diabolical proof. I do believe Audeze has been improving QA since they released lcd 2 classic (heard about some manufacturing changes). And from my experience to witness good consistency among 3 lcd-x units, I think it's at least ok for a 20-FTE small company.

    But as I posted, I got a defective unit at first, so you should be ready to deal with bad units.
     
  19. Jerry

    Jerry Friend

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    @Vtory Since sometime in Sep 2017 if I recall correctly. Since then, I hear less QC problems with Audeze. The 2C for example. I have never met anyone having issue with it.

    Thanks for sharing your impression on this. Possible to give us comparisons with planars that you tried? I think Arya would be a great comparo. LCD-X is not only cheaper but 10x better built. Can it compete with the Arya in sound?
     
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    Last edited: Apr 16, 2021
  20. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    Here are comparative plots for things I love as of Apr 2021. My thoughts, too.

    lcdx2021_vs_vobe2.jpg

    The two plots resemble than I thought. Except midbass bump shown in all ZMF models, the key difference could be whether or not 4-6khz region is lifted or recessed. Subjectively VO at least with BE2 pads make things crispier for most major metallic instruments including kick/snare drums, sax, hi-hats, etc. LCD-X is relatively withdrawn for such parts, which I commonly heard that way from well recorded tracks.

    But because this part could determine listers' impressions, many less natural tracks boosted around 6k (I often check this with analysis programs such as MasVis). As a result, in more than 70% of recordings I listen to, I found LCD-X offered not only more forgiving but also more balanced presentation.

    8khz peak is interesting to me. Now I figured out I really prefer a narrow peak in that specific frequency. Without this peak, I used to feel a little (macro-dynamically) dull and boring.

    Apart from spectral balance, Verite is superior in reproducing organic, warm, delicate, and articulate bass (I do think Verite does this better than any other ZMF, too). One thing I am surprised with LCD-X is it now catches up with Verite much closer in such criteria. Combined with Audeze's traditional strengths, LCD-X can offer very impressive and all-rounding bass performance.

    lcdx2021_vs_cmg.jpg

    Comparison with Clear Mg is also fairly interesting. Indeed both get nearly equal head time from me these days.

    The newer the better has been always controversial, and I was more in the camp of "good oldies rule". However with the two recent successful cases (clear mg, newer lcd-x) I have to admit at least some companies are trying to make better headphones tailored for my taste and musical context.

    Back to the comparison, as I wrote in previous posts (and posts in Clear Mg thread), I dare to say CMG is one of the best bass-head blisses on the market today. That satisfies my basshead desire to hear the cleanest, clearest, and fastest bass without compromising quantity. The experience largely reminds me of running multiple small subwoofers with complicated dsp calibration (I don't want to repeat that again .. but it ended up with very satisfying results until I have to relocate everything).

    LCD-X's bass comes from complete different dimension. Whereas not as clear or fast as cmg, the headphones never disappoint me in any of those criteria. Clarity and speed is still top notch. Also switching from cmg to lcd-x, I can immediately notice fuller and more natural bass that engage me better in many aspects. At the end of the day, I found both bass presentations largely complementary and I really liked to hear two different expressions with my favorite tracks.

    And as shown in the plot, CMG has more energy on upper mids and lower trebles by comparison. This pulls major instruments and vocals closer to listener, and therefore presents better layering and clarity as well as stronger center images. LCD-X focuses on more relaxed and laid-back experience without feeling too much withdrawn. While still well separated, things heard as a well-blended mix. When I don't AB but only hear lcd-x, I hardly find such as weakness at all. Even when I compare them side by side, I am not 100% sure I prefer CMG in all situations. They're just different to me.

    One thing I want to make clear is LCD-X has more focal-like traits than previous Audezes and CMG has more audeze-like characters than previous Focals.

    Finally we are seeing 8khz peak again in both. CMG seems to have it around 9khz in my plot but looking at other in-ear or Gras measurements, that's likely EARS's artifact.
     
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