Audeze is a leader in planar magnetic (PM) technology and has built some of the best-sounding headphones on the market. It also charges a serious premium for such creations. The flagship LCD-4z runs for nearly $4,000, which is why the company’s newest release, the $399 LCD-1, is considered a shocker. Open-back headphones that deliver high-end audio at an entry-level price point? Believe it.
- Our expert picks for the best wireless headphones, per budget and style
- Check out our Bose 700 review
- …and our Sony WH-1000xM4 review
These cans are designed for audiophiles to use at home, in the studio or the go, boasting a lightweight frame that houses superior specs, including Audeze’s 90mm PM drivers and an ultrathin diaphragm. Of course, a lower price tag comes with compromises. No special features, no controls, and you’ll also have to do your listening in complete isolation to enjoy peak audio performance. Still, if you want hi-fi headphones that won’t break the bank and are more portable-friendly than some of the category’s steeper selections, the LCD-1 is a hard bargain to pass up.
Audeze LCD-1: Price and availability
The LCD-1 can be seen as a pricier option compared to other audiophile favorites like the $299 HiFiMan Deva and $349 Sony WH-1000xM4. At the same time, it’s a steal when looking at other high-end entry-level models such as the all-new $990 Focal Celestee.
Audeze LCD-1: Design
The LCD-1 is somewhat of a departure from the brand’s luxe-built models. You’re not going to get the handcrafted wood finish or high-quality leather featured on beauties like the $1,945 LCD-3. However, Audeze effectively downscaled its design to make the product more portable and affordable, while also giving it a unique look.
These headphones are composed of plastic, metal, and leather. They aren’t too flimsy, nor too substantial, but provide a good balance of pliability and sturdiness. The exterior is built to stave off most scuffs and scratches, while protecting the internals from any damage caused by hard spills to the concrete. It’s also nice that the headband has some stretchability to it, and that the earcups fold in, so you can easily carry them around in hand or around the neck.
I wouldn’t call the LCD-1 trendy, but there is a chicness to them. The all-black colorway with the company name in silver accents is aesthetically appealing, along with the Audeze logo laser-etched on each side for brand recognition. What gives these headphones such a striking appearance are the grilles on the outer panels of the earcups. It’s different than the clean canvas designs of the Bose 700 and WH-1000xM4, and I mean that as a compliment.
Unfortunately, there is something missing from the design: controls. Audeze chose not to integrate a control panel on the side of the earcup or on the inline cable. Another notable omission is a built-in mic to use for phone calls, video chats or your device’s native digital assistant (Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa).
Audeze LCD-1: Accessories
For $399, most consumers would expect a large number of accessories to come with the purchase. Temper expectations because three is all you get. In the box are a dual 3.5mm cable with reversible connectors, a 3.5mm to 6.35mm gold-plated adapter, and a mesh-textured travel case that carries everything, plus one or two mobile accessories (e.g., portable charger, smartphone). To be fair, this is about the same number of extras bundled with most Audeze products.
Considering the brand’s wide range of accessories, which includes everything from replaceable ear pads to a leather care kit, it would have been great if one or two more items were thrown in.
Audeze LCD-1: Comfort and fit
Overall comfort on the LCD-1 is a mixed bag. The open-back design allows for airflow, and the earpads feel plush and gentle on the ears. However, the way Audeze designed the earcups results in them compressing hard around the ears and increasing fatigue the longer you wear them. I wore them for an hour before noticing some soreness on the side of my head. Another piece of advice is to adjust the yokes by two or three notches so that your skull receives more breathing room because the clamping force is pretty tight at the lowest setting.
The one benefit of tight clamp force: stability. In other words, you won’t have to worry about the headphones slipping off your head, as they remain put when properly adjusted. The yokes don’t extend as far as those featured on other premium headphones, therefore, any listener with a large skull will experience some discomfort or an unpleasant fit.
Audeze LCD-1: Planar magnetic drivers
Most headphone makers stuff dynamic drivers into their headphones, and for many good reasons. They’re more affordable, allow for a more compact and lightweight design, and can produce great sound quality. At the same time, they are more prone to distortion and come with smaller magnets.
Audeze decided to go in a different sound wave direction, employing PM drivers into all of their headphones, including the LCD-1. What are the advantages? PM drivers are engineered to create tighter bass extension and minimize distortion at high levels. With the diaphragm being flat on PM transducers, models like the LCD-1 benefit from accurate sound reproduction, which can result in a more immersive listening experience. Now that you’ve gotten a crash course in Audeze’s sound technology, let’s see how these headphones perform on the audio front.
Audeze LCD-1: Audio performance
When evaluating price, it’s fair to compare the LCD-1’s audio performance to consumer favorites like the WH-1000xM4 and PM oppositions like the Deva. The LCD-1 does share some sonic similarities to the Deva, while the WH-1000xM4 is a dynamic driver model with top-tier sound.
As for the LCD-1, its sound profile can be best described as borderline neutral with some kick. Recordings sound as close to the originals as possible, which is what musicians and studio engineers desire most. Bass is vibrant as well, though the Deva generates deeper lows.
Anderson .Paak’s “Already” always gives me chill-out vibes, but its melodic production was even smoother on the LCD-1. The bassline rode with finesse and had me smiling from ear to ear from the moment I pressed play. I was mostly impressed by how clear and transparent the adlibs and synths sounded, as those are musical elements that get lost in the background on most dynamic driver headphones.
The LCD-1 earned my appreciation most on complex recordings like Pink Floyd’s “Money.” Audeze’s soundstage cleaned up the distorted guitars and made the bass riff even more dynamic compared to what I heard on the WH-1000xM4. More importantly, it demonstrated phenomenal stereo imaging to pinpoint individual effects throughout the recording; the rhythmic pattern of the cash register loop effect is something you have to hear on these cans.
Despite its tamer low end, the LCD-1 has enough kick to satisfy bass heads, while letting you hear subtle nuances that would normally go unnoticed on standard headphones with warm-heavy profiles. The pulsating drums on Dr. Dre’s “Stranded on Death Row” knocked hard, plus the creeping string sample was emphasized to complement the record’s gritty resonance.
There is no companion app to personalize audio, but if you feel so inclined, there are two ways you can customize sound on these headphones. It can be done by accessing the EQ settings in Spotify or selecting one of numerous presets available in the iPhone settings. I implore that you do neither because that does a massive disservice to Audeze’s masterful engineering. Leave. It. Alone.
Audeze LCD-1: Noise Isolation
Picture having Transparency Mode at max level on the Bose 700, which makes all noise around you audible. That’s exactly what it felt like wearing the LCD-1 in any environment. I found it humorous hearing my wife’s full conversation with our newborn on the changing table. Other common distractions like door buzzers, iPhone alarms, and even keyboard clatter were highly noticeable as well. Simply put, if you’re looking to enjoy music in peace, then look elsewhere.
Leakage is another major issue. The LCD-1’s open enclosure and grilles let sound bleed outward at a high level. Listening to music at max volume, the missus thought I was blasting music directly from my MacBook Pro’s speakers. Dropping volume to about 20%, she could still hear what I was listening to.
Audeze LCD-1: Portability
I know how valuable Bluetooth is for portable listening. Unfortunately, the LCD-1 doesn’t support the technology, but for a pair of wired headphones, they’re the most portable option in its class. At 8.8 ounces, that places them in the same company as the Bose 700 and WH-1000xM4, which each hit the scale at 8.95 ounces. These are also a breath of fresh air to carry around versus larger and more spec'd out competitors like the Focal Celestee (15.2 ounces).
Sound remains lively when transitioning from a laptop to a smartphone. I did notice that bass and volume received a modest boost when plugged into my Pixel 2XL, and that was completely fine with me.
Audeze LCD-1: Verdict
The Audeze LCD-1 is a superb model for those who value critical listening. It delivers the crisp, detailed, and rich sound that one comes to expect from high-end open-back headphones, but at a more attainable price point. The lightweight and compact design is also a sigh of relief from the heavy and bulky cans best associated with the category. Yes, you’ll have to live with certain exceptions like zero controls, special features, and noise neutralization. Are these dealbreakers? Maybe, but not for audio purists who want hi-fi sound on the cheap, which is what the LCD-1 offers you.