I have the LCD-X with a Modi 3 + Heresy stack. Would it be worth upgrading amp and/or dac?
In short, yes. Check out the Buy/Sell thread, but I know @Bmn1251 has a Lake People G111 available and I have a RNHP available, both of which would pair nicely with the X. What’s your budget? Honestly, the Modi may be the weakest link in the chain at the moment.
Welcome to the forum!
I tend to agree with @FiCurious, the DAC is probably your weakest link in your audio chain.
I had the LCD-X and it was a very good pairing with the RNHP. The RNHP is a fantastic amp, and I still prefer it over many more expensive amps.
I haven’t tried one, but the the Bifrost 2 is very well regarded, and I know of a few people that have paired it with the RNHP. It’s supposed to be a very nice pairing. If you upgrade your DAC I would suggest that the Bifrost be your lowest priced selection. Many people feel it’s the best DAC below $1k.
Thanks. So the JDS el not worth ?
You won’t have a significant difference by going to the el, which I love that stack with my LCDXs.
A special thanks to a HFGF member who loaned me their pair of LCD-X for review! Back when I was seriously getting into headphones I viewed the LCD-X as personal “endgame tier” hardware. I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to play with one and grateful for the support of this community in allowing that to happen. This review is also exciting because while I’ve now had the privilege of owning and hearing a few models of headphones from around 1000-1800USD, I haven’t had a chance to post a full and proper review of one on HFGF. Mainly that’s because the $1K+ headphones I have are older, harder to find models (Audeze LCD-2 prefazor, HiFiMan Edition X V2, and when you add up the cost of my Lawton modded TH-X00) that you can’t just go out and buy. However, Audeze’s website currently has the LCD-X listed at $1699.99 and Amazon lists them for $1199.99. I don’t know why those two prices are so different, but the point is, if you want one, you can get one relatively easily…assuming you have the cash.
I’m not going to go into crazy depth about the build or features of the LCD-X. That information is found abundantly around the internet. I will however add a disclaimer: the original owner put Audeze protein pads on this set. My understanding is that the sonic impact of those pads is not significant, but it’s also probably not zero and should be kept in mind. One quick comment on the weight; it is a heavy headphone. The headband does a pretty good job distributing the weight. I can get several hours of listening before the weight becomes a problem, though. However, ymmv.
KNOW YOUR REVIEWER
(skip this if you’ve read lots of my posts on this forum)
My preferred genres are rock/metal and classical/orchestral music. I’m getting to know jazz more and enjoying quite a bit. I also listen to some EDM and hip-hop. My hearing quirks include a high sensitivity to midrange frequencies from just under 1KHz to around 3Khz, give or take. My ears are thus quick to perceive “shoutiness” in headphones in particular. I describe “shoutiness” as an emphasis on the ‘ou’ sound of ‘shout.’ It’s a forwardness in the neighborhood of 1KHz and/or on the first one or two harmonics above it (when I make the sound ‘ooooowwwww’ into a spectrum analyzer the dominant frequency on the vowel sound is around 930Hz, which also means harmonic spikes occur again at around 1860Hz and 2790Hz). In the extreme, it can have the tonal effect of sounding like a vocalist is speaking or singing through a toilet paper tube or cupping their hands over their mouth. It can also give instruments like piano, but especially brass instruments, an added ‘honk’ to their sound. I also get distracted by sibilance, or sharp ‘s’ and ‘t’ sounds that can make ssssingers sssssound like they’re forssssssing esssss ssssssounds aggresssssssively. Sibilance does not physically hurt my ears nearly as quickly as shout, though. It’s distracting because it’s annoying and unnatural. Readers should keep these hearing quirks in mind as they read my descriptions of sound.
Most of my testing with the LCD-X was done while powering it with a Monolith Liquid Platinum headphone amp and either a SMSL SU-8 or (little less often because it’s brand new) Schiit Bifrost 2 DAC. I also tried it using the iFi Zen DAC, the Lake People G111, and the Schiit Asgard 3. Music sources were either local FLAC and DSD files, Qobuz streams, or Spotify Premium streams. Outside of Spotify, Audirvana was the music playing software.
Sound Signature & Frequency Response
To my ear the sound signature of the LCD-X is neutral-to-mid-forward. The target tuning appears to be relatively “flat” – meaning not emphasizing or de-emphasizing any particular range of the audible frequency spectrum. Audeze didn’t quite nail that, though, but did come close enough that I could tell that’s what they were going for. This headphone sounds to me like Audeze took the mid-range and treble characteristics of the LCD-2 prefazor and brought up their relative levels to be close that of the bass. Doing so comes at the cost of some subbass rolloff. There are also a couple of audible peaks, at least to my ear, one in the midrange and another in the upper treble. I’ll talk more about these peaks and the bass, midrange, and treble response in the paragraphs that follow.
The LCD-X both has and does not have that “planar bass.” The ‘does have’ part is from about 60-150Hz the is bass quick, tight, and has decent amount of slam. The ‘does not have’ part is the bass is not particularly extended. Somewhere in the 50-60Hz range, the bass response falls off quickly. For the most part I can live with that. Since I tend toward listening to rock and metal most of the time, the loss of bass extension is not noticed very much; those genres usually don’t have much going on below 50Hz. However, for EDM or classical, this rolloff can be an issue. For example, the real cannon fire recorded in Erich Kunzel & Cincinnati Pops Orchestra’s rendition of the 1812 Overture lacks a bit oomph and rumble due to this rolloff. All is not lost, though, the LCD-X’s bass does take well to EQ and that lost extension can be recovered without affected the rest of the frequency response much at all. That same 1812 Overture piece literally vibrated my head when the cannons started firing. The drivers are capable of the bass, but have been tuned down in this range in the stock configuration.
The midrange is where things get challenging for me. Whether a graph shows it or not, there is too often too much sonic energy around that 1KHz shout range for me. This perceived peak makes vocals tend toward shouty and tends to blur together instrument sounds a bit too often for my liking. To me that’s the biggest single problem with this headphone. Once again, EQ can rescue it, at least to a degree. Bringing the 1KHz range down about 3dB greatly reduced the shout and brought out much better mid resolution and instrument separation for me. Once corrected the mids are very detailed and the resolution of the details are obvious. Subtle things like room reverb become noticeable and the LCD-X takes on an overall more natural sound.
The treble is a highlight of this headphone, IMO. The overall detail and timbre of the top end is a standout feature. Treble sensitive listeners should be aware that there is a treble peak around 10KHz, or the ‘air frequencies’. This treble peak does make the LCD-X sound open and airy but could be too much for some listeners. I don’t find it objectionable, but some certainly will. On balance however, I think treble detail and timbre is outstanding.
The LCD-X is a strong spatial performer. It has a soundstage that is wide but not exaggerated. It also images pretty well with decent separation between sonic images. On well recorded classical music it was pretty easy to picture the arrangement of the instruments. Things like drum pans walk across the soundstage clearly and effectively. While I’m not much of a gamer, there’s a good possibility this headphone could pull double duty as a competitive FPS headphone too.
The detail retrieval is also good. Subtle things like room reverb, particularly in the high frequencies, come across clearly and convincingly without sounding too forward. This detail retrieval can also show up in the midrange if the 1KHz peak is EQed down or the music has a more relaxed midrange. It’s clear that Audeze intends this headphone as a reference headphone and the level of detail seems to be appropriate for that purpose.
I’ve mentioned EQ. That was done mostly with using a Sonimus VST3.0 plugin with Audirvana, giving a bit of a bass boost, and backing off the 1KHz range by about 3db:
Audeze makes their own EQ profiles for most of their headphones with the Reveal plugin. A free version can be downloaded from their webpage and is the version I used here. To my ear I got my personal preference EQ pictured above reasonably close to the Reveal EQ preset for LCD-X, although Reveal left in just a touch more 1KHz energy. Overall, the Reveal plugin did make a positive impact. Bass extension and slam improved, the mids tended toward shoutiness far less (though not never), and the already excellent treble timbre also improved. I didn’t notice the spatial qualities improve much using Reveal, but I think I was able to notice those qualities more because the mid-shout wasn’t as overpowering as with no EQ.
COMPARISON WITH OTHER HEADPHONES
I have two large planar-magnetic-driver headphones on hand to compare the LCD-X against and I already mentioned them above: Audeze LCD-2 Prefazor revision 1 (LCD2.1PF) and HiFiMan Edition X V2 (HexV2). The HexV2 initially listed at $1600 upon its launch; dropped to $1300 when the Arya was released, and occasionally pops up for sale used in the $600-800 range (which is how I got mine). The LCD-2 model that can be bought new as of this writing is the fazor model. Mine, according to serial number, is one of the early revision 2.1 models without fazors. These gems can also still occasionally be found used for about the same price as a used HexV2. Finally, I’ll also mention the Focal Elegia here. The Elegia is a completely different type of headphone but the stock tuning is pretty close to the LCD-X’s and I have a point to make there. These comparisons were done while running the LCD-X without any EQ unless EQ is mentioned, in which case such EQ is my own through the Sonimus plugin.
HexV2 & LCD-X
The HexV2 sounds immense and grandiose. Everything about its sound is big. It sounds, wide, tall, deep, and expansive. The LCD-X has similar width but doesn’t have the vertical chops and doesn’t layer in the third dimension (forward and backward) as well. Without EQing the LCD-X, the HexV2 also has a clear advantage in timbre and clarity. EQing the LCD-X makes it closer but for my money the HexV2 has more detail and the slightest edge in timbre. The HexV2 also has a slightly U-shaped signature with great bass extension and slam. The LCD-X comes very close in overall technicalities if you’re willing to spend the time EQing, but with stock tunings and for my preferred music genres I’ll take the HexV2 all day any day.
LCD-2 & LCD-X
As I said earlier, to me the LCD-X sounds like Audeze took the overall LCD-2PF sound and brought up the relative levels of the mid-range and treble, sacrificing some bass extension along the way. The LCD-2.1PF has far less shout (although not entirely absent, to be fair) around 1KHz and overall more natural, even lush, midrange timbre. The LCD-2.1PF initially does not come across as detailed as the LCD-X. But, when I listen more closely I realize all of the details are there they just hang out more in the background. If you’re a fan of detail extraction and presentation, the LCD-X will have an advantage here, but I don’t think it’s fair to say the LCD-X is more detailed, it’s must more detail-forward. The LCD-2.1PF still has great bass extension, more slam than the LCD-X, but not as much slam as HexV2. In truth, the underlying sonic characteristics of the 2.1PF and the X are very similar – which shouldn’t be surprising being made by the same company – but the X emphasizes the mids, treble, and detail, while the 2.1PF takes a more laidback, warmer, lose-yourself-in-the-music-for-hours type of approach. There is of course room for both approaches in the world of audio.
Focal Elegia & LCD-X
You may be thinking, WaveTheory, the Elegia and LCD-X are completely different headphones! Why are you putting a comparison of them here!?!? Well, astute reader, it’s because they sound very, very, similar! I’m not kidding! The Elegia is a $900 USD (originally), closed-back, dynamic-driver headphone that manages to pull off a wide soundstage, has fantastic detail extraction for the price, and has a neutral-to-mid-forward signature. The Elegia also has a similar Achilles heel; it can get a bit shouty. The key difference is the Elegia hides its shoutiness a bit better by having great bass extension and punch. The LCD-X has more bass in the 50-120Hz in terms of quantity (the Elegia has a weird bass dip between subbass and midrange). I was still genuinely surprised by the overall similar sonic characteristics of these two headphones. I honestly had two initial thoughts when I put on the LCD-X for the first time: 1) this sounds like the LCD-2 with emphasized mids and treble, and 2) holy crap this sounds a lot like my Elegia…what gives?!?! Now, to be fair, the LCD-X has a slight edge in overall detail extraction over the Elegia and it does sound more open. The LCD-X also has a touch wider soundstage and is overall a little more refined than the Elegia. The soundstage of the LCD-X was also a bit more in front of me where the Elegia’s was a bit more of an arc over my head. However, the Elegia was also a little less forward in that 1KHz range. The LCD-X also has a slight timbral advantage as the Elegia has a hint of that metallic timbre that Focal sometimes struggles with, but that’s nitpicking. So, they are not identical and I’m not claiming the Elegia is better or just as good overall. I am saying the two sound surprisingly similar in overall sound signature and overall sonic presentation. In fact, they both respond to EQ in a very similar manner. For kicks, I ran the Elegia off the same EQ settings I had for the LCD-X – both Sonimus and Reveal – and it sounded better than its stock tuning to my ear, and surprisingly close to the LCD-X. So back to why is this comparison here? Well, since the Elegia became more accessible to the masses thanks to Adorama’s stupid-cheap sale prices a couple months ago, this comparison might help more readers understand a little bit more what the LCD-X sounds like; a Focal-Elegia-like sound signature that is slightly wider, slightly more open, and has a slight over technical advantage. Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are. I was sitting at my desk with both the LCD-X and Elegia plugged into my G111 (which has two headphone outputs!) sliding them both on and off my head trying to hear differences while my partner sat on the couch across the room looking at me like I was some kind of weirdo – which, she’s not wrong – and even the perceived volume between LCD-X and Elegia was within about a single dB. Which do I prefer? Without EQ I lean toward Elegia. With EQ, LCD-X. You may feel free to call me an idiot about this comparison in your comments following this review. But, if you ever get a chance to hear them side-by-side, I’ll be ready to accept your apology .
The LCD-X is a good technical performer. It gets even better with some smart EQ, which Audeze is thoughtful enough to provide. Yet for me, if EQ gets to be more complicated than pushing a bass boost button, I lose interest. I don’t particularly enjoy figuring out system-wide EQ or spending a lot more money on outboard equalizers when I could be spending that money on other headphones, speakers, amps, or DACs. I do understand why some find it appealing, though. Thus, for me the LCD-X is not a headphone on which I would choose to spend $1200 or even several hundred for a used model. The 1KHz energy is too high too often and while the bass rolloff below 50Hz doesn’t get in the way often, when it does it’s distracting. Even so, while it may not be for me, I recognize that the LCD-X will appeal to a lot of people. It has very good spatial performance, detail retrieval, and excellent treble timbre and most of its issues can be mitigated, if not removed entirely, with some EQ.
Alright, there you have it. Enjoy the music everyone
My experience was similar to yours. It does so many things right (I was lucky to have a pair with full bass extension), but the peaks in the treble region where just to fatiguing for me.
If you’re okay with EQ, it is worth checking out. Detail retrieval is indeed very good.
Great review, one of the nicer ones that I’ve read lately . I haven’t listened to an LCD-X yet, but I do enjoy my HEXv2 and LCD-2.1pf. As for the Elegia’s, I’m not a fan of Focal’s house sound (Elex and Elegia) since my ears do not agree with their brittle timbre in the upper mids and treble, which is why I sold off my Elegia’s.
I believe the new unit price differences are the “full kit” vs the “creator” packages. To my knowledge the creator package only lacks the pelican type case, all else is there.
You have inspired me to maybe one day do a review of my own for these. I dont have issues with shout like many seem to have but i do get bad interactions when audio in the 200Hz range is emphasized.
I’m intrigued on the best way to EQ the LCD-X. I don’t want to get the RME Dac and I primarily use a DAP (Fiio X7) as my source so laptop is really viable. Are any decent equalizers out there people would suggest? Something that I can add to the chain and limit the influence on SQ (e.g. not introduce significant SQ bias from the individual component)?
I use a Schiit Loki.
DAP to DAC to Loki to Amp.
Are you happy with only 4 controls? I have not experience with eq so not sure if that is sufficient or if you would want tighter banding or Hz ranges to apply db +/- ?
I am but I don’t use it all the time with every 'phone. My experience is sometimes, I need less treble and sometimes I need more bass and I can always use a pinch more of mids.
I am not one of those guys that has to make many adjustments for every headphone and every kind of music. If I had to do that constantly, I would give up the hobby and play some good headphones out of my LG V30 and call it a day.
Is there an EQ app for your dap? Otherwise yes I think the Loki will give you sufficient control. I got pretty close to Audeze’s Reveal preset with jusy low-mid-hi controls on the Sonimus EQ plugin I mention in the review.
Thanks… yes I think fiio has an eq app but I think you would have to use the hp out and internal Dac for it. When I use the line out via coax it bypasses the fiio sq functions. I will have to research that a bit.
I might look into something like this instead of the Loki we’ll see.
If FiiO DAPs are like my Sony DAP you indeed lose all customization controls when feeding a DAC.
Sorry not trying to hijack the LCDX thread but don’t want to start a brand new thread for EQ’ing which might be 3-5 posts… After a bit more research it seems like I either need a digital parametric equalizer or an analog dual 31 band EQ. I’m leaning the analog route so I can tweak my vinyl/TT via EQ as well.
I then proceeded to research these and the pro audio crowd on gear slutz and other forums seems to like the Klark Teknik DN370.
Thoughts on this as a solution?
I have the LCD-X w/ RME ADI-2. The X 100% needs Parametric EQ for them to sound their best @WaveTheory. You should have told me you were trying them out, as I have a great EQ you could have tested them with , even though it seems like you only messed with bass/mid/treble knobs haha.
I used Reveal and the Zen Dac’s bass boost too. I definitely understand why you chased down an ADI-2. Thanks for feedback. Cheers!
I have a sent of LCD-x’s on the way and I’m really looking forward to using them as my first high end headphones. I plan to use them for music listening and some music production. They are also being sent to me with two nice balanced cables. Currently I have some T50RP modded (soon to be balanced Argons) running on an Komplete Audio 6 interface to an old fiio e09k headphone amp. This powers the T50RP great but I’m thinking about upgrading the dac/amp for the LCD-x to balanced. Would love some feedback on the below options if you have any.
Magnius/Modius - This seems like a safe bet though I’ve heard the single ended is a bit of a let down compared to the balanced. I like the flexibility of outputs on this.
Monolith DAC/AMP THX AAA 788 - I’ve heard good things about this and its an all in one. but that means less flexibility in the future and the outputs to run speakers don’t exist.
Enog2 Pro/ Erish Balanced - I’ve heard really good things about this Amp (sounds like it would be the best of the three here) but it has a bunch of limitations compared to other things I’ve listed, including no single ended or output to speakers and only optical in.
So many options and its really hard making a decision without hearing anything.
Any of you have experience with any of these setups or would you suggest something different in this price range? Also, maybe I won’t even be getting much improvement over my current setup??? I am assuming because all my current equipment is pretty old and lower end that any of the above would be a step up.