To measure the performance of the LCD-3, I used a G.R.A.S. 43AG ear/cheek simulator, a Clio FW audio analyzer, a laptop computer running TrueRTA software with an M-Audio MobilePre USB audio interface, and a Musical Fidelity V-Can headphone amplifier. Measurements were calibrated for ear reference point (ERP), roughly the point in space where your palm intersects with the axis of your ear canal when you press your hand against your ear. I experimented with the position of the earpads by moving them around slightly on the ear/cheek simulator, but because of the headphone’s open-back design, it didn’t make much difference.
Below 1 kHz, the LCD-3’s frequency response is essentially flat, something we’re also seen in the HiFiMan HE-500 and HE-6 planar magnetic headphones. There’s a peak at 2.6 kHz (again, pretty standard for this type of headphone), and a fairly strong and flat treble response. Adding 70 ohms output impedance to the V-Can’s 5-ohm output impedance to simulate the effects of using a typical low-quality headphone amp has no significant effect on frequency response — good to know if you decide to plug the LCD-3 into your $19 Coby MP3 player.
Total harmonic distortion (THD) at 100 dBA? Ain’t none. Isolation? Ain’t none.
Impedance averages 47 ohms, just a hair below the rated 50 ohms. Average sensitivity with a 1 mW signal at 50 ohms rated impedance is 92.8 dB from 300 Hz to 6 kHz—not very high, but no problem for any halfway-decent headphone amp, and more than 10 dB higher than the HiFiMan HE-6. — Brent Butterworth
There's no getting around it -- there's one big downside to the LCD-3, and it's that the headphones are going to cost you, and cost you big. But it's a fantastic sounding piece of equipment; has beautiful fit and finish, is surprisingly comfortable given it's size, and -- if you're a headphone fanatic -- it's got that ineffable quality that marks the most desirable audiophile gear, a stew of technical achievement, design smarts, handcrafted quirkiness, and just plain voodoo that's going to make you want one despite your most reasonable inclinations. And if you've got the money burning a hole in your bank account in the Caymans, I see no reason not to rush out and order a pair right now. As Phil put it, "If I had the disposable income, and wouldn't have to wear them in public, I wouldn't hesitate for an instant to buy a pair of LCD-3s." They're that good.
In an odd way, the LCD-3 is even something of a value proposition compared to the electrostats likely to appeal to a similar audience. A full Stax setup that supplies as authoritative an experience can easily nudge you a good part of the way towards five figures. Pair a solid amp — nothing exotic necessary; we got good results from not just the Corda, but a variety of inexpensive FiiO units, along with somewhat pricier models from Musical Fidelity, Furutech/ADL, CEntrance, and HiFiMan — with the LCD-3 and I'd bet you'll be nearly as pleased at significantly lesser expense.
Is it worth the near-$1,000 premium over the LCD-2? Or over HiFiMan's line of far more affordably priced planar magnetic models? That's hard to say. But if you're in pursuit of the ultimate in personal audio performance, you really have to check these things out. And if you do. . . well, my guess is that the price is not going to be the limiting factor anyway.
The LCD-3 has a midrange smoothness that's unmatched by either of the HiFiMan models we have on hand here at S+V, though overall sonics, to my ears, were more reminiscent of the HE-400 than the 500, though the LCD-3 simply sounds better across the frequency spectrum, It's also more comfortable to wear for long periods of time, despite weighing more. But the HE-400 is a great headphone in its own right, and at $399 it's a lot less expensive, of course. So if you're looking for a budget alternative, I'd say the HE-400 is voiced a little closer to the LCD-2 and LCD-3 than is the more mannered HE-500. (As a side benefit, either HiFiMan is a lot more low-profile than the Audezes, so you won't get so many bemused looks from family and friends, if that sort of thing matters to you.
What's next? Given Rosson's dance-music focus, Audeze surprised nobody (but pleased many) with a closed-back headphone prototype that was demoed at CanJam this past year, but there's no target date for that product as yet. Rosson told S+V in a recent conversation that the company was currently looking at ways to increase comfort, reduce size, maintain quality, and hopefully bring down costs (the LCD-1 had been relatively affordable, and the company had decided initially on exotic woods rather than plastics to control costs), but for the time being they were focusing on keeping production in the US where they can maintain the strictest possible quality control. Right now they're looking into new materials and manufacturing processes, but for the time being Audeze headphones are likely to demand a premium price.
If you demand the very best from your headphones — and you're willing to pay that premium — get out and check out a pair whenever you get a chance. You'll forget about the two grand soon enough.
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