Following the adage of ‘out with the old, in with the new’ the LCD-5 sport smaller drivers and cups, new ear pads and headband, and significantly lower weight.
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, two friends started a spunky company in a Californian garage and created a pair of headphones that changed an industry. 2011 marked the launch of Audeze’s legendary and now iconic LCD-2 planar magnetic headphones, introducing the world to an immediately recognizable design aesthetic and what it means to be a flagship headphone.
Over the years, much has changed with Audeze headphones, but much has remained the same. With the recent release of the newest flagship, the LCD-5, the basic design is all still there. They are immediately recognizable as a pair of Audeze headphones, as were the previous TOTL LCD-4. But that doesn’t mean that the LCD-5 are a simple redo of what has come before.
The newest Audeze flagship headphones are not simply a new coat of paint slapped on an old design.
Much of the LCD-5 is brand new for Audeze. Gone are the older 106mm drivers, and in their place are newly designed 90mm versions, with repositioned, single-sided Fluxor magnets. The Fazor waveguides are now internal within the earcups. A carbon fiber and magnesium headband elevates the materials, looks, and comfort of the old design. New tapered earpads are tailored for comfort and to shape the sound.
All of these changes have significantly cut the weight of the LCD-5. At 420g, they can’t be considered lightweights, but this is a significant improvement over the heft of previous models (LCD-2 550g, LCD-4 690g).
In terms of sound, the LCD-5 also differs from Audeze flagships that have come before. It’s a revised sound profile for Audeze, with a focus on resolution and clarity.
Year after year, flagship headphone asking prices keep increasing. Every manufacturer seems compelled to have a top-tier model competing in this market space. To be considered the best, it seems you must have a no-holds-barred, money-is-no-object model in the lineup. Enter the LCD-5.
Today, we will try to answer the age-old question, “is it worth it?”
Audeze LLC (pronounced “odyssey” and originally spelled “Audez’e”) was established in 2009 in Santa Ana, California when the founders partnered up with an engineer formerly designing flexible materials for NASA. This space-age material proved perfect for headphone drivers. Audeze quickly moved from a home-based start-up to one of the top planar magnetic headphone manufacturers with the critical and commercial success of their LCD line.
The Audeze goal is to deliver “the most accurate sound reproduction available today. Audeze products are engineered with the latest innovations in materials science and technology matched with precision craftsmanship to produce an astonishingly dynamic and immersive sound. Audeze’s commitment to research and development is reflected in every facet of our products.”
- Form: Open-back, over-ear
- Drivers: 90mm Nano-Scale Parallel Uniforce planar magnetic, Neodymium N50 Fluxor magnet array, Fazor phase management
- Sensitivity (dB): 90 dB/1mW
- Impedance: 14 Ohms
- Frequency Response: 5Hz – 50kHz
- THD: <0.1% @ 100 dB SPL
- Power Handling: 5W RMS (max), > 100mW (min), >500m (recommended)
- Removable Cable: Y
- Source Jack: 6.35mm TRS (current models include a 4-pin XLR and 6.35mm adapter)
- Cup/Shell Jack: mini-XLR
- Weight (g): 420g
While Audeze goes a more utilitarian packaging route than some of its competitors, such as Focal’s opulent unboxing experience, the included accessories are (mostly) practical and well thought out. The only exception is the rather pretentious inclusion of white cotton gloves for handling your new precious headphones.
The locking black aluminum storage case is befitting serious firepower, and it may cause some second glances if you are carrying it through an airport. The handle slowly lowers into place and is a nice touch. Inside are foam cut-outs containing the headphones, cable, case keys, aforementioned gloves, and warranty/authenticity paperwork.
In the box
- LCD-5 headphones
- Braided OCC copper cable
- Storage case
- White gloves
- Warranty certificate
- Authenticity certificate
Audeze describes the included cable as ‘Ultra High Purity’ and that it is intended for the highest level of conductivity and the least signal loss.
The cable I received is a rubber-coated, copper and black, 4-strand weave. The y-split is branded with the Audeze ‘A’ logo and constructed of black metal. Plugs are Neutrik/REAN standard mini-XLR on the headphone side, and gold plated 6.35mm on the source side. It’s entirely serviceable, non-microphonic, and fairly supple.
The LCD-5 are beautiful headphones.
The strong design language of Audeze headphones typically comes at an expense. This high cost (or to be clear: high weight) is the frequent subject of internet jokes and memes. Yes, Audeze makes terrific sounding and beautiful headphones. But, boy are they heavy.
The LCD-5 looks to resolve this issue. Heck, the top billing on the product page says “LCD-5. Transparency, resolution, and speed @ only 420g. Our latest flagship, 1/3 less weight!” It seems that weight reduction was one of the top priorities for the LCD-5.
Reducing the driver size to 90mm allowed Audeze to shrink the cups. Brown mottled acetate has been used in place of wood for the highlight rings around the cups. The change to a single-sided magnet array further reduced the weight. The carbon fiber, leather, and magnesium headband, while being spectacularly attractive and premium looking, is also a step forward in weight reduction. “Elegant, comfortable design,” indeed.
The outer grill is adorned with an updated version of the Audeze ‘A’ logo and mini-XLR jacks protrude laterally from the bottom of the cups. There have been reports of the mini-XLR sockets being pulled from the ear cups, as although the bodies of the connectors are threaded, they are only epoxied into place, and due to the tight fitting mini-XLR connection, the glue hasn’t held up in some cases when the connector is unplugged.
Audeze was quick to address the issue online.
“You paid for a product and this is something that shouldn’t happen. We will get both units back next week, take a look at it and fix the issues. Our goal is to have happy customers. In this case, we are clearly falling short and will take care / fix the issue…
…During our initial tests (pull tests etc), we did not see this issue. We have strengthened the connector in units currently shipping and also have started working on more long term solution.” – /u/xsankar (Official Reddit account of the Audeze CEO)
Isolated connector issues aside, the level of fit and finish on the LCD-5 are astonishing. These certainly look and feel every inch of what it means to be TOTL headphones in 2022.
Unsurprisingly, a big benefit of the new svelte design is in terms of comfort. It’s glaringly obvious how far Audeze has come when comparing the wearability of my original (pre-comfort strap – now modified) LCD-2 to the LCD-5. The benefit of a lighter design, with better weight distribution across the top of the head, pays off great dividends when wearing the LCD-5 for long listening sessions.
The familiar Audeze notched silver poles provide lots of size adjustments and those blessed with smaller or larger heads than average should have no issues with finding a proper fit.
These are a truly comfortable pair of headphones.
The new lambskin leather ear pads are also great. They are softly padded and are tapered to have less surface area touching the head, which helps reduce warmth. Audeze claims “our new sculpted, internally sloped earpad architecture reduces unwanted resonances and interior reflections. The ergonomic design cradles your cranium, and helps naturally place the headphone in the optimal listening position,” and the design “improves upper midrange response.”
The Fazor waveguides are now internal to the cups and located behind a mesh that protects more prominent ears from touching them. My smallish, relatively flat ears have no space issues with the new pads and cups.
Those familiar with Audeze headphones will find much of the same technical jargon still in use. Fluxor magnet arrays, Uniforce voice coils, and Fazor waveguides are still touted as the primary technology at work.
- Fazor is what Audeze calls their waveguides positioned outside the driver’s magnets to evenly direct the sound waves in an attempt to reduce interference and diffraction.
- Uniforce is what Audeze calls the variable conductor width used in the voice coil intended to create a uniform magnetic force (or flux) across the diaphragm surface to reduce distortion.
- Fluxor is what Audeze calls their design which increases the magnetic strength (flux) within the driver’s magnet array to improve SPL, efficiency, speed, and driver control.
The big internal change is the move from 106mm planar magnetic drivers with double-sided magnet arrays to single-sided 90mm versions. A lighter diaphragm is faster, more responsive, and should be less likely to distort. The new driver uses a new variable width trace pattern that makes it more efficient, and this means the LCD-5 are able to be better driven by smaller, more portable devices.
Audeze LCD-5 Sound
Clearly, Audeze designed the LCD-5 from the ground up. The literature highlights “transparency, resolution, and speed,” as well as “clarity and imaging.” For those who want the bottom line first, Audeze really nailed these lofty goals with the LCD-5. They are an outstandingly neutral and natural-sounding pair of headphones whose remarkable speed makes them sound light and precise.
No, the LCD-5 won’t be for everyone. Those looking for ‘fun,’ v-shaped headphones may be quite disappointed on first listen. A big, boomy bass bonanza? Nope. Precision and accuracy are at the forefront, highlighting a spectacularly detailed nature.
The LCD-5 are delicate and ultra-resolving.
The upper midrange and vocals are quite forward in the mix – which is a departure from earlier Audeze models that have a more laid-back sound signature. The LCD-5 sound is more aptly described as flat and clear rather than full or warm. The low end extends deeply, but linearly, rather than being shelved or boosted. The upper frequencies are smooth yet detailed, without any sort of aggressiveness or forwardness.
While the low impedance and relatively high efficiency may lead you to choose a lightweight amplifier to drive them, they definitely benefit from high-quality source components. Their spectacular transparency casts an unforgiving light on any weaknesses, whether that be in the recording or poor-sounding equipment. Most high-quality components should suffice to adequately drive the LCD-5, and an excellent source is sure to shine.
Soundstage and imaging are nothing short of impressive on the LCD-5. Everything sounds well positioned in a real-sounding environment. While not artificially large, I am struck by how lifelike and natural everything appears in a well-defined space.
Dynamics are somewhat different to assess than the typical v-shaped headphones that impress on first listen. There’s less punch and kick than I’m used to, but as I recalibrated to the sound, I noticed all the things I was missing with other headphones. The detail provided by the LCD-5 is astounding, and without over-emphasized lower frequencies, the music is presented in extraordinarily fine resolution.
The LCD-5 have linear bass that is tight, fast, and capable of nuance. Bass heads will most likely find things far too thin and the LCD-5 are definitely not tuned for that audience. That isn’t to say they can’t descend deeply, they do when called upon, but the low frequencies are neutral and balanced in the overall mix. If a subsonic rumble floats your boat, you may need to find a pair from another pier.
It’s certainly a case of quality over quantity.
Threatening to verge on ad-nauseum repetition, the LCD-5 driver is the proverbial Jack, as in nimble and quick. This translates to fast, clean, and well-controlled bass with lots of detail.
The LCD-5 midrange continues the trend of linearity and lightness, rather than the darker and warmer mid-tones that I tend to associate with Audeze headphones. This seems to make the LCD-5 midrange sit close to the listener, and while I wouldn’t say they become shouty, I can’t describe the midrange as laid-back.
Voices and instruments sound remarkably real. Natural and detailed. The singer steps out of the music, looks you in the eye, and sings directly to you. The sound of small breaths, fingers on the strings, the slide of a drumstick. The tired old reviewer’s aphorism of “I heard things I’ve never heard before,” is never truer than with the LCD-5.
The treble is well-extended but polite. It lacks some of the upper energy or airiness that some of the higher-frequency focused headphones can deliver, and those looking for the lightest or daintiest sounding headphones may not immediately be drawn to the LCD-5 sound. However, the benefit of this tuning profile can be heard in their smooth and non-fatiguing presentation.
The LCD-5 sound grounded and real, and while less forward than the midrange frequencies, the treble maintains the fine detail and resolution that are their superpower.
Some headphones, such as the Sendy Audio Apollo that I recently reviewed, offer a very warm and colored presentation that, while somewhat unnatural, can sound very enjoyable. The LCD-5 are the antithesis of this approach to sonic bliss. They are headphones for those that desire reference levels of clarity, neutrality, and naturalness.
Where to Buy
With the LCD-5, Audeze threw out the bathwater but managed to retain the baby. Unafraid to build upon prior successes, and to make significant changes to address the tastes of a maturing TOTL market, the LCD-5 are a very notable deviation in the range of Audeze products. Smaller? Check. Lighter? Check. A new sound? Check.
Yet, at their heart, the LCD-5 are intrinsically everything that makes a pair of Audeze headphones special. Unmistakable design paired with outstanding acoustic performance. A big redesign, sure, but what you love about Audeze is all still there.
The LCD-5 are unapologetically TOTL, flagship headphones of a top-tier headphone brand. The build quality, materials, and construction all reflect this status. And for most of us, they will remain something to dream about, rather than to own.
The life of a reviewer is a blessing and a curse. I’m lucky enough to try out these magnificent creations. To live with them and to experience the level of precision, accuracy, clarity, and resolution they bring. But once they leave, the lesser headphones that remain are fraught with insecurity.
But those of you in the market for ‘the best’ headphones need to audition the LCD-5 and see if your tastes match their focused sonic flavor.