(Read about our ratings)
I remember the first time I heard Audeze headphones. It was several years ago, with some predecessors of the LCD-5s, the LCD-3s. I unboxed them with the reverence that something of their stature deserved. I once bought a used Porsche for $2000. These were 50 percent more than that, and I could hold them in my hand. Far less rust, though, to be fair. I connected them up, put on an SACD (remember those?), turned off the lights, and transcended to another plane of existence. What an experience. I hadn’t planned to spend a few hours listening to every SACD and DVD-Audio I had, but that’s how the night went down. I still have those headphones. They’re great.
So it was with more than a little trepidation that I approached this review. The LCD-3s are hallowed ground, if you will. I’m not sure if they’re the best headphones I’ve ever heard, but they’re on the short list. In my experience with tech, new models don’t always improve on their predecessors. Usually? Yes, but not always. On paper, the LCD-5 headphones offer one standout improvement: weight. The LCD-3s were like wearing barbells on your noggin, and as great as they were, I couldn’t wear them for extended times without my neck sharply reminding me that I am no longer 20.
Other changes on the LCD-5s include a modified earpad design, which Audeze claims improves upper midrange. Inside, the huge planar-magnetic drivers are 90mm in diameter. They come with “high-purity copper” XLR cables, all for $4500 (all prices USD).
In the box
Calling the Audezes’ container a “box” is underselling it a bit. They arrived in a hardshell case. I half expected it to contain some nuclear codes or the Tesseract. Given their price and the potential fragility of the planar drivers, I’d say this kind of protection is certainly warranted.
Audeze has gone to great lengths over the years to reduce the weight of its headphones. That said, the LCD-5s are still quite heavy. At 420gm, they’re 45 percent heavier than the 292gm Sennheiser Momentum 4 headphones I reviewed a few weeks ago. Just something to keep in mind if traditional headphones give you neck issues.
Outside of the weight, they’re quite comfortable. The soft leather earpads cradle your ears like pillows. The ventilated headband feels comfy on my decidedly un-hirsute head. After reviewing myriad wireless headphones in the last few months, having a cable is almost a novelty. The braided XLR cable looks serious, and comes with a 6.35mm adapter to connect to non-balanced sources.
The tortoiseshell earcup shells are nearly black in all but the brightest light. It’s classy, but I miss the brighter zebra wood veneer of the LCD-3s. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the design; it just feels a little too “normal” for such a high-end product. Without question, though, the LCD-5s exude luxury, as you’d hope, given the price.
The LCD-5s come burned-in from the factory. I let them “cook” for a day more before giving them a listen. First impressions, especially after months of reviewing earbuds and Bluetooth headphones, were of a glorious return for my ears to the world of high-end. It was like, oh, right, there is so much more possible with really good headphones. There was an immediacy and realism that you only get with good planar-magnetic drivers. Instruments and voices just sounded more like their live counterparts. Less like you’re listening to a recording and more like you’re hearing it live in a room.
Part of that, for sure, is the open-back nature of the LCD-5s. I’ve heard closed-back planar-magnetic headphones, and while often impressive, they still lacked the sense of space possible with open-back designs.
I started with an old favorite and staple of the audio reviewer set: “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman (Tracy Chapman, 16-bit/44.1 kHz FLAC, Electra Records / Qobuz). The sense of space created by the LCD-5s was massive, seeming to extend well out over my shoulders. The percussion hits had an immediate attack. Chapman’s guitar had a delicacy and lifelike ring.
The LCD-5s were a little darker than I expected. I’m generally pro bass and “meh” on treble, but I was surprised they didn’t have brighter, more open high frequencies. This isn’t a criticism, since the treble was beautifully detailed and smooth, but I’ve heard a lot of higher-end headphones that go all in on treble, and these aren’t that. I think I was just expecting a bit more airiness, but they sounded great without it, so that’s not a big deal.
One of the albums I listened to on that first LCD-3 journey was the SACD of The Dark Side of the Moon. Not remotely close to my favorite Floyd album, but at the time the only one I had in high resolution. The layers of instruments in “Us and Them” is a masterclass in songcraft (24/96 FLAC, EMI / Qobuz). The sonic atmosphere in this song stands the test of time. Through the LCD-5s it was as huge and multi-layered as I’ve heard. Every instrument and vocal was widely spaced in the mix. I expected a little bit more high-end, though.
The drums at the start of “Five Years” (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 24/96 FLAC, RCA / Qobuz) snapped in a way few headphones can reproduce. Bowie’s voice, dead center in the huge soundstage, wailed in a clear timbre this song deserves. On “Ziggy Stardust,” later in the same album, Mick Ronson’s guitar absolutely snarled.
I moved on to some more bass-heavy music to try out the LCD-5s’ low-end prowess. I went back to Pink Floyd, cueing up “One of These Days” from Meddle (24/192 FLAC, EMI / Qobuz). Waters’s and Gilmour’s dueling bass guitars at the start of this track are the ultimate in driving menace. Through the LCD-5s they had an almost guttural growl, matched by the gritty organs and modulated pianos. The deep bass extension was excellent. For my own tastes, I’d prefer a bit more bass overall, but only barely. I doubt most people would agree, as I tend to like more bass than most.
Air’s Moon Safari is one of the best albums of the 1990s and sounds like some fever dream from the 1970s (16-bit/44.1 kHz FLAC, Virgin Records / Qobuz). The second track, “Sexy Boy,” starts with a gravelly synth bass line. Through the LCD-5s it had definition and timbre that get lost with so many headphones. The cymbals and voices remained clear despite the heavy synth layers.
Changing it up, I put on Miles Davis’s “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess (24/96 FLAC, Columbia / Qobuz). Even with this mono recording, there was a wonderful sense of space with the LCD-5s. Davis’s trumpet just attacked each note. This may sound weird, but the timbre was just a bit more lifelike than with lesser headphones.
Overall, I’d say the LCD-5s are extremely well balanced, with a slight midrange boost and great bass extension with some of the best attack and transient reproduction I’ve ever heard. They also had that ineffable quality of the best headphones, where I kept wanting to hear how some other favorite song, some other favorite album, sounded through them.
Logically, I compared the LCD5s to the LCD3s. The weight difference was definitely noticeable. The LCD-5s are still a heavy pair of headphones, but the LCD-3s are heavy. I could wear the 5s for a few hours straight without issue. That’d be a struggle with the 3s.
Let me first say that both of these headphones are incredible. I’m absolutely picking nits here. I’d say the 3s had a bit of a bass boost compared to the 5s, and there was more treble. My suspicion is the 5s are better balanced, and the 3s have more of a “smile” to their frequency curve. While I like the extra bass, I wouldn’t mind dialing down the treble a touch. Perhaps to a level somewhere between the two headphones.
For example, on Michele Campanella’s recording of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C Sharp Minor, S.244 (16/44.1 FLAC, Decca Records / Qobuz), there was more air and space around Campanella’s piano through the LCD-3s. Both headphones beautifully reproduced the intensity of the performance and the wide dynamics of the piece. But comparing the two headphones back to back, I’d almost say the LCD-3s were on the bright side, at least compared to the 5s. It made the 5s easier to listen to, though they lacked some of the sparkle of the 3s.
In a track-selection switch that would give most normal people whiplash, I put on Fatboy Slim’s single “Eat Sleep Rave Repeat” (16/44.1 FLAC, Atlantic Records / Qobuz). The 3s definitely had a noticeable boost in the upper midrange compared to the 5s. The extra bass punch was nice, but honestly, it wasn’t enough of a difference that I missed it.
When I first started this comparison, putting on the LCD-3 headphones was like sitting down to dinner with an old friend. It was like, “Oh yes, that’s why I liked you.” The more I went back and forth, though, I ended up liking the LCD-5 headphones more. The idiosyncrasies of the 3s that were, without question, fun, lost some of their shine when compared to something that didn’t have the negatives that came with those oddities. Don’t get me wrong: I still adore the LCD-3s, but given the choice (and lacking any price difference), I think I’d choose the LCD-5s. Not least because they’re easier to listen to, but that weight reduction just can’t be overlooked.
I found the LCD-5 headphones to be extremely difficult to review. There just wasn’t much to critique. Do they sound amazing? Absolutely. In some ways, they’re among the best I’ve heard. Personally, I’d like a little more openness and a bit more bass for me to call something “my favorite.” But that’s just splitting hairs. The LCD-5s sound incredible, and trying to figure out what’s better in this rarified air is like asking, “What’s the best sunset?”
Also, how do you assign a value rating to something like this? I normally wouldn’t, but we do that here at SoundStage! Solo. I can’t imagine anyone saving up for $4500 headphones. I could travel for three months straight for that kind of money. The type of person who could afford them could probably afford several, so what’s the point of saying these are expensive? So are a lot of things.
Porsches exist. Ferraris exist. The LCD-5s are those for the headphone world. Looking at them in their own sphere, what do these offer? Are they luxury? Absolutely. Do they look and feel like a $4500 product? Definitely. Do they sound like ultra-high-end headphones? Unquestionably. There are few things better than sitting in your favorite chair, sliding on these headphones, turning off the lights, and cranking up some Floyd in the dark. It’s an experience. And for that experience, they’re magical.
. . . Geoffrey Morrison
- PC: iBuyPower Windows 10.
- DAC: iFi Audio Hip-dac2.
- Amplifier: Cambridge Audio Azur 651A.
Audeze LCD-5 Headphones
Warranty: Three years for drivers, one year for everything else.
Phone: (714) 581-8010