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Home / Tips and Tricks / Like Wearing a Pair of Portable Studio Monitors – Review Geek

Like Wearing a Pair of Portable Studio Monitors – Review Geek



Review:
8/10
?

  • 1 – Absolutely hot waste
  • 2 – Sorta lukewarm waste
  • 3 – Severely flawed design
  • 4 – Some advantages, many disadvantages
  • 5 – Acceptably imperfect
  • 6 – Good enough to buy on sale
  • 7 – Great, but not best in class
  • 8 – Fantastic, with some footnotes
  • 9 – Shut up and take my money
  • 10 – Absolute design Nirvana

Price: 400

The Audeze LCD-1 headphones on an outside table.
See! The Audeze LCD-1s! Andrew Heinzman

You don’t have to piss off your neighbors to hear the clear, spacious sound from full-size speakers or monitors. Audeze’s LCD-1 reference headphones manage to recreate the experience of large desktop speakers in a comfortable portable package. But with an open-back design and flat drivers, it’s hard to recommend them to anyone except audio geeks and musicians.

Here’s what we like

  • Detailed, spacious sound
  • A flat response that is perfect for audio editing
  • Comfortable and portable

And what we don’t

  • The open-back design means other people can hear your music
  • Lacks punch
  • Great bass, but no rumble

At $ 400, the LCD-1s are the cheapest ‘phones in Audeze’s LCD Reference series. But they managed to blow me away anyway. I’ve never heard of $ 400 headphones with this kind of clarity, tonal range, and flat frequency response, and the accessible form factor just makes these headphones even better.

But these puppies are not for everyone, and I have to insist on that. The open-back design is impractical in most headphone-appropriate situations. Plus, the lack of punch and rumble, while fine for editing or recording audio, may turn off some enthusiasts who just want to listen to their favorite tracks on nice headphones.

What’s the deal with open-back headphones?

Before we talk about sound quality and build quality and all that nonsense, I have to see the difference between open and closed headphones. We have a detailed guide on the subject, but you probably discovered things by looking at the pictures; the LCD-1 has a plastic grille that exposes the drivers to the open air, while regular closed-back headphones shield the drivers behind a sturdy piece of plastic.

Okay, so how does that affect the sound? Closed-back headphones provide a seal over your ears, preventing sound from escaping to the outside air. Instead, the audio bounces between your ears and the eyes, creating a dampening echo effect that doesn’t exist when listening to music with a full-size speaker. Opening the back of the headphones allows sound to escape, removing the echo blank of your music and producing a crisp “3D” effect comparable to real speakers.

The Audeze LCD-1's in their carrying case.
The hard carrying case LCD-1, which has a nice compartment for cables and accessories. Andrew Heinzman

But the open-back design has some major drawbacks. Audio can leak freely, so everyone in the room can hear what you’re listening to as if it were being played through a small speaker. For example, you wouldn’t want to use the LCD-1s in a library or an open office. Also, the bass frequencies can sound good on open-back headphones (they sound great on the LCD-1s), but the open-back design does your head and feels as if it has less bass than closed headphones.

For this reason, manufacturers often turn to open-back headphones for enthusiasts and those working with music or audio. They’re unconventional (or even useless) in some situations, but they can take the place of a set of full-size headphones when you’re working on the go or blowing tunes in the middle of the night. If you feel like it, read on!

Incredibly spacious sound

As I mentioned at the top of this article, the LCD-1s are part of Audeze’s LCD Reference series. They are intended for professionals, enthusiasts and a-words (audiophiles). I don’t think the average person should buy these, but still, I wish everyone could give them a try. You can pick out every detail of a song with these headphones or sit back and enjoy how instruments sit on a “3D” soundstage thanks to the open-back design.

And like any set of reference headphones worth their salt, the LCD-1s have a fantastic flat yet smooth frequency response (ranging from 10Hz – 50KHz). The mids sound great, the bass is lean and clean, and the highs sound detailed and airy without getting into icicle territory. My only comment is that the bass response is a bit muffled due to the open design. You can hear the bass, it sounds great, but your head won’t rumble when wearing LCD-1s.

The Audeze LCD-1's on my coffee table.
Andrew Heinzman

Now is a good time to mention that the Audeze LCD-1s use planar magnetic drivers instead of the dynamic drivers used by most headphones. We’ve got a full guide to flat headphones on How-to Geek, but the bottom line is that flat drivers introduce very little distortion into a signal, even at high volumes. No distortion is a good thing, but the planar drivers in the LCD-1s lack punch and excitement, giving you a sound that can feel a bit clinical.

If you’re a sound engineer, the understated bass and lack of punch are a fair tradeoff for a clear, beautiful sound. That said, these aren’t the headphones for someone obsessed with fun, punchy, bass-heavy sound. For that, you may want dynamic closed-back headphones. You could also look at other headphones in the Audeze LCD Reference Series, which have larger drivers and a punchier sound.

Oh, one final note on the sound. I really appreciate that the LCD-1’s have an impedance of 16 ohms. Other open headphones like the Sennheiser HD 600 have a very high impedance, which basically means they sound quiet and crappy without the help of an amplifier. With 16 ohms, you can connect the LCD-1s to any audio source and get to work without the help of a headphone amplifier, which is great news for amateurs and those on a budget.

A strong yet lightweight and portable design

A photo of the Audeze LCD-1's outside.
Andrew Heinzman

Open-back headphones are not good for private listening, so they tend to be large, bulky, and non-portable. But Audeze chose to make the LCD-1s lightweight, foldable and portable, which makes sense to me. Hobbyists and students working with audio need a portable stand-in for full-size monitors, as the cheapest headphones in Audeze’s Reference series, the LCD-1s seem like the obvious choice.

In terms of build quality, the LCD-1s are on par with most headphones in the $ 200 to $ 500 range. The lightweight plastic and aluminum components will last forever if properly maintained. The drivers are hand crafted and like other Audeze headphones, the LCD-1s are assembled in California.

It’s funny, I’ve heard some people describe the LCD-1s as ‘too light’ or ‘too tacky’. No, that’s crazy talk. The LCD-1s are lightweight, but feel sturdy and well-made. Sadists may prefer uncomfortable headphones, audiophiles may prefer a set of pancake-sized cans, but as an entry-level product, it makes sense for the LCD-1s to be compact and lightweight.

The Audeze LCD-1s is connected to an iPod.
Does the cable look less groggy when connected to it? Andrew Heinzman

That said, the cable situation can annoy some people. The LCD-1s use a split 3.5mm cable, so you’re stuck with two small wires dangling from both ears. It’s like wearing one of those outdoor hats with the drawstring, which is a shame, although it’s not uncommon for ‘professional’ headphones to have two inputs. (Don’t worry about mixing up the “left” and “right” cables, by the way. Both 3.5mm jacks are stereo and the headphones decide whether to use the left or right signal.)

Not me really note the split cable design (it’s easy to forget if you put the wire across your back), but I wish the LCD-1s came with an extra cable. Replacements cost $ 35 (or $ 20 for a different brand), which is way more than anyone should spend on a 3.5mm cable. To the credit of Audeze, the LCD-1s also come with a 1/4-inch adapter and a sturdy carrying case, which are more valuable than an extra wire in the short term.

If you have the money, go for it

Elephant in the room? What are you talking about? Oh, I get it. At $ 400, the Audeze LCD-1s are a pretty hefty investment. I don’t think the average person should spend $ 400 on headphones – especially open-back headphones that are useless when you’re in public or sitting next to your partner on the couch.

But I encourage sound engineers, musicians and enthusiasts to take the plunge. The LCD-1s provide the incredible clarity, stereo imaging and flat frequency response of full-size monitors without taking up space at your desk or disturbing neighbors. They are well made and they are one of the few ‘portable’ studio-quality open-back headphones, which is great news for hobbyists and students who need to record or edit audio on the go.

Still, I don’t think the LCD-1s are the only option for enthusiasts or sound engineers looking for an alternative to full-size speakers. Companies like Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic sell high-quality open-back headphones in the $ 200 range, and some closed-back headphones like the legendary Sony MDR-7506 can get the job done for under $ 100 (and I’ve seen used pairs from $ 30). You can find high-quality audio equipment for just about any budget – the Audeze LCD-1s happens to be one of the best devices in the $ 300 to $ 400 range.

Here’s what we like

  • Detailed, spacious sound
  • A flat response that is perfect for audio editing
  • Comfortable and portable

And what we don’t

  • The open-back design means other people can hear your music
  • Lacks punch
  • Great bass, but no rumble




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