Audeze LCD-2 Classic: review

The Audeze LCD-2 Classic

This is a review of the Audeze LCD-2 Classic. They’re a lot of money; they look cool and they play the part.

Aesthetics are important and I’ve wanted a pair of Audeze headphones since I saw the first LCD-2. Never mind the sound. The look was enough. That they sounded good was almost trivial. I needed a pair.

Now, twelve years later, I have ’em.

On review today is the stylishly restrained LCD-2 Classic (899€). These are beautiful headphones. Almost all black and with those characteristic earcups with the metal grilles. Functional retro. There’s no wood on the earcups this time around but that makes these cans look even sharper. And they fell amazing. They are one of those products that you want to touch and fondle. And they feel like they are built to last.

They come packaged in a foam insulated cardboard box. No fancy travel case from armored this or carbon that. It’s a headphone, it’s not a nuclear weapon. The focus on packaging is excessive. At Green Audio Review this our stance: the money you pay for a headphone should go to sound quality and build quality. Not to pay for a small suitcase that you’ll never use. If you need a case, buy one. A case shouldn’t be mandatory.

Anyhoo…

To make the LCD-2 Classic available at this price-point Audeze haven’t just ditched the flight case, they have also taken their current driver technology from the LCD-2 range, tuned it to resemble the sound of the original LCD-2 from 2008 and stripped it of the Fazor-tech that were introduced in later LCD-headphones. What we get are a planar-magnetic open-back headphone that lean slightly to warm side of neutral and are relatively easy to drive. And an absolute joy to listen to.

They are comfortable too. The headband distributes the considerable weight nicely. Are they too heavy? At over half a kilo I could see that being a problem for some. Not for me. After three hours they still feel soft and plush on my admittedly big head and there’s no strain in my neck.

The braided cable is remarkable. Microphonics are very low, almost nonexistent. It doesn’t tangle and it has a lithe feel to it. Cables matter both sonically and how they feel. Taken together, the LCD2C with the braided cable make for an incisively functional proposition. It just works.

The LCD-2 Classic look much better than most of my other headphones. They look much sharper than both the Audioquest Nightowl, which appear downright clumsy next them, and the Sennheiser/Drop HD6XX. The HD6XX are also functional in their appearance, but next to the LCD-2 Classic they look like what they are: relatively cheap and made of plastic. There’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all. The HD6XX are a price/performance beast. But it is obvious that the LCD2C are next-level headphones.

And the cables of both the HD6XX and particularly the Nightowl are not anywhere near the quality found in the LCD2C.

Initial sound

There’s gear that sound great out of the box and there is gear that need a bit of exercise to loosen up. The LCD-2 Classic are in the latter camp. Like yours truly they need a good warmup before they’re ready to go. The LCD-2 Classic were delivered on a rainy Wednesday and plugged straight into the headphone output of the NAD C368 just to get a quick taste. I was in the process of reviewing the C368 and knew the headphone output to be better than the price of the amp would suggest. But the they didn’t sound great. At all. They were thin and clunky and square. Music, to me, is round, not angled.

One of my guilty pleasures (in music) is Agnes Obel’s Citizen of Glass. Guilty because it just sounds great out of almost anything. It’s like chocolate. I enjoy it out of my two Sonos Ones in the kitchen. On the LCD-2 Classic that box of chocolate didn’t sound good. That is rare. Even rarer when it is out of a pair of headphones that although the second-most budget-friendly in the LCD range are, well, pricy. Consider me worried.

Agnes Obel through the LCD-2 Classic

I needn’t have. I put the LCD-2 Classic down, queued up a random playlist in Tidal of what I suspect is modern pop, set it to repeat and let ‘er rip…

We all know that break-in is/can be important but the level of transformation these headphones underwent is remarkable.

For those who don’t believe in break-in (as if it’s a question of faith) I suggest you try a pair of brand spanking new LCD-2 Classic fresh out of the box. After a week the headphones were transformed. That’s not hyperbole. They were like a different pair of headphones: there was no spikiness, no jagged, harsh highs. Instead I was presented with a seamless frequency extension. The LCD-2 Classic were transformed from angular and divided to wholesome; not just with sugary-melancholy Obel, but with – music.

As most other audiophiles I have experienced break-in improvements before, but none on this scale. The LCD2C went from unforgiving, incomplete, to simply wonderful.

I packed up the NAD. I packed up Agnes Obel. Time to see what these cans were made of.

Getting Serious

The first impressions of these headphones post break-in are of punchiness, control, and air. They are formidable dance partners with any genre I throw at them. The only other open-backs I have at my disposal are the ever-popular dynamic-driver HD6XX from Sennheiser/Drop. In a head-to-head comparison the HD6XX sound warmer than the LCD-2 Classic but at the same time thinner, more constrained. The Audeze has more air and a bigger head stage.

This is with my Cayin HA-1A MKII tube amplifier. No matter what headphone, the Cayin always imparts a chunk of its own character. That is also the case here – even to the extent where the HD6XX and the LCD-2 Classic don’t sound as different as I’d expected. I guess tubes will do that. Or maybe it’s just that the HD6XX still have a few surprises up its sleeve.

Cayin headphones amp driving the LCD-2 Classic

Does that mean they are equally good? No. But they are closer than I expected. Not closer in sound signature but in sound quality. Which do I prefer? The LCD-2 Classic clearly. They are much punchier. They’re not as treacly and flappy. And they’re clearer and dig out significantly more detail.

But they are more similar than I thought. The Cayin gives the LCD-2 Classic, which are neutralish headphones, a welcome romantic touch. The Cayin takes the Audeze closer to comfy town. At the same time the Cayin breathes new life into the HD6XX. From opposite directions it pulls two different headphones closer together.

For my tastes the LCD-2 Classic are a very enticing headphone. It makes the delicate and comfortably mellow album, Beyond the Missouri Sky, by Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden come alive with textures of wood and strings, and sometimes an almost steely guitar. On the HD6XX Haden’s bass lines are muddier and Metheny’s guitar less distinct. It still sounds very good because the HD6XX are such talented and overachieving headphones. But the Sennheiser come up short on dynamics, ambience, head stage, and clarity.

With the LCD-2 Classic there are a deeper sense of the room they’re playing/recording in, but also of space between the instruments and single notes. That is one of the big takeaways from listening to this album on the Audezes: the LCD-2 Classic sound spacious. They open the windows on a recording, make it breathe. It is not because Beyond the Missouri Sky is a reverby recording. It is simply because the LCD-2 Classic are good enough that they allow us to hear space, room, and body in a way the HD6XX can’t.

VS. Nightowl

I think the Audioquest Nightowl are tremendous headphones. They are closed-back but don’t sound like it. They are warm and enveloping and disappear when you wear them – and also when you listen to them because you don’t listen to them, you listen to the music: their comfort and sound is such that I often forget that music is playing and I’m just cloaked in sound.

The LCD-2 Classic are open-backs and sound harder and colder when doing quick A-B comparisons. That kind of listening will mostly reveal shallow differences of the glaringly obvious kind. Differences that are both obvious and ultimately unimportant. It takes time to listen to a headphone and determine if you actually like it. In that sense A-B comparisons are dangerous because you run the very real risk of discarding a headphone because it sounds thin or overly warm or with weak bass or whatever, just because in an A-B comparison it lacked something. Maybe it’s the other headphone that’s got it wrong? Or maybe they’re both right and tell the same truth in two different ways?

Which do I prefer? Both. The LCD-2 Classic do sound much tighter and clearer than the Nightowl. And after a while that greater clarity, which in neck and neck A-B comparison can be mistaken for hardness and coldness – becomes not a liability but a strength. The LCD2C dig out more detail; they’re much punchier. The Nightowl are rounder and warmer, more enveloping. Which I prefer comes down to what music I listen to and what my mood is.

The Audeze LCD-2 Classic in my hand

I’ve been on a Haley Bonar trip lately. When I listen to her song Am I Allowed I prefer the Nightowl. Why? Because they rein in the overly energized treble. Her voice becomes a bit rounder. The guitar loses some of its edge which is a good thing here.

My preference for either headphone is determined by a slim margin that has more to do with whatever disposition I find myself in, than any objective sound signature/quality. The more I think about it the more I think these two headphones would make for a great complementary pair: one closed, one open. One warm, one incisive.

The LCD-2 Classic are perhaps like a good friend: a lot of fun, dependable across all terrain and not afraid to tell the truth – also when it hurts. The Nightowl are then akin to a warm bath and a bottle of something nice on the side: soothing. Soothing is nice, but sometimes even chocolate becomes too much. And the LCD-2 Classic are not analytical or clinical in the sense that they present music like a flowchart. They are tinted slightly toward a warm hue. Just not as much as the HD6XX, and certainly not as much as the Nightowl.

When I put something like Skee Mask’s Compro on the LCD-2 Classic give me more focus. They give me more welcome bite. This is a headphone with a seamless integration of the frequencies. With electronic music it is tight, composed and homogenous. But not polite, not monotonous. The bass response is particularly satisfying. The HD6XX and the Nightowl both appear to have more bass, but the heft even at the lowest of low frequencies in the LCD-2 Classic makes electronic music particularly rewarding.

Talking about punchy, talking about focus: I mainly used the Cayin HA-1A MKII tube amp because it sounds terrific. But the LCD-2 Classic also like solid state. A lot. When playing Floating Points’ eminent album, Crush, the LCD-2 Classic and the Asgard 3 take complete control of what is a very detailed and busy – and ridiculously great sounding – album. The inner detail, the punch, the bass, the ambience, everything is served up in the most addictively controlled signature. If the Cayin smoothed things over a bit, if the tubes took the edges off; the Asgard 3 and the Audezes are partners in a different crime. A crime not of romanticized passion, but of gripping truth.

The Schiit Asgard 3 driving LCD-2 Classic

The Audezes are much more expensive than the HD6XX and also cost a fair bit more than the Nightowl did. What we get for that extra dough are a headphone that to these ears easily outperform the HD6XX – as well it should at four times the price.

I love the Nightowl. They have a dark, natural magic and they always sound good. It’s just that the LCD-2 Classic are better still. I thought the Nightowl would be my go-to headphones for versatility across genres because they offer such a mellow and involving listen. The LCD-2 Classic have opened my ears to a more insistent sound signature that also works across many genres and moods. They do this while sounding more intimate, punchier, tighter, and more detailed. The LCD-2 Classic are not the most expensive headphones I’ve tried in my system at home. But they might be the most rewarding. I was impressed by their sound quality when I first heard them. It took a more extended listen to fall in love with them.

I would keep the LCD-2 Classic in a heartbeat if wasn’t for this: now I need to go a step or two up the LCD-line and hear what goes on. The LCD-2 Classic are phenomenal. I am almost afraid to hear what the LCD-X bring to the party.

The LCD-X: Review unit requested.

MMK

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3 Comments

    • I haven’t, I’m sorry. But, I would probably either get a separate headphone amp with the Croft, like the Schiit Asgard 3, or use the Rag as intended. It is a phenomenal integrated amp.

      Thanks for reading and sorry for the late reply.

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