Audeze LCD4 2018 rev

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Aries Cerat Kassandra Ref II DAC with the Audeze LCD4

I thought I'd start a thread about this amazing headphone. It am in awe of the sound from this thing. I know high end headphones are a niche, and possibly dismissed by some audiophiles as not being on the same level as big speaker rigs. But I beg to differ. The sound from high end headphones has moved a lot in recent years. I had a best I could afford headphone system while I was a student many years ago. BTW don't think the LCD4 is a tiny headphone from this photo, it is big and heavy. The Kassandra DAC is just HUGE.

SE700.jpg Pioneer SE-700 circa 1978

My Pioneer SE-700 cost me a months wages back in 1981. I had many enjoyable late night listing to the Friday Rock show, Led Zepelin and Pink Floyd, Yes.

I came back to headphone about 5 years ago, though I had a working Stax Lambda Pro and SRD-7 step up. I bought the used set Stax 007 for 1K, a guy I met on the motorway with a wad of cash.
Then I sourced a used Stax SRM-717 amplifier. That sounded great, but it got me interested. Next I dug around and found a lot of DIY headphone enthusiasts were building their own amp or buying amps form DIY'ers. Most of those amps were based on PCBs by Kevin Gilmour. Kevin is another headphone enthusiast who had a keen interest in the Stax amp designs, and decided to impove on them.


So I bought a KGSShv electrostatic amp from a guy in Cheshire UK (new built). What an amp that was! Sounded marvellous. Now we had real bass from a sat headphone yet still with the mids and fantastic treble details stats are famous for.

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DIY built KGSShv Electrostatic Amplifier

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Seen here at a buddies house back in 2016 next to his BHSE amplifier.

Later I commissioned another amp with Geoff, the even better KGSShv Carbon. This time I had some design involvement as well, and designed the faceplate and top plate.

Then I bought the Stax 009 which is a much more transparent and faster headphone than the 007. The amp and 009 combo now came to about 7K.

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My 3D render for the amp exterior design
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KGSShv Electrostatic Amplifier w. 400V PS
Early this year I changed direction again. After going to Can-Jam in London in 2017, I decided I had another level I could get to. The Stax 009 is a superb headphone, but maybe if it has a weakness it may be realism and body / weight to the mids. And the extreme sensitivity to micro detail / plankton. I heard many other top HPs at Can-Jam and the only one to make me rethink was the LCD4 out of the GSX-MK2 and the Sennheiser HE1. They had more in common than not in my opinion. The Stax 009 was more in the detail direction, the HE1 in the realism and body direction. So I sold my beloved KGSShv Carbon and Stax 009!


So the Audeze LCD2-C arrived first. This is a classic re-issue of the LCD2 model made way back when Audeze first started. It was on sale from their website at 700USD!

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LCD4 shown with Norne Draug all silver balanced cable

So the Violetric V281 headphone amplifier powering the Audeze LCD4 200 ohm 2018 version Planars is my current end game headphone system. I am in no doubt the Aries Cerat DAC is having a major influence on the sound. It is the best I have ever heard in any headphone system, and on par to my ears v the Sennheiser HE1, though they are slightly different types of presentation.

The signature of the LCD4 is full, deep, solid and has a fantastically liquid midrange. Detail is all there, it is a step up from the early Planars. Female vocals, orchestral, jazz, heavy rock, it all sounds so natural with zero fatigue. EDM sounds off the scale good. The LCD4 and the Violectic sound amazing, and running it balanced out with the Norne Draug all silver really brings it up to a higher level. It then uses all 4 amps in the V281 and subsequently has more of everything, a lot MORE.

Please post your own headphone journey guys, I post a lot at head-fi, but we need some more action in this section of the forum, touch base with more users here if possible.
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Violectric V281 w. LCD2-C
 
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Comments

Gregadd

WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
6,505
4
38
Metro DC
#2
I did not win the Mega Million jackpot. So theres is no Sennheiser HE1 in my future. I currently listen to headphones via smartphone. I think music lovers who don't ,are missing an opportunity. If you use public transportation or ride in a car pool, you can use headphones to evaluate music. Moreover headphones do not require huge amounts of space or amplifier power. Nor do they bombard your cohabitants with music they don't particularly care for. Also you can save money. As exorbitant as $50k sounds, it will not come close to purchasing some of Wilsons' or Magicos' e.g., best offerings. If low level detail is your thing headphones are your ticket.
I think it's worth the price of admission if you appreciate Binaural recordings. When it comes to imaging, soundstage, and depth of field there is no equal.
I agree. Give it a try.
 
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AlterEgo

New Member
May 6, 2017
2
0
1
#3
What cables do you use with your LCD-4 and what is the difference to the factory delivered ones from Audeze?


Btw: I am using a LCD-4 too. I decided to combine the LCD-4 with a Bakoon HPA 21 after comparing it with the V281. I am exited from the ease of sound and the richness of sound of the combination LCD-4 & Bakoon.
 
#4
Thanks for the post. The other thing about the HE1 is it is a complete system, so you can't use a different amp. You can however use a different DAC. The fun of system building is similar to speaker setups, and headphones and amps are relatively cheap compared to top 2 channel.

The high end headphone market / user base has boomed, so many more TOTL headphones are out now. 4K+ seems acceptable for these models. Part of the reason for the boom in users IMO is more folk are working at home on a computer, so a compact system is useful. Also in typical apartments and houses joined together noise is an issue in the evenings of course. The headphone market is also the younger generation coming through, getting interested, and they will spend once they start earning.

So I feel like i have come full circle on headphones, I started when I was15, had a 20 year gap, then came back to it. Not saying I am selling my speakers yet, but I aren't selling the headphones either.....
 

dalethorn

Headphone user
Dec 9, 2012
417
1
18
58
Cleveland TN.
dalethorn.com
#5
If you have the $50k and you are willing and able to devote the appropriate (and lengthy) amount of time to enjoy in-depth listening sessions with them, then by all means you may feel that your experience is worth it. A unique and immensely pleasurable experience can't be evaluated by price if the price is affordable.

As to the high-end planars above $2k, I haven't heard them, but at that price level you're sure to match them with an amp that pulls out every detail.

I've listened to a lot of headphones, and there are a few of the open-back variety from $500 to $1k that will deliver a great experience, but to maximize that experience I've found these to be the most important factors:

a) A good matching amp - trial and error, read lots of reviews, or both.
b) Tone controls or minimal custom modding to tweak the sound to near-perfect.
c) A very quiet listening area with no distractions -usually late at night.
 
Likes: Gregadd
#6
If you have the $50k and you are willing and able to devote the appropriate (and lengthy) amount of time to enjoy in-depth listening sessions with them, then by all means you may feel that your experience is worth it. A unique and immensely pleasurable experience can't be evaluated by price if the price is affordable.

As to the high-end planars above $2k, I haven't heard them, but at that price level you're sure to match them with an amp that pulls out every detail.

I've listened to a lot of headphones, and there are a few of the open-back variety from $500 to $1k that will deliver a great experience, but to maximize that experience I've found these to be the most important factors:

a) A good matching amp - trial and error, read lots of reviews, or both.
b) Tone controls or minimal custom modding to tweak the sound to near-perfect.
c) A very quiet listening area with no distractions -usually late at night.
I agree. Dalethorn, the recent top level HPs are something else now. But any need lots of juice surprisingly. The LCD4 is a hungry beast, the Abyss even more, the Susvara more again, the old Hifi-Man HE6 a speaker amp! Even fairly efficient cans sound better on a beefier amp to me, such as the Focal Utopias I heard at Can-Jam.

If we consider what a single driver in a headphone has to do, it is quite amazing that they can sound this good. Handling the full frequency band for example. But they don't have to drive a big cone or large amounts of air, or interact with the environment. The LCD4 has a max power output of 130dB at very low distortion. Not many speakers can say that of course.
 
Likes: dalethorn
#7
What cables do you use with your LCD-4 and what is the difference to the factory delivered ones from Audeze?


Btw: I am using a LCD-4 too. I decided to combine the LCD-4 with a Bakoon HPA 21 after comparing it with the V281. I am exited from the ease of sound and the richness of sound of the combination LCD-4 & Bakoon.
I have the Norne Draug balanced. It isn't on Trevor's, he builds it to order only. Many have tried to copy it, the cable is fantastic quality and sounds amazing. I am glad you are enjoying your LCD4s. The LCD4z is interesting, as that opens up more systems. The LCD4 really needs a powerful amp as you have found.
 
Likes: AlterEgo
#8
There is a BIG battle going on over the Planars v Electrostatics as the best headphone route.

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I had electrostatics for 20 years, with an old Lambda Nova Signature on the hi-fi rack. I found I didn't listen to it much though, seven though the mids were good. The treble in the Lambda range, even the LNS which is supposed to be the better of those, just didn't sound natural to my ears. I felt it need more warmth and body, more solidity and bigger soundstaging.

The bass however was never convincing, it was pretty weak and although it went down low had little impact and as not part of the rest of the FR IMO. It wasn't till I bought the (used) SR-007 MK2s that things got better. Here we had a warmer signature, liquid mids and finally a really good bass for a Stax headphone. I was happy with this HP on the Stax SRM-717 for 12 months. However the Stax amp clearly had limitations, and the FR sounded different as the volume went up.

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The SRM-717 was purportedly a tweak on a Kevin Gilmour KGSS amplifier which at that time was highly rated. The 717 was better than the tube amps and lower models made at that time by Stax. And better IMO than the later 727 model. But I sold it and moved onto Kevin's DIY creations.


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Here is the KGSShv Carbon a few days after I picked it up from Geoff's place. A nice amp, big, quite heavy and a lot more transparent and faster than the previous (very good) KGSShv 440v amplifier. Later as I said in my previous post, I also bought a new set of 009s HPs. The 007 here is very good, the beret I have heard any 007. It is the 2016 version and I bought it direct from Japan. The 009s however were bought from a UK dealer as I was worried about the failures reported at that time of some of the early drivers. Indeed, my 009 went 22 months in and had to have 2 new drivers fitted under warranty.

I would say at this level there is not much better, more different ways to present the sound and personal tastes. Hence the battle of the Planats v Electrostatics. My personal opinion is Planars are in the more realistic camp, and have amazing bass and dynamics. They also have a superbly liquid midrange which helps keep it sounding like real music. The treble of Audeze Planars has been the weakness over the years possibly. In the latest LCD4 it is not an issue IMO.

I would put the Stax 009 with the BHSE or Carbon amplifier driving it in the highly detailed and 'plankton' to the foreground kind of presentation. It can be a sugar rush, and you can here everything in equal measure. But that in the end for me was not something I enjoyed long term. I found I listened to them less and less.

The LCD4 is a very planted kind of presentation. It is a bit like an American muscle car, you know it is there even on tick over. It has unbelievable bass depth and power yet does that without clogging the mids or dulling the treble. Part of the magic to this is the dynamic range. The maximum power output of the LCD4 is 130dB, the 009 118dB. Both insanely loud levels you would never use, but it shows the headroom of the LCD4.

At Can-Jam 2017, I was already loosing my interest in the 009s. I went to see what else there was at the top level, and had an open mind. I took my usual 3 well recorded tracks on a USB stick, ones I have heard on big systems at Munich, and at home hundreds of times, both on my 009s and 007s, but also on my horn speakers as well.

Here is my quick summary:
1. Focal Utopia with the Felix 300B tube amplifier, not sure what Dac they used.
Really nice, smooth and balanced sound. But not quite top level IMO. HPs are 4K so a bit pricy I thought for the sound on offer.
The amp was a bargain however at 1.5K

2. Hi-Fi Man HE1000 out of a DAVE Dac
Quite good, but a but boring for my taste, probably close to the 007s, but not quite as good. Build quality was so so.

3. Hi-Fi Man Shangri-La out of a DAVE Dac
Big expectations I admit, and fed by the DAVE Dac so should be good. Well, way to bright, forward lower treble and unconvincing dynamics. I was shocked, where is that 300B magic? Not here, and the price, oh my not for this sound. 35K.

4. 009 and BHSE out of the Halo Spring Dac
So close to my own Carbon and 009 combo, no surprise there. But a welcome founding after the debacle of the Shangri-La. I almost bought the BHSE twice, and they would have sold me that demo amp after the show. Tempted, but not really a move forward. And the tube costs...

5. LCD4 and the GSX MK2 out of the Halo Spring Dac
I have heard the LCD4 before, but this time I had my own tracks and sat still in a quiet corner on the head-amp stand for 20 minutes. Now we are talking, I am getting excited now, yet am at ease with the sound. I noted quite a lot more mid detail and soundstage width v the BHSe and 009, and the bass, my goodness. I have never herald anything that good in many home system. It reminded me of a Leftfield concert I was at in 2008 that...

6. LCD4 direct out of the DAVE
This was on the Chord stand, and also had the Blue Upsampler attached. I didn't notice the difference with the Blue, but possibly the output from the GSX amp on the previous stand had more drive? Still, sounded very good.

I had a demo booked on the Sennheiser HE1 in an hour, so wondered around a bit. I was thinking how good that LCD4 sounded, damb it was good, almost perfect.

7. Sennheiser HE1 demo room was on the second floor in a large room. They used a big T+A CDP for the source/Dac and had CDs to try out. I only had 15 minutes, but I used it wisely. The headphones are quite heavy, nearly as heavy as the LCD4s, and get quite warm as they have the last stage in the cup surrounds. Right away it sounded relaxed, solid, warm,isn (compared to my 009s) full and deep. The mids were very realistic and the treble smooth and detailed. It was less detailed than the 009 mind.

I was very happy with the sound, really I couldn't fault it, and I tried to. The tube gain stage will be having a major impact on the sound IMO. With headphones at the upper level, and being so close to the ears, there really is nowhere to hide and the sound has to be flawless. It also seemed to be fairly forgiving or less than stellar recording, which no doubt is the kinder harmonics of tubes.

Heading back on the train later, I realised the HE1 and the LCD4 were sat pretty close in one camp, and the 009 in the other. i.e. warmish, smooth and organic, or, colder, detailed and analytical. It is a bit like studio monitors that are designed to reveal (over reveal) every detail, and domestic speakers that are easier to live with and closer to live sound.

In later heard the Abyss Phi at Munich Hi-End this year and that was also very good, but the frame is not for everyone, and wearing it while looking at a studio monitor (moving my head around) may not work. I heard the Susvara for one track at Can-Jam last year, but was already unimpressed by the build quality so didn't seriously consider that model. It sounded good from what I could tell.

I nearly bought the GSX MK2 for my LCD4s, but thought is was slightly cold and clinical sounding, something I was trying to get away from with the 009, so I got the Violectric V281 instead. I bought that amp blind based on reviews (lots of reviews) as they do a 30 day return on it. It sounds marvellous and has superb pre and post gain settings. It can drive IE or high efficiency models like the HD800 to the laziest HPs like the Hi-Fi Man HE6. On my LCD4 I run it with no pre gain, and the pot is at 8 o'clock for loud listening. I do feed it with 10v out of my Kassandra DAC though.



Well that is my personal journey so far, the Stats v Planars.
 
Likes: dalethorn

c1ferrari

Member Sponsor & WBF Founding Member
May 15, 2010
2,048
5
38
#9
I just purchased an SPL Phonitor Model 2730B headphone amplifier primarily for use in location recording with closed headphones.
On the short list for closed headphone audition: Audeze LCD-XC, MrSpeakers Ether closed and Aeon Flow closed.

Any observations and/or comments regarding my closed headphone short list would be welcome...thanks!
 

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