Audeze LCD-XC: A True Heavyweight
Lets not beat around the bush, this headphone is shockingly beautiful but easily one of the most heavy headphones on the market. At 650g, it feels like a lead weight strapped to my ears. Silly weight like this forces the inability to fully enjoy my music for more than a few minutes. Sometimes, I feel a bit euphoric and even dizzy due to the immensity sitting on top of my head, ultimately taking me out of that reality escape I seek. Thankfully, the headphone sounds bloody marvelous with a virtually flawless sonic presentation.
I personally believe Audeze has created something special with the LCDXC. It offers a wildly engaging sound signature, one that subjectively seems perfectly balanced with a fun signature and tone, ultra high end clarity and efficiency. When comparing the LCD3 Fazor, it becomes instantly apparent that the XC offers a noticeably more colored experience, something less natural and more prone to what most might consider highly musical sound. More akin to the original tone sound of the LCD3 on a warm source and amp: slightly colored, gently bright treble with plentiful bass and a forward midrange.
The bass on this headphone is easily one of the smoothest and cleanest out of any headphone appearing in this report. Control is the strongest quality the low end offers in the XC, as I find the overall texture to be a bit lackluster and without the substance of the Hifiman HE-6’s bass type by comparison. Tone and texture was never a strong suit of the bass on Audeze headphones and it was clear they’ve opted for as pure of a sound signature on the low end as possible just as they always have. Where as Hifiman has a tendency to offer more body and solidity over Audeze’s pristine and liquid like bass experience, I feel the XC to offer a moderate quantity, yet one of absolutely the highest tier quality available.
The treble experience on this headphone is simply magnificent, fixing the boring and reserved treble response all prior Audeze headphones were tuned with. This XC model is very different and hinders on Hifiman tone and texture, a brighter flare with absolutely beautiful and stunning clarity without being sibilant in the slightest. I would say the XC offers the same general tone and texture to the treble Hifiman HE-500 but with a bit less brightness and quantity. Both remain excellent on the upper end and I would certainly opt for the HE-6 if you are into the treble thing, but know that the XC is no slouch and is much like what the Sennheiser HD800 treble can sound like when you get that dream rig and a proper quality track.
The stereo imaging on this headphone trumps the X and the LCD3 ( both versions ) in every way: height, width, separation, airiness and depth. A far cry from what Audeze headphones tended to sound like in the past, I truly hope this is a new staple of the Audeze brand for the future. Upgraded sound staging qualities are always appreciated and in this case, I find the XC to offer bar none the best overall stereo imaging qualities available in a Planar headphone, with a respectful nod to the Alpha Dog from MrSpeakers. Exceptionally well formed from top to bottom and making the HD800 sound a bit lopsided and frugal, as if the physical locale of the HD800 midrange is simply coming from below your eye level. Much like the AKG K812, the Audeze XC is highly intimate and sadistically engaging with a very forward midrange that never feels U-shaped or overly emphasized. This headphone, for the lack of a better word is tonally perfect in my humbled opinion.
Most Interesting Comparisons
XC vs Stax 007
The most intense flaw of the XC would certainly be the weight and the lack of a dark background, the Stax 007 has a much less colored and significantly darker backdrop. As a result of that, the Stax simply sounds more solid and layered. Considering it is a closed back headphone it still retains nice depth of field, it is a bit shocking that the XC still dishes out a wider and taller sense of staging. The Stax 007 also has a more hefty bass response with more quantity, however I feel like it doesn’t respond as deeply as the XC can. I also find the XC’s bass more interesting, more precise and more musical, the Stax 007 bass is quite boring and almost absent of texture that I would consider fun of vividly engaging. Two very different bass sound signatures in these headphones. No doubt the Stax 007 is a bit more clear sounding and dynamic on the treble, surprisingly I found both headphones to share similar quality in the midrange and left the debate undecided and too close to call for which model had superior vocal quality. The XC is noticeably more forward sounding, much more intimate yet oddly has a bit of snap and kick. Not sure this was a wise move, I’d rather have the XC exude a highly intimate midrange with a smoother approach to potential speed and snappiness. The Stax is much more smooth, more softly focused and offers a more pushed back, flat experience to the way the physical presentation is offered.
XC vs HD800
It is very hard to compare these headphones fairly, due to each one being literal polar opposites that retain similar sound purity. Where the HD800 is clinical and a bit cold at times, the XC is more inviting and leaning more toward the warmer and colored end of the spectrum. Musicality is top notch on the XC and an utter failure on the HD800 ( depending on the rig ). In some cases, you can squeeze out a bit of warmth and color through proper source and amplifier matching on the HD800, ultimately altering the sound type to your liking. However, that takes time, patience and experience. That is something XC owners do not have to worry about, the headphone simply sounds generally the same on most rigs. You can alter the sound signature a bit on the XC with an overly warm or overly neutral sounding setup, but it won’t let you toss it around nearly as much as the HD800 will with regard to sound signature and coloration fluctuations between rigs. The treble on the XC is always beautiful, always tonally enjoyable and never sibilant. However, the treble on the HD800 is a disaster until you can get a nice track. The XC is not a purists headphone, the HD800 is. The HD800 sounds much more firm than the more freely flowing, pristine and typical Audeze-type bass the XC exudes. No doubt the HD800 crushes the XC with sound staging qualities, but I am still impressed by the XC’s immensely airy and well formed stage.
Rig Recommendations: Due to the highly intimate and forward midrange, as well as the gently colored background effect of the XC, I would recommend a source or amplifier that retains a bit of bass coloration with very highly detailed texture on the low end. I’ve found that the Oppo HA-1 outperforms the Burson Conductor in this regard so I would probably go with something similar for amplification and source needs, no need to get a high output amplifier, higher voltage is detrimental to efficient headphones like this. Avoid notoriously U-shaped sound signatures. Get yourself a great USB Dac with at least 1.5watts of output driving power in balanced mode and enjoy. No amplifier needed. The XC pairs magnificently well with a Red Wine Astell and Kern AK120 combined with Ray Samuels RSA F-35 Lightning.
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