Normally, my reviews are not started until at least 200 hours are achieved with the product, without 200 hours of actual usage I feel I’ve failed and cannot truly grasp what this sound offers, what its true colors are and how my ears react to it. After this point, I begin swapping as fast as possible between other brands models with a similar price tag. Step one is to note any immediate or apparent differences that are extremely obvious: headphone A sounds thinner, B sounds thicker, which has more coloration to the treble, which one has more bass, which has bigger staging properties? This process is tedious, I usually spend a few hours per review doing nothing but swapping back and forth between products. In the case of the XC, I decided to ignore all properties of the sound presentation and focus on Bass: which is usually what most audio lovers feel is Audeze’s most prolific sonic trait. While tuning everything else out in a Zen like state of mind, I begin the hunt for control factor, bass thickness, thump quantity and a host of other bass related physical qualities.
Bass quality on the XC is stellar, rivaling its brother the LCD3 and even besting the Sennheiser HD800 in my opinion. With regard to the balanced sound, the XC is different from all the past Audeze models in that the soundscape itself is relatively equal on all fronts. No heightened bass response over the mids or treble, instead all three of the primary sound qualities lay parallel to one another and none offer more quantity than the other. This is the most balanced sounding Audeze headphone and one without emphasis on bass quantity, but instead a direct focus on bass quality, although there is midrange forwardness and a high level of immersive qualities. I find it pristine in cleanliness, immensely satisfying in lushness and smoothness without being potent on the slam effect. I do not find the bass to dip as deeply compared to my LCD3 original, which during testing responded better to EQ Bass Boosting and felt noticeably deeper with certain tracks compared to the XC. This isn’t a negative thing, instead think of this as something a smooth headphone should be. Reaching too deeply and becoming more of a bass head headphone is not what the XC is all about. This is a highly musical and fun experience in tone, but one with a smooth and more linear approach on the low end compared to the mid and treble response: reference in setup, musical in tone. This tone is incredibly rare to find in the audiophile flagship headphone universe.
In balanced mode via my Oppo HA-1, as well as my RSA SR71B, the XC bass had remained impressively clean. The headphone retains yummy physical slam that I find highly engaging, yet never once felt annoyingly forceful. Liquidity is a strongpoint of the bass experience on the XC, I consider it one of the most clean bass experiences available in a Planar driver design and I enjoy it much more than the likes of the noticeably more dry and neutral Sennheiser HD800. There is a hint of warmth to the XC bass, even so on some neutral rigs like my Burson 9018, which is one of the most colorless experiences I’ve heard in a while. This is a headphone for someone who enjoys a musical approach on the bass with a silky soft, liquid like physical texturing.
When judging the midrange of a headphone, I look to sound staging and presentation locale first. Placement of the soundscape is vital and fairly easy to judge in a factual way: is it forward sounding or more V-shaped, (perhaps something in between?) After this, I listen for the subtle detail response in vocal tracks: can I hear the artists breathe behind the mic or in between lyrics, can I feel the impact of certain instruments that are recorded close to the microphone, how deep or cavernous does the recording sound through this headphone compared to another? After this, I specifically hunted for the lushness in the voices of various tracks that I enjoy and know to be well recorded; aiming for how the edge work to the midrange feels to my ears: how much weight do lyrics carry in the stereo void, are they thin or thick, realistically weighted or artificially thin, is there any inkling of coloration or brightness to the upper end of the midrange in vocals, any sibilance?
The XC offers a very forward midrange sound signature, one that feels very well endowed with light jazz and blues tracks, slower paced music in general. I’ve found that fast paced rock or metal seem a bit out of place and can actually feel a bit meshed together with regard to vocals detail getting lost in the scramble. Once again, I consider this forgivable because this headphone was not meant to be a fast paced ball player like the LCD2, X and LCD3 are. The XC is best suited for moderate paced tracks with linear balanced sound signatures, at least in my opinion, and performs remarkably well with vocals in general. This headphone is certainly the alpha of the pack for Planar drivers outside of the Abyss, as I do find the overall mid-clarity supreme and above any other Planar I’ve yet owned. I do think the Abyss Planar is superior but we are talking a marginal improvement for near $4,000 more over the price of the LCDXC in my view.
I feel the XC to offer a bit more clarity damn near everywhere over its brother the LCD3, but both are different beasts that would appeal to different tastes in presentation from audiophile to audiophile. With regard to tone coloration, the XC is gently brightened on the upper reaches of the midrange and into the treble, which provide that satisfying engaging quality I yearn for in Jazz and Big Band genres. Without being snappy or overly harsh, that hint of brightness is music to my ears and something that I find very refreshing when I consider the reference tonality that seems to be running rampant in the top of the line flagship headphone universe. If you desire a yummy and musical experience that is very forward and engaging, lush and vivid, try to wrap your ears around a demo set of the XC if possible. You won’t regret it.
Looking towards the treble, the first quality to search for is brightness, closely followed by sibilance and slam effect: are the headphones overly hot or painful, hissy or potentially annoying in anyway on the upper end? Oddly enough, the XC has the most enjoyable treble I’ve yet come across in a flagship. In most rigs, I am not fond of the Sennheiser HD800, as it requires too much of a specialized and expensive rig to really sound fantastic, however the XC from Audeze pairs great with most rigs I’ve tested with and does not seem to falter much in the peaked areas of the sonic spectrum. Unlike the previous Audeze models, the XC’s treble is a fair bit brighter and more vividly engaging. It is also noticeably less sibilant than the LCD3 original, more akin to the Stax 007 in quality (all be it not as plentiful in quantity compared to the Stax 007). Slam factor is excellent and well within the world of enjoyable, far from relaxed in both placement and weightiness. Via my portable rig that is composed of a Red Wine RWAK120B and the RSA SR71B in balanced mode, the experience is solid and firm on the upper end and without even a hint of dryness.
I am a sound stage lover, so the sheer size of the stereo imaging is vital to my happiness: sadly Audeze has never really been the brand to invoke a sense of exceptional staging quality. Despite that sentiment, Audeze has improved the sound staging qualities and achieved something really special with the XC’s ability to sound eerily spacious for a closed back headphone. While not particularly astonishingly wide sounding, the stage height, depth and air factors are excellent and made that much more enthralling by the forward midrange that listener’s ears are able to pick up on sounds looming behind. Behind those forward vocals exists another world with a nice sense of spaciousness, that reach out behind the artist feel is primed on this headphone and I often get totally lost in numerous tracks with a spacious feel.
The XC’s background type offers a brighter and omnipresent appeal, something noticeable. I feel like a completely nonexistent background similar to the Fostex TH900 or similar, as well as a noticeable blackened backdrop would only enhance the amazing stage depth and vocals, which are exceptionally well formed. Staging is impressive to say the very least and it certainly shocked me upon first listen. I think the sense of width is superior on the Fostex TH900, however the general bubble and stereo void of the XC feels larger due to the highly engaging, forward midrange that meshes very nicely with the headphones depth of field. Where the TH900 is more like sitting a row or two back, something more relaxed in presentation, the XC is much more forward and immersing. The XC is not a relaxed headphone in terms of presentation, so those who enjoy a wider stage setup are probably not going to enjoy the sound signature of this XC. However, those who want a forward experience that is deep and visceral, the XC should be on your list.
Ridiculous price aside, the XC houses a tone that I absolutely adore and want to see more of in the future. I enjoy the musical experience, but I do have some gripes. Firstly, the stage width is relatively average, but does become less obvious when you put some time into the headphone. Once my ears adjust, I forget about the lack of width and simply can’t detect it until I stop enjoying the track and specifically hunt for it. The lack of width is made up for by the lighter, excellent airier sense in the space that is available.
Bleeding edgework is a the headphones biggest flaw, I’ve found that instruments on the outskirts of the stereo void are a bit messy sometimes, slightly skewed and warped and meshed together. Total detail loss sometimes, as it becomes a haze of noise due to the constrained stage width, but this really isn’t so much of a problem in a few other flagships out there that don’t have great stage width. Sets like my Koss ESP950, a headphone from the early 1990’s, still had better detail retrieval on the very edges of the stereo void at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions, swapping between the headphones on the same track instantly showcases the XC’s problematic edgework and lack of definition on the extreme left and right of the soundscape.
Another problem I have found is the lack of bass deepness and rumble factor; this is forgivable of course because it’s clear the headphone was setup to be linear and without an emphasis on bass quantity. But, the XC doesn’t respond as well to bass boosting as I thought it would and does lose control quicker than its brother the LCD3, both versions. I simply want more quantity, but that’s just me.
With a highly musical flare and appeal to it, the LCD-XC is a musical experience second to none in the closed back world, something I have found myself enjoying thoroughly for some time and wish to continue using as a primary headphone. Hardly any other headphone can really hit me on an emotional level and sustain my interest for this long. This is quite a statement for me, I’ve just recently come off experiencing 13 other Flagships at the same time and almost none of them made the cut except the XC. I am really hard to please and try hard to justify both sides of the coin: The consumers view, as well as the audiophile without spending limits view. Usually, my ears get bored after a few days, which is why audiophilia burns a hole in the pockets and PayPal accounts of listeners like me. We need more than one headphone, at least two or three of varying sound signatures to keep our ears unadjusted. Once adjustment takes place, the headphone usually gets shelved. In the case of the XC, after months of usage I’ve still not adjusted. This is a wonderful thing for me. The XC has sustained my interest for extended periods of time, unlike any other Planar to date.
Style Closed circumaural
Transducer type Planar magnetic
Magnetic structure Proprietary self-closing design
Magnet type High-grade Neodymium
Diaphragm area 39.8sq cm (6.17sq in)
Maximum power 15W (for 200 ms)
Optimal power 1-4W
SPL > 130dB with 15W
Frequency response 5Hz – 20kHz extension to 50kHz
THD < 1%
Impedance 20 ohms
Efficiency 95dB / 1mW
Cable length 2.5m (8.2 ft)
2.5m (8.2ft) 6.35mm (1/4in) to dual 4-pin mini-XLR cable
2.5m (8.2ft) 4-pin XLR to dual 4-pin mini-XLR cable
6.35mm (1/4in) to 3.5mm (1/8in) stereo adapter
Ruggedized travel case
Wood care kit
Personalized frequency response graph available through [email protected]