For today’s review, we look at the Audeze LCD-5 flagship planar headphones featuring a new internal driver and magnet structure with improved weight. It is priced at $4500.
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Audeze LCD-5 Review
The Audeze LCD-5 is the most mature-sounding and cohesive high-end Audeze headphones to date. Importantly, it is their most likable tuning with plenty of verve and character and absolutely excellent levels of detail to go along with it.
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2021 has been a cracking year for high-end headphone releases so I honestly was not that surprised that Audeze joined the party last month with the release of not just one, but two high-end headphones, the CRBN, and the LCD-5.
The CRBN is an electrostatic headphone pitched to take on the likes of the Shangri-La Jnr and high-end Stax models and we will have a review on that very shortly. The second, the LCD-5, is from Audeze’s legacy high-profile LCD Series, or more accurately, the Flagship Series.
Of the two, it’s the LCD branding that is perhaps the most emotive or with the most ’emotional investment’ within the audiophile community. And yes, if you have noticed this is the new TOTL in the flagship series and it does come with a slightly higher price than the older LCD-4.
However, sporting a new design, improved weight management, and upgraded internal engineering, the LCD-5 promises a number of notable improvements over the LCD-4.
The LCD-5 is an open-back circumaural planar magnetic headphone but it is not an iteration of the LCD-4. In fact, it is more or less a completely new headphone from the ground up and in comparison to the previous LCD Series implementations.
Everything from the driver, (coil and trace), and magnet implementation, to the external design materials and pads have gone through a collective R&D reset.
Previously, every LCD Series headphone aside from the LCD-1 used a standard and very large 106mm driver size, and that included the LCD-4. The LCD-5 now comes with a completely new but slightly smaller 90mm transducer size.
The new driver has still been implemented with Audeze’s current Fazor waveguide, a nano-scale diaphragm thickness, as well as 14 Neodymium N50 magnets in a single-sided Fluxor magnet array. However, even here there have been some improvements, partly from the 2021 revisions but also as a result of some feedback from previous implementations.
For example, the Fazor waveguides are now inside the earcups with a lower profile to further reduce diffractions and interactions with the ear. Physically, they will not touch your ear if you happen to be pressing against the floor of the cups.
Another example is the spacing between the magnets themselves and the new voice coil, (see below for more detail) which has been enhanced to optimize the staging quality and resolution of the LCD-5 performance.
I am also going to presume Audeze has ever so slightly lifted the new convex ear pad rings from the main housing a little further to enhance the ventilation performance in line with the other 2021 revisions.
Nano-Scale Parallel Uniforce™
Those with a good memory will recall that the LCD-4 originally launched as a 100Ω rated headphone before quickly moving to 200Ω after some notable driver issues. The high impedance rating was largely due to the aluminum traces pattern on the LCD-4 diaphragm being too small to handle a lower impedance load.
If you note, most of the alternative LCD headphones such as the LCD-4Z and MX4 are a lot easier to drive so one big aim of the LCD-5 was to ensure it also has a similarly low load with their newly developed longer voice coil.
To allow them to reduce the load and make the new LCD-5 transducer easier to drive, Audeze implemented a new trace pattern with varying width parallel traces that increase voltage headroom by altering the current density within each trace.
In turn, this improves the control over the diaphragm with a more even and uniform level of force which helps to lower the distortion levels more than previously possible.
Whilst visually this is still very much a striking-looking LCD headphone, the LCD-5 bears very little engineering resemblance to the previous line-up. Gone are the woody enclosures, so also the big arching carbon fiber and pivot block headband structure, but most importantly, gone is almost 300g of weight.
Yup, outside of the LCD-1, the LCD-5 is the lightest LCD headphone ever created at 420g. True, not Ether 2 light but it does emphatically deal with one of those enduring complaints that LCD headphones were simply too heavy to wear for long periods.
This is a much easier-to-handle headphone compared to the LCD-4 which weighs in at a bulky 690g and you will feel that difference on your head also with very little if any vertical pressure hotspots.
To bring down the weight, just about every aspect of the LCD-5 external engineering was changed and that includes swapping out the heavier wood enclosures with ‘Tortoiseshell’ dyed and polished acetate enclosures. Moving from 106mm to 90mm drivers also helps to reduce the overall diameter of the acetate enclosures shedding a few more grams in the process.
The enclosures are held in place with a single molded black finished magnesium gimbal that houses a completely new adjuster rod system that does away with the older LCD-4 pivot blocks further reducing the weight of the LCD-5.
The LCD-5 still uses a mini-XLR connection system but this time its placement is to the rear of the cup and very close to the gimbal. It is also slightly higher up on the enclosure and close to the gimbals allowing for a less extreme angle to prevent cable-to-collar abrasion.
One thing to note also is the lack of visible screws holding the gimbals in place which are now on the underside. Combined with the integrated rod molded design this allows the entire yoke system to get really tight to the enclosures, reducing design flow interruption whilst still articulating perfectly.
Audeze is also using the same gimbal black magnesium finish for the connector enclosures which gives it an almost seamless and very attractive flowing design from the gimbal to the connector.
New Headband System
The changes do not stop there. Audeze still opted for a lightweight carbon fiber headband and pressure strap system for the LCD-5 but aesthetically and functionally it is quite a different solution. Visually, it’s a more uniform dual-band carbon fiber arch and not as expanded as the LCD-4 but a little thicker and more rigid.
The leather strap underneath is also a bit narrower but like the headband, it is also a little thicker as well as being cut with a number of perforated holes for improved aspiration when on the head.
There are some pros and cons in terms of the comfort levels of the LCD-5. This is primarily related to the improved weight, but also due to a new earpad design and the higher level of clamping force. Of course, different head shapes mean different experiences so I can only speak about mine in this regard.
First of all, the vertical pressure is excellent. The reduced weight and headband system makes a huge difference here with zero vertical pressure hotspots and greater freedom of movement. The adjuster rods do not feel too notchy either when adjusting though with my head size I have them on the lowest setting.
However, I do feel there is a bit of a missed opportunity with lateral pressure due to the additional clamping force combined with the new earpads that have a reduced contact surface design.
Just to dive into those new earpads first they are a little bit reminiscent of the convex designs from the Abyss Diana series only much bigger. The pitch behind this new sculpted pad shape was to reduce unwanted resonances and interior reflections in the acoustic space around your ear.
However, as a consequence, the high level of clamp and narrow contact point do negate some of the gains in the light design by creating a more fatiguing level of pressure on the side of your head. It will soften a little over prolonged use but at the outset, I was getting about 2 hours of use before I felt fatigued by the experience.
I am told by Audeze that a new alternative headband is being created for ‘larger heads’ since it might not affect everyone. However, if it does, my advice is to continue using it to soften it up and wait for that headband option to come out. The benefit of the new easy screw rod system means you can change the headband very easily now on the LCD-5.
The 2.5m stock cable is still entitled Premium with similar Rean mini-XLR connectors and a 6.35mm jack as standard but the wire and some of the finishing has been tweaked.
The previous 20AWG silver-plated single-crystal OCC copper has been swapped out for some new directional OCC high-purity copper of which I presume has a similar AWG as both old and new cables seem diametrically similar.
Personally, I think the switch to copper is a good move here as SPC tends to tease out a bit more treble energy which might unbalance the delicate upper-mids tuning on the LCD-5 whereas copper will generally give it an earthier smoother tone.
I am not entirely sure Audeze has retained the Neutrik jack termination or heavily customized it but in any event, the polished branded finish and the smaller size is an upgrade on the raw and weighty LCD-4 Neutrik jack. That look is also enhanced by the new look lower profile rubber strain reliefs that replace the rather DIY’ish heat shrink wrap from the older Neutrik barrels.
Aside from that, the external jacket seems unchanged on the cable so it handles well with no memory retention, stiffness, or unwanted microphonics.
Packaging & Accessories
The LCD-5 comes packed inside an aluminum travel case which in turn is well protected by 2 foam inserts inside a regular brown courier box. The aluminum case is larger and slightly different in design from the standard Economy LCD Travel Case though the mechanics and internal foam lining follow a similar pattern.
I can’t say if it is weatherproof like the Premium Travel case but it does have an upscale and smoother-looking external finish compared to the Economy version that comes with the likes of the LCD-XC 2021. Like the smaller economy case, you do get a set of small keys to allow you to lock the LCD-5 version which is rather handy considering the price of the headphones.
Aside from the keys you also get a warranty card in its own separate thin foam slot and a very handy pair of white cotton gloves if you are OCD in the handling of the LCD-5 headphones. These keep the fingerprints off the enclosures and cut down on any unwanted transfer of dirt and grease from your hands.