Audeze LCD-XC

Audeze LCD-XC Review

The Audeze LCD-XC is a new closed-back full-sized planar headphones featuring a beautiful wood finish and a 106mm planar diaphragm. It is priced at $1699.

Disclaimer: The Audeze LCD-XC sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. We thank the team at Audeze for giving us this opportunity. 

To read more about Audeze products we have reviewed on Headfonics click here.

Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2021 which you can read up on here.

Audeze LCD-XC
Audeze LCD-XC
With a highly musical flair 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.
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8.7
8.7
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$1699

About a year ago, Audeze released two new headphones in their lineup: The LCD-X ($1,699) and the LCD-XC ($1,799) to complement and fill a void between their previous generation models that included the LCD2/LCD3, and beyond.

I will admit, that I am not a fan of the Audeze LCD2 series and all of their revisions, nor was I a fan of the more recent Fazor upgrade revision to the LCD3 that altered the tone of the original.

However and with that aside, I was very fond of the tone of the original LCD3 and how memorable the musical experience had been. I am very particular about what makes me happy. It seems many enjoy the more natural, colorless appeal many flagships of late have been offering with regard to tone.

In the case of Audeze’s first closed-back Planar Driver endeavor: the LCD-XC, I quickly realized this headphone was something very different from the rest of the flagship crowd, something indeed very to my liking and that I regard with great reverence.

You see, this headphone is the first that I’ve taken months to review; this is a product that I’ve spent a great deal of my own funding to properly set up for my own personal enjoyment.

Normally, we reviewers earn our keep with audio companies via years of reviewing, gaining respect for the company and likewise that company respecting us for our opinions. I don’t get to keep products often; I have to fund them myself most of the time.

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Design

I’ve opted for the Iroko wood; I am a sucker for the lighter blonde wood appeal with dark contrasting grain. The LCD-XC used to be available in Bubinga, Purple Heart and Walnut wood options also but now just the Bubinga seems available online.

One thing I immediately noticed is the high-quality lacquer job Audeze has imposed onto these wooden cups: it feels very thick and layered with multiple coats. A closer look confirms this when I popped a friend’s loaner LCD-XC’s cups off to take a look at the inner area of the cup chamber.

The thickness and cut of the wood are fairly solid feeling, a bit thicker than Fostex’s TH900 wooden cups and even Lawton’s custom woodie cups as well. Quality aside, the thickness of the cut of wood that Audeze uses on the XC adds to the weight and firm feel of the cups themselves. Once you handle them for yourself, you will know what I mean.

Some other woodies, like the JVC HP1000 for example, make it easy to feel the lower quality wood simply by holding it. The HP1000 feels thin, hallow even, where the LCD-XC feels more solid, weighted, and of a higher quality.

From an artistic standpoint with absolute subjectivity in mind, Lawton’s TH900 and Denon D-series cups are untouchable with wood selection and flare. Summed up, the LCD-XC wood doesn’t feel cheap.

The LCD-XC’s framework is composed of metal all around, which of course adds to the already heavy experience in the wooden cups alone. It feels very sturdy and of a high-grade quality pretty much everywhere, even the screws used to bridge the cups to the driver plate are good quality.

 

Comfort

Most audio enthusiasts should be aware by now that Audeze headphones are not really known for immense comforts, quite the opposite. They are very heavy, clunky, and are even a bit tight with the clamp.

In the case of the LCD-XC, all 700g of it, the experience is noticeably less strenuous in the Microsuede pads and headband option. I’ve found the leather versions to be overly rigid and susceptible to uncomfortable heat, especially so on the LCD-XC model.

I’ve opted for the Microsuede version, I enjoy their texture much more than the leather versions, but more importantly, I find them to rest on my head with less of a vice grip than my leather LCD3.

I would assume the reason to be due to the more forgiving nature of the Microsuede material, which has a tendency to sink in and conform more efficiently than the leather version. I have no issue with the clamp or how the headphone rests on my head in the Microsuede version, but I did have some comfort issues when I demoed a friend’s leather version in the past.

Long listening sessions are no problem and I find that the Microsuede headband provides better support, thusly allowing the headphone to rest on top of my head without feeling lopsided.

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Cable Outputs

One design element that makes me absolutely livid is one that the LCD-XC and LCD3 share, which is that weird angled cable output at the bottom of each cup. It makes sure I am not allowed to tilt my head a bit down and to either side, without my shoulder meeting the cable ends.

Anyone ever experiences what I call the ninja sneeze while wearing the LCD-3 or LCD-XC, where one of those damn sneezes sneaks up on you, unexpected and random?

Well, if so I am sure you understand my frustrations with this design. If you can’t really move your head around freely without parts of your body getting in the way of the headphone, there is a design problem.

The cable ports should be on the rear side of the ear cups, either pointing downward or actually embedded into the ear cup itself. There is plenty of room to achieve that, in my opinion, and judging by the thickness of the metal brace just above each cable port, there is absolutely no reason for this weird triangle port design jetting out so far and at this specific angle.

LCD-XC

Travel case

I really love the Audeze travel case, always a great and fun experience to travel, and have to explain why I have a box that not only looks suspicious on the outside but also with a lot of wires on the inside as well.

If you have ever seen an Audeze headphone show up on the X-ray scanner at an airport, you know what I am talking about: instant sweat, panic set in as I grasp and pull on my shirt collar to vent some stress building up.

The quality of the included cables are pretty good, although I wish Audeze would start selling a shorter version, as well as some other adapter options to satiate the other Audiophiles out there who might want to use their product with one of the Ray Samuels amplifiers.

Minor gripes, but still stressful when you have to contract a third party company just to use the product with your portable rig.

Audeze LCD-XC

 

Synergy

Due to the great efficiency of the LCD-XC, rig pairing was made very easy. This headphone is not at all snobbish and reacts exceptionally well to multiple tone types in whatever your rig may be composed of.

On the list is a highly modified Astell and Kern AK120, worked on by Red Wine into what is known as the RWAK120B: an incredibly dynamic change to the stock sound via the complete swapping of the internal stock DAC’s in the player, with a balanced 3.5mm TRSS output drilled right into the volume knob.

Vinnie at Red Wine is a great guy and I am reviewing this player very soon. He’s also crafted me a 3.5mm balanced TRSS to RSA balanced interconnect, which bridges the RWAK120B to my Ray Samuels SR71B; one of the newer generation with some tweaks and upgrades made by Ray that include a higher output power rating.

I might as well feed the LCD-XC one of the best portable rig experiences available on planet Earth. Go big or go home, right?

The desktop rig is composed of the Balanced Oppo HA-1 USB DAC and amplifier, as well as the Burson Conductor SL9018, a Sansa Clip Zip Sport, and FiiO’s latest X1.

For referencing and comparison, I’ve chosen the Koss ESP950 Electrostatic, the Audeze LCD-3 Original, the Beyer Dynamic T1, and the JH16 Custom IEMs. I am also using a standard external hard drive to house my computer-enabled music library, which is always sourced via Foobar2000.

Sound Impressions

Bass

The bass quality on the LCD-XC is stellar, rivaling its brother the LCD3 and even besting the Sennheiser HD800 in my opinion. With regard to the balanced sound, the LCD-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 LCD-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 LCD-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.

Balanced Mode

In balanced mode via my Oppo HA-1, as well as my RSA SR71B, the LCD-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 strong point of the bass experience on the LCD-XC, I consider it one of the cleanest 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 LCD-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.

Audeze LCD-XC

Midrange

The LCD-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 seems 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 ballplayer like the LCD-2, X and LCD3 are. The LCD-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 LCD-XC in my view.

Clarity

I feel the LCD-XC offers 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 LCD-XC is gently brightened on the upper reaches of the midrange and into the treble, which provides 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 LCD-XC if possible. You won’t regret it.

Audeze LCD-XC

Treble

Oddly enough, the LCD-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 LCD-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 LCD-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).

The 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.

Soundstage

Audeze has improved the sound staging qualities and achieved something really special with the LCD-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 these headphones and I often get totally lost in numerous tracks with a spacious feel.

Background Coloration

The LCD-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 LCD-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 LCD-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.

However, for those who want a forward experience that is deep and visceral, the LCD-XC should be on your list.

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Our Verdict

The Audeze LCD-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.

Cons

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 the headphone’s 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. 

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 set up to be linear and without an emphasis on bass quantity.

 

Pros

With a highly musical flair 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 headphones 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 LCD-XC.

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 LCD-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.

Audeze LCD-XC Specifications

  • 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
  • Weight 700g
  • Cable length 2.5m (8.2 ft)
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