When Planar Magnetic headphones first hit the scene, there were three significant barriers to entry. First was the size. Most were big and bulky, and some couldn’t handle the weight wearing them for long periods.
The second was their efficiency. You couldn’t just plug them into a portable audio player and expect to get optimum performance. They didn’t have enough power. You had to get a dedicated amp to get the most out of them, which cost a lot of dough. That leads us into the third barrier…
The third barrier was the price. Besides the cash you had to lay out for an amp if you didn’t have one, most planar designs started in the 1k price range. And while you can get a decent pair for about $400-$500 today, the stars in the category still run about $800 and up.
That’s what I thought until I ran across the $399 Audeze LCD-1, a remarkable set of planar headphones that are not only affordable, they’re lightweight and can be driven from just about any source.
Audeze is a U.S. based manufacturer (California to be exact) that does one thing. They make impressive Planar Magnetic headphones. Most of their models are of the big, power-hungry, expensive variety, but they have also come up with smaller, more portable designs like the SINE on-ear and the iSINE in-ear.
The SINE (now discontinued) was their first portable planar magnetic headphone. It was designed to take the spacious and detailed sound Audeze is known for on the road, but it got mixed reviews due to comfort and tuning. Regardless, it was still a massive shift in PM headphone design and had plenty of potential.
The LCD-1 is their second crack at a portable planar headphone, and I think they hit it out of the park this time. Read on to see why!
First of all, comfort is no problem with the LCD-1. Unlike the SINE, it’s an over-ear model, so the pads go around the ear instead of resting directly on them. The pads and headband are also heavily cushioned, and the clamp is just about perfectly judged, even for a big head like mine. They are snug but without undue pressure on the head.
They’re also light in weight (8.8 ounces), which adds to their delightful comfort. Long listening sessions shouldn’t be an issue, at least from a comfort standpoint.
It also incorporates a lot of the same tech, including Audeze’s patented Uniforce voice-coil technology, efficient Fluxor Magnet Arrays, which allow designers to cut the usual PM bulk, and Fazor Elements. Fazor drivers are known for providing incredible imaging, something I’ve come to love about Audeze headphones.
Despite being light, the build seems stable and built to last. According to Audeze, each one is fully assembled in the U.S.A, which shows a deep dedication to quality control. In the box, you get a nice zippered hard-case to carry the LCD-1 in, a detachable cable with a 3.5mm plug, plus a 3.5mm to 1/4″ Plug adapter for use with a dedicated headphone amp.
Audeze LCD-1 Sound Impressions
For my sound tests, I used various sources ranging from an LG V60 smartphone with the ESS Quad DAC, an Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt DAC/Amp, to the highly-rated Topping A90/D90 Amp/DAC stack. It sounded good with all of them, but it got exponentially better as you upgraded the source. With the Topping gear, it was transcendent.
The LCD-1 is marketed as a headphone for both Home and Studio use, so it should be no surprise they have a balanced tuning. They don’t play up any part of the audio spectrum. Instead, they lean on space and precision to get their point across.
The first Audeze headphone I ever heard was the EL-8, and it probably was the headphone that first got me into Planar cans. I fell in love with its “live” sound; this was a headphone that put you right in the studio or at the concert.
The LCD-1 gives me many of those same vibes except without the same amount of bottom end slam and depth. As I expected, the smaller LCD doesn’t have the same dynamic weight of its bigger LCD brothers, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t “bring it” when it needs to.
Listening to Cecile McLorin Salvant’s “John Henry” put me right in the middle of an intimate jazz venue, with Cecile front and center, the drummer off to the right, and the piano to my left. Her voice was presented with such realism I could close my eyes and see her singing right there in front of me.
The upright bass and the bass drum also punctuated the air nicely, showing the LCD-1 could get down when it needs to; just don’t expect it to add excitement.
Listening to “Oct 33” by the Black Pumas, I was again wowed by the natural presentation of the singer’s voice, which was raspy and soulful. The strings and guitar were also full and rich.
If anything was lacking, it could be a tad bit of punch on the bottom end, but for me, the accuracy and precision of these headphones make them unique.
When compared to the Meze 99 Classics, another portable headphone around $399, I found the Meze to be more fun sounding, with bigger bass and a little bit more sparkle at the top, but they couldn’t compete with the LCD-1’s overall resolution and clarity.
The Wrap Up
The LCD-1 is the most lightweight, compact, and versatile planar magnetic headphone out today. It’s also one of the most comfortable and technically proficient when it comes to sound. I can’t believe it’s only $399. At that price, it may be the best headphone value out today. Highly Recommended, especially if you’re into neutral-sounding cans.
Buy Here: $399 [AMAZON]
I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My thirst for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.