Audeze LCD-5 headphones

Years ago, as a side gig with a friend, I started a small business importing and distributing high-end women’s garments from European makers: swimwear, hosiery, bodysuits, underwear. At the time, the consistent fit and finish, comfort, and manufacturing quality we appreciated was hard to find stateside.

I never thought I’d see these two interests—women’s undergarments and hi-fi—converge, until I started researching this review of the $4500 Audeze LCD-5 headphones, the company’s current flagship.

Sometime in the middle of the previous decade, Audeze was seeking a better way to make comfortable, high-performance ear cups. A well-connected packaging vendor learned about this project and took the Audeze design team to visit a small factory in “the OC”—Orange County, California—that uses thermo-forming machines to mold foam into contoured forms for use in, among other products, push-up bras. Turns out, the requirements for these two product categories are not all that different. A curvy path then led to Audeze’s process for making better-fitting, contoured earpads for superior comfort, seal, and sound. The LCD-5 features the most recent version of this high-tech ear cup concept. The whole LCD-5 is manufactured close by, at Audeze’s facility in Santa Ana, also in the OC.

The LCD-5’s black leather earpads are the softest I recall ever nestling on my ear. But there’s more to these earpads than meets the skin—they were “sculpted to eliminate resonance and absorption as much as possible,” Audeze’s Chris Berens told me in an email. Audeze refers to Chris as their “artist-relations guru,” reflecting the fact that, in addition to the audiophile market, Audeze does a good bit of business in the pro-audio sector as well: recording and mastering engineers and musicians in the studio. Audeze’s top-range ‘phones have a reputation for being sonically revealing yet nonfatiguing, snug-fitting yet comfortable, even for long listening sessions—characteristics that endear them to musicians (footnote 1), recording engineers, audiophiles …

… and doctors? In 2016, industrial-design firm BoomBang and researchers from UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior approached Audeze for help designing a headphone that could be used inside an MRI machine. It had to cancel noise effectively (those MRI chambers are loud), incorporate a microphone, and—most important—be transparent to the scanner and safe in a powerful magnetic field. Herb Reichert told this story in Gramophone Dreams #56, including his assessment of the civilian version of the resulting headphone, the Audeze CRBN. I heard it at CanJam, powered by one of the same headphone amplifiers I used in this review, the Linear Tube Audio (LTA) Z10e. Audeze is in the gaming sector, too. The company made headlines lately when it was acquired by Sony, mainly for their gaming headsets; Sony, of course, makes the PlayStation. Apparently, the Audeze Maxwell is a major hit among gamers.

The product

Audeze’s LCD-5 headphone arrived nestled neatly in a black aluminum travel case, similar in its dimensions to my oboe case with a similar suitcase-style handle and molded foam inserts to secure the ‘phone in place. The case provides protection, which is good, and it looks rather serious: I felt conspicuous when I took the LCD-5 to the radio station to monitor my weekly show on WAIF, feeling more secret agent than deejay.

The case has latches; there’s even a key. The matte-black finish is susceptible to scratching, but that’s okay: A scratched aluminum case shows the headphones have been in action.

The LCD-5 is the successor to the LCD-4, which John Atkinson reviewed for Stereophile and Tyll Herstens reviewed and measured for InnerFidelity. Like its predecessor, the LCD-5 uses planar-magnetic technology. Planar drivers must have a large surface area, sometimes resulting in a headphone that is heavy and clunky. Yet the LCD-5 weighs 420gm, a little less than a pound, one-third less than its predecessor. The Audeze website calls that weight “blazingly” low, and it is indeed low for a planar magnetic, though it’s still considerably heavier than some dynamic headphones.

The LCD-5 incorporates several technical improvements over the LCD-4. The 90mm diaphragm’s Nano Scale polymer diaphragm is 0.5 microns thick—much thinner than the previous Ultra-Thin diaphragm and said to be among the world’s thinnest.

The LCD-5 drivers use proprietary, single-sided Fluxor neodymium N50 magnet arrays and a voice-coil concept called Parallel Uniforce. The idea is to vary the width of the conductor to match, or counter, variations in the magnetic flux to achieve uniform force across the membrane. The secret sauce is Audeze’s process of etching the headphone’s particular voice-coil pattern into the conducting layer. “Each headphone model has its own unique voice-coil pattern, which is computer-optimized for the best relationship to the flux density of its magnet arrangement,” Berens said in an emailed response to my questions. “The LCD-5 pattern is by far the most advanced and complex” of all Audeze’s offerings. “The Parallel Uniforce voice-coil is a big part of increasing efficiency while reducing weight, since we were able to use roughly half the number of magnets compared to LCD-4 while keeping the impedance low to make the drivers relatively easy to drive,” Berens said. All this technology adds up to a transducer with a sci-fi–sounding name: Nano-Scale Parallel Uniforce.

With all their headphones, Audeze strives for a house sound. Their proprietary target graph is similar, but not identical, to the Harman curve.

In addition to those soft leather earpads, the enclosures’ other structure had material updates. The headband is made of carbon fiber. The yokes, grilles, and some internal parts are magnesium. Other internal parts, including the stator plates, are aluminum. The yoke rods are stainless steel.

Whether a headphone is sealed or open-back—the LCD-5 is open—the ear cup’s interior and its seal with the user’s head is an engineered space that needs to be optimized for the soundwaves moving inside it. The tapered design of the LCD-5 earpads minimizes contact area while maintaining a good seal. Their shape is said to reduce interior reflections. The LCD-5’s “Fazor” waveguides—another technology with a sci-fi name—are said to organize soundwave energy, reducing diffraction close to the ear.

With some headphones, the earpad cushions attach with clips or magnets, making them easy to remove and switch out. Some companies even provide a variety of earpads to let you fine-tune the sound. The ear cups on Audeze’s higher-end models are attached semipermanently because Audeze is unwilling to compromise sound quality (footnote 2). Besides, Audeze argues, Audeze headphone users change earpads only every three to seven years. When it’s time to replace the earpads, they’ll send you a kit for $125, with a new set of earpads and instructions. Replacement is straightforward and takes about five minutes, Berens said.

The LCD-5 ships with a slender, braided 2.5m cable that ends in a 4-pin, balanced XLR termination. A ¼” adapter is included. Directional, high-purity, continuous-cast copper strands guide the signal. The cable feels substantial—it is likely to hold up well—but it’s not heavy and it is quite flexible. Customers may, of course, replace it with an aftermarket cable. Upon connection, the cables lock securely into place with a click.

When it comes to headphones, I’m not an easy fit. Most headphones need to be set to the smallest/tightest setting to stay securely on my noggin. The LCD-5 fit my head and ears with what felt like a very good seal with a couple of notches left over.

One final, well-conceived detail: The cable-connection sockets are positioned farther back on the ear cups than on many other headphones, which helps keep the cables out of the way—farther from your hands and out of your face. The cable’s “Goldilocks” length worked well for me: long enough to let me roll a comfy office chair around, but not so long that the cable dragged on the floor or found its way under the chair wheels in the studio at the radio station.


I plugged the LCD-5 into my PS Audio Sprout100 integrated amplifier’s ¼” headphone jack for a few score hours of break-in time. Serious listening started with the Audeze sourced and driven by the Mytek Brooklyn Bridge DAC/streamer/preamplifier—the discontinued version, not the current one—playing tracks from my computer’s SSD via a USB connection. To listen balanced, I fed Brooklyn Bridge’s line output to the Mytek Liberty THX AAA HPA headphone amplifier, using the Liberty’s balanced XLR jack to connect the LCD-5. Later, I listened through a loaner LTA Z10e.

Whatever source/amplifier setup I used, aspects of the LCD-5’s signature sound seemed consistent: air, spaciousness, and openness combined with copious fine detail. The LCD-5 was plenty revealing. The LTA amplifier supplied more body, while the Mytek amplifiers enhanced detail. My guess is that most audiophiles would prefer the LTA, a pairing Audeze specifically recommended to me, though for studio use, something like the Mytek might be a better fit. It depends what you’re listening for, I guess.

The LCD-5 encouraged me to listen anew to corners of my music collection that had been gathering dust, including some old Y2K-era compilation CDs. I cued up a couple of tracks from DJ Pogo Presents Block Party Breaks – Classic Original Breaks and Rare Funk 45s (16/44.1 FLAC CD rip, Strut Records STRUTCD002), a collection of classic tracks whose grooves got (and still get) sampled on hip-hop tunes. Esther Williams’s “Last Night Changed It All (I Really Had a Ball),” the CD’s first track, kicked off the party with crisp percussion, disco-style strings, and a catchy chorus. The production’s individual elements were distinct, easy to hear—it’s clear why these ‘phones are popular among sound engineers. Next up, the fun, funky wah-wah groove on Badder Than Evil’s “Hot Wheels (The Chase),” which poured into my ears heavy and thick, infectious and irresistible. Next, I listened to Babe Ruth’s rendition of “The Mexican,” by Babe Ruth songwriter and guitarist Alan Shatlock, which originally appeared on the album First Base. I encourage you to listen then guess where the band is from (footnote 3). The revealing nature of the LCD-5 kept me listening, rapt, tuned in to track-to-track production variations. On all these tracks, the music sounded full-blown, spread out, spacious. Instruments expanded beyond the headphones—beyond my ears—in various directions.

Footnote 1: They seem to have a special affinity for guitarists: The LCD-5 publicity pack features photos of Julian Lage and Bill Frisell.—Jim Austin

Footnote 2: A graph provided by Audeze shows a significant reduction in low-bass output with clip-on earpads—but also significant changes in the treble, especially the presence region. See audeze.com/blogs/technology-and-innovation/why-we-use-adhesive-to-attach-earpads-on-our-upper-end-models.

Footnote 3: Babe Ruth was an English band founded in 1971. “The Mexican” was an early hit at discos. It is “considered influential in the early development of b-boying and hip-hop culture,” according to Wikipedia.

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3412 S. Susan St.
Santa Ana
CA 92704
(714) 581-8010


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