If you’re an audio company, here’s a super handy pro tip for how to catch our attention, and make whatever you’re sending stand out from the massive pile of gadgets we have in the corner of our office. Take an existing, already awesome product, and make it cheaper and more accessible, without removing what makes it good in the first place. With their new LCD2C headphones, AUDEZE did that, and they definitely got our attention – but did they succeed? In this review, we break down the LCD2C’s design, comfort and fit, sound, packaging and accessories, specs and more, as well as how they compare to other models. You can also check out our video review.
To understand why we're so excited for the AUDEZE LCD2C, you need to understand a little bit about their history. Don’t worry – we’ll be brief.
The original model, the LCD-2, was released in 2009, and it is legendary. That word gets overused a lot in the audio world, but it’s entirely justifiable here. The LCD-2 is a pair of headphones that sold by the truckload, despite costing well over $1,000; it remains one of the best planar magnetic headphones of all time (planar magnetic, by the way, refers to the driver type found in the headphones - it’s known to give wider and more precise sound than dynamic drivers, which are typically but not always found on cheaper models) The bigger and far more expensive LCD-4 may technically be “better”, in the sense that it offers more pinpoint audio performance, but you only have to look at the sales figures to see which one most people prefer.
But of course, it’s 2018, not 2009, and planar magnetic technology has moved on a little bit. It’s no longer nearly as expensive as it once was – models like the Monoprice Monolith M1060 (full review here) offer planar tech for under $300 – and that means that the company has had to consistently innovate to keep up. The LCD2C - or LCD2 Classic – is a stripped down version of the original LCD2, new for 2018. It costs $200 less than the current retail price of the original, and it manages to pull off a tricky balancing act of keeping what made that original so good while ditching everything that might raise the cost.
(And by the way, just in case you think we’ve been a little sloppy with the editing: the original LCD-2 contains a dash in its name, while the LCD2C does not. Don’t ask us.)
So what are the differences? The famed travel case is gone. Cans from AUDEZE (pronounced Aud-E-Zay) have always come in a very sleek hard plastic case, resembling those used by professional musicians to protect their instruments. That’s out the window. Ditto for the wooden housing, which was one of the more distinctive features of the original. It’s been replaced by tough plastic. There’s a new headband, designed to help with the issues that the previous model experienced. And…well, really, that’s it. Them’s the differences. Small things, but ones which have managed to knock a couple hundred off the price. Give these people a beer.
What you still get is the distinctive shape, with the familiar subtle pattern on the outer surfaces and the giant, Princess-Leia-lookin’ housings, each of which holds 106mm drivers. You get the same squash she adds, and the same clicky-clacky adjustment brackets. And you know what? It’s a design that works. It worked in 2009, and it works now. Sure, it would have been nice to have the wood, but it’s hardly essential to the overall package. These may not be quite as sleek as the original, but they still look damn good. This is a headphone line that has one of the most recognisable shapes in the audio world, and it’s a joy to experience a new version of it.
The biggest question we had, before we even plug the headphones in, was whether the new headband would work as intended.
One of the biggest issues that the original LCD-2 had was that it was uncomfortable. For starters, it was heavy - 1.1lbs – and the new Classic weighs the same. That can cause problems over long periods, and one of the most common complaints about the original model was that it was tough to wear for long periods. The new suspension headband, with a leather band held underneath the rigid metal frame, is designed to combat that. And it works…kind of.
Although we felt we could wear these for longer than the original, that doesn’t mean they were super comfortable to wear. There was nothing wrong with the actual pressure on our ears – the clamping pressure and cup size were absolutely fine – but there’s no doubt that these started getting awfully heavy after a little while. While we respect the attempt to solve the problem here, it just doesn’t work as well as it should. There’s not enough flex in the band to really support extended listening. In this, AUDEZE could maybe take lessons from another similarly-capitalized brand, Romania’s MEZE. Their 99 Classics (full review here) have a similar design, with a headband suspended beneath the metal frame. Admittedly, they weigh a lot less, but there’s no saying that AUDEZE couldn’t draw from those principles.
Also, and we just have to say this: the height adjustment brackets are clunky and annoying and stupid and we hate them. They are murder to move, feel imprecise – despite having rigid slots – and just generally make themselves known as the most annoying part of the package. Which is a shame. It’s also worth noting that apocryphal reports of driver failure and quality issues occasionally pop up on online discussion boards; we can’t vouch for the truth of any of these claims, and we’ve certainly never had an issue with any products the company has sent us. On balance, you can probably take these with a grain of salt.
They have been very slight adjustments to the internals of the headphones in this new version. And we do mean very slight.
The magnetic structure of the drivers has undergone a slight downgrade, and the headphones no longer contain AUDEZE’s Fazor tech, which helps with resonances. But after comparing and contrasting the two headphones, only a fool would actually consider this a big problem. For the most part, the Classics managed to keep the soul of the sound intact.
You see, as good as the original LCD-2s were, they didn’t get their status by looking really cool. That helped, but that was only part of the package. They got their status because they sounded absolutely fantastic. The biggest thing they had going for them was their bass: it was deep, thunderous, intensely powerful, and yet had the ability to be amazingly accurate and delicate when called upon to do so. That was the biggest thing we were looking for with these new headphones, and we were chuffed to find out, from the moment we press play, that they hadn’t forgotten where they’d come from.
Hearing the bass on a pair of AUDEZE planars for the first time is an eye-opening experience. It’s not just that it sounds powerful – it’s that it seems to come from everywhere, like you’ve taken up residence in a booming thundercloud. It has a richness and warmth that we find addictive, and although you could argue that the Classics are perhaps just a tiny bit less defined on the low end than the original, it’s the kind of thing you would have to argue very long and very hard to prove, and frankly, it just isn’t worth it. These sound absolutely fantastic.
Admittedly, one of the other factors of the sound that hasn’t changed is that the highs are still not quite as prominent as that perhaps they should be. There’s a weird audiophile term that gets thrown around a lot: veiled. It’s shorthand for “There’s not a lot of detail.” Although we wish that this and all other audiophile slang would go back to the 1970s where it belongs, there’s also a grain of truth to it. If you find yourself listening to music that doesn’t have a huge amount of low-frequency content, like violin concertos or folk, then these might not be the headphones for you.
For the rest of us, these remain among the best-sounding headphones available. They are certainly the best-sounding cans you can get for under $1,000. Compare them to something like the similarly priced AudioQuest NightHawk Carbon (full review here) – which previously held the title - and they are definitely superior. We love the Carbons, and will extol the virtues to all and sundry, we’d be crazy to say they are better than the LCD2Cs.
You already know about the lack of a hard travel case. If that bothers you, then you can easily spend a little bit more and buy the older version. What you need to know is that with the Classics, there is no case. The cardboard box it comes in simply has shaped foam inserts included, which hold the headphones and accessories. Once you pull it out, you’re on your own (although second-hand cases do occasionally pop up on eBay – at the time of writing, we didn’t see any, but you could definitely keep an eye out).
What you do get is an absolutely fantastic braided cable, which looks and feels really cool. The Y bracket is a little pill-shaped piece of metal with the company logo front and centre, and the two ends terminate in mini-XLR connections clip that slide into the headphones with a pleasing click. You also get a branded USB stick, containing all the necessary documentation – no manuals here – as well as a warranty card detailing quality checks performed on headphones. All in all, a fun batch of accessories that don’t take anything off the table.
We don’t give out Editor’s Choice awards very often here.
They tend to be awarded for one of two things: products which genuinely push audio forward, or those which provide existing tech for a much more reasonable price, without sacrificing too much. If that sounds like it’s easy to pull off, it isn’t – as MEZE themselves found out with their 99 Neos, a stripped down version of the 99 Classics that left us suggesting that everybody just buy the originals in the first place. But here, AUDEZE have genuinely nailed it.
They dropped the price by enough to matter - by $200, or around a fifth of what the originals cost. They kept the parts of the product that made the original so good – the sound quality, the shape, the terrific cable. They may not have completely dealt with the criticisms of the original, but those are very minor points. And we keep coming back to the fact that they really achieved what they set out to do: produce a new version of a genuine classic, and introduce it to a new audience.
This isn’t a reboot. It’s a revolution: an adjustment to changing tastes and smaller wallets. And here at this site, we are very much in favour of anything that lets more people through the door, that lowers the barrier to entry and allows everyone to experience what hardcore audiophiles already know to be good. There are smart ways to do it, and there are dumb ways to do it, and this is very much in the former category. In our opinion, this is one of the best pairs of headphones available on the market today, and although we might catch quite a bit of flack for this, it’s one of the best models that AUDEZE have ever made.
AUDEZE stuck the landing. They kept everything we liked, and made it cheaper. And for under a grand, nothing, but nothing, sounds as good as these.
What We Like:
- Legendary sound quality.
- Distinctive shape.
- Excellent accessories.
- Translates a classic model for a new age.
What We Don’t:
- Clunky height adjusters.
- The new headband doesn’t really work.
With a similarly bassy sound signature, and design that is just as distinctive, this remains one of our favorite pairs of headphones available right now. It’s slightly cheaper than the Classics, and although the sound isn’t quite as refined, it’s still an absolutely unbelievable pair of cans. Also lighter, and more comfy to wear for long periods.
And it must be said, the accessories – multiple cables, cleaning cloth, leather case – are much better than those offered with the LCD2Cs. They look cool, sound great, and are in every way an excellent alternative. Read our in-depth review.
Damn, these are fly. If you want a pair of headphones that have a much more balanced sound signature, with a lot more detail in the high-end, these are the ones you go for. They both look and sound fantastic, maintaining the reputation of Focal’s headphone line.
Of course, they are also quite a bit more expensive than the LCD2Cs, and they also don’t have design that is quite as distinctive, being virtually identical to the cheaper Elears. All the same, there’s very little to complain about here, especially if you have the money to spend. Read our in-depth review.
Want to experience planar tech? Don’t have the moolah to drop on a pair of AUDEZEs? This should be your first port of call. With a similar design and a sound signature that is on nodding terms with the LCD2Cs, all for under $300, there’s very little to complain about.
However, you can expect minimal accessories, and build quality that could charitably be described as basic. We do like the M1060s, but they come with big caveats. Read our in-depth review.
|AudioQuest NightHawk Carbon||$568||25Ω||99dB||50mm||Dynamic||12.20z|
|Monoprice Monolith M1060||$299||50Ω||96dB||106mm||Planar||1.1lbs|