I love the LCD2C, I just don’t love how it sounds all the time. I tried EQ’ing it, but the HD58X continued to dominate my listening time. I tried selling it, but Audeze launched a holiday sale and my asking price proved too much. So I put on some Dekoni Elite Velour pads, shortened the suspension strap, went wild EQ’ing it and lo and behold, the LCD2C has regained its throne atop my head!
The metal headband arch no longer rubs my head, my ears no longer sweat under the tightly sealing pleather pads and the sound, oh the sound …
yes, it’s good, very good, and it finally sounds like a more expensive headphone than the HD58X
Stock Pleather Sound
Except where otherwise noted, all measurements made on a MiniDSP E.A.R.S. using the HPN compensation (sort of a diffuse field tuning).
The LCD2C sounds largely like it measures.
- The star of the show
- Well extended and, thanks to the sealed front volume, palpable in a way that one wouldn’t expect from headphones
- Lacks the typical dynamic driver mid-bass hump, depriving it of some punch on kick drums and the like
- The midrange rises from the bass, peaking at the middle mids. This creates a somewhat euphonic presentation of vocals that works particularly well for choral music.
- Clarity in the 1-2 KHz region is at a good level, which probably accounts for the LCD2C sounding “detailed” and “resolving” though in combination with the peak in the middle mids, this can lead them to sound a bit ethereal.
- The presence region is severely recessed, robbing vocals, strings, brass and guitar of macrodynamic excitement. This does make the LCD2C “laid back” on music that’s been mastered hot in this range, but I find it too laid back. The dipped presence region is my biggest complaint about the LCD2C’s tonal balance and stands in stark contrast to the more dynamic sounding HD58X.
- One side-effect of this tuning is that it emphasizes many instruments’ fundamentals over some of their harmonics, which can sound “warm”. This is however different from a traditional warm tuning where the entire midrange slopes gently downwards.
- Treble rises steeply out of the presence region into a peak around 7.2 KHz that gives the treble some sharpness/roughness and can emphasize sibilance on some female vocals. Looking at the CSD, it looks like there might be a resonance here.
- The rest of the treble is somewhat mixed, though relatively dark in comparison. It rises steeply out of the presence region but remains dark in comparison to most of the mids and bass. While guitar and strings sound dull because of the dipped presence region, percussion sounds more exciting because 6-10 KHz has enough going on to give percussive attack a good level. A peak around 10 KHz actually makes cymbals sound relatively alive, and it extends pretty well into the high treble.
You can ignore the resonance at 4.5 KHz which is caused by my measurement rig.
Despite the somewhat odd tuning, if I let my ears adjust the timbre doesn’t sound too bad. Yet, when I compare directly to my HD58X, the timbre sounds noticeably less “realistic”. The problem persists even if I correct the tonal balance with EQ, so I suspect that there’s something else that’s off (perhaps the decay?).
Dekoni Elite Velour Sound
By itself, the velour pad swap represents a clear sonic downgrade. It maintains most of the flaws of the stock pleather pads plus it loses a lot of the clarity. It also loses a bit of bass extension, but not much.
Where the velours redeem themselves is in 1) smoothing out the treble and 2) fixing the timbre. The timbral improvement is difficult to discern without EQ because the missing clarity overshadows everything else, but in conjunction with EQ it becomes quite apparent.
The smoother nature of the treble can be seen on the CSD, where the 7 KHz resonance remains but the rest of the treble looks much cleaner:
EQ’d Velour Sound
Pre-gain: -10 dB
- With the stock pleather, it was possible to boost the bass by ridiculous amounts without distortion becoming a problem. That is not the case with the velours, so I had to be judicious in my application of eq.
- I added a mid-bass hump to add some punch, and a tiny bit of bass extension for rumble. It’s a mild adjustment but it works well.
- No longer forward of the bass
- The peak has moved to a higher frequency where it sounds more natural to me.
- Clarity from 1 to 3 KHz was just right on the stock pads, so I left this alone.
- The presence region is now much less recessed. Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Tin Pan Alley is my reference for checking macrodynamic excitement, and the (Un)LCD2C brings it. It still sounds “laid back” compared to the HD58X, but not overly so, and it works with the overall signature that I’m going for. note - the dip at 4 KHz is actually an artifact of my measurement rig and shows up on all my headphone measurements, so I don’t think it’s there in reality
- The peak and resonance at 7.2 KHz has been tamed
- The overall treble response is much more even now
- Treble remains a bit dark but well extended, just as I like it. However, it’s at an overall higher level than stock which helps open up the sound without becoming bright.
Another way to look at the (Un)LCD2C is in terms of the Harman-like HEQ compensation:
This shows a response that’s pretty close to Harman except for very slightly dark mid treble, bright higher treble, a slight recession around 2 Khz and slightly rolled off sub-bass. All of this makes sense given my personal preferences, as I like a bit of warmth, find the Harman sub-bass target a bit much, am sensitive to sibilance in the mid treble and am old enough that I need a little extra in the high treble to compensate for my hearing loss. The recession at 2 Khz is something I EQ’d in because it helps with perceived clarity and openness. I first tried boosting around 1.5 Khz, but that can make some things like piano and toms sound artificial. Dipping 2 KHz adds a similar amount of clarity without messing with timbre. It’s a feature that I’ve seen on measurements of Hifiman headphones and the Focal Utopia, so I think there’s something to it
The CSD shows that we continue to benefit from the velour’s smoothing of the treble, and EQ has effectively addressed the 7 KHz resonance as well. The midrange looks a tiny bit cleaner as well.
To my delight, the (Un)LCD2C’s timbre now bests that of the HD58X. Chris Thile’s Deceiver includes a lot of acoustic instrumentation and vocals, recorded with fairly minimal processing, which makes it one of my go-tos for checking timbre. The (Un)LCD2C passes the test with flying colors. While Deceiver is fairly heavy on string instruments, Introduction on Chicago’s Group Portrait includes a lot of horns, percussion, electric as well as bass guitars, and organ, which makes it a good complementary check for timbre. Again, the (Un)LCD2C comes off sounding very realistic. Another good check for timbre is Back Door Slam’s Roll Away, a sparse blues record that sounds like it was recorded a bit hot. When I’m experimenting with EQ, this recording will often sound wrong when others don’t, with drums either sounding hollow, cymbals cutting through the mix too clearly or Davy Knowles’ voice sounding overly edgy, but there’s no such problems with the (Un)LCD2C. Lastly but not least is Kurt Elling’s April in Paris which helps me make sure that piano and acoustic bass sound right, which they do.
Fixing the Imaging With 112dB Redline Monitor
With comfort, tonal balance and timbre fixed, the only remaining problem is the 3-blob imaging.
In the past, I’ve frequently used basic crossfeed like BS2B. This usually does a decent job of firming up the center image, but it does seem to mess with tonal balance in a way that dulls the sound. I’ve also tried more sophisticated speaker and room simulation like Out Of Your Head. These approaches can sound spectacular on some recordings and awful on others, but in both cases they’re not high fidelity–they’re clearly coloring the sound, adding reverb and other tricks.
Redline Monitor is different. Like basic crossfeed, it firms up the center image and narrows the soundstage a bit, but it seems to leave tonal balance largely unaffected and doesn’t dull higher frequencies. Although 112dB’s documentation claims that it moves the image forward the way one would experience with speakers, I find that effect to be subtle at best. Regardless, it cures the 3-blob problem. The soundstage is now contiguous and instrument placement is crisp and precise. While it’s narrower than stock, the soundstage remains relatively spacious (noticeably more so than the HD58X) and overall provides a great experience.
Overall, I really enjoy the (Un)LCD2C’s combination of a smooth, somewhat dark sound with a relatively spacious and open soundstage. I’ve grown accustomed to needing a boost in the high frequencies to get that sense of space, but not here. It’s a cool combo!
Note - to avoid having to run Redline Monitor in my output chain, I’ve preprocessed all of my music with a script like this.