Comparison to LCD2C
I’ve revisited my EQ settings for the LCD2C and have been using the HD58X as a baseline in terms of natural tonality. As a result of this, I’ve collected a fair number of impressions comparing these two headphones and I figured I’d share them here.
The HD58X sounds incredibly realistic. With some mild EQ to fill in the bass and smooth out the low and mid treble, it sounds a lot like my JBL LSR305 monitors with elevated bass and more treble clarity at a similar overall treble level. It’s punchy and clear enough to reward listening at lower volumes. At higher volumes, it can become a bit stuffy. It images very well within a somewhat intimate soundstage (which is adequately large for me). Although I couldn’t give you an intelligent description of what influences macro-dynamics and why they would vary between two sufficiently driven headphones, I can tell you that the HD58X really makes volume contrasts pop, both those that build gradually and those that happen suddenly, which makes for a very engaging sound. The LCD2C by comparison sounds very flat when it comes to volume dynamics. It becomes somewhat more dynamic at higher listening levels, but so does the HD58X. The HD58X’s bass performance in level, extension and detail is pretty good for a small dynamic driver open-back, and better than the HD600, but it’s not the star of the show.
The LCD2C sounds unrealistic in comparison to the HD58X. It improves somewhat with careful EQ, so that instruments and voices sound quite tonally accurate, but even after tonal correction they fall short of the HD58X’s realism. A great example of this is the German voice at the beginning of First We Take Manhattan on Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat. On the HD58X, one can clearly tell that the voice sounds like it’s coming over a somewhat imperfect analog radio transmission. On the LCD2C this is much less apparent and you almost have to know to expect it to have any chance of hearing it. It’s possible that this is just due to some missing frequencies and that I haven’t gone far enough with my EQ, but to my ear it sounds more like the LCD2C lacks the micro-dynamics to properly render the subtle amplitude modulation in the simulated radio transmission. Perhaps these lacking micro-dynamics also account for the inferior imaging, which does a convincing job of separating and layering sounds but leaves them hard to place precisely within the soundstage.
So the HD58X is a better headphone, right? Well, that’s where things get frustrating. The LCD2C has some redeeming qualities that keep drawing me back to it for certain genres. The most significant is its big and low distortion bass. By big, I don’t necessarily mean elevated in level, it just has this sort of force that’s more visceral, and it feels more like it surrounds you than comes at you from a little pinpoint driver like on the HD58X. The low distortion allows the LCD2C to present a lot more texture in the bass region and, while the HD58X generally sounds more realistic, the LCD2C sounds more realistic in the low registers. The LCD2C’s other redeeming quality is a smoothness and black background that give it a feeling of spaciousness and size. Listening with the LCD2C is a little like standing at the edge of an ocean, the sound just washes over you, with an irresistible grandeur that pulls you in and a power that threatens to submerge you in its vastness. These qualities serve it well one some specific genres that I hit in my test:
Electronic, heavily processed or beats-driven music like Big Smoke on Tash Sultana’s Flow State. This song actually has real guitars and voice, not just synthesizers, but it’s pretty heavy on the effects and relies on a strong bass line with an almost dub-step kind of sound. The HD58X’s realism is wasted here because that’s not what this song is about. The LCD2C’s powerful bass and clean background work really well with this song, and it’s timbre is good enough not to make me question the accuracy of Tash’s voice. The less precise imaging doesn’t really bother me here because there’s so much electronic instrumentation and I can’t really imagine what this music would sound like live anyway.
Choral music like Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen on Bach’s Matthäus Passion. It’s big and atmospheric and often performed in highly reverberant spaces like cathedrals in which individual voices become almost impossible to place and the sound just kind of washes over you. The LCD2C excels in conveying that big, reverberant sound.
Bass-centric small ensemble stuff like Abraham’s New Gift on Phronesis’ Alive. So much of the most interesting sonic content is in the bass register, and the LCD2C is just so much clearer and powerful there that this trumps the HD58X’s advantages, though truth be told the HD58X is not bad here, the LCD2C is just excellent.
Overall the HD58X comes across as very well rounded whereas the LCD2C comes off as a bit of a specialist that can really rise to the occasion given the right task, but is difficult for me to just leave on for long listening sessions because I invariably encounter something that doesn’t sound right (not to mention it’s heavy and sweaty!).