Audeze, revisited

Richard Metgzer tries out a pair of Audeze for the first time. Photo: Xeni Jardin

Our pal Richard Metzger of Dangerous Minds, one of the most serious music lovers and audiophiles I know, got his hands on a review unit of the Audeze LCD-3 planar magnetic headphones this weekend. I was there when he put them on for the first time, and snapped the photo above. This, ladies and gents, is his happy-face. He was listening to Nico. I put 'em on myself for a while, and listened to a high-quality file of "Tomorrow Never Knows." I heard things in that song I've never heard before.

Holy crap. Jason Weisberger wasn't kidding when he wrote this earlier Boing Boing review, and described them as life-changing. My colleague David Pescovitz liked 'em too. Yes, they're like ~$2K a pair, and I personally wouldn't be able to afford them right now. But they're more like a ~$20K super high-end sound system, crammed into a mobile form. I totally get it. Suck it, haters.

Richard says he spent the rest of the evening listening to the Clash's Sandinista, the Beatles' Abbey Road, George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, and others. I bet he heard things in those records he's never heard before, too.

I am not an audiophile, and I don't even own a proper stereo system. But for the rest of us, I'd say the best way to explain how these headphones transform the listening experience is this: think of HD television or movie downloads, compared to watching something on a VHS tape. You just experience greater fidelity, and the resulting experience is so much more immersive and rich.

This will come in handy.

* Disclosure: No, I do not own a pair. No, I have not received a pair as a loan or as a gift. No, I am not even sucking up to Audeze so that they will give me a pair. I just thought they were notably dope.


    1. Obviously our high priests neglected to consult the Infallible Scrolls of Boing before posting. You know how much we hate to be non-dogmatic.

      1. I am so pleased to see that my prediction that someone would immediate pop up and douche out was CORRECT. 

        Yes! I am right, on the internet, once again!

        1. as a newish reader, I’m confused by this exchange. while linkman’s post may be a bit of a blunderbuss approach in making such a point, I fail to see what Antinous’ snide remark contributes to the dialouge, and I find it particularly odd that “docuhe out” would be a phrase that would be slung out so readily at such a minor criticism, particularly given the previous posts this blog has made regarding such tech. Perhaps I can look forward to such a retrogressive characterization of this comment as well.

          1. linkmans post makes the bafflingly popular assumption that boingboing is some kind of syndicated official news source with strict editorial and narrative guidelines, and that lining up apparently contradictory posts to the current one is a killer ‘gotcha!’ proving they have failed to live up to the core values in their corporate mission statement.

            Apparently, the moderators at boingboing can only address that complaint about 50 million times before the whole thing dissolves into farce.

          2. I think your reply needs to be framed. It’s seriously so nice it hurts. It’s like that moment at the movie theater when the screen is black, then wham… light. 


        2. So far we have pretentiuos wine parties = douchey, pretentious audiophile gear douchey, pretentious posters = douchey, and pretentious replies towards pretentious posters douchey!

          Looking forward to tomorrow’s douchey/not douchey news.

    2. If you can’t tell the difference between a $500 maple knob and $2K of actual high quality electronics, I can see why you might get upset at the occasional jab at audiophiles.

    3. Yeah and also why doesn’t boingboing present a consistent editorial view on bananas, and also the moderation. And also I expect more from boingboing.

    4. You do realise that not EVERY piece of audio equipment is for an audiophile?

      I have a vision of you sitting in a corner with a record and a knitting needle shouting above the scratches that it all sounds the same anyway.

  1. In any audio system of well-designed components, the main sources of difference between the “signal” and what you hear at you ears will be the room, and the transducers. That pesky transformation from one form of energy to another is still a problem — a source of harmonic distortion (additions to the sound) and a source of frequency response differences between the two domains.
    I know nothing about these planar-magnetic transducers discussed above, but I know about planar magnetic transducers in general. They are very likely to have extremely low distortion compared to the moving-coil air-moving motors we are used to sticking next to our ears.

  2. So I don’t know the first thing about audio gear but I do know that the sound that comes out of my PC is utterly awful. If I want to start listening to my 128k MP3s and Amiga chip tune music and really hear the encoding artefacts and quantization, where should I start?

    Is there something inexpensive and small I can plug the digital output into that I can plug headphones into in turn? Seems like without already being an expert it’s hard to trust any review you read on the internet…

      1. Ah! Thanks for the suggestion! For some reason I wasn’t looking at USB because… who knows? Fear that the CPU is being tied up processing audio, as if that’s even a problem these days?

        Presumably if I want to drive some speakers I should look at a proper powered amplifier and that’s where you can start spending some serious moolah.

        1. Go vintage (70’s) for amps (research 1st); a real sound card makes the huge difference (asus zonar) Enjoy!

          1. Vintage amps tend to be low-powered by today’s standards (eg, 20-50WPC), but sound great with vintage speakers which are relatively high-efficiency.  They don’t always mate well with modern speakers.

            echocolate: what you are looking for is a “USB DAC” (if your headphones are efficient) or a “USB DAC Amp” (if not).  Get one that is 24 bit.  These are widely available for under $100; if you’re not using $2000 headphones, then DACs using the Tenor TE7022 and ESS902x chips can be had for under $50, and sound as good as DACs that cost 10 times as much 5 years ago.

    1.  There are hundreds of USB DAC/amps out there that sound staggeringly better than onboard sound.

      I use the NuForce uDAC, which is not the best -sounding available, but it’s dirt cheap, looks nice and it’s a marked improvement on any of the headphone sockets I’ve heard on computers. It’s also an easy way to add a bit-perfect S/PDIF socket to a laptop or PC without one.

  3. I am not an audiophile, nor am I a paid shill.
    I am a music producer and DJ, and recently obtained some Audio Technica ATH M50 Monitor Headphones. Having mostly used DJ type headphones as a backup to my bookshelf monitors in the past, I was interested to see the difference ‘monitor ‘ headphones would make..I can’t compare the sound to the Audeze $2K audiophile cans, but mine cost about 1/10th the price and sound unbelievable, – they have been life-changing. I am hearing so much more detail in everything I listen to. Not louder, bassier or sweeter, –  but more transparent – more depth and dynamic range.So good headphones really do make a difference, but if you can’t actually hear more detail in music you are familiar with – they may not be as good as they claim to be.

  4. Serious question: were you listening to music on CD or LP? or uncompressed digital audio?

    I’m really curious as to whether it was pulling all this amazing sound from vinyl or from some other source.

  5. Xeni, I’ve been trying to explain that same idea to people for years. Yes, you spend more to upgrade from Consumer to entry-level Audiophile, and you go from SD to HD. HUGE difference. Wow. Life Changing.

    Then you spend more and you go from, say, 720p to 1080p — and the difference is there, but less noticeable.

    Then you get some kind of insanity, and you’re spending a zillion dollars on a bunch of Mpingo Wood Magic Rocks that absorb stray electromagnetic fields in other rooms.

      1. I was conflating several of my favorite audiophile “whacky tweaks”

        Note that there is a real, non-decorative patent on the Shakti Stones:

        Note that SOME audio equipment will be improved by having a heavy object placed on top, to reduce distortion caused by vibrations (eg. cold solder joints). It’s also BARELY FEASIBLE that some equipment might be inadequately shielded, and therfore having an EMI-dissipating/absorbing device could potentially, maybe just maybe, help. 

        I therefore like the Shakti Stones very much, because I think of them as tin-foil hats for your audiophile gear. I haven’t bought any, however, because they are beyond my budget allotment for “amusing junk.”

  6. To be fair, at least planar magnetic speakers (also known as orthodynamic or isodynamic) do actually reproduce sound better than cone drivers. As far as I know though, they have the same problem as electrostatic speakers of poor bass reproduction.

    They used to make quite a few of these kinds of orthodynamic headphones in the 80s from Yamaha, Audio-Technica, Radio Shack, Bang & Olufsen, etc. You should be able to pick up a very old pair on eBay for like $50 that should still sound pretty good (orthodynamic speakers don’t suffer from fatigue because they don’t actually have a cone that flexes).

    Update: Here is a rather long roundup of examples of this technology on head-fi:

  7. I’m just really glad Neil Young didn’t get a pair of these before he started writing “Waging Heavy Peace” or half the book would have been about that.

  8. Anyone familiar with Zaireeka from the flaming lips? It seperates the instruments onto 4 different cds (to be played simultaneously), leaving the entire bandwidth available for just an instrument or two. The result is a richness Ive never heard before (even with crappy equipment), in addition to a completely unique listening experience.

  9. You get a pair of $2000 headphones and the first things you listen to are Nico and the second-worst Clash album?  De gustibus and all that, but jesus.

    edit: “I heard things in that song I’ve never heard before.” Like what, singing on key?

    1. I understand that a lot of people can’t stand Nico, but I still don’t understand why.

      1. Personally, I don’t mind her; I don’t have to cover my ears or run away screaming or anything. She was on the level of “stoned chick karaokeing Sweet Caroline with no monitors” (which is fine for what it is) but for some reason is elevated to the lofty status of Mystically Transformative Chanteuse or whatever which is so unwarranted as to be absurd.

        Also her accent reminds me of my mother and I don’t need to visualize my mom shooting up at the Factory while pregnant with me.

        1. My wife is an amazing vocal impressionist… Her Nico is spot on and it makes us laugh so hard.

          I like Nico and the vu… a lot, but more than the music, for me it is also about the art and the scene, along with a really unique personality that I’ve grown attached to.

        2. Well, if you’re going to be petit bourgeois about it and expect artists to have talent…..

          1. My only requirement of a singer is the ability to sing. Nico’s “killer” soliloquy in the Cale/Eno “June 1, 1974” live album has to be heard to be disbelieved.

  10. I don’t think I’d buy anything, much less a set of $2,000 cans, based on a web post by a couple of people who are telling me how gee-whiz wonderful they are.

    Show me that a hundred listeners have rated them better than a set at one-fifth the price or less (for example my Beyer 880s) in a blind test, and I’ll take this seriously.

    1. Why must everything be a blind test to determine superior sound quality?  

      We can take quantitive measurements of freq. resp. distortion figs etc.
      Compare those objectively.  Where one model is superior it is noted.
      All that is what we refer to as “on paper” model A is better than model b.

      Now where the rubber meets the road is the flip-side   In car reviews this happens all the time with head to head match-ups   NOBODY is blindfolded.  They look at the cars. Touch the cars. Feel the cars. DRIVE THE CARS.  Everything is important in that experience. 

      Does not the look, feel and overall fitment apply in the world of headphones? 

      I can put on a pair of headphones and then put on another set and immediately pick out the differences between the two models.  IF given more time with each model I can then make a decision which model “sounds better” to me.  There is NO NEED for DBX testing for that.  It’s simply pointless.  I own a number of headphones and a couple of them ‘look’ better than the others – however from a performance aspect I can tell both of them lack what the less visually impressive cans do better. 
      GASDWD  why must everything come down to DBX TESTING?!:S?

  11. So, I was a basher on the last post about these things.  Here’s why my BS alarm was/is going off.  Supposedly it’s the “planar magnetics” that make all the difference.  Then why the hell are they putting the same wood used on Mercedes dashboards on it?  To justify the markup?  I mean, even with awesome bang foozle-tech (TM), there’s no way the parts in that thing make up even $500 worth of stuff.  So the fact that they’re encasing them in designer clothes (maybe even shipping in a really nice black velvet bag with nice, thick drawstrings), means who, exactly, is the audience for these?  Is it audiophiles who appreciate good sound or people who like to buy their headphones at Neiman Marcus?  Any why are both usually shopping at Neiman Marcus?

    I bike, and I see this kind of stuff on bikes all the time.  They save you 1% on weight, but they make it “artisan” and charge you 50x the price.  Or they don’t even care about the weight and just waive their arms around and say how the yak leather saddle is known to be the height of comfort.  It’s a classic ploy.  Make it look really nice, sound really exotic, and then use only subjective criteria to sell it.  You can’t argue, because it’s all about the “feel.”

      1. Yes. You get what you pay for, and if I’m getting exotic wood that means I’ve paid for it in lack of quality, markup, or both.

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