Audeze is one of the very few headphone companies that produces in-ear headphones with an open-back design. And now, Audeze has just released the LCD-i3 to fill the gap between the iSine series and the pricey LCD-i4. What can you expect in terms of sound and build? Let’s take a closer look in this Audeze LCD-i3 Review.
Audeze LCD-i3 Review
IN the BOX
The only thing that bothered me about Audeze’s previous open-back earbud models was the fit. Given that the shells are so large, I found the seal less than secure unless I wore the clunky ear hooks. It just didn’t feel snug or comfortable to wear, especially on the go. But Audeze has finally solved this problem by introducing optional rubber ear fins that fit nicely in the contours of the outer ear. The buds still come with the good ol’ ear hooks, which are admittedly more ergonomic than previous models. But actually, with the added security provided by the ear fins, I didn’t feel the need to use the hooks at all.
If Batman were to wear in-ear semi-open-back headphones, it would probably be the LCD-i3. To be honest, he’d probably shell out the extra cash for the LCD-i4. But if Batman was on a budget, it would be this model. Manly and muscular, the planar magnetic LCD-i3 flaunts magnesium housing like the pricier lCD-i4 and has a metal grill inside the shell. At the same time, it feels quite lightweight, which is a relief considering the size of these monsters.
The LCD-i3 is also very easy to drive, and you’ll find that even your mobile device is more than sufficient to power it.
But let’s talk about all the goodies that Audeze has thrown into the package along with these 2-pin earbuds. In addition to the regular 3.5mm cable, Audeze has also included a lightning cable for the poor iPhone users who are forced to deal with Apple’s proprietary crap. The other major plus for iPhone users is that the CIPHER lighting cable has a DAC (as well as a mic and remote). This means that the digital signal bypasses the mediocre digital to analogue converter on your iPhone, thereby increasing the fidelity of your music. And especially if you’re on the go, this model is ideal for iPhone users, as the regular 3.5mm cable doesn’t come with a mic or remote. Finally, Audeze has included a CIPHER Bluetooth cable for those who want to liberate themselves from a wired connection altogether.
For the purposes of this review, I used the CIPHER lightning cable with my lousy iPhone. Listen, I can’t help it. I’d switch to Android but I have Stockholm Syndrome.
You can expect the luxurious low-end that Audeze is famous for. Fleshy and forward leaning, the bass on pop tracks has ample presence and punch. There’s also minimal resonance. And although you can’t call it extremely dry or grippy, the bass certainly feels controlled and disciplined. The low end also gives tons of warmth to rock and pop-rock tracks. Now, in terms of transparency, instruments in the lows aren’t thoroughly detailed. However, this slight lack detail in no way detracts from the enjoyment of the listening experience. And, in fact, the smooth and weighty feel of the lows gives acoustic instruments like strings a really sublime character.
You’ll hear good presence in this range with what feels like a very slight emphasis in the upper mids. So, you will certainly get a full-bodied and comprehensive sound here, as the low-mids are given fair play. This kind of expansive feel is ideal for rock and pop-rock tracks with massive choruses and heavy instrumentation. And even though vocals tend to sit a little forward, they avoid overkill and still feel naturally placed within the mix. The balance also works particularly well for tracks where the snare drum drives the song. Take Fleetwood Mac’s Big Love, for example. The LCD-i3 really highlights the snare, which takes center stage and adds ample impact and energy to the track.
There’s also little compression to speak of. Let’s continue using snares as an example. Listening to John Lennon’s Watching The Wheels, for instance, you can hear all the nuances and resolve in the snare even though it’s a tight hit . And playing some cello tracks in this range, although it wasn’t the most textured performance I’ve heard, the timbre and tone felt very natural, while that Audeze richness really brought out the grandeur of the instrument. In fact, classical tracks in general, have a very meaty and majestic flavor.
That being said, if you prioritize a particularly clean and precise sound, you may want to consider another model. Listening to guitar strums in the lower mids, for example, the level of separation was decent but not mind blowing. And overall, you shouldn’t expect an incredible level of definition or delineation. That’s not what the LCD-i3 is about. Rather, the sound signature is a sumptuous feast that is meant to satiate the ears and leave you feeling full.
Audeze hit the sweet spot here. Listening to pop tracks, percussion had plenty of snap. But at the same time, it avoided any fatiguing brightness. And though the highs don’t feel rolled-off at all, there’s a solidity to the high frequencies. Take female vocals, for example. Although the LCD-i3 reveals plenty of breath and air, there’s a thickness and color to the tone. Apologies for repeating myself, but it’s damn rich. And again, though string instruments weren’t meticulously transparent, the lush and velvety presentation was oh so pleasing to the ears.
It’s unsurprising that these semi-open-backs will give you a grand and spacious soundscape. And certainly, you’ll get a substantial feeling of height and width. That being said, even though the sense of dimension is solid, gradations in depth, for example, could have been a touch more precise. But you’ll definitely feel an abundance of depth with instruments that are more obviously positioned; instruments that sit furthest back, for example, will feel way way behind your head. So, you will definitely get a holographic experience from these buds.
I’ve run out of synonyms for luxurious. But that’s the sound signature you can expect. A warm and energetic low end, combined with a fleshy, expansive midrange and thick, zesty highs, this LCD-i3 is an extremely generous and well-balanced sounding IEM. Not too dark, not too bright, you get the picture. And though the LCD-i3 may not be the most detailed sound I’ve heard for 900 bucks, it will still probably taste better than any steak you’ve ever had.
You can find the Audeze LCD-i3 for the best price here: