gearing up: audeze lcd 1 bringing studio grade sound down from its ivory tower

May 17, 2021

California audio company Audeze has built a reputation for creating headphones that audiophiles and professional studio rats fawn over. Their planar magnetic driver headphones have become mainstays in the most elite of sound rooms for their detail, tightness, definition, instrument separation, and precision, amongst other things. But with all of that good usually comes a heavy headset and a hefty price tag which has made the line mostly out of reach for anyone outside of the sound seekers and professional studio crowd. Audeze apparently took note and has developed a new addition to their Reference Series, the LCD 1

The LCD 1 is a lightweight, planar magnetic, open-back, studio-quality reference headset that combines Audeze’s LCD line audio quality with comfort and portability. Add in its easy drivability and a price tag sub $400, and you have a premium audio solution for the listener that values substance over flash. And for the musician, producer, content creator, or audio engineer, there’s an affordable headset that delivers accuracy, detail, and clear imaging to refine their mix. 


The most important part of the headphone is sound. And while it is the area we value the most, it is also the most subjective. So while I can tell you the LCD 1 sounds amazing, that considers several factors like age, music taste, temperament, surroundings, expectations, and how I am using the headset, amongst other things. Taking that all into account, I will say the LCD 1 sounds good. I ran them through a labyrinth of soundscapes that included D’Angelo and the Soultronics, J.Cole, Lucky Daye, Bloc Party, Prince, and even a little Queen. They performed admirably. I could hear every twang of Prince’s Telecaster in Sexy Dancer or Spanky Alford’s signature guitar licks coloring D’Angelo’s Spanish Joint.  Every lick and snare came through with crisp precision, and it was like listening to a band and not some mass of electrons buzzing around in my head. But for all the clarity and enjoyment, there was a bit of calmness. There was an energy missing, and it was the bass. For all its benefits, the LCD 1 isn’t punchy. John Deacon’s iconic Bassline from Another One Bites the Dust doesn’t hit the same. That driving baseline from Bloc Party’s Banquet felt subdued. Now, this might seem a bad thing, but in actuality, it’s a good thing depending on what you’re looking for, and that’s the key with the LCD 1.

General Use

Headphones for everyday listeners are tuned for dynamics. Meaning they are emphasizing bass or treble, i.e., movement. If you looked at the sound on a graph, it would look like a V. There’s punch and kick. There is more energy and drive. But the LCD 1s aren’t really general listening headphones. They are reference headphones optimized for mixing. For the uninitiated, mixing balances the track and is aided by an even sound signature, making it is easy to identify instruments, find outliers, etc.…  While mastering is closer to what the final product sounds like when it gets to the public’s ears. That isn’t to say they sound bad. In fact, just the opposite.  They bring a sense of clarity and detail to music that general use headphones don’t always provide. Keeping everything linear allows nothing to be pushed to the front, which goes against the bass-heavy, treble-focused typical offerings and allows you to find hidden sounds you might not have otherwise. For example, listening to Miguel’s  Come Through and Chill produced by Salaam Remi through the LCD’1s, everything is crystal clear and the instrumentation comes alive. Another pleasant by-product of this flattening of mid-range and vocals is singers with powerful voices like Whitney Houston, Jasmin Sullivan, or Brittany Howard are even more pronounced. The LCD 1 can also be plugged into a cellphone, PC, or any other device and work perfectly, unlike other planar headsets that need an amp to be powered properly. Despite the design elements like being foldable, lightweight, and the aforementioned ease to power, they might not make the ideal traveling headphones due to the sound leak from being open back.

Professional Use

For those looking for a less expensive studio-quality headphone option for reference and mixing, this is where the LCD 1 excels. As typical of its planar magnetic brethren, the driver creates low distortion, fast transient response, and tonal balance. This allows the LCD 1 to provide a tighter, more detailed, transparent, and clean sound. An even balance that allows for easier instrument separation, clarity, and precision for your mixing. Crisp attacks so that you hear every snare and lick, and they aren’t lost in the music. The low impedance allows you to utilize the LCD 1 at a studio, on your laptop, or even your phone and not need to purchase an amp. However, there are some drawbacks as you aren’t getting the LCD X for $400. Although there is a Reveal plug-in that can bring the headphones more into your preference, the bass is on the low side. The soundstage is a bit narrow, so there isn’t that all-around sound if that’s what you’re looking for. The LCD 1’s experience is more focused, as if you were mixing through monitors that were close together. They are open back, so they aren’t ideal for tracking as you risk sound bleeding into your mic, although that also allows for cooler ears during longer sessions.  And because of the nature of their tuning, they might lack the punch you need for mastering. But for mixing, these are some of the best on the market in the sub $400 range. 


Difference in Tone

There are several reasons for this difference in tonality. One is obviously the drivers. Dynamic drivers used in most commercial audio equipment have more of a piston-type driver, which gives it that extra concussive force creating the punch and slap we are used to. Planars use magnets to push the sound to your ear. The lack of that concussion allows for extra clarity, more detail, and a more neutral, clean, and transparent sound. But it also comes at the cost of dynamics. And this is evident, especially in the bass area where the LCD 1s are just ok. They aren’t bad but don’t expect to get that same stank face from hearing that SOS Band slap bass. They are also open back which again sacrifices some of the dynamics for the sake of clarity. To get the weight and cost down, they removed some of the magnets, which further sacrificed some of the dynamics and details. But despite this, they are still more accurate and provide more definition than most in the same price range. 



Design-wise the LCD 1 feels sturdy and resilient while retaining its flexibility despite being made mostly of plastic. It comes with a hard case to add some extra protection when not in use. The ear cups have leather memory foam cushions and are smaller than the other LCDs, but this is a welcome change as the rest of the line have oversized cups, which are fine in the studio but cumbersome and heavy. The band that goes over your head has a thin layer of padding. It also has the previously mentioned open-back design, allowing for more air circulation to keep the ear canals cooler.  The ear cups can swivel and are foldable. They come with a 3.5 mm braided cable that goes into either ear cup, and the driver sends the correct signal, which is great. But it has two cords, which I am not a fan of, but that’s nitpicking. 

The LCD 1 is a great choice for the fledgling audiophile, the working musician or content creator looking to take control of their own mixing, or even the audio engineer who has to make the rounds at different studios. A lightweight pair of high audio quality headphones for at home or in the studio that provides clean, transparent sound, sub $400.