Audeze LCD-i3 Review: Subtle, accurate and convincing
Not every manufacturer is capable of creating lightweight in-ear headphones with magneto-planar emitters. The low impedance of this model is designed to work with portable devices, and the frequency range is extended to ultrasonic overtones. But the interesting thing, as it turned out, is not only the “hardware”.
Over the past decade, this segment of audio has undergone radical changes. Headphones, having ceased to be a cheap consumable material, have passed into the category of fashion accessories, on which music lovers are ready to spend serious money. And the price is dictated not only by high demand – modern headphones use materials and technologies that you never dreamed of before. And some manufacturers also incorporate powerful sound correction software into their products. Now we will get acquainted with such a model.
We have talked about magneto-planar technology more than once, so I will only remind you of the fundamental points. In such headphones (they are often also called isodynamic), the emitter is the thinnest film on which a voice coil is sprayed.
The benefits are obvious: the tiny mass of the moving system results in high sound resolution, and since the driving force is evenly distributed over the entire area of the membrane, it operates in piston mode with minimal distortion.
The design itself turns out to be rather complicated, so such headphones on the market can literally be counted on one hand, and they are much more expensive than usual ones.
Specialists from Audeze, specializing exclusively in planar headphones, managed to overcome all difficulties and created several lightweight in-ear models for universal use.
But if we talk about the design, our subjects borrowed the main elements from the older and very popular LCD-i4 – a cast magnesium case with an open acoustic design and a patented voice coil Uniforce. Its impedance is 20 Ohm, so you don’t have to buy a special amplifier for the headphones, they are optimally matched with portable players. By combining a lightweight diaphragm and a powerful N50 neodymium magnet system, the LCD-i3 is capable of delivering SPL up to 130dB at full volume with no audible distortion. But we remember from the school curriculum that 120 dB is the so-called. pain threshold, so be careful with these headphones.
The equipment is also of great interest here, some elements of which bring the headphones to a fundamentally different level. In general, accessories are important because they provide a comfortable listening experience. Two pairs of arms of different sizes are attached to the LCD-i3 – they are fixed on the waveguide at one end, and they cover the auricle with an arc. Due to this, the earphone does not fall out even when it is shallowly planted in the ear canal. In some cases, listening this way is even more interesting, for example, I liked the free position more.
There are as many as six pairs of replaceable liners, they differ not only in size, but also in profile: some of them are smooth, and some are ribbed. To keep the earbuds clean, a brush is included to clean them.
In addition, a full set of cables is included as standard: one and a half meter in a silicone sheath with a 3.5mm jack, as well as a pair of proprietary digital cables – Cipher Lightning and Cipher Bluetooth.
Cipher Lightning, specially designed for LCD-i3 and LCD-i4 models, is designed to connect headphones to Apple devices. A small cylinder attached to a cord houses a 24/96 DAC and DSP, for which the Audeze Reveal sound correction plugin was released.
This application allows you to adjust the sound of a particular model of Audeze headphones in such a way that (quote from the manufacturer’s description): “the listener gets an experience similar to what can be left listening to music through reference studio monitors in an acoustically treated room.” The DSP presets “are not intended to correct the sound, they only enhance the listening experience.” The filters used in Reveal support standard frequencies from 44.1 to 768 kHz, and no oversampling is required when playing any file. The plugin is compatible with software players JRiver, Audirvana Plus, Pure Music, VOX, Foobar2000, etc.
In addition, Audeze Reveal is able to help sound professionals as well – it allows mixing or mastering in any acoustic environment, while the developers ensure that the result will be reproduced correctly on almost any audio system.
The Reveal plugin for macOS (version 10.10 and above) and Windows (7 and above) is free, you can download it here . Its detailed description is also posted there.
The Cipher Bluetooth cable contains a built-in Bluetooth 5.0 module with support for Qualcomm aptX and aptX HD, which turns the headphones into advanced wireless headphones. And not only – the module also has a built-in DAC CSR8675 and DSP, working with the Audeze Reveal plugin.
The charge of the built-in battery lasts for 8 hours, it is possible to work in the mode of a telephone headset with a microphone and volume buttons.
The earbuds with accessories and a certificate of authenticity are delivered in a compact bookcase.
The first test is a direct connection to the MacBook Air with a regular cable. Impressions are about the same as when listening to full-size Audeze headphones – incredible resolution across the entire range, absolutely transparent top, excellent transmission of drums and explosive moments. The tonal balance is slightly lightened – here the diaphragm diameter is smaller and the space around the ears is open.
The latter circumstance, by the way, subjectively expands the boundaries of the sound stage, it clearly goes beyond the usual limits. This effect can be emphasized by not pushing the waveguides deep into the auditory canal. At the same time, the headphones will not fall out thanks to the wraparound temples.
The bass may not be radically deep, extremely fast and well structured. The balance between detail and comfort is perfectly observed – all the features of the sound are perfectly distinguishable, but it is not so pronounced as to distract from the music itself. With these headphones, you can both work with sound and enjoy listening. I went through a lot of tracks from the Billboard Hot 100 – the difference in the character of the records, the atmosphere is perfectly audible, but they are all reproduced whole and harmoniously.
Now also a wired connection, but to the Samsung A51 smartphone. I have several ripped test discs on it, including the often used The DALI CD Vol.4. Everything sounded subtle, accurate and convincing – even on the most percussive tracks, the smartphone had enough power to give out all the dynamics, only with slight extraneous sounds on the peaks. The sound as a whole seemed even more plastic than with the MacBook, for example, the Norwegians Röyksopp sounded somehow not so pop – more lively and with impressive spatial effects. But in general, the sensations are very similar, especially in terms of detail and elaboration of the lower register.
I deliberately left out nothing about the Cipher wiring. After downloading Audeze Reveal, I realized that the application deserves a separate description – it is a serious software with colossal capabilities. It is what turns the LCD-i3 (and any other Audeze headphones) into a precise personal instrument for working with music. That even in our high-tech age is a very rare opportunity.