A few years ago, I got a call from the late Arnie Nudell, perhaps the best designer of high-performance loudspeakers in history. He raved about how good the Audeze LCD-4 planar magnetic headphone was and encouraged me to buy a pair. Indeed, the LCD-4 garnered many rave reviews, most notably for its clarity, deep bass extension, and exceptional midrange performance. However, with its high impedance 200ohm voice coil, the LCD-4 requires a powerful headphone amplifier, essentially ruling it out for portable applications. Additionally, some objected to the LCD-4’s relatively heavy and bulky feel.
Enter Audeze’s LCD-4z, essentially a lighter and much easier-to-drive version of Audeze’s flagship LCD-4. The LCD-4z features a 15ohm voice coil and a lightweight magnesium frame, and it is sensitive enough that it can be driven by a cell phone or a good portable music player. Better still, according to the manufacturer the LCD-4z is intended to capture the amazing sound of Audeze’s flagship LCD-4.
The new LCD-4z uses the magnesium frame of the company’s LCD-MX4 model, but incorporates a much higher-end, ultra-lightweight driver. Its magnesium ear-cups are designed to be strong and non-resonant and the LCD-4z uses a nano-scale film diaphragm that reportedly weighs less than the air it displaces. Sensitivity is significantly improved, enabling it to be directly driven by a cell phone, portable player or small amplifier. It is also 15% lighter than the LCD-4, which helps make long-term listening sessions with the LCD-4z somewhat more comfortable. Although the headphones are still on the heavy side, their leather ear pads are comfortable and their overall weight is effectively distributed.
Like the original LCD-4, the LCD-4z has excellent bass definition and extension. Listening to Reference Recordings’ outstanding SACD of Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3(aka The Organ Symphony), the LCD-4z reproduced the lowest pedal tones of the organ with great control and extension, and I could almost feel the massive air movements generated by the organ. You’ll also hear the deepest tones of a synth or concert grand piano in a variety of recordings and they provide a solid foundation to the music. Lastly, I found myself following bass lines in familiar recordings more often because they were so cleanly articulated and natural.
The LCD-4z has a way with voices and massed strings, which are always difficult tests for transducers. Listening to Nat “King” Cole on an SACD reissue of Love is the Thing, his voice is smooth and rich. You’ll hear an amazing amount of inner detail, like the leading edge of consonants in the lyrics, yet I did not hear any excess sibilance. I was transported to the recording venue and became enthralled by how palpable and present his voice was. This speaks to the incredible transparency of the LCD-4z. Better still the massed strings were natural and lovely without any edge or forwardness. The midbass on instruments like cellos sounds rich and full-bodied, yet the Audeze’s tonal balance is fundamentally neutral.
Another formidable strength of the LCD-4z is its ability to reproduce percussion instruments like drums, cymbals, and piano with outstanding clarity and an absence of distortion. Its clean reproduction of the transient snap of rhythm sections helps propel the music forward and generates excitement on high-resolution recordings like the wonderful IsoMike SACD of Joe McQueen and friends.The Audeze passes the toe-tapping test with flying colours!
In many respects, the Audeze LDC-4z sounds surprisingly close to the performance of the top electrostats in terms of fine detail retrieval, transparency, coherence, openness, and clarity. It should appeal to those who want top-tier performance in an easier to drive and more comfortable package than the LCD-4. While its price tag may be a bit daunting, when one compares its performance to reference headphones, as well as many loudspeaker systems costing many times more, the LCD-4z is arguably somewhat of a bargain. If you want the best, make sure you audition the LCD-4z.
Audeze LCD-4z planar magnetic headphone
Type: Circumaural, open back, planar magnetic
Frequency Response: 5Hz – 20kHz (useable high-frequency extension to 50kHz)
Sensitivity: 98 dB/1mW
Impedance: 15 ohms
THD: <0.1% @ 100dB
Power requirement: 1-4W
Weight: 15.87 oz. (450 grams)
Price: $3,995, £3,699
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