We all love playing at gigs, or at least jamming with friends, but for many of us, that is not something we get to do as much as we’d like (especially as of late). Practicing on your own has its own merits, for sure, but more often than not, we don’t have the freedom to crank up our rig of choice and let ‘er rip at a satisfying volume. For some reason, “other people” – especially those who are trying to sleep/read/study in a shared living space – don’t find this to be consistently endearing. Thankfully, we have headphones to get us through these rough times.

During the last several years, I have found myself increasingly appreciative of headphones and in-ear monitors, as I spent less time jamming with mates and more time practicing on my own (while trying not to aggravate the rest of my family). I considered myself lucky to have several sets of “quality cans” at my disposal, and life was pretty good. However, just as there are clear differences between a very good production instrument and a top-tier handcrafted custom bass, and just as there are differences between amps/cabs which “get the job done,” compared to those which “capture the sound in your head,” believe me when I tell you that there are definitely differences in the “headphone experience” arena, as well.

I was recently presented with the opportunity to review an iconic set of cans, the LCD-2 CB (for “closed back”), which retail at $899. The short story is, I am in love! But please, allow me to explain…

The Company Line

If you are not familiar with the Audeze brand (based in Santa Ana, California), it is pronounced more similar to “odyssey,” and not “aw deez.” They make a relatively wide range of over-the-ear headphones and in-ear monitors, and they are most widely known and revered in the home audiophile world. However, their product lines also extend to the “gaming & multimedia” and studio engineering markets.

Audeze LCD-2 CB HeadphonesWhat’s in the Can?

So, technically, the LCD-2 CB isn’t really “iconic” just yet, having been introduced in 2018. It is the closed-back version of the LCD-2 Classic, which itself harkens back to the original (and definitely iconic) LCD-2, introduced in 2008. The LCD-2 CB features large, 106mm planar magnetic drivers. If you are not familiar with planar magnetics, these types of drivers (or transducers) employ a flat diaphragm, rather than a cone-shaped driver (as found in “dynamic” drivers), and are affected by the magnetic fields produced on either (or both) side(s) of the diaphragm. In general, planar magnetic drivers exhibit excellent image clarity and tend to produce a more linear bass response – in theory, all the way down to the limits of human hearing. Conversely, dynamic drivers often demonstrate more “punch” or “slam.”

It is also worth discussing the difference between open-back and closed-back headphones. As you would expect, open-back headphones allow air to pass through the rear of the ear cups, and closed-back phones do not. Open-back phones often exhibit a more natural and clear sound, but they provide very little isolation, so not only do you hear what’s going on around you, other people in your vicinity also hear what is being fed to your cans. For my personal use, I prefer closed cans, not only for their superior isolation, but also because they tend to have a slightly hyped or “boosted” low frequency response (which can be helpful when trying to hear/learn new bass lines – though, of course, too much of a great thing can be distracting; more on this later).

Make no bones about it, these are some substantial headphones, weighing in at 661g (about 1.46 lbs.). You most definitely notice this weight when you pick them up, but to their credit, they do not feel heavy once you place them on your head. The deep, comfy cups and vented pressure strap (both made of “protein leather”) deserve the credit, here. Despite their size and weight, I found the LCD-2 CB’s to be extremely comfortable to wear, even after several hours or more. I have a very large head and one concern I have when I try out new headphones (or glasses, or hats…) is that I will love them, but they won’t fit me comfortably. Fortunately, the LCD-2 CB’s offer a generous range of adjustment and I found an exceptionally comfortable fit – which wasn’t even the largest setting!

Standard equipment includes a very nice 1.9m, 20AWG braided single-ended (unbalanced) cable, with a gold-plated ¼” stereo jack on one end and two mini-XLR connectors on the other end. A very nice “economy” travel case – previously listed for sale separately for $120 – is now included, standard. An optional “premium” travel case is also available (for $150). You may also want to consider a balanced cable, which will allow for more power from portable headphone amps (with balanced outputs, of course). Rated at 70 Ohms and 101dB SPL, the LCD-2 CB’s are not the most efficient cans out there, but they are not the worst, either (especially for planar magnetics). In general terms, your average cell phone or tablet will not have enough juice to provide satisfactory results with the LCD-2 CB’s, though your average mixing board headphone output will have more than enough.

The overall quality of the materials and construction is really top notch. The sizing notches on the steel “pin” connecting each “can” to the main band make a very secure connection, but adjust to size without too much effort. The primary outside material on the headphones is an injection-molded polymer called Noryl™. It looks very classy – almost like some bizarre blend of carbon fiber and granite – and the visual pattern does a decent job of hiding fingerprints. As previously mentioned, the cups themselves are rather deep, very soft, and slightly wedge-shaped (front to back). Did I mention that they are comfy?

Initial Listening

My initial listening sessions were very eye (and ear) opening. The first thing I noticed was the very deep and full response. Some other headphones (and in-ears) I have tried in the past had similar strong output down low, but did so at the cost of clarity and definition (especially in the lows). Not so with the LCD-2 CB’s; they exhibited excellent clarity and definition from top to bottom. I was also struck by the size and depth of the sound stage. These are characteristics often associated more with open-back headphones, and I was surprised and impressed to hear how well the LCD-2 CB’s conveyed a sense of space and air. [Audeze CSO Mark Cohen explains some of the design “tricks” which help accomplish this particular feat in the companion interview below.] It is always a little mind-boggling to me that I can have the audio sources basically right at my ears, but yet I can picture the whole band in front of me, spread out across a broad sound stage. You really do tend to forget that you are wearing headphones, and you can just focus on enjoying the performance.

Those of you who have spent some time in recording studios have no doubt monitored your recordings/mixes through multiple systems. Generally, there will be a set of smaller, near-field monitors (typically placed fairly close to the mixing console), as well as a set of larger, far-field monitors (typically mounted in the wall, or placed close to the perimeter of the room). In addition, you might also have some dedicated “lo-fi” options, like a boom box, or a very small driver; we used to even bump to CD – or cassette, back in the day – and also audition on a car system. Of course, throughout it all – while tracking, mixing, mastering, etc. – headphones will also be used. In the studio, headphones are great for their “immediacy” and their ability to reveal granular detail that might get lost when listening in the room. The LCD-2 CB’s certainly have “immediacy” and “granular detail” down pat, but somewhat to my surprise, the studio monitoring device they most reminded me of were the big, (often high-dollar) far-field monitors. That is not what I expected. They have a very big, open feel to them, and just a little bit of a midrange dip (maybe in the 2.5kHz to 3.5kHz region?). If I were trying to outfit a smaller home studio, and didn’t have the space or the funds for multiple sets of near-field and far-field monitors, I would feel fairly confident in my ability to dial in a great mix (for a variety of playback systems) using only the LCD-2 CB’s.

Speaking of accurate referencing in a studio environment, Audeze takes this topic very seriously. So much so, in fact, that they have produced specific software – the Reveal+ plugin – which involves a personalized “head related transfer function” (HRTF) based, in part, on a picture of your own ear canal. One benefit is that this plugin allows you to have repeatable, consistent monitoring feedback, no matter where you do your tracking/mixing/mastering. It can also allow you to mix in virtual studio environments based upon top real world studios. To learn more, head over to www.audeze.com/products/reveal.

Audeze LCD-2 CB Headphones

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the LCD-2 CB’s, though, was how well they performed when I was practicing bass and playing along with tracks on my PC. As I mentioned earlier, when practicing through headphones – especially when learning new songs – you need enough presence and output in the lower frequencies to really hear the bass lines, but you also need to hear the note separation. On headphones (and other playback systems) without great detail and separation, it can be very difficult to determine exactly what note is being played, and I would sometimes have to listen to a particular passage numerous times to work out a particular bass line. With the LCD-2 CB’s, I had a much easier time of it; bass lines sounded nice and full, with plenty of note-to-note clarity. I also noticed that the tone of the particular instruments I was playing through the LCD-2 CB’s was very true to the tone I hear through my favorite live rigs. This is rather unusual, in my experience, as with other headphones, I would often feel that I was not hearing the true tone of my bass. Instruments which I knew to be very big and open-sounding, would come across as “congested.” Basses which had great “growl” would sound “buzzy” or “blurry,” instead. I grew accustomed to this, and just chalked it up to being a “headphone thing.” Needless to say, I was quite pleased to find the “true voice” of different bases coming through the LCD-2 CB’s.

Comparative Listening

With headphones of this caliber, it can be difficult to find meaningful comparisons. The headphones I auditioned in my review of the Orange Crest Edition ($130.27) wireless headphones (February, 2021) were all handily out-classed by the LCD-2 CB’s, so I bumped up the competition a bit.

One of the logical competitors for the Audeze LCD-2 CB is the Dan Clark Audio (fka “Mr. Speakers”) Aeon Closed, now in their second generation. While I didn’t have a pair of Aeon 2 Closed ($899) on hand for comparison, I do own a pair of the first-generation Aeon Closed. For my initial comparison, I used a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 as a DAC and headphone amp. When listening to music only, the LCD-2 CB’s presented a bigger sound stage, with stronger lows and more overall clarity. The Aeons, by contrast, were a bit warmer through the mids. When I picked up a bass and tried both sets of cans through the 2i2, the Aeons were a bit more “woody,” while the Audeze seemed more balanced, had more overall clarity, and presented both more “heft” and more definition in the lows.

To get a different perspective, I dusted off my old Denon 5900 DVD/CD/SACD player (modified with a Modwright tube output section) and fed this into a Cavalli Tube Hybrid headphone amp. When listening to music through this rig, the stronger bass response from the LCD-2 CB’s was even more apparent, making the Aeons sound thin by comparison. Again, the Audeze were more balanced, while the Dan Clark’s had a more forward midrange. Listening to Games People Play (Alan Parsons Project), I did miss the Aeons’ stronger midrange presence a bit when using the LCD-2 CB’s, but when I switched back to the Aeons, I missed the LCD-2 CB’s bass response even more. The vocal harmonies were also noticeably more distinct with the LCD-2 CB’s. Moving on to Alan Parsons’ Time, with the Aeons, the bass guitar does not have as much authority as with the LCD-2 CB’s. In addition, the separation between the strings and the vocals on Time was more distinct with the Audeze (with some of my other headphones, these vocals and strings kind of overlap and blend together).

Among the headphones/in-ear monitors at my disposal, the closest competitor to the LCD-2 CB’s ended up being my Ultimate Ears Capitol Studios UE Pro Reference Remastered ($999.00) in-ear monitors (which I reviewed back in June, 2017). The UE’s are clearly more efficient, but the overall balance, clarity, separation, and imaging was surprisingly similar between the two. The Capitol Studio RR’s are a bit more precise and focused and have a bit more push to the mids. The string instruments on Time definitely stood out more on the Capitols. Conversely, the LCD-2 CB’s were a bit more round in the lows, but also presented a bigger, more spacious sound stage.

I also broke out the Ultimate Ears CSX 18+ earphones ($1,499) which I reviewed in May, 2019. The UE CSX 18+ are thicker sounding, but less precise than either the Capitol Studios RR’s or the LCD-2 CB’s. The strings on Time were not as distinct with the UE CSX 18+ and the vocals kind of dominate the mix (which make sense, considering the UE CSX 18+’s live vocal monitoring heritage). On the LCD-2 CB’s, the strings are still behind, but distinct from, the vocals. Overall, the Capitol Studio RR’s were a much closer competitor to the LCD-2 CB’s than the UE CSX 18+ (or the Aeons).

Powering the LCD-2 CB’s

When tethered to my PC or other playback device, I preferred using the Cavalli Tube Hybrid amp (especially when using a Grace SDAC to feed the Cavalli). The Scarlett 2i2 sounds quite nice on its own, but when you switch to the Cavalli, the increase in power is very apparent (but still sounds very natural). However, one thing I enjoy about wireless headphones is the ability to watch movies late at night without disturbing the family (and while enjoying my favorite seat on the couch). Fortunately, with the addition of a Bluetooth-equipped iFi xCAN portable headphone amp, I was able to watch movies while enjoying the LCD-2 CB’s – and I don’t ever intend on going back to anything else! The xCAN offers both single-ended (3.5V / 380 mW @ 32 Ohm) and balanced (7.2 V / 1,000 mW @ 32 Ohm) outputs, so I picked up a balanced cable to take advantage of the greater output power. This proved to be an excellent pairing, and needless to say, it allowed for a much more enjoyable experience than turning the surround system down to something between “inaudible” and “barely on.” As good as the xCAN => LCD-2 CB combination sounds, though, the Cavalli Tube Hybrid sounds more natural, more dynamic, has more separation, and can push the LCD-2 CB’s considerably louder.

Conclusion

I will admit that with certain products I have tried, the distinction between the lower, midrange, and higher-priced offerings were not as readily apparent, and sometimes, you can feel like you are paying a premium for a particular brand name. With other products, different tiers of performance are evident as you move up in price. And of course, with some products and some brands, there is a bit of both paradigms going on. When it comes to headphones and in-ear monitors, increasing your budget can most definitely yield very apparent, real-world benefits. It is also true that within the various price ranges, different headphones/in-ears will exhibit different “personalities,” and personal subjective preferences will likely steer you towards one brand/product, over another.

If your budget allows, I strongly encourage you to audition the Audeze LCD-2 CB’s. These wonderful headphones manage to combine traits from the best of both worlds (closed-back and open-back headphones) into one package, with no obvious compromise cost. These headphones are well-made, attractive, and supremely comfortable. They are equally at home in a recording studio, or as part of a home entertainment system, or as your go-to personal practice rig.

Manufacture:Audeze
Website: https://www.audeze.com/collections/lcd-origins/products/lcd-2-closed-back
Model:LCD-2 Closed Back
Style: Over-ear, closed-back
Headband: Split spring steel with vented protein leather pressure strap
Driver Size: 106mm
Magnet Type: Neodymium N50
Sensitivity: 101dB SPL (1w/1m)
Impedance: 70 Ohms
Frequency Response: 10Hz to 50kHz
Weight: 661 grams
Maximum Power Handling: 5 watts RMS
Maximum SPL: >130dB
Included Extras: 1/4” braided audio cable (single-ended), economy carry case
Warranty: 3-years for the drivers, 1-year for the remainder
Price: $899
author avatar
Tom Bowlus
Editor-in-Chief, Tom Bowlus, surprised his parents by riding home from grade school on his 10-speed with an upright bass. Thus began a life-long love of all things bass… After writing reviews in 18 issues of Guitar World’s Bass Guitar Magazine, Tom founded Bass Gear Magazine in 2007. If there is one thing Tom loves more than playing all kinds of cool bass gear, it’s telling people about cool bass gear!