Drivability – With an impedance of 20Ω and sensitivity rating of 103dB/mW, LCD-X 2021 is extremely easy to drive from most sources, even smartphones.
Sound summary – LCD-X 2021 improves on the previous iteration, particularly in the bass and midrange. It extends deeper and doesn’t have as sucked out an upper-midrange as the previous version. It has a very minor sub-bass roll-off around 40Hz but a very well done neutral bass tuning otherwise. It has a fairly neutral lower-midrange, except for a very tiny bump around 800Hz, better ear gain than the previous version but one that is still south of neutral, and very well balanced treble tuning which is fairly neutral in lower-treble but excitingly sparkly and airy up top.
Technical performance – I’m going to switch away from my regular format and talk about LCD-X 2021’s impressive technical performance first because that is the first thing that grabbed my attention. It has a very nice soundstage, very good detail retrieval and even better left to right separation. It not only makes you aware of every little nuance in the song since everything is so well separated, spaced out and cleanly presented but also makes for a very interesting and exciting listen since the signature is very musical.
Let’s dig in deeper…
Bass – Bass extends pretty well down low with a very minor sub-bass roll-off below 40Hz, which is only perceivable when listening to songs which have deep sub-bass mixed in. Since most mastering engineers introduce a minor sub-bass roll-off below 35Hz in most songs anyway, LCD-X 2021’s sub-bass roll-off isn’t as perceivable with a vast majority of songs. Besides that, the rest of the bass response is extremely neutral and linear. Neutral bass tuning helps present the songs very cleanly. If the song has slam and rumble mixed in, that is exactly what you will perceive with the LCD-X and if the song doesn’t have much bass mixed in, don’t expect it to boost any bass from its side. Technically, bass is very well separated in the centre and you can hear the nuances of the bass tone very clearly because of LCD-X’s high micro-detail retrieval ability.
Mids – The lower-midrange is fairly neutral and linear till around 700Hz. It has a tiny bump around 800Hz, which adds in very slight honk but it is only noticeable when you hear it back to back after a headphone like the Sennheiser HD6XX or Focal Clear, which are more neutral in the range. LCD-X 2021’s midrange is much better than the previous LCD-X but it still does not have the tonally accurate ear gain peak rise post 1kHz and is therefore recessed in the 1.5k-5kHz region. It majorly results in instruments not sounding as forward and instruments like guitars lacking a bit of bite and crunch. This has always been one of my major complaints with most Audeze headphones I’ve tried. I do think that LCD-X 2021’s overall sound signature is better than most of the older Audezes I’ve tried but I personally do like EQing in a bit of the 1.5-5kHz region for a more tonally accurate presentation, especially when I’m using the LCD-X for music production or want to listen to music a bit more critically and care about the instruments sounding absolutely accurate tonally. Most of the time when I’m listening to music casually, I don’t really care about EQing it as it sounds completely fine without EQ too. In fact it is quite an engaging, musical headphone. If you aren’t a reference-head, I don’t think any of this will concern you.
Treble – LCD-X 2021’s treble is well balanced as well as resolving and exciting at the same time. The lower-treble tuning is mostly neutral, while it is sparkly post 10kHz with good air and extension up top. I perceive no sibilance (since the lower-treble is quite neutral) and the airy and sparkly character only adds a ton of excitement and resolution to what would’ve otherwise been a warm signature. The overall treble tuning enables excellent detail retrieval and resolution while always keeping the sound signature exciting and engaging without much fatigue creeping in in long listening sessions.
Focal Clear – Clear is a dynamic driver headphone with an M-shaped Aluminium-Magnesium driver with a solid copper voice coil. Clear has a 55Ω impedance and a sensitivity rating of 104dB/mW whereas LCD-X 2021 has an impedance of 20Ω and sensitivity rating of 103dB/mW. Both headphones are fairly easy to drive. Build quality wise, Focal Clear is no slouch but LCD-X 2021’s build is definitely more impressive. Clear on the other hand is the more comfortable headphone since it is substantially lighter at around 450g vs LCD-X 2021’s 612g. Sound wise, Clear comes across as the more neutral and tonally accurate headphone whereas LCD-X 2021 has better technical performance overall. Clear has slightly better sub-bass reach and slightly more bass slam. Both have similar neutral lower-midrange in the 250-1kHz region but Clear has more ear gain with a more accurate ear gain rise post 1kHz. As a result, Clear has more forward and stronger instrument and vocal definition whereas they are pushed a bit back in LCD-X 2021, which kinda helps with a more spread out soundstage presentation. LCD-X 2021 is more neutral in its lower-treble presentation as well as sparkly and airier with its upper-treble presentation. Where Clear easily takes the cake in tonality, LCD-X 2021 wins hands down in technical performance with a slightly bigger soundstage, better left to right separation, better layering as well as better detail retrieval.
Sennheiser HD800S – HD800S is one of Sennheiser’s most popular creations. It is an open-back dynamic driver headphone with a 56mm Ring Radiator dynamic transducer system. Both the HD800S and LCD-X 2021 have an equally impressive design but it is the LCD-X 2021 that has the more impressive build quality since most of its appointments are made of metal, unlike the HD800S which is majorly high quality plastic. On the other hand, that same plastic construction makes HD800S much lighter and a much more comfortable headphone. LCD-X 2021 is not only heavier but also has a bit more clamp force. It does help with a more secure fit but also keeps one aware of it sitting on the head. Sound wise, HD800S is Sennheiser’s take on the Diffuse Field target and is the brighter headphone of the two. HD800S kind of starts rolling off below 75Hz with a gradual and linear slope. LCD-X 2021 has better reach till 40Hz but rolls off more steeply post that. Still, LCD-X 2021 is the headphone with more bass presence and has much better slam and rumble in comparison. Both have a similar neutral lower-midrange presentation. HD800S is similarly recessed in the 1k-2kHz range of ear gain region but then has much more ear gain and presence in the 2.5-8kHz region, which not only makes for stronger, more forward instrument definition but also makes it a much brighter sounding headphone in comparison too. HD800S is also brighter than LCD-X 2021 in the mid-treble region but LCD-X 2021 is airier post 15kHz and has slightly better presence and extension up top. When it comes to technical performance, neither is a slouch in comparison. HD800S does have a cleaner, bigger and more spacious soundstage but LCD-X 2021’s soundstage is fairly wide by itself for its price, with really good left to right separation. They both have equally good detail retrieval but HD800S has stronger, more forward instrument definition. In comparison, LCD-X 2021’s instruments are pushed a bit back in the soundstage and that actually enables a deeper sense of space with an image of watching the artist perform in front of you than you being a part of the band. Both have impressive imaging performance, with HD800S having a slight upper-hand. At the end, LCD-X 2021 has better bass performance and is a much easier and more musical listen whereas the HD800S has slightly better technical performance but also comes off as a much brighter listen, which not everyone will be comfortable with right off the bat.
To be honest, I’m quite impressed with the Audeze LCD-X 2021 and find it an extremely capable headphone in the high-end headphone market. It has excellent technical performance, especially an impressive soundstage, really good micro-detail retrieval and even better left to right separation. It does wander away from a reference-neutral presentation because of recession in the 1.5-5kHz region of ear gain but still ends up sounding great as it is an exciting and musical headphone with high engagement factor. EQing in a bit of that range does make it sound even better, but it’s completely fine without EQ too. The main thing I’d advise you to be wary of is its 612g of weight. Even though the weight is fairly well distributed by the suspension strap and ear pad design, it could still be problematic, especially if you like using headphones for long durations. If Audeze somehow reduces its weight by a couple of 100 grams and fixes the recession in upper-midrange, they’ll have quite a nice TOTL for the price. But then, that is exactly what their flagship LCD5 is and is priced more than 3 times LCD-X’s asking price too! So, if you’re looking for a nice engaging, musical headphone with excellent technical performance to go with in this price range, definitely give LCD-X 2021 a shot! Highly recommended from my side!
Gear used for testing and review.
- Desktop setup – Universal Audio Apollo + DROP THX AAA 789 Amp
- DAPs – iBasso DX240 | HiBy R5 Gen II | Lotoo PAW6000
- Phone – OnePlus 7 Pro + iBasso DC05
Artists I like and listen to.
- Rock – Foo Fighters, Linkin Park, Switchfoot, Imagine Dragons, Daughtry, Green Day, MuteMath, X Ambassadors, Dave Matthews Band, Vertical Horizon, Our Lady Peace, Lifehouse, Fall Out Boy, Breaking Benjamin, Muse, ACDC, Audioslave, Rage Against the Machine, Biffy Clyro, I Am Giant, Normandie, Paramore, Slash & Guns N Roses, 3 Doors Down.
- Pop Rock – John Mayer, Coldplay, Paul McCartney, James Bay, Hunter Hayes, Niall Horan, Keith Urban, The Bros Landreth, Bryan Adams.
- Progressive Rock/Metal – Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson, Karnivool, Tool, Dead Letter Circus, Periphery, Lamb of God.
- Pop/Soft Rock – Ed Sheeran, Adele, Taylor Swift, OneRepublic, The Script, Gavin James, Magic Man, Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, Charlie Puth, Dua Lipa, The Weeknd, Oasis, Panic! At the Disco, TwentyOne Pilots.
- EDM – Chainsmokers, Zedd.