by Kevin OBrien on January 20th 2019

 

AUDEZE LCD-4Z HEADPHONE REVIEW

 

Do reference-level headphones belong at home? This is the question we keep asking ourselves, especially as of late. It seems the portable headphone market is larger than we first thought. A quick search online yielded a plethora of portable DAC / amp combo units available for taking your audiophile habit on the go. It never occurred to me until now that this could or should be a good idea for some odd reason. I have never experienced my HiFi anywhere but at home with my reference gear.

It seems this portable HiFi movement has spurred Audeze to introduce a new addition to their lineup, the LCD-4Z, that allows HiFi enthusiasts to take a reference quality headphone anywhere. The LCD-4Z offers up a very similar headphone to their flagship, the LCD-4, except it's designed around being as easy to drive as possible. The drivers in the 4Z have been changed from a 200 Ohm driver with a sensitivity of 97 dB to an all new 15 Ohm driver with a sensitivity of 98 dB. The wood rings and metal grille on the original LCD-4 have been replaced with a lightweight single-piece magnesium cover. Not only does this create an ultralight LCD series headphone, this adds a new twist on an already great headphone. I am on vacation as I type this and the LCD-4Z came along with me. Point taken. You can take your reference HiFi gear with you anywhere.

The one very important thing to remember is that these 4Z drivers are designed for portable sources and NOT standard stay-at-home headphone amps (or stereo speaker amps for that matter). If the LCD-4Z is paired with your standard headphone amp, you may be underwhelmed with the results. I know that's what I experienced. When the 4Z landed at my doorstep, I burned them in for 300 hours. After burn-in, I then began pairing them with multiple sources and amplifiers like I normally do. I went from amp to amp and regardless of which amp was in the chain, I kept getting results that just didn't sound right. The presentation just sounded 'off'. Then I reached for my phone and plugged the 4Z in just for fun. All of a sudden, the music started sounding better, much better. Then it dawned on me, duh, the LCD-4Z is designed for low-power sources. If you want Audeze's reference sound with standard higher powered amplifiers, the LCD-4 is your solution and the proper fit.

If over-ear, open-back portability is what you're after and you want to take Audeze's reference over-ear sound with you, these are the perfect cans for the job. The fit and comfort level of the 4Z is unparalleled when compared to the rest of the LCD lineup (excluding the LCD-MX4 which is identical to the LCD-4Z fit-wise). This was impressive as other models in the LCD lineup almost feel like wearing a helmet sometimes. This was not the case with the 4Z. This headphone seemed to be bucking the old Audeze way of doing things which I really like.

So, now that using my standard gear was out of the question, how was I going to review these cans? It was time to get in more review gear to review my other review gear. I wanted to make sure I was using a proper portable source when reviewing the 4Z. This much I knew. This lead me to mate the 4Z to the Woo Audio WA8 Eclipse portable DAC / Class A tube amplifier. The Woo Audio unit (MSRP of $1800) seemed to be priced below some of the other reference portable gear from other manufacturers but well above some of the 'affordable' portable gear I was trying to avoid. The WA8 Eclipse appeared to be a great pairing for the LCD-4Z on paper and proved to be just that in the flesh. Hook up a laptop to the WA8 Eclipse with a USB cable and you're off to the races, it's that easy. The WA8 Eclipse warmed up for half an hour and then I hit play and the 4Z began to sing. After about 5 seconds of each track, I got lost in the music. My first listen to this duo lasted 3 hours but it only felt like 30 minutes. The WA8 Eclipse / LCD-4Z combination was so smooth and addicting. I could live with this pairing for travel and at work and be happy forever, it was that good. 

With a headphone of this pedigree, it seemed a waste to only use them at work or on the go. I found another way to enjoy the LCD-4Z at home in my reference 2 channel system. I ended up coming up with an adapter to take the left and right signal out of my preamp and send it to my balanced 4-pin headphone cable. This gave me a low powered source component to mate with the LCD-4Z but allowed me to use my reference YFS music server and EMM Labs DAC as the source. This particular equipment pairing produced the most amazing sounding Audeze headphone I have heard to date! I'm hearing a presentation from these headphones that reminds me of a great 2 channel stereo system.

After the initial amazement wore off, I started trying to account for what I was hearing. The only explanation I could come up with was the following: I am taking an entire component out of my chain when listening to the LCD-4Z. When I use the standard LCD-4, I am hooking up to the headphone amplifier AFTER my stereo preamp, DAC, and music server. Therefore, listening sans amplifier I am getting even closer to the original source information. 

The Audeze LCD-4Z gives me the most versatile headphone for work, travel, and home use depending upon the gear I pair it with. I can't think of any other headphone that can do that and still quench my thirst for reference quality listening. If you like the over-ear open-back Audeze 'house sound', this latest offering will not disappoint (IF it's paired to the proper gear). We tip our hats to the engineers at Audeze for coming up with a very special product.

 

 

A big thank you goes out to Evan Grimm, the Head of Product Training and Tony Hamilton, the National Sales Manager at Audeze for making this review possible. Thanks guys! In fact, these headphones are so unique and they impressed me so much, I called Tony and gave him my credit card. I wasn't going to be sending these hand crafted beauties back to California after all. Yup, they are that good...

I would personally like to thank all of you for reading and visiting the site. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us and we will do our best to respond in a timely manner.

Until next time...

 

- YFS Review Team

 

 

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