Headphone Reviews

by Kevin OBrien on January 15, 2022

AUDEZE LCD-5 PLANAR FLAGSHIP HEADPHONE REVIEW

Cans are key to feeding the 'audiophile addiction' when external peripheral conditions do not lend themselves to standard listening. Headphones are a critical tool when there are others in close proximity to your speaker system or you feel the need to 'dissect' a new album or piece of new test gear. If listening sessions should fall within extremely early or late times of the day, having a trusty set of reference cans is a life-saver. Speaking of cans, it's been way too long since we've had the opportunity to test-drive the latest, updated Audeze flagship offering. Well then, here we go.

After the 3-year hiatus from our YFS LCD-4Z review, we were ready to dive back into whatever the headphone gurus in Santa Ana were prepared to throw at us. Okay, so we know what we're getting ourselves into here. We made a few assumptions going in since these were yet another planar flagship from our friends at Audeze in Southern California. We bet these have the signature 'house Audeze sound' but are more refined than their previous flagship, the LCD-4. Sure, these are just the same old Audeze cans in a newer, smaller, lighter shell... Right?

Wrong! None of that could be further from the truth as it turns out. Meet the latest planar flagship from Audeze, the LCD-5. The LCD-5 is quick, accurate, detailed, lightweight, and difficult to drive. Planars aren't the easiest load to drive but these were something all-together different than what we were used to seeing from Audeze (more on this later). The laid back sound signature with an emphasis on the bass and midrange was gone. In its place was what sounded more like hints of a possible reference model of old from Sennheiser but with better bass and overall resolution. Think high frequency energy here and not laid back necessarily. 

Speaking of changes, let us briefly touch on the physical differences between the LCD-4 and LCD-5. This newer 5 has much smaller earcups and a totally redesigned headband / suspension system. The suspension system of old, including the yolk and gimbal from the classic LCD-2-type designs, has been replaced with a completely new design. (The jury here at YFS is still out on this particular change) The latest, updated drivers are 90mm in diameter versus the 106mm diameter of the older 4. The most significant change has to be the weight of the cans themselves. These are LIGHTWEIGHT! I mean, really light. 420 grams to be exact. LCD-4 weighed in at almost 700 grams! One of the drawbacks of the older original Audeze models was the extreme weight of the setup. For instance, long listening sessions were impossible for us with the LCD-2. 

 

It seems everything has changed in regards to the new LCD-5 design and layout when compared to the older sibling. Old Audeze habits have certainly died this time around. The 5 is light enough to wear for multiple hours at a time. Listening sessions will last through the night and into the wee hours if source material will permit. In fact, when we first mated the 5 to our YFS demo Ferrum Audio stack, we planned on listening to just the title track on Talking Heads' Speaking In Tongues 24.96. We ended up listening to the entire digital LP! After a small taste, we just couldn't help ourselves. This was a very welcomed first impression.

One area that called attention to itself was the difficult load the LCD-5 presented us with. Audeze is not known for their easy loads to drive, but this was new for us. We had no difficulty driving the LCD-4 or any of the other over-ear Audeze cans for that matter (electrostats excluded obviously). The LCD-5 just didn't want to cooperate with the gear we had in-house. This is what spurred us to reach out to Ferrum Audio to get an amp into our showroom to help with our LCD-5 evaluation. Our ECP Torpedo III amplifier did work but we were missing that all important PRaT and midrange magic. This amp was simply not powerful enough to make the LCD-5 sing. Something was missing for sure. Our McIntosh MC202 sounds incredible mated with most of our reference cans but the LCD-5 and MC202 did not work together, at all. A loud hissing sound came from the earphones and we knew immediately there was a serious problem with this pairing. We have a feeling the 90 dB efficiency of the LCD-5 combined with the low output impedance of 14 Ohms just wasn't playing nicely with our YFS test system.

 

Switch over to the Ferrum Audio OOR + HYPSOS stack and our pure copper Litz YFS 'Super 30' cable and everything changed. The bass response was more detailed than anything we've heard from a headphone, albeit a bit on the light side. Huh? It's okay. We're used to it. Every headphone we listen to needs the lower bass regions bumped up a few dB to get things sounding right to us. There was no exception here with the LCD-5. After bumping up the lower bass a bit, we were rewarded with an amazingly detailed and resolute sound, yet with a completely full and dynamic presentation. "These are neutral reference cans worthy of testing gear with!", is the first thing that popped into our heads. WOW! This must be the furthest result from what we were initially expecting. Welcome to the 'New Audeze' folks. This is entirely new territory for Audeze and frankly, we are excited.

Not to worry, if you still lust for that Audeze sound of the past, as there are ways to smooth out the LCD-5 and 'darken' them up. Unfortunately, it appears it will have to be in the form of cabling and / or equipment. We don't really see any other way around it. There could be a pad tweak potentially down the road but that may weaken the bass response and effect the overall detail in the bass regions (that we enjoy so much)? Not sure? That's up to someone else as we are too busy these days to take something on like that. Regardless, this new Audeze flavor may take some 'getting used to' but proper component synergy is paramount with the LCD-5 and plays an important role in getting the best experience out of this new flagship.

Fit, form, and function are all top-notch with these new reference earphones from Sankar and the Orange County crew. Expect some of the best comfort, presentation, and sound quality available in a headphone here. Are they worth the $4,500 price tag? That's up for you to decide. If you can tame the LCD-5 with proper amplification, a great source, and a smooth aftermarket cable, you will be one happy camper.  This much we can promise you. 

As always, feel free to reach out to us with questions or concerns. We are  authorized  Audeze dealers. We can get you into a pair of LCD-5 for less than you think.

Thanks for reading and spending your time with us.

- KOB

 

 

Enter RAAL, a ribbon driver manufacturer based out of Serbia headed up by Alex Radisavljević. Alex has been submersed in audio since 1993 but has been designing and building ribbon drivers for transducers since 2007. These ribbon drivers are used by a plethora of HiFi speaker manufacturers including Salk, Nola, Ascend Acoustics, and Vapor Audio just to name a few. RAAL makes a killer ribbon driver and that's hard to argue at this point. Facts are facts.

Now enter Danny McKinney, president of Requisite Audio, based in Los Angeles. Requisite Audio fills the needs of the very demanding pro audio segment which deals with specialized gear for recording environments such as custom microphones and nearfield monitors. Danny is a very likable guy and never shies away from a great conversation about anything audio related. I first spoke to Danny just a few weeks prior to writing this article and we shared some interesting stories about headphones and our experiences in the Industry. I don't think I've had a better 'first impression' after speaking to someone for only half an hour.

Now, fast forward to the present. I have been looking for the next best thing as far as headphones are concerned after ending my relationship with Focal about 8 months prior. I had run into issues in relation to their Utopia headphones. My customers were, in some extreme cases, downright angry and felt betrayed by the way Focal was dealing with their unfortunate quality control problems. Focal made it right for all of my customers eventually, but not without some serious hoops to jump through to get there. That's not how you do business in a such a close knit community such as HiFi. To make a long story short, we both parted ways. I don't want to represent products that I can't stand behind with complete confidence.

How would I fill the void after losing a line like Focal? Well, find a headphone that performs on an even higher level than what was previously thought possible. Here's where Alex and Danny enter into the picture. Alex and Danny decided to partner up to form what is now known as RAAL-Requisite. The $3500 RAAL-Requisite SR1a is the product Danny and Alex came up with as a joint venture and it's definitely making a very big splash in the headphone world. In fact, the SR1a has set the bar for all other headphones in terms of performance to price ratio. Some would argue that the SR1a is THE top headphone to beat and can hang with the likes of the Sennheiser HE-1 (and may actually surpass it). That's a very bold statement!

So, how did I stumble upon the SR1a? One of my customers turned me on to them as a replacement for his recently sold Utopia. And boy, I'm so glad he did. Thank you Scott! After hearing his impressions on the SR1a, I knew I had to have them and see what they could do in my system. Scott emailed Danny and copied me on a message introducing both of us to one another. This is how I ended up meeting Danny.

Danny, being the nice guy that he is, brought YFS on as an authorized dealer after a simple conversation. That's how Danny works. No contracts to sign, no red tape, just a conversation and a 'virtual handshake' over the phone. That's how business should be done. After giving Danny my credit card information, he had a pair sent out to me immediately. Upon receiving the SR1a, I hooked them up to my system in my office and began to burn them in. My initial impression was 'Wow! These are super detailed yet not harsh or bright at all. These are dead neutral!" How is this possible? Ribbons are known for being a touch on the bright side in the 2 channel arena and must be matched properly with the appropriate gear to make sure they are not fatiguing. Well, not all ribbons work this way but the ones I have experience with do. Not so here.

50 hours later and the SR1a were even more neutral and just gave me a super clear picture of what I fed them. Play a bad recording and you hear the shortcomings of your music. But play a great recording and you get the best experience of that recorded event you can imagine. I really appreciate gear like this that is brutally revealing and honest. After all, these headphones were designed with the recording studio environment in mind where a mastering engineer would be using these to tweak and place the finishing touches on his or her creation. Fast forward to 250 hours and any hint of brightness or forwardness was now gone. The bass response was also stronger and more notable after break-in. So much for my previous experience with ribbons. I'm getting a completely different presentation than what I initially thought I would get with the SR1a which is quite impressive.

If the SR1a is a little on the bright side after break-in and you want to knock down the treble energy while enhancing the midrange and bass response, our custom hand-wound YFS 'Super 30' pure copper Litz cable will work perfectly and provide good synergy. Our YFS 'Super 30' Litz cable, when crafted specifically for the SR1a, contains double the standard conductor material to keep the cable impedance low and the current delivery as plentiful as possible. Just let us know if a custom YFS SR1a copper Litz cable is necessary and we'll twist one up for you without hesitation. Pricing depends upon the length of the cable. Feel free to contact us for lead times and to obtain a price quote for the specific cable length you have in mind.

How does one listen to a proper ribbon-based headphone anyway? Think of hanging a pair of tiny speakers in front of your ears. That's exactly what the SR1a is, a pair of ribbon drivers encased in a carbon fiber enclosure set in front of your ears. It's hard to imagine but this means you don't have traditional ear cups nor do you have traditional headphone sound. The sound coming out of the SR1a does not feel like it's coming out of a driver adjacent to your ears. It truly reminds me of a great pair of speakers situated extremely close to your head, like an extreme version of a studio nearfield monitor setup. I believe this is why Danny coined the term, 'Earfield Monitor' for the SR1a as that's the most accurate description I could come up with if you asked me to describe them. This unique design equates to the sound staging not being constricted at all. The SR1a feels like an 'out of head' experience. 

How does one drive a headphone like the SR1a, which presents a 0.2 Ohm load, with even the most powerful amplifiers available? RAAL-Requisite provides an 'interface box' that sits between the headphone and the amp. This small black box has a male 4-pin XLR connector on the front faceplate and a standard set of twistable locking binding posts (just like you would find on the rear of a 2 channel stereo amplifier) on the rear faceplate. Banana plugs or spades will work with the interface box. This black box allows the user to mate their favorite speaker cables to their favorite amplifier without fear of damaging any of their components in the process. RAAL-Requisite also employs a female 4-pin XLR connector on the amp-side of the factory headphone cable which means there's no way to plug the SR1a into a standard headphone amp. Most standard balanced headphone cables use a male 4-pin XLR connector instead of a female one. You have to admit, that's pretty darn smart.

Okay, so now that we know how the SR1a sounds, how does it feel sitting on top of your head? The SR1a rests on your head via two genuine leather straps held together with a metal headband. The main larger leather strap sits on top of your head like a traditional 'suspension style headband' but the smaller leather strap goes behind your head to keep the SR1a from sliding forward. I noticed during my listening sessions that the small strap could be placed on top of the large leather strap to make the SR1a sit on the top of your head like a traditional headphone. I have not decided whether I like them better with the small strap engaged behind my head or sitting on top of the larger leather strap. The jury is still out on which resting position I prefer. 

The SR1a is a very comfortable and particularly lightweight design. Since the drivers do not encompass your ears via ear cup pads like a standard headphone, I never found myself wanting to take them off. Without ear cups, your ears and head will not get sweaty during long listening sessions. This is a major bonus. Small lined pieces of foam are attached along the front / top of the driver enclosures which allow the ribbons to 'lay' next to your ears. These pads make contact with the sides of your head while listening. I did not find the pads overly annoying at all. Overall, the SR1a may need to be refined as far as fit and finish goes, but I personally think these cans are a home run right out of the gate.

Another very handy feature of the SR1a is the ability to adjust the toe-in of the drivers in relation to your ears and head. The drivers are mounted to the headband via a rotating swivel point which provides enough resistance to stay in place when rotated to the exact position you desire. After playing with the angle of the drivers for several hours, I ended up keeping them almost as flat as possible with only a slight amount of angling outwards from my ears. I am thinking this specific orientation may be tricking my brain into thinking the SR1a is an actual headphone more so than the other positions I tried. More time will be needed to settle on a final driver angle position but for now, I'm very happy with what I'm hearing.

How will the SR1a hold up over time? The ribbon drivers are rated to last several thousands of hours but will need to be replaced once this finite period of time is reached. Not to fear, on the RAAL-Requisite website you will find replacement drivers for $350 a pair. If you should happen to need your drivers replaced in an extraordinarily small amount of time (abnormally low hours of operation), that instance is covered under the 5 year warranty. If you are in doubt about specific timeframes for driver life or have any specific questions about warranty, it's always best to contact RAAL-Requisite directly. The replacement ribbon cartridges can be replaced easily by the end user by simply removing the old drivers and sliding the new ones in their place. This takes all of 30 seconds which also means there's no need to send in the SR1a for warranty / repair as this can be done at home after parts arrive from the manufacturer. This isn't exclusive of the drivers either. Replacement pads, interface boxes, the Pelican travel case, and a factory replacement cables in various lengths (spanning from 7 feet to 14 feet) are available from the SR1a accessories link on the company website. These finer points show that the SR1a is a special product. It appears Alex and Danny have thought of almost everything.

Let's talk about what you'll need to get the most out of the SR1a should you decide to give them a shot. Danny recommends a stereo amplifier with at least 150 Watts of power into a 4 Ohm load. This means any solid state integrated amp or preamp/ amplifier combo should work just fine as long as it adheres to the above specifications. Tubes are more than welcome as well. The guidelines for tube amplification are a little less stringent as tube amplifiers do not clip the same way when they are stressed like a solid state amp does. This means a 75 Watt to 100 Watt tube amp or integrated amp should do well for amplification duties. The interesting thing about the SR1a that surprised me the most is that super high-dollar amplifiers and preamps are not needed to get an amazing listening experience. That translates to not having to spend thousands of dollars on electronics to mate your source to these babies. In fact, your source / DAC is more important when it comes to selecting gear for the SR1a than the amplification which should really help listeners if they are on the fence about whether or not the SR1a is for them.

Another interesting thing to note here, which is also a sign of great gear in my opinion, is that the SR1a are VERY receptive to changes in gear and cables. Switch out your speaker cables and interconnects and you will notice a change immediately. This means the SR1a is a great tool for cable and equipment designers. The SR1a allows us to 'voice' our products and tweak them until they sound the way we want them to without straining to hear differences.

If there was anything to complain about regarding the SR1a, it would be the overall look of the headphone. There's no way around it, the SR1a look like something out of a Star Trek episode! But, this is hardly concerning once you hear what they can do. So, in a nutshell, there's really nothing to complain about at all. RAAL-Requisite has a winner on their hands and the rest of the competition has a lot of work to do to catch up, if they can...

Until next time...

- YFS Review Team

 

by Kevin OBrien on January, 22 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

 

by Kevin OBrien on April 27th 2018

AUDEZE VISITS THE YFS SHOWROOM

Evan Grimm paid us a visit this week to showcase Audeze's latest headphones along with their classic offerings. Evan is in charge of the Audeze product training program as well as being part of the marketing department. He also gives feedback to the founders of Audeze and wears several hats all while working remotely from Michigan. I believe Evan told me Audeze employs just under 50 employees so the California based company is not "large" by any means but not a 5-man outfit such as YFS.

Audeze got their start by performing demos of their first headphone, the LCD-2, at RMAF Can Jam in 2008. They weren't able to get a booth so they simply walked around Can Jam with their LCD-2 headphone allowing RMAF attendees a chance to listen. It all worked out as the LCD-2 gained popularity and the rest is history. Fast forward to 2018 and Audeze has become a major player in the headphone manufacturer arena worldwide.

Evan was nice enough to stop by my home here just on the outskirts of Boulder to let me get my hands and ears on the entire LCD series along with the iSine series of headphones. This also included the LCDi4 which looks similar to the iSine series but packs the LCD-4 technology in a very small form factor. 

The first thing on our agenda was to talk about the new offering Audeze has in the works. Evan was able to grab one of the first production LCD4-Z cans to bring on his trip to Colorado. I felt pretty fortunate to be able to get a feel for the latest offering from Audeze. The LCD4-Z gives the listener the same frequency response as the acclaimed LCD-4 but at a much lower impedance of 15 Ohms vs the standard 200 Ohms. This is huge as the LCD-4 can be a difficult headphone to drive. With the LCD4-Z, the load becomes much more manageable and this special headphone can be powered via a small amp and even some portable devices with great results.

 

I was able to compare the LCD-4 along side the LCD4-Z and go back and forth. Unfortunately, the LCD4-Z was fresh from the factory with only 26 hours of play time. The other cans all had several hundred hours of play which made a discernible difference in my comparison. I believe with the same amount of burn-in, the LCD4-Z will be a very potent headphone and may be your go-to can in your quiver.

I spent time comparing the various cans in the LCD series from the LCD-2 all the way up to the LCD-4. It was interesting to hear from Evan that the LCD-3, the LCD-X, and the LCD-XC were all basically the same headphone with very small differences. The X is their most neutral headphone besides the LCD-4, which is their most neutral sounding can. The LCD-2 Classic is their warmest sounding headphone with the LCD-3 situated right between the standard LCD-2 and the LCD-X as far as presentation is concerned. The LCD-MX4 was put in place to offer an option to those that need to wear an Audeze headphone for 5+ hours a day. This particular model offers a lightweight yet capable headphone for the professional in the studio setting. The LCD4-Z borrows the lightweight feel of the MX4 but gives the listener the sound quality of the reference LCD-4. The LCD4-Z shares the same magnesium ear cups and carbon fiber suspension headband of the MX4. For an added fee, wood rings are available on the LCD4-Z but that adds 1/3 of the weight of the entire headphone if this option is desired. The LCD-4 remains Audeze's reference can and is the benchmark for the rest of the line. I especially enjoy the LCD-4 as it is the most neutral and detailed can Audeze manufacturers which allows me to hear my equipment and cables more clearly throughout my chain. 

The LCD4 and LCD4-Z offer custom wood rings for an added $500 to the already lofty $4,000 MSRP. The LCD-4 comes with Ebony wood rings standard but some folks may want to spice things up a bit. The other LCD models offer dealer exclusive options such as Shedua wood rings (available on the LCD-2), etc that are only available through authorized Audeze dealers such as YFS. All the LCD series headphones offer the new suspension headband made of spring steel and leather. The 4 series cans get the carbon fiber version of this new headband design. This newly designed headband allows the listener to enjoy their tunes for sustained listening sessions. The old headband was due for an overhaul and Audeze has knocked it out of the park with this latest update.

The microsuede ear pads are no longer available but they are being replaced with leatherette ear pads. They are black in color and look identical to the standard black leather ear pads. The one main update to the ear pads, no matter which version you choose, is the addition of memory foam. I was not exactly sure what the memory foam accomplished but Audeze does not make rolling changes unless there's a good reason to do so.

It was very eye-opening to see how the Audeze headphones were hand crafted in their factory in Southern California. Evan shared a video he took of a pair of LCD-4s being produced from start to finish. Every step involved careful assembly by an Audeze employee. Drivers were thoroughly tested and then matched. Once the various pieces were assembled, the headphones were placed in a sort of miniature anechoic chamber to get an accurate frequency response plot which was then tied to the serial number of that specific headphone. Feel free to contact Audeze to get your frequency response plot. This applies to the LCD-X and above models only. The headphones were then burned in for 24 hours prior to being boxed up and prepared for shipment.

Audeze uses a measurement system that rivals the cost of most pre-owned entry-level luxury German sports cars. A type of "dummy head and ears" system is implemented to simulate the human ear/ head for accurate measurements. The microphones used are sophisticated and can capture the sound of a snail chewing on a leaf (yes, this has actually been done and is a procedure the test mic manufacturer has used to evaluate their microphones' sensitivity).                                        

The iSine series of in-ear headphones looked intriguing but I only had time to test the LCDi4. All I can say is 'wow'. I didn't believe Evan when he told me the LCD-4 tech was packed into this little IEM but he was right. After listening to one of my favorite DSD tracks, I could clearly hear the same cues as if I was listening to the bigger brother, the LCD-4. The LCDi4 is not cheap ($2,500 MSRP) but it may be worth the price of admission if you're serious about your IEMs and want that Audeze reference house sound in a small portable package.

I want to thank Evan for his time and ability to meet me at my home on a Tuesday night. That was very cool and it shows the type of dedication and effort the Audeze team is willing to make to get dealers the right information and the ability to accurately help their customers.

If you're interested in purchasing any of the Audeze product offerings, please feel free to contact YFS. We are an authorized Audeze dealer and your purchase carries the standard factory warranty and support. We strive to remain competitive price-wise and our support is top notch.

Thanks for reading and we look forward to hearing from you.

- YFS Review Team

 

by Kevin OBrien on October 7th 2017

FOCAL CLEAR HEADPHONES - FIRST IMPRESSION

Today was the second day of the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver and the weather was absolutely gorgeous. We were lucky enough to get a glimpse of the new gear on display and our focus was on Focal's newly released Clear headphones. What exactly does this latest creation from France include and what makes this new model different from Elear? Given the similar price point to their established Elear model headphone ($1000 MSRP), it was key to find out if the extra $500 was going to be worth it for the upgrade. 

At $1500 MSRP, the Clear sits above the Elear but is no where near the price of admission of the Utopia at $4000 MSRP. Setting the price at $1500 is important. Getting this hobby back where pricing should be is a good thing for all of us as recent street prices for models from various manufacturers has sky rocketed. It is important to get as many people into the game as possible and the Clear is doing just that. 

Is the Clear just another Elear but with a different finish? We found out the Clear comes with 3 different cables. Inside the packaging you'll find one short 4ft single ended cable with an 1/8" stereo jack, and two longer 10ft cables. One 10ft cable sports a 4-pin balanced connector and the other a single ended 1/4" stereo jack. This is nice. Focal is listening to feedback from customers who don't want a 13 foot cable. The balanced and single ended options give the listener flexibility and allows the Clear to be mated to almost any amplifier on the market.

As far as sound quality goes, the Clear steps up the midrange and treble information and keeps the bass response of the Elear but hits with slightly more punch. Clear does just what its name entails. It reminded us of a clearer, more detailed, and more refined version of the Elear. We went back and forth between the Clear and Elear models listening to the same test tracks and the Clear was definitely our preferred headphone. We also spent considerable time with the Clear and the Utopia. The Clear is about 80% of what the Utopia can offer as far as detail retrieval, air between instruments, and overall soundstage but with a better bass response. It appears the driver compliment used to bring out the reference presentation of the midrange and treble in Utopia does not do as well in the lower regions. The Clear was the winner when comparing the low end of the frequency response. Can the Clear touch the overall presentation of the Utopia? Nope. However, it positions itself right where it should be in the Focal over-ear line-up and pretty much makes the Elear obsolete. For $1500 MSRP, we think a lot of folks will want to bring a pair home, especially after comparing to Focal's reference, the Utopia.

Impedance for the new Clear has been set at 55 Ohms and sensitivity comes in at 104 dB. This allows Clear to be used with a wider variety of devices. Clear implements the same type of driver that Elear uses but with a new copper voice coil inside the driver. This updated voice coil along with an upgraded ear pad provides a more refined sound. Is the asking price justified in this case? We feel it is, especially when you realize what Clear includes that Elear does not. The Clear comes with both balanced and single ended options as well as a slick, hard shell portable carrying case. The Elear does not include either of these options. Focal has done a great job of listening to end user and dealer feedback. It's going to be a hard decision for me personally to try to justify the Utopia's cost when such a great performer can be had for such a comparatively small investment.

We suspect demand will be high for Clear based on what we've shared above. If you're wondering when Clear will be available, that's a good question. The very first batches of Clear are slated to be available on the 17th of November 2017. Once production ramps up, more pairs of clear should roll out but supply will be very limited. Focal states they will be as fair as possible by allocating an equal number of Clear to each dealer that wants them but with all products that are in high demand, it's going to be tough to get your hands on them. 

 

Thanks for reading.

- YFS Review Team

 

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