It’s been a hot minute since I’ve gotten my mitts on an Audeze headphone. And yesterday, we wrote about the new LCD-i3, but I had no idea I’d be sitting down with the earphone today, to take a pointed look at its sonic offerings. Retailing for a solid $899 and arriving at audio stores in late August, the new Audeze LCD-i3 has been conceived as a “little brother” model to the older, higher-end LCD-i4. As an entry-level model it certainly won’t be supplanting that venerable earphone, but at $899, just how good does it sound?
Audeze LCD-i3 Review
The Audeze LCD-i3 comes in a box that holds the earphones and what seems like a metric ton of accessories. Instead of writing all of those accessories into this paragraph, I’ve decided to put them in list form. Here’s what you get:
- three audio cables (one terminating in a 3.5 mm SE plug, one lightning cipher cable, and one Bluetooth cipher cable)
- a USB charging cable for the included Bluetooth cable
- two sets of the new angled ear hooks
- one set of the new “ear fins”
- five pairs of eartips
- a cleaning tool
- a cable clip
- one snazzy carrying case
Basically, the i3 comes with enough accessories to cover you no matter how you want to wear or use this earphone. Personally, I found the new “ear fins” accessory indispensable, especially during longer listening sessions. But I also have freakishly large elephant ears.
That being said, fit and comfort can be chalked up as a win. In terms of build, this earphone uses the same Magnesium housing and grill design found on the LCD-i4. Except for the coloration differences, they look identical. And it’s almost exactly the same weight as the iSine 20, at 0.35 ounces.
And, while it may look like the i4, this earphone also borrows some of its internals from the lower-end iSine 10. Specifically, the i3 feels just as easy to drive, negating the need for an amp (unlike either the iSine 20 or LCD-i4).
I won’t waste your time talking about the Bluetooth cable codecs or the length of the lightning cipher cables. It’s an Audeze earphone, and the accessories pretty much do what they should with out any design or quality issues.
Featuring heavy lows with ample weight, the i3 delivers the kind of robust and organic sound one would expect from a planar magnetic. The bass lands hard and fast, the excellent control ruling out any chance of bleed. This results in a rich and clean low end, and one that sounds wonderful with bass guitars and drums. But really, any instrument with a percussive element seems to benefit from the fast, thick sound (like Andy McKee’s slap guitar on Drifting or Gates of Gnomeria). I’d actually forgotten just how amazing the latter song sounds until I heard it again on the LCD-i3. The wide frequency range and lightning-quick attack and decay of the i3 really does that track some sweet, juicy justice.
In the mids, the Audeze LCD-i3 offers a wealth of detail that feels just a little reserved. On certain jazz tracks or choral tracks (like those of Scala and the Kolacny Brothers), the mids can almost appear a little weak. But rather than some failing of the Audeze LCD-i3’s sound, I think this results from my ears just wanting to hear more. Granted, some tracks can still sound a little wonky – like U2’s With Or Without You. With some of Bono’s vocals registering in the high-mids, they can sound kind of stretched or distorted at times. And while the emphasis does tend to land on the lows and highs, that does translate to a better sound for rock, hip-hop, electronica, and pop material. Because, all things considered, the LCD-i3’s sound doesn’t really skimp here – the midrange isn’t really lacking, it’s just not as commanding as the lows and highs.
Highs on the LCD-i3 feel luscious and full. While at times leaning bright, the highs never devolve into a harsh or uncomfortable sound. Detail comes through in spades, with pop tracks like Hot by TWICE or Nolita Fairytale by Vanessa Carlton sounding better than their genre would denote. Just a tad bit colored or emphasized, the sound pours just a touch of magic into string-heavy numbers, whether you’re bumping some Steve ‘n’ Seagulls or a Vivaldi violin concerto.
But even on my preferred test track for testing the limits of the high end, the LCD-i3 does amazingly well. Where other earphones might crack and falter, leading to a harsh or peaky sound, the i3 gracefully handles every note with incredible precision.
With clear depth and a roomy feeling of space, the Audeze LCD-i3 offers the realistic listening experience I’ve come to associate with Audeze’s other earphones. On rock tracks like AKFG’s Blue Train there’s a sense of closeness that you just can’t find on closed earphones – or even the iSine 10 or 20. The same effect surfaces on tunes like Life’s A Bitch by Nas and the Chromatics’ Running Up That Hill – a kind of hyper-realistic sound that falls within a blind spot in your brain. It’s there, but too heady and mesmerizing to really sink your teeth into. This gives the i3 the flavor of a stripped- and boiled-down version of a full-size Audeze headphone – clear, expressive, and intoxicating in its feeling of reality.
While I personally abhor the ear hooks that Audeze released with their previous in-ear models, the new angled versions do improve comfort. Still, for me, the most ideal fit came in the form of the new “ear fins” that press against my conchae.
The low impedance and impressive efficiency of the LCD-i3 will preclude the need for amplification. Even where my modest PA2V2 amp was concerned, even the slightest bit of power proved unnecessary. But running from built-in amplification on my iPhone and modded iPod, as well as a Cayin N6 ii, I was able to get flawless audio from all three devices. Rest assured, no matter what source device you are using, the LCD-i3 sounds amazing. Testing with the lightning cipher cable allows listeners to utilize Audeze’s app, facilitating DSP correction if one chooses to use it.
If you can afford it, buy the Audeze LCD-i3. With its emotive lows and flawless high end (as well as that hypnotic soundstage) this earphone delivers an unbelievable sound. As an upgrade to the iSine 20, it works well, but the i3’s star role is a cheaper, more affordable alternative to the LCD-i4. At less than half the cost, it’s got way more value per dollar, and sounds just as fun and engaging.
If you can’t afford $899 in earphones, get the cheaper, less-detailed (but still good) iSine 20. Even though this older model can’t hold a candle to the new i3, it’s still an open-back earphone that performs miles ahead of its competition.
But what if you can splash out a little more? Thanks to that amazing soundstage, closed-back earphones can’t compete. And that includes other planars like the AAW Nightingale (at $999) or even more expensive earphones using dynamic drivers.
Really, the next improvement over this level of sound quality would have to be the LCD-i4, but the i3 gives you the bulk of that sound at only a fraction of the price.
I never understood the popularity of the Audeze in-ears until I tried the LCD-i3. Now I get it. The truth is, though, that this earphone does what other Audeze earphones simply try to do (albeit very well): it gives you a lifelike planar sound that feels as real as real can get. Though $899 may be a bit pricey when stacked up against iSine dollars, the LCD-i3’s sound will speak for itself. This earphone is worth every penny, and then some. Our take? Snag one pronto and let it make love to your ear drums all day, every day.
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