Here you are, ready to drop a grand on a pair of cans. Maybe you’re a newly minted audiophile breaking into the big leagues or a long time hifi enthusiast expanding your collection once again (much to the chagrin of your loved ones). Either way, in the pursuit of quality at this significant price point there are two headphones that are going to keep coming to the top of your list, the Audeze LCD-2 and the Beyerdynamic T1. These two masterfully designed open back headphones are both flagship lines meant to represent their respective companies on the frontlines of audiophile culture and both carry a strong and well deserved reputation. Luckily for the indecisive among us, the similarities end there. I find that these headphones should appeal to very different needs and sensibilities. If you know what you like, you’ll know which headphone you will like.
What You Get
Both headphones come with a basic set of accessories, a protective hard case and the necessary cables. In the case of the LCD-2, I would feel confident tossing the case off a cliff with the headphones inside. The braided cable has a quarter inch tip that connects to the headphone via two 4-pin mini xlr. The T1’s protective case is less hardy but provided you aren’t tossing it off any landmarks you should be fine. Its cloth coated cable ends in a 3.5mm jack and comes with a quarter inch adapter should you need one.
Look and Feel
Much like their sound, the headphones differ quite strikingly in their presentation. On one hand you have the sleek and modern Beyerdynamics. These lightweight headphones use a black leather headband and lacquered, stainless steel casings that end in anodized aluminum yokes. The ear pads have a sleek surface of velour with an inner layer of memory foam. They cup your ears firmly but comfortably and I imagine with the memory foam layer it only improves with age. They don’t leave as much room for your ears as some other open backs but deep into a listening session this didn’t bother me at all.
On the other hand, the Audeze have a classic look. The wooden casings are made of either rosewood or shedua tonewood. With their wood grain and trademark Audeze grill they take you back to an earlier era of stereo equipment. This is further highlighted by the much more minimal and industrial headband. I particularly like the exposed notches which allow you to clearly see what position you like your headphones to sit for the perfect personalized fit. Audeze has a reputation for making heavy headphones and clocking in at 590 grams these are no exception. Personally I find this no issue, I use the LCD-XC as my primary mixing headphones so I often wear the Audeze build for hours on end. I find that the wide leather of the headband distributes the weight quite comfortably but if weight is an issue for you, this is something to take note of. It also bears mentioning that the structurally exposed Audeze headband has a habit of snagging a stray hair here and there. I don’t mind, but after a long mixing session I do find myself picking a few hairs out of the pegs.
Design and Output
As we dive underneath the hood to see what gives these headphones their kick, we find once again that they are very different breeds. The LCD-2 uses a planar magnetic driver with their own proprietary magnet array. This “Fazor” technology prevents phase issues, enhances diaphragm response, and improves imaging. The output impedance is 70 ohms. Audeze recommends that they are used along with a headphone amp but you can get more than enough volume straight from a computer or smartphone if you want to.
The T1’s are more mysterious to me, using their patented “tesla technology” dynamic drivers. If the idea of a dynamic driver turns you off, rest assured, these cans have an absolute quality sound and hold up next to any planar magnetic driver. At 32 Ohms they have no issue getting volume from any source. Their detractors would say that this is a problem but I enjoy being able to use them with any device and they still pair quite nicely with a good amp.
Now that the tech and the specs is out of the way, let’s start talking about the real reason we’re all here, sound quality. Both headphones deliver a fantastic sound yet offer such different sonic experiences. The LCD-2 delivers absolute clarity. When I listen to music every element of the arrangement is crystal clear no matter how busy the mix gets and listening to podcasts it is as if I am in the room with them. The width and depth of space particularly shine while watching movies. The movement of ambient noise is easy to hear and the balance between dialogue, vocals, and music remains balanced. While I wouldn’t describe the sound as hyped, it treats the full range of the frequency spectrum beautifully, though arguably inaccurately. Their bass is defined and rich in low mids, giving you the punch of low end instruments without excessive boom. I couldn’t find a song that could sound muddy on these. They have a well defined mid range that sits exactly as it should. The highs, though crisp, seem slightly rolled off, preventing any harshness. Even in a fully driven rock song I could hear the nuance of a drummer’s cymbal playing. All put together it makes for a pleasantly warm pair of headphones that hide nothing yet presents everything in its best light. I would not immediately grab these for mixing or mastering but I could spend all day listening to just about anything through them.
Maybe I wouldn’t listen to anything on the T1’s but when I would, I greatly prefer it. There are certainly a hyped pair of headphones with a powerful, deep low end, in your face mids, and crisp highs that are at times overbearing. I often found myself inadvertently moving and grooving to what I was hearing through Beyerdynamic’s flagship, even when in a fluorescent lit office. I didn’t just hear the music, I felt it. Unfortunately, with more crowded music, such as the fast paced rock and roll of Modern Baseball, I found that the low and mid range elements would grow somewhat muddy. At first I was less than impressed by the soundstage. It seemed relatively small for an open backed pair of headphones. But upon further inspection I was misled by the headphone’s strong focus on low end and mids. I put on Ty Segall’s cover album, “Segall Smeagol” which has an abundance of interesting and inventive mix decisions, including an opening track with the bass panned to the far left. Needless to say the soundstage is quite expansive, giving elements the appearance of being above, below, and to either side of the listener. On more bass heavy songs, a traditionally center panned low end can distract from that, but when listening to folk or classical I found I could experience the breadth of the stereo field without distraction. The hyped sound of the headphone led to podcasts sounding strange but I found that it lent itself well to film in a different way than the Audeze, where I could really feel the emotion behind the sound.
Two wildly different headphones that each provide a stellar experience. As I compared the headphones I often found myself reluctant to reach for the other yet as soon as I did, I found myself wondering how I stayed away for so long. The Audeze played everything well, even with dense rock and roll numbers that had layers upon layers of guitar competing with rolicking drums and driving bass. If you have varied tastes, or plan on using them for uses beyond music, or just really enjoy picking apart a piece of music and focusing on every element, I’d highly recommend the LCD-2’s. Still nothing I listened to on the Audeze had the impact that I felt through the Beyerdynamic T1. On one end of the spectrum hip hop and modern pop music slammed, turning your world into a club meant for one. Sensitive music such as post rock and classical also fared well, the T1 really pushed forward the emotion of a musical piece. Everything on the TI’s felt like a listening experience. It seems that depending on what you want to do with a pair of headphones, the choice between the two of them will seem as clear as day. Or perhaps you’ll be more like me and start wondering how you can finagle buying the both of them.
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