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Turn down for what? Audeze’s $1300 LCD-2 bamboo headphones reviewed

Audeze have just put out the latest edition in their LCD-2 headphones series – the bamboo, leather-free LCD-2 Bamboo. Marketed as eco-friendly and targeted at the vegan headphone market (yes, there is one), these headphones are designed with audiophiles in mind.

Other than being leather free and made from bamboo, they comprise an orthodynamic magnetic structure, which allows sound to be produced almost completely free of distortion and ”exactly like the artists had intended them to be heard”.

Despite the lack of leather and the potentially clunky use of bamboo, the headphones are amazingly comfortable. (Some of the most common complaints with the previous editions had been comfort, with one reviewer calling them “unwearable”.)

The new ones are much lighter, and have larger pads which are softer and place less pressure on the head. This could be as the new wood, bamboo, seems to be a lot lighter and less restrictive than the previous material – rosewood.

Check the specs:

Specs
Driver Type: Planar Magnetic
Impedance @ 1kHz: 60 ohms
Sensitivity: 90 dB SPL/V THD+N: <1% Connector Type: 1/4" Cable Length: 2.5 m Cable Style: Straight Y Weight: 490 grams w/o cord Manufacturer Warranty: Limited 3 Year

But the main selling point about these headphones – and at RRP$1300 they need more than one selling point – is the wonderful richness of sound, the build-quality, and attractive high-end design.

The Techly offices were squabbling over who would get to try the headphones first. Everyone wanted to hear their music in the best possible set-up, with a range of tunes pumped out going from Pink Floyd to P!nk. No one wanted to let them go.

Generally, headphones are a compromise, enabling you to listen to music in a crowded place. Social pressures prevent you from firing up the boombox and hitting the turbo bass on the train, bus or during geography class.

But the LCD-2s are not a compromise. They are not even designed for public places, with quite a bit of ‘sound bleed’ from the outside. They’re not designed for a commute, or for a shared office.

They’re very high quality. They feel soft but sturdy, they’re elegant and look and feel great on your head. They look good just sitting on your desk if you need to take them off for some unfortunate reason. They come with a very sturdy hard plastic case to protect them.

These were truly something to listen to, and we’re sad that we had to give them back.

The LCD-2s are specifically designed for great listening, allowing you to hear all the elements of any music you’re listening to. Even songs you know well will appear new, with a range of other sounds and layers that you never noticed before.

Audeze LCD-2 Bamboo: If Jack Sparrow wore earphones, he'd wear these. Image: Audeze

Audeze LCD-2 Bamboo: If Jack Sparrow wore earphones, he’d wear these. Image: Audeze

Therein, however, lie the downsides. Like the fluorescent lights and mirrors in shopping centre changing rooms, the headphones do such a good job of amplifying the sound that they will magnify any imperfections in the quality of the recording.

This doesn’t mean that you will all the sudden realise that Lorde sounds like a 45-year-old male geologist from Colorado – but that MP3s really suck.

If you start listening to your music collection on the Audeze LCD-2 Bamboo headphones, you will quickly realise that only files in the FLAC/OGG format will suffice.

You will need to purge your iTunes collection forever. Spotify doesn’t cut-it, even at 320kbps, with these.

You may just need to dust off the old Sony Discman.

These headphones are so good, MP3s will sound rubbish. Still got your old Sony Discman? Image: Sony.

These headphones are so good, MP3s will sound rubbish. Still got your Sony Discman? Image: Sony.

MP3 was never made for sound quality – MP3 was made for size. In fact, in the development of MP3, the intention was to take advantage of a specific limitation in human hearing called ‘auditory masking‘, which allows for music to be digitally compressed in a manner that humans don’t really notice.

While it might not be particularly obvious, especially when you’re listening to Lil John at full volume on the train – Turn Down For What? – the sound quality of MP3s has been called out before.

When Radiohead dropped the pay-as-you-feel In Rainbows in 2007, fans complained that the 10 x 160kb, DRM-free MP3s were poor quality and not good enough to handle the band’s ‘delicate’ sound. The band even copped what is possibly the biggest insult the band has received over the years – un-Radiohead (although I guess that’s better than ‘sounds like Coldplay’).

Someone should probably have told the fans that they were pretty much getting it for free.

Therein lies the issue. If you listen to a lot of streaming music or similar services, like getting new glasses after being married for 10 years, these headphones are so ‘good’ that you will hear all the imperfections. Filetypes without compression are much bigger in size, so if you do go down this route, you might need more storage.

The spiralling effect could result in you never feeling the same again.

Will you be able to listen to music at lower quality with poorer quality headphones?

Will you finally understand what those audiophile guys are all about, tell everyone about your new vinyl collection, and rock the LCD-2s at home and in the office?

For the price tag of $1300, it’s a high-barrier to take a journey to hear your music seemingly for the first time. If you’re diligent enough to save up for them, happened to have robbed a bank or won lotto, you’ll be very pleased.

Rating: ★★★★☆

About the author

Tristan has a passion for tech, digital life, sport, and being told he looks better in person.

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