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In essence
: Take any cut that features well-recorded solo vocals or instruments set against lush massed strings. I picked the evocative Brian Keane & Omar Faruk Tekbilek soundtrack to The Butterfly | Kelebek and something from Natasha Atlas' new Mounqaliba album. The Audez'e utterly transformed the potentially saccharine. It showed not only real symphonic strings but strings with gorgeously juicy timbres. While not transforming them into headline acts per se, the strings did gain considerably in gravitas. This shifted the tunes' musical merit in a fundamental way. Now they scored well above any dismissive "here come the violins" knee jerk reaction that so often accompanies those movie moments.

Chewy dense maximally developed tone textures and an utter absence of HF nervousness are what sets these earspeakers apart. But there's more. With appropriate amplification—this is probably the quality that benefits most from upscale gain—bass displacement, impact, extension and mass are downright spectacular. Whether supremely well recorded upright like Renaud Garcia Fons on his generous new Méditerranées two-fer; the shuddering electronic heart beats on Mercan Dede's Nefes; the rolling thunder and timpani/brass-laden battle music of movie soundtracks; or the pounding piano of Armenian wunderkind Tigran Hamasyan whom I recently heard live again with the Dhafer Youssef 4tet in Lausanne's Casino de Montbenon - the LCD-2 goes beyond the Grado PS-1000 by avoiding the latter's goosed attributes. The Audez'e is simply a stunningly bass-extended honest badass.

The twin assets of very high possible SPLs and huge surface area also create the potential for a very big visceral sound. At the same Lausanne Jazz concert we heard the Odean Pope All Stars Group after Trio Poursuite and Dhafer Youssef. This was led by an incendiary James Carter who flew in on 24-hour notice to replace a hospitalized Pope. Sitting in the 2nd row 5 meters from the closest musician meant this all-brass ensemble with the exuberant Jeff 'Tain' Watts on drums was painfully loud. Watts and Mark Giuliana from the Abu Nawas Rhapsody Youssef programme then underscored the most distinctive difference between live and canned.

Playback cannot realistically render gun-shot type bass transients. A live drum workout in close proximity shows hifi amplifiers and speakers to lack in speed, headroom and perfectly vertical attacks to replicate the lightningy brutality of athletic percussionists. With my present living conditions, I could never attempt realistic levels of such power music. You'd also need horns with massive subwoofers to stand a chance. That said, the LCD-2 with Burson Audio's HA-160D has very impressive speed and low-down fortitude to push at least my personal envelope. My ears of course wouldn't survive life-concert levels in headphone proximity for very long. Even so, if you're a secret but hopefully just occasional headbanger who never gets any (respect), the Audez'e should be your payday with a nice Christmas bonus. It rocks! A small liability thereof is that it comes fully into its particular flavor of glory only at levels which are somewhat more elevated.

In relativity: I found the Audez'e to stage just as big as the Sennheiser HD800 but with a difference. The Senn's brighter sparklier more crystallized top creates more pronounced image specificity. Ambient cues of reflections, performer halos and transient origins are keener. For Gallo CDT-tweeter + spherical mids holography, the HD800 remains king. This is supported by its lighter less massive low end. It leans out the general presentation for a subjective impression of greater transparency.

Compared to the ortho, the HD800 is the more electrostatic and less substantial. While the midband linearity and purity of the Audez'e should bring up comparisons to Peter Walker's Quads, its bandwidth and dynamics obliterate the tie-in. Though the LCD-2 is the actual planar, it's actually more dynamic than a dynamic. Versus the gloss-black Hifi Man HE-6 with its more lit-up treble [below on the Omega stand], I found the Audez'e to be the fundamentally gutsier, fleshier and also the more immediate performer. This greater immediacy was due to the reduced dynamic constrast of the rather less efficient HE-6. It caused remnants of the sock Ken Ball wrote of earlier as the attribute which originally had him shun orthodynamics. The HE-6 sounds less substantial and direct and as such somewhat shallower/flatter than the Audez'e. On the other hand, it has more presence region zap plus a more silvery treble and is more open than the HE-5LE. In my book it's the obvious go-to ortho for HD800 fans. The LCD-2 is the planar for Tesla 1 freaks. This triangulates my preference of the Audez'e over the Hifi Man. I place the beyer ahead of the Sennheiser (again, both of mine are recabled).

Within my headphone harem, the top echelon is occupied by the LCD-2, T1, HD800 and HE-6 and in that sequence. I find the Audez'e first amongst equals by an appreciable margin but other tastes will reshuffle my rating. Seeing how subjective this game always is, some further context is called for. Ranking lowest in my book now are the ATH W-5000 from audio-technica. They are the most colored and dynamically most restrained. Next up is the Grado PS-1000. When powered appropriately, I'd place the AKG K-702 and Hifi Man HE-5LE in the middle. Both require rather manly amps, the Austrian to shine, the Chinese to even wake up. The distance between my middle and top levels is quite significant.

Mix 'n' match. To hear the lushly saturated textures of the LCD-2—unabashedly better than I manage on my big rig by the way—requires no valves. The Burson's all-discrete class A transistor circuitry shows them up fully. This proves that solid-state done right can be minorly sweet and rich. Admittedly my 300B amp goes a bit farther still but you'd consider it broken if it didn't. The Burson retaliates with the more guttural bass attacks though surprisingly the Woo amp isn't far off. In matters of tone, It would be fair to think of the Audez'e as a headphone with built-in valve emulator. It's part of the package.

With all the a priori warnings over a dark sound that would take acclimation, I didn't even notice. The LCD-2 isn't recessed or soft on top. It's simply too obviously bass endowed to shift attention upward. Add to that a presence region with a slight dip and you have a recipe for wondrous tonal richness. That never registered as dark on my meter, just rich. Someone who finds an HD800 with stock leash just right however probably would (I really did not get along with Sennheiser's own harness).

In terms of loudspeakers, the Audez'e combines elements of Zu (tone and dynamics), Quad (midrange purity and resolution), Sonus Faber (organic warmth) and X. The mystery letter stands for an imaginary and otherwise impossible speaker which in room would be perfectly linear to 20Hz and play very loud without overloading the space. Such characterizations with bits from here and there are always hamstrung. They seem so 60-second script pitch. "Imagine Avatar meets Ghost with a dash of Trainspotting." It gets silly fast. Even so, the Zu + Quad + Sonus Faber combo with bass linearity and extension to exceed them all would be as concise a pitch as I could concoct.

Dub reggae beats and Quads would never mix. Nor would Zu and ultimate finesse with a pure string orchestra like Claude Chalhoub's Diwan. Original Sonus Faber meanwhile should conjur up a warm romantic 'musical' sound that lacks resolution and botton-end heft. It really takes elements of all of them to arrive at the Audez'e. In headphone terms, I'd probably call them an amalgamation of beyer-dynamic's T1 with Grado's PS-1000 for bass moxy and some Stax for speed. What this still leaves unaccounted for is the proper degree of tone-texture development and perceived linearity from top to bottom. That's the X factor of this particular hybrid.