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Fundamentals. "You are right. As far as tonal accuracy, precision of the signal et al are concerned, there's nothing that beats a transducer not colored by the room. As you said, technically and from a pure sound perspective, headphones are unbeatable. I do often use them to run checks and see if speakers I'm designing are missing anything. However, to get the feel of space, depth and dimension plus low bass one almost feels rather than hears to feel simply immersed in the sound field as one would at a live event (admittedly nowhere close but still) - that naturally is impossible for headphones. One can still enjoy the music of course. I did a lot of headphone listening when I was stationed in San Juan on a job and had no system. But given the choice and for sheer pleasure, I would always opt for a less 'accurate' speaker system that surrounded me with music than a more 'correct' headphone system that played music only inside my cranium."

That was Jacob George of Indian speaker house Rethm. His son Aman's love of headphones led him to author a new headphone amp at RMAF 2010 even though his personal loyalty lies with regular speakers. If you sympathize with Jacob's preferences, the Sennheiser HD800—and discontinued AKG K1000—will get you as close to the sound field's magnification of/as space as headphones are probably capable. If your trigger points on the other hand are succulence, tone, image density and sheer guts—one archetype of this type listener is Kevin Scott of Living Voice/Definitive Audio in the UK—the Audez'e can actually exceed conventional speaker systems. Obviously the overall scope and scale of things will still be diminished and the physical skin impact of low bass eliminated (two core items the Jacob George type listener won't tolerate with headphones in general). Involvement factor based on tone saturation, dynamics and timing could well be superior however to perhaps become decisive for some who presently avoid headphones as not being sufficiently satisfying.

Cable salad: The stock leash says Canary Japan on its black outer sleeve, terminates in a quality Neutrik plug and runs two thin lazily twisted conductors per leg. This cable's conductor mass is clearly less than what's in ALO Audio's shiny copper replacement with the Furutech plug. The locking mini XLRs make cable rolling a cinch and evaluating three different wire harnesses—stock, copper and silver ALO versions—was quicker than swapping speaker cables.

Compared to the ALO copper leash, the stocker was dynamically mildly compressed, the bass less impressively weighty and the overall degree of transparent directness took a few steps back to cause veiling or 'buffering'. Between copper and silver upgrade wires, the copper had more bass mass and tonal lusciousness to play to the headphones' core strengths. The silver meanwhile was lighter in weight but injected more illumination and energy into the presence and treble regions for a small upshift in the tonal center of gravity. Listeners viewing the HD800 as true north can shift the reading of the LCD-2's compass.

While this dilutes a bit of what makes the Audez'e so special in my book, there's always individual preference and how ancillaries add up. The stock cable is less compromised than Sennheiser's to delay the implied urgency of upgrading but particularly with first-class amplification like the Burson or Woo specimens, you'd be a fool not to squeeze this headphone's potential for all its worth.

Total impact: Dense, dynamically highly contrasted with an exceptionally massive and abysmally extended bass that can generate more raw pressure and air movement than any headphone I know? Check. A very transparent but deeply hued fleshy midrange? Check. A treble that integrates seamlessly yet simply complements more obvious virtues to resist any standalone focus? Check. If lack of top-end squinting equals dark, by all means call the Audez'e dark. It fails to register that way on me. What I hear instead is real tonal substance without any sugary sloppiness but truly ballsy support from on low. It's a Zu/WLM-type depth of tone with rather higher resolution and a fully integrated subwoofer-class foundation. I believe the latter is partly responsible for the rich color palette. Another contributor must be very low distortion. Here's why I think that.

For my big rig I had Burson's headamp/DAC at max volume to act as dedicated D/A converter into my Esoteric preamp and Kaivalya mono amps. When I inserted the Audez'e into the Burson during the next headphone session but walked off to finish some kitchen work first whilst cueing up a track to warm things up, I forgot to reset the volume. When I could hear music from the kitchen, my ham-fisted ways soon dawned on me. Fearing the worst, I rushed back to turn the stepped Burson attenuator to zero before mounting the headphones on my head for a check. Whilst ramping the volume back up to normal—i.e. well than 50% below max—the LCD-2 gave no indication of just having suffered a few minutes' worth of brain melt. When Alex Rosson claims to high-power test their diaphragms on 15 watts, he isn't telling tall tales. Though they are clearly possible, the main implication here aren't rave levels. The implication is that at civilized levels, these transducers are barely coasting. That should mean very low distortion.

Adding it all up, the Audez'e LCD-2 becomes the first headphone in this now 27th installment of the 32ohm Audio series to walk off with an award. Over some time now I've strategically acquired a cast of top cans to help me assess future entries in this popular series. With the exception of AKG whose K-1000s are discontinued, all the majors have current statement efforts. As a small company, I find that Grado's best no longer competes with the best the corporate giants offer. Grado's forté instead is offering the best-value models at lower price points.

That's why it's so shocking that newcomer Audez'e could morph so quickly from DIY LCD-1 to bona fide production item with the LCD-2 and segue straight into the top echelon where they now are an uncompromised alternative to Sennheiser and beyer-dynamic.

As detailed earlier, the corporate designs are cosmetically slicker but the Audez'e is certainly not embarrassed. Sonically Audez'e embarrasses them in certain areas. After reading my preview of the LCD'2, regular reader Chris Skelton emailed this under the header synchronicity: "Just a few months back I dug out my Wharfedale isodynamic headphones bought circa 1972. Very impressed with the sound. The original planars? They have a lovely seductive sound with a very realistic soundstage. If it  wasn't for the age-related odd buzz I'd be very happy." Does it seem that orthodynamics headphones have come a long way over the last 40 years? I'd even suggest that they've made a splendid comeback. It's convenient to think of them as on-ear Maggies. But no Magneplanar I've ever heard exhibited Audez'e-class bass or dynamics. Sonically they're hybrids of planar and dynamic qualities. The dynamic aspects must be due to a very large surface area and fully balanced drive with magnets on either side of the film diaphragm. Hail the new king!
Quality of packing: Very good. Classy wooden display box.
Reusability of packing: Many times.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Easy.
Condition of component received: Flawless.
Website comments: Certain customers might appreciate additional documentation on company and product specifics.
Human interactions: Slightly delayed to suggest a real work load. Order fulfillment at time of writing suggested ca. 6 - 8-week delays
Value: Given performance, build quality and boutique US manufacture, very high.
Final comments & suggestions: Unusually high-sensitivity orthodynamic design that will play surprisingly well direct off an iPod but really blossoms with top-class dedicated amplification and sources. Despite obvious size and weight, this is a very comfortable design. Because of extreme undistorted SPL potential, particularly younger listeners will be apt to indulge in far higher levels than are good for their ears.
Audez'e website