Today we take a look at and review Audeze’s flagship planar magnetic in-ear headphone – the Audeze LCDi4. The LCDi4 is a very unique product, in a sense that it’s like a mini version of a full-sized planar magnetic headphone. It’s also larger than your typical in-ear monitor or earphone, and you don’t need to plug it in your ear canal. Those are just some of the reason why I got so interested in this product. It’s unlike any other earphone or headphone in the market. By the way, the LCDi4 is the TOTL product, Audeze also has the iSINE series. They share the same concept and perhaps the internal design. But they do differ in terms of aesthetics and sound quality. There’s also a significant price difference between the iSINE 20 and the LCDi4. Unfortunately, I don’t have the iSINE 20 to compare it with. So, in this review, I’ll focus more on the LCDi4 itself, my listening experience, what I think about it in general and compare it with the earphone and planar headphone that I have. Please continue reading my Audeze LCDi4 review below and learn more about this product.
Audeze LCD-i4 Headphone Review
The Audeze LCD-i4 planar magnetic in-ear headphone is not the first of its kind. Audeze released the iSINE series first, in the form of the iSINE 10 and iSINE 20. They are like small-sized planar magnetic headphones that hooks on your ears. I think it was towards the end of 2017 that the LCDi4 was released in the market. Despite having the same concept, a small planar-magnetic in-ear and open-back headphone, the LCDi4 was totally on a different level. It has a much better aesthetics and design. I personally don’t like how the iSINE series looked. Aside from that, the audio quality and performance are what separated the LCDi4 from the iSINE series. Not to mention, the huge gap between their prices.
The LCD-i4 represents the pinnacle of both audio quality and technological innovation. This groundbreaking in-ear headphone features the same Nano-Scale Uniforce diaphragm found in our LCD-4 and 4z, paired with our powerful Fluxor magnet array to offer one of the most responsive, detailed, engaging, and immersive listening experiences in the world. The i4 will transform everything you thought you knew about in-ear headphones as you hear your favorite music as though for the first time.
The LCDi4 is not on the same series as the iSINEs, it’s not even on the same league. It’s marketed differently, and it’s marketed as one of Audeze’s flagship headphone; right beside the LCD-4 and LCD-4z. Honestly, I haven’t tried the LCD-4 and LCD-4z yet, even the iSINE 20. So, I have no idea how the iSINE 20 differs from the LCDi4 in terms of sound quality and sound characteristics. But if there is one thing I am sure of, the experience of using an in-ear headphone (like the LCDi4 and iSINE) is different compared to using a full-sized headphone like the LCD-4 or LCD-4z, or an in-ear monitor or earphone.
The culmination of decades of research and development. Featuring our Nano-scale diaphragms, Fluxor™ magnet arrays, and Uniforce™ voice coils, our Flagship series truly represents the pinnacle of audiophile technology. The LCD Flagship series embodies our uncompromising dedication to pure audio. 1.5 Tesla of magnetic flux generated by our Double Fluxor™ magnet arrays delivers a previously unheard of level of driving power that brings music to life with breathtaking clarity and depth. The thinnest diaphragms we’ve ever created, just one-tenth the thickness of a red blood cell, are laser-etched with our patented Uniforce™ voice coils to render audio with flawless precision. Welcome to the cutting-edge of elegance.
Below you can check out the technical specifications of the Audeze LCDi4 and after that we’ll take a closer look on the headphone itself.
Audeze LCD-i4 Specifications
|Style||In-ear, semi open-back|
|Transducer type||Planar Magnetic|
|structure||Fluxor magnet array|
|Magnet type||Neodymium N50|
|Diaphragm type||Nano-scale Uniforce|
|Transducer size||30 mm|
|Maximum power handling||500mW RMS|
|Frequency response||10Hz - 50kHz|
|THD||<0.1% @ 100dB|
|Sensitivity||110 dB/1mW (at Drum Reference Point)|
|Minimum power requirement||>50mW|
Audeze LCD-i4 Packaging and Closer Look
The LCDi4 comes in a nice white box; the outer white box isn’t hard, it’s probably around 120-180 gsm. Inside the white box is a hard flip-box that houses the LCDi4 and its accessories.
Above you can see the flip-box and the in-ear headphone and a carrying pouch is protected by a clear hard plastic covering.
The LCDi4 isn’t connected to its cable right out of the box. Instead, all the accessories including the cable is placed inside the carrying pouch. Inside the pouch (nylon travel case) are the 1.2m OCC silver-plated premium braided cable; a number of ear hooks and ear tips, a certificate of authenticity and a USB drive where the user guide and warranty is copied.
The Audeze LCDi4 has an open back design, meaning some sound will leak through the grills. The body or shell of the LCDi4 is made of hard plastic. I was a bit disappoint with the material used, as it doesn’t feel as premium compared to Audeze’s flagship full-sized cans. The construction feels sturdy enough, but it’s still plastic and it’s not going to be as sturdy or robust compared to a metal body.
Perhaps the positive side of using a plastic shell is it makes the in-ear headphone light. This is going to hang on your ears, not plugged or clamped; so weight is going to be a factor. Perhaps a carbon-fiber shell would be nice.
Another thing that made the LCDi4 less-premium looking is that the glue marks are visible. There are glue marks on the “A” logo and on the sides of the casing as well. I expect better finish, with attention to details, especially from a flagship-class product. I hope Audeze would look into this, especially if they plan to release a successor in the future.
The LCDi4 uses a 2-pin connection that has been recessed. It’s a good thing that it’s recessed though, otherwise the 2-pin connector is susceptible to bends or breakage if bumped accidentally. I think this is a standard 2-pin connector, since my old ALO Audio SXC 24 earphone works with the LCDi4 just fine.
The nozzle of the LCDi4 is different from an earphone or universal in-ear monitor’s nozzle. It’s larger and there’s a pointy (but not sharp) object in the middle. It’s like a mini tunnel but it’s not supposed to go inside your ear canal. The silicone tip is supposed to rest at the opening of your ear canal, not really plug it in. You could slightly plug it in for a better snug and fit, but not the whole thing. I only used the included tips for the LCDi4; since the nozzle is larger, typical earphone tips don’t work in this one.
The included cable is a 1.2m OCC silver-plated “premium” braided cable. It has 4 cores in total, two for each channel. The cable is terminated to a 3.5mm single-ended unbalanced headphone plug. The cable is light, doesn’t kink; I think it’s a good cable, definitely better than any stock or basic cables included in some earphones. Even though this is the “stock” cable of the LCDi4, it’s still considered as an aftermarket or an upgrade cable.
Audeze’s Cipher cable, including the newer Cipher Wireless, also works fine with the LCDi4. However, I prefer to use the stock cable of the LCDi4 than go wireless with the Cipher. For me, the Cipher wireless just lacks power to properly drive the LCDi4. And the built-in DSP on the Cipher wireless is not as good compared to the Reveal plugin.
Audeze Reveal Plugin
The Audeze LCDi4 doesn’t sound good or “correct” right out of the box. It needs a DSP or EQ to fix this and bring the best out of it. I think there is a dip somewhere in the 2kHz to 4kHz frequency region that is causing the dull flat sound. Audeze’s solution to make the i4 sound correct is the Reveal plugin. It’s basically a plugin that “reveals” the LCDi4’s intended sound characteristics and tuning. This plugin is free, but it only works with a few audio player / software. It doesn’t work natively with Foobar, and you’ll have to use a “wrapper”, like George Yohng’s VST Wrapper plugin, to make the Reveal plugin work with Foobar.
Reveal is a revolutionary plugin developed by Audeze which applies carefully designed filter presets specific to our headphone models. This provides the listener with an experience similar to what you would hear from high quality studio reference monitors in an acoustically treated room (but without the pesky room reflections and reverb*). The presets are not meant to fix any issues, but rather to enhance the listener’s experience. We expect some users will prefer our headphones without any DSP presets, while others will prefer the “room sound” calibration provided by these Reveal plugin presets. The choice is yours!
The Audeze Reveal plugin is not really required, but you definitely need to use it in order to make the LCDi4 sound correct and as intended. You can, alternatively, use an equalizer (EQ) to customize the LCDi4 to your liking. I find that the built-in preset EQs on audio players doesn’t “correct” the tone of the LCDi4. You will have to manually adjust each frequency band. There is a thread of Head-Fi.org where users share their EQ settings for their LCDi4. However, I find it difficult to replicate the sound tuning that the Reveal plugin produces. I was able to at least make it sound better and close to Reveal’s tuning using my DAP‘s EQ, but it’s nowhere near.
You can download the Reveal plugin at https://www.audeze.com/pages/reveal
Audeze LCD-i4 Testing and Subjective Listening Experience
First let’s talk about the comfort and fit. In terms of fit, I would say it’s not as finicky compared to wearing an in-ear monitor or earphone. You don’t need to really plug the silicon tips in your ear canal. You just have to make sure that it seals a little bit and the nozzle of the LCDi4 aligns with your ear canal. The LCDi4 has an open back design, so earphone tips that are designed to isolate noise are pretty much useless with this setup.
Like I mentioned earlier, the shell is made out of hard plastic; and because of that, it feels light to wear. Now the ear hooks will most probably determine if it’s comfortable for you or not. The first set of ear hooks I got were flat, and the tendency is they tend to clip on my ear causing some uncomfortable pressure at the back side of my ear.
In the newer batch of LCDi4, the company replaced those ear hooks. There is now a slight bend on the hooks, making it much more comfortable to wear. I could wear the LCDi4 for hours and I would not feel any fatigue or strain on my ears. In fact, they are so comfortable and easy to wear that most of the time I am using this instead of my full-sized cans or in-ear earphones.
As I describe the LCDi4’s sound characteristics and tuning, I am using Audeze’s Reveal plugin, because that is the intended sound of the LCDi4 after all. Don’t expect that the i4 will sound fantastic right out of the box, because it is not. In terms of audio quality and sound characteristics, the i4 is simply fantastic! It sounds unlike any other IEMs or earphones; it sounded more like a full-sized headphone. It’s very planar-like headphone, except it came in a small packaging. Probably this is how an on-ear planar headphone would sound like. But the size of the LCDi4 is still smaller than a typical on-ear headphone. The form factor doesn’t fall into the standard category or size.
When you listened to an in-ear earphone or IEM, it feels like the sound is in your head. It feels like the artist is singing in your head or the instruments are playing in your head. Whereas, with full-sized headphones, you hear the music outside your head, and you feel the sound or the beat of the music just somewhere above your shoulder; especially if it’s an open back headphone with a wide sound stage. In my experience, the LCDi4 feels like a full-sized headphone, just smaller. I don’t “feel” the music in my head, instead I hear and feel it just outside my ear, around my ear. The experience with listening to the LCDi4 is very unique and it simply amazes me.
With the Reveal plugin, the LCDi4 has a neutral tonality and sounds a bit warm. I prefer to set the “mix” at around 80% “wet”. If you set the mix on the reveal plugin all the way to “dry”, the i4 sounds dry, lifeless. Most people might set it to 100% wet, but you can mix it depending on your preference. I find that it has an overall balanced tuning; with no frequency dominating the other. Bass can go deep and full; meanwhile I find that the mid frequency is a touch warm. It’s neither laid back nor forward sounding, and perhaps I find it a bit warm sounding as well. As for the treble, it has a good amount of extension; fine details can be observed without being too analytical or sharp.
When it comes to resolution and texture, the LCDi4 doesn’t disappoint at all. I can definitely hear and feel the texture and details of the instruments and the artist’s voice. Imaging and soundstage are also one of its forte, thanks to its open back design. While I don’t think it offers a very accurate positioning or placing of the instruments, it does feel spacious with enough depth and width. Again, it really sounds like I’m using a full-sized open back headphone.
Audeze LCDi4 vs Campfire Audio Andromeda
Like I mentioned earlier, listening to the LCDi4 feels like the music or sound is just right outside of my ear. While listening to an earphone like the Andromeda, it feels like the sound is in my head. The Andromeda has a really good amount of treble extension, brightness and sparkle that is not sibilant or harsh at all; perhaps some may find it borderline already. LCDi4’s treble is perhaps just a bit less extended and has lesser brightness compared to the Andromeda. As for midrange, I find that the Andromeda has a brighter presentation, perhaps a bit forward sounding compared to the i4’s midrange. However, the Andromeda is no match to the i4 when it comes to the bass frequency. The LCDi4 just blows the Andromeda away when it comes to bass, and even the rich texture that should be present on the upper bass to midrange frequency of a music. Also, I find the Andromeda to sound more holographic or 3D-like but it doesn’t have the body and resolution that the i4 offers.
Audeze LCDi4 vs MrSpeakers Ether Flow
When I compared the Audeze LCDi4 to the MrSpeakers Ether Flow, I find them somewhat similar in tonality. Both have rich texture and details; both have speedy bass, and both can go low as well. An advantage of the Ether Flow, thanks to its bigger or larger diaphragm, is it can produce a much satisfying bass oomph, sounds fuller and richer than the bass on the i4. They both sound a bit leaning towards the warm side, but to my ears the Ether Flow has a better upper midrange to treble extension than the i4. The Ether Flow has more sparkle on the upper frequencies than the i4. Of course, the Ether Flow would feel louder due to its larger diaphragm and it is an over ear headphone. However, the disadvantage of having a larger diaphragm makes it heavier. This is one area where the LCDi4 beats the Ether Flow, its portability. I can literally wear the i4 much longer than any full-sized headphone. There’s no clamping force; there’s no heat or fatigue around or on my ears; and it’s just much comfortable to wear than a headphone.
So basically, with the LCDi4, I am able to experience what a full-sized planar magnetic headphone can produce in a much smaller, compact and portable form factor.
Audeze LCD-i4 Pricing and Availability
The flagship Audeze LCDi4 is now available. It has been in the market for quite some time now. Currently, it comes with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $2,495 USD. You can check out the links below for the latest pricing and availability:
Audeze LCD-i4 Review: Conclusion
So, is the Audeze LCDi4 worth it? Let’s talk about its pros and cons first. The LCDi4 offers a unique experience, giving us a listening experience similar to that of a full-sized planar headphone less the size and weight. It has a really good sound staging and imaging thanks to its open back design. It feels spacious and the instruments felt layered, similar to what you experience on an open back planar headphone. It’s also dynamic, with precise tone or timbre (after using Reveal); and it’s quite flexible or versatile as well. Using an EQ, you can make the LCDi4 sound a bit intimate or spacious; bump up the bass or increase the presence region. And you only get low to no distortions or aberrations due to playing around with the different frequency band. This is something that a typical Balanced Armature or Dynamic Driver driven earphone is not capable of.
On the flip side, it is a very expensive in-ear headphone. You also need to use the Reveal plugin or tinker with the EQ settings to make it sound correct, due to the dip around the 3kHz frequency in stock. I just hope that the Reveal would be more universal, and not limited to some audio players only. I hope the DSP would apply to the whole Windows or Mac system; and perhaps bring Audeze’s app to Android as well. My other gripe is the build quality and finish. Glue marks are visible and the plastic housing makes it feel less premium. Considering the price, I expect to see a much more polished and a more premium aesthetics. By the way, if you think the LCDi4 is the most expensive headphone/earphone; Noble Audio’s Kaiser Encore and Khan are in the same price range. 64 Audio’s U18t, tia Trio, tia Fourte and Fourte Noir are even more expensive; with prices reaching up to $3,799 USD! To be fair, I haven’t tried them yet so I don’t know how good (or not) are they compared to the LCDi4.
At the end of the day, I leave the price up to you. Some people can easily afford it, and some might find it out of their budget already. Price aside, in my experience with listening to the LCDi4, and based on its audio quality and performance, it really is unlike any other earphones in the market. In my opinion, no matter how an earphone company designs, configure or plays around with dynamic drivers and/or balanced armature drivers, it may be implausible to achieve the flexibility, presentation and tone or audio quality that the LCDi4 can produce. It’s simply planar magic!