Audeze LCD-1 planar-magnetic headphone review: The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth

Audeze is one of the only headphone makers devoted exclusively to using planar-magnetic (PM) drivers in its products. The company offers a wide range of models, from reference over-ear designs to gaming-specific cans to in-ear monitors, all of which are based on PM technology.

I have little experience with planar-magnetic headphones. Many years ago, I reviewed the Stax SR-007 MK2 electrostatic headphones, which use a somewhat similar technology, but they require a special amplifier and are extremely expensive. But I’ve never spent any quality time with PM headphones. So, when I got the opportunity to review the Audeze LCD-1, I jumped at the chance—and now that I’ve given them a good listen, I’m very glad I did.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best headphones, where you’ll find reviews of the competition’s offerings, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.

Planar-magnetic technology

Most headphones use dynamic drivers to generate sound waves. In these drivers, an electrical audio signal is sent through a coil of wire—the voice coil—which creates a magnetic field around the coil that oscillates according to the waveform in the signal. The oscillating magnetic field interacts with the static field of a permanent magnet mounted nearby, which pushes and pulls on the voice coil, causing it to vibrate in response. The voice coil is attached to a diaphragm, which vibrates along with it, sending sound waves into the listener’s ear.

audeze lcd1 product2 Vendor-provided art.

Audeze wraps the headband and earcups of its LCD-1 planar-magnetic headphones in super soft lambskin.

Planar-magnetic drivers are similar in principle but different in implementation. Instead of a voice coil, the diaphragm in a PM driver is directly embedded with a flat conductor that snakes back and forth across its entire surface (see Fig. 1). That conductor carries the audio signal, and the oscillating magnetic field interacts with the static field of permanent magnets mounted very close to the diaphragm. That causes the diaphragm to vibrate according to the audio signal, generating sound waves that enter the listener’s ear.

audeze lcd1 fig1 Vendor-provided art.

In this rendering, you can see the “voice coil” (labeled “circuit trace pattern”) on the ultra-thin substrate of the diaphragm. You can also see a magnet and Fazor on both sides of the diaphragm, but the LCD-1 has a magnet and Fazor only on the inner side of the diaphragm.

In this “exploded” rendering of an Audeze earcup, you can see the circuit-trace pattern (aka, “voice coil”) on the diaphragm. You can also see the magnet and Fazor structures, which are discussed in the next section.

The main difference is that a PM driver has no separate voice coil per se; the “voice coil” and diaphragm are a single component. As a result, the entire diaphragm vibrates more uniformly than a dynamic diaphragm, which is pushed and pulled at its center by the voice coil.

Also, the magnets in a PM driver are generally larger than those used in dynamic drivers, because they must be roughly the same size as the diaphragm. That makes planar-magnetic headphones generally larger and heavier than dynamic designs.

So, what are the advantages of PM headphones over dynamic cans? Generally speaking, planar-magnetic headphones tend to have tighter, more accurate bass response. And because the entire diaphragm moves uniformly, the planar soundwave creates a better soundstage with a more immersive quality, and there tends to be less distortion at high levels. For these reasons, PM headphones are often preferred by critical listeners such as recording engineers and audiophiles.