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Review Audeze LCD i3 IEMs

JonB1001

Well-known member
Jul 31, 2014
33
10
10,545
As promised, here's my review of the Audeze LCD i3 IEMS.

Starting point is that these are premium priced planar magnetic IEMs. They cost circa £700 and that's a lot of money. They do, however, provide a reachable step up in quality before you look up at the heady heights of the i4s which are pretty much double that. Whether the i4s are twice as good is very likely to be something I will never know so this review is based squarely on a review of the i3s performance on a standalone basis and not in comparison to other IEMs in the Audeze or any other range. I’m also doing the review from the point of view of what IEMs are usually used for – mobile listening. I’m not talking about being hooked up to an expensive and extensive home system where you can shut the door and block out the outside world. I’m talking about using these IEMs with iPhone or other portable music device.

Test Equipment: IPhone XR and Astell & Kern Kann

Visual and Build Quality:

What IEMs look like is rarely much of an issue because in ear buds tend not to be particularly showy. This is the first main difference with these IEMs. They are huge! They have to be to house the planar magnetic wizardry. They always will be marmite in this respect. They haven't got the Spiderman flair of the isine 20s which is probably as good thing. They are more refined than that and more classic in their presentation. The shell isn't plastic, its magnesium. It's pleasingly light but very sturdy and never feels like you are going to break or damage them when, for instance, you are changing the cables.
Equipment

Inside the box you get a soft leather pouch which is roomy enough to keep the cables and headphones without them getting squished. If you want to keep the in ears safer when not being used you can keep them in the box and the box itself is pretty premium feel. Cable wise you get the lightening cable, standard plug and cipher wireless cable. You also get a charging lead for the wireless cable. There are a number of different size and type rubber tips - small, medium and large and you get 2 sets of each, one set smooth, the other ridged. You also get 3 sets of behind the ear stirrups and one set of inside the ear stabilisers.

You can’t keep the ear buds stable in your ear without using one or other set of stirrups or stablisers. I’ve preferred the stirrups. They fit well. I’d read that in use on the isines these stirrups became uncomfortable pretty quickly. Not the case here. I found them really comfortable. They also do the job – you can move around without any worry about them coming loose.

The tips are pretty standard stuff. I got good fit with the medium ridged variety with as good isolation as you’ll get with open back design.

Sounds

This is where it gets complicated and it depends entirely on whether your source is iPhone or not.

IPhone Use: It is here that the i3s excel. The sounds is clean, crisp and authoritative. You can discern all elements of the music. Bass response is just right – not too heavy, not too lean and when the track is intended to shake your internal organs, it duly delivers! The volume the i3s deliver is immense. I’ve only dared push it just above half volume which is more than enough for me. I would genuinely fear for the safety of my hearing if pushed up to max. As loud as I’ve gone, I’ve not noticed any degradation. They bring drive to tracks that demand it and emotion to those that elicit it. I’ve put jazz, prog, rap, dance, indie, hard rock and 60s up to present day pop through them. The way the i3s deliver through all styles of music is impressive. Audeze seem to have invested a lot of time and effort making these IEMs deliver through your iPhone. I can honestly say this is the best I’ve ever hear music sounds through headphones.

AK Kann Use: Oh dear. This is where it all falls apart. I thought I was on pretty safe ground here. The AK Kann has a very good dac/amp. I expected the same if not better delivery than with the iPhone. What I got was truly shocking. The sound was flat, uninteresting, bland. No real highs of lows or in fact any engaging delivery at all. Bass was flat. I tend to use Beyerdynamic SoulByrds with the AK Kann mainly because I like listening in bed and the fit of the Soulbyrds means you can lie on your side with the in ear bud on the pillow without any discomfort because of the way they fit. The Soulbyrds kick the i3s delivery from the Kann into touch! Seriously, the Soulbyrds outperform the i3s from this source across the board. Given the i3s cost 10 times as much as the Soulbyrds, this is an astonishing outcome. I’ve also previously used Grado se80e’s with the AK Kann and got a very engaging (if a little tiring) sound back. I don’t know what’s wrong with the i3s through this source, but it’s so wrong that I do worry about it. I plan to investigate this further with tests on friends who have other portable sources and portable dac/amps to see if it is just a problem with AK sources.

Wireless Cable: Phew – back on form here when sourced through the iPhone. It’s not as good as being wired, but its still very engaging and delivers probably 90% of the performance you get from the lightening cable. I didn’t even try with the Kann because I already know it doesn’t like wireless phones.

The other point to note is that these are open back design. They do leak sound but actually not as much as you think they might. I could listen at a decent volume on the sofa with my wife watching TV without me hearing the TV and, more importantly, without her being annoyed by the noise coming from the i3s. Maybe my wife is just very tolerant! I was out in the garden with them as well and you can hear noise – birds chirping etc, but it doesn’t feel like it intrudes on the music.

Overall

They make perfect sense if your source is apple. With the lightening cable, I’d say they are worth every penny.

They make no sense if you are plugging directly into another non-apple/lightening portable music source.

Thankfully my main and intended source is IPhone so they work perfectly for me.
 

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