One Small Step for Audeze, One Giant Leap for Gaming Headphones
By Ricky Kovacs
Another gaming headphone from Audeze? This is too good to be true! A few months ago, I reviewed the Mobius from Audeze. It is an amazing pair of planar magnetic headphones packed with tons of features, configurations, and other tech. Like I said in my Mobius review, I’ve been a lifetime gamer, but only recently I’ve been able to try out some truly remarkable headphones that blur the line between the gaming and audiophile world. The Audeze LCD-GX walks this line perfectly, offering a lot for both audiophiles and gamers alike.
It used to be difficult being both an audiophile and a gamer because the audiophile would be looking for those extra details in the overall experience. The gameplay is important, but the sound and music are what truly transport you to that world; not just looking at a screen, but experiencing through auditory cues what you are seeing. Gaming headphones and audiophile headphones were always two separate worlds; the upstairs and downstairs. Audiophilia was too exclusive and for the upper echelons of society whereas gaming headphones were for the plebians and those who wore headphones simply to not bother those around them. They were cheap but they worked, and that was copacetic for most gamers. Of course I’m taking all this to an extreme, but you get the point.
“I’m going to get controversial here: most gamers don’t care about sound.”
I’m going to get controversial here: most gamers don’t care about sound. I said most, not all. It’s not their fault. It comes from two factors: the gaming industry pushes the gameplay, not the overall experience and the fact that the audiophile world has remained beyond the price point of the gaming community for so long.
Gamers don’t know the impact sound makes because most have never truly experienced it.
In this case, you don’t know what you’re missing until you hear it. If you’re reading this review however then you’re likely the exception. We want all gamers to truly experience the best sound quality to enhance their gaming - read on to find out how.
Luckily, it’s an easy problem to fix, and the audiophile companies are quickly figuring this out. Understanding the gaming community is growing every day and has been a multi-billion dollar market for almost 40 years is enough to turn the head of any CEO to take notice. When you look at it, the audiophile community isn’t all that different from the gaming community. Audiophiles and gamers have no problem shelling out money for a hobby that brings them immense pleasure. Whether it be a high-end tube headphone amp or a top-of-the-line graphics card, it’s the tech that makes it happen.
“Once gamers understand that better sound enhances the overall gaming experience, it’ll be easy to convert them to the world of audiophilia.”
Audeze is one of the first audiophile companies to truly embrace the gaming community. The Mobius is still one of my favorite gaming headphones but Audeze changed their entire approach to gaming audio when it released the LCD-GX. The GX is similar to the traditional LCD line of high-end headphones with large round planar magnetic drivers and heft to the overall headphone design. If you’re using the standard cable without the microphone, it would be hard to tell if the GX was a “gaming” headphone.
Let me be clear: the LCD-GX is in a very different class than the Mobius headphones.
What's In the Box
The Audeze LCD-GX comes in a large hard plastic, latched travel case. It’s plenty of protection if you are ever going to transport them, but I won’t be using these as my travel headphones any time soon. Audeze has included two separate cables: one with an attached microphone and the other without. The cable without the microphone is a braided rubber with a single-ended quarter-inch connector to your source and 4-pin connectors to the headphones. The mic cable has the same 4-pin connectors to the headphone, but with the addition of a microphone attached just below the left connector. The microphone is the same used on the Audeze Mobius headphone and comes with an included pop filter/windscreen. The boom extension is flexible but quite sturdy enough to stay in place - I think it’s slightly more stable than the Mobius version. The cable has a microphone mute switch just below the cable split and terminates in a 3.5mm TRRS connector. Audeze has included an adapter for the connector that switches the ground and microphone order depending on if you are connecting to android/PC or iOS.
They’ve also included a splitter from the TRRS to separate microphone and audio connections (3.5mm) for PC use.
The case itself is lined with foam with specific cutouts for the headphones and accessories. There’s plenty of room if you want to throw in a few more items if you’re taking them on the road with you.
Materials, Quality, and Comfort
If you know anything about the LCD lineup by Audeze, then you know these are heavy headphones. The headband is made from metal construction, with a wide leather cushion for the top of the head. The design is such that the suspended leather band really distributes the weight across a wider surface of the head to relieve any pressure points or weight in any concentrated area.
The ear cup design is also a magnesium housing with the grill being a familiar design as the rest of the LCD product line. The GX has a black and red grill design, mirroring a lot of the color-scheme trends of gaming machines; especially laptops. Outside of the gaming world, it’s a very aggressive design but accented tastefully.
The earpads are also similar to that of the LCD product line: large thick memory foam pads which taper as you get closer to the front. This design allows for the headphones to sit naturally over the shape of the ear, giving more space in the back where your ears are furthest from your head. This angle also directs the drivers parallel to your ear canals, rather than directly at your head.
Apart from the microphone cable and the color scheme, the design of the LCD-GX matches other LCD headphones verbatim, especially the LCD-24. The LCD-X and LCD-4 have more of a right-angled outside ear cup whereas the GX and 24 are more rounded. You know what they say: “If it ain’t broke…”
Like the LCD-24, the GX has a magnesium housing for the ear cups, thus reducing the overall weight of the headphone. Coupled with the suspended headband, the GX is still on the heavier side, but overall the comfort level is dramatically improved over previous LCD iterations. I easily used them for a couple of hours at a time while gaming without any fatigue.
If you haven’t listened to Audeze’s LCD product line, it might take a few times to get used to the signature. They’re known for a resolute and distinctive sound.
An Intro to the LCD Product Line:
The LCD-2 and LCD-3 are very warm in presentation. Audeze later came out with the LCD-X and XC models - giving more of a forward tonality with open-back and closed-back variations (the C in “XC” signifying the closed-back variation). The open-back headphone will give a “wider” presentation to the sound whereas the closed-back version will offer a “taller” soundstage. To get the best of both worlds, the LCD-4 was released as an amalgamation of the LCD-2/3 and the X/XC signatures, providing one of the best reference headphones ever. The LCD-24 was recently developed to refine and improve on the LCD-4 by increasing performance and reducing the overall weight.
The Audeze GX has planar magnetic drivers like the rest of the LCD line. The GX uses Fluxor N50 neodymium magnets in its proprietary magnet array, making them more efficient and easier to drive. You can plug them directly into your computer audio and mic ports, but I would recommend adding an additional amp/DAC to make sure you have more than enough power to really crank them to 11 if you want to.
In my setup, I used the Chord Mojo via USB to my computer. It’s small enough to provide more than enough juice to the headphone without having to conjure up some ridiculous wiring to make it work, especially if you are wanting to use the microphone cable with the included splitter.
The Stock Cable Experience
Audeze’s stock cable is made fairly well. Listening to various genres of music it becomes apparent that the cable itself sounds clean but not necessarily defined. The frequencies never really have enough room to be voiced properly, without texture. The problem gets alleviated only from the fact that these are open-back headphones, so the soundstage is wider than that of a closed-back headphone. If you had nothing to compare it to then you would probably think it sounds good enough. However, the veil was completely lifted once I upgraded to a Dragon headphone cable.
The Dragon Cable Experience
The Audeze LCD-GX works well with both the Black and Silver Dragon cables. Most of the determining factor lies in the genre(s) of music you listen to. Let’s break it down:
Black Dragon Premium Cable for Audeze
The Black Dragon Premium Cable for Audeze is going to create a warmer presentation of the music. Thicker rock tones: electric guitar mid-ranges and snare drums will have a weight to the mix and really add depth and definition to the low end. Songs by some of my favorite bands Weezer and Semisonic sounded fuller, instruments sounded more balanced with the vocals. More forward sounding headphones can unintentionally accentuate the vocal frequency range, keeping low mids back in the mix, usually where guitars and some snare mixes lie.
In specific classical or orchestrated soundtracks, the Black Dragon cable can really thicken the low brass and string sections for a nice balanced sound. On a number of tracks, I tested it with, the cable rolled off a lot of the piercing high frequencies, giving them just enough attention without causing too much pain in other headphone scenarios. Of course, this is sometimes an issue with the mix rather than the headphones, but it’s nice to know there is a cable solution for this kind of thing.
One element of the Black Dragon with the LCD-GX headphones is that it adds an intimacy especially in softer and more ballad-esque music. The breathiness becomes weighted, as if the singer is whispering or singing right into your ear. It’s a substantial enough difference that would make me purchase an upgraded Dragon Cable with the LCD-GX without hesitation.
So if you listen to EDM, power rock or bass-eccentric music, the Black Dragon is a no brainer.
Silver Dragon Premium Cable for Audeze
The Silver Dragon Premium Cable for Audeze is going to provide a more broad soundstage to your music with additional detail and clarity. All the Dragon Cables provide a nice 3dB boost to your overall output, so you don’t have to drive your headphones as much, albeit an incremental boost in efficiency.
In listening to a number of tracks of the album The Dance by Fleetwood Mac, one of my favorite albums, the Silver Dragon really helped boost the USC drumline on Tusk - a feature in the mix that was buried using the LCD-GX stock cable. The bass drums and the snare line break through along with the drum kit, adding that additional percussive oomph to help drive the song. On rock music, the Silver Dragon helps tighten up the low-end frequencies, and more of the high-mids on electric guitars shine through.
I think the Silver Dragon really shines with the LCD-GX in classical music, adding weight and depth to the violas and cellos. String sections become an absolute joy to listen to, whereas in most cases the overall ensemble becomes a slurry mess on cheaper headphones.
So how do these cables translate to gaming? Short answer: it depends on the types of games you play, but both dragon cables are going to improve the sound pretty dramatically on the stock cable.
Both the Silver and Black Dragon cables are going to help bring out details and clarity in the game audio. If you’re playing a racing game, you might want to go with a Black Dragon to help bring out the lower frequencies of the car engine rumble while you’re racing down a street. Or you might want to use the Silver Dragon if you’re playing a game that requires you to focus on directional auditory cues. Assassin’s Creed and Fallout are my favorite franchises, and both have amazing classical and cinematic music in their soundtracks and detailed worlds with ambient effects everywhere. The Silver Dragon unmasks these details and brings them to life in the open digital world. The Dragon Cables also improve not just the game effects, but the fidelity of the mix and music. There are a lot of benefits to be had here. The Black and Silver Dragon cables help you remove the veil of the stock cable and really let the Audeze LCD-GX breathe and flex its muscles.
How does the Audeze LCD-GX compare to other headphones in the product line? We’ll be comparing it to the LCD-4 and the LCD-24.
The LCD-4’s low end is responsive and the presence in the bass is dynamic, really extending itself when needed with precision and weight. It has added resolution in the top end as well. Some might find the mids to be more recessed than other headphones, but it’s a great headphone for all genres, especially bass-eccentric genres. The LCD-4 is still revered as one of the best reference headphones on the market today. We usually match it with either our Black Dragon or Silver Dragon cables for added detail and a wider soundstage, and it’s a hard matchup to beat.
Stylistically, the LCD-4 is quite comparable to the GX headphones. They are slightly heavier since the 4’s have a wooden frame around the ear cups and use more metal than the GX. Audeze came out with the 4Z variant which implements the magnesium rings, making it 25% lighter than the original model, much like the LCD-24 that came out later. You’ll need more power to drive the LCD-4 than the GX, so an amplifier is a must-have to get the most out of them. That’s one benefit of the GX, and although they are easier to drive than the LCD-4, I would still recommend an additional powered source like the Chord Mojo or a well-powered DAP like the KANN Cube if you also want to listen to music on them.
Concerning the sound signature, the GX is going to be more along the lines of the LCD-24. The purpose of the LCD-24 was to refine and improve the LCD-4 by reducing weight and the number of magnets. This makes the LCD-24 have a larger diaphragm, thereby increasing the speed, dynamics, and minimizing distortion. The 24’s have the same design and dimensions of the previous LCD series headphones, but due to engineering improvements, the comfort level is also significantly increased and lighter in weight.
The LCD-24 is also easier to drive than other planar magnetic headphones. The impedance is about a quarter to one-half of the impedance of any other top planar magnetic headphones on the market today. It has lower headamp distortion and maximizes the overall definition as a result. The planar technology utilizes the entire diaphragm to produce all frequencies of music simultaneously with powerful specialized magnets moving a space-age film only about 1.5 microns thick.
The LCD-24 uses the same magnesium design as the LCD-GX headphones, looking almost identical in every way except for the red grill on the GX ear cups. Don’t be fooled that they’re the same headphone minus the price point. That $2600 difference lies in numerous architectural elements that enhance the LCD-24 above and beyond the LCD-GX. Both headphones are an over-ear, open back, and planar magnetic design. The 24 (and the LCD-4) on the other hand utilizes a Double Fluxor Magnetic Array whereas the GX only has a single array. More flux density means more control over how the diaphragm moves, and that translates to more accuracy in sound reproduction; faster transients, lower distortion, etc.
In a perfect world, I’d choose the LCD-24 with the microphone cable from Audeze. That would be the ultimate gaming headset if the price wasn’t a factor.
Though sonically the GX sounds great like the LCD-4 or 24 (with a similar sound signature as well), I can definitely hear extra sonic resolution and definition coming from the double Fluxor magnet array. You get what you pay for here.
The Audeze LCD-GX uses the same microphone as the Mobius. In my review of the Mobius, I stated that the microphone worked fine enough, albeit hindered by some of the digitalization of the headphone. Audeze has absolutely fixed this with the GX, despite still using similar noise attenuation.
Before these companies started developing gaming-centric products, I noticed a small trend in the gaming audiophile community where gamers that cared about their audio experience invested in high-end audiophile-grade headphones and they would attach a third-party solution for a microphone attachment, either wired or wireless.
The important thing to note is how they managed to find a solution. They didn’t settle for a sub-par gaming headset, but rather found a solution where they ran the audio and microphone channels independently so they could adjust each independently. Audeze managed to do this with the LCD-GX. First and foremost it is an audiophile headphone. The microphone does not get fed through the headphone circuitry, only the cable (unlike the Mobius and headphones with in-line microphones).
I like this approach much better than other implementations due to the fact that it adds various usage configurations: you can use these as both audiophile headphones and a gaming headset.
The microphone itself is superb. All my gaming sessions reported voice clarity and great volume. Of course, you’ll have to do most of the adjustments in the settings on your computer, but you should have no issue if configured properly. It was literally a ‘plug & play’ scenario for me.
When it comes to being a gamer and an audiophile, there is no better product on the market right now that adheres to both hobbies so well. The LCD-GX is a true audiophile headphone that is aimed at the gaming community in a way to make both communities very content with the product.
The Mobius is a great headphone, but it was aimed more at the gaming community rather than audiophiles given the price point and the number of digital and wireless features it offered. In my review of the Mobius, I said that it was my favorite gaming headphone. I’m going to have to edit that statement a bit: the Mobius is my favoriteportable gaming headphone.
Given the wireless option and the form factor, the Mobius is a superb choice for gaming on the go. But now, after using the LCD-GX for a time, I can now say that it is the best gaming headphone for most home uses. The large ear cups and weight do not lend the GX to being a good headset for the road, and for optimum sound quality, you’re going to want to hook up an amp with the headphones also.
The LCD-GX is a true audiophile headphone first and foremost, and that is what I appreciate about Audeze’s take on it: they’re not trying to hide it. The inclusion of two different cables (one with a microphone and one without), also help the LCD-GX to do double duty as an audiophile headphone or a gaming headset. You have an incredible amount of versatility with this one product. The best part: it does both phenomenally well.
I mentioned in the Mobius review that gamers might find the $400 price tag a bit steep. Well, if that’s the case then some gamers might certainly find an issue with the LCD-GX’s $900 tag. However, at least you’ll find solace in knowing that you’re also purchasing incredible true-audiophile-grade headphones for less than what most [audiophile headphones] go for (generally speaking, $1000 and up).
The Audeze LCD-GX is a steal for all the features, versatility and overall quality for what you get. As a gamer, they took my experience to the next level; allowing me to truly live in the gaming environments with a soundstage and audio depth I had not experienced before. Subtleties in details and definition amongst the different audio segments: voice, game effects, and the music/soundtrack were all distinguishable and didn’t compete with each other.
As an audiophile, the LCD-GX with Black Dragon or Silver Dragon gave my music the added definition and boost it needed. The open-back design of the headphones helps let my music breathe and come alive; I was not disappointed with what the headphones had to offer in the audiophile spectrum.
And that’s the beauty of the Audeze LCD-GX: it doesn’t sacrifice its audiophile identity for a gaming one. Finally, we have a headphone that truly does both. I can’t recommend it enough.