MUSE is the new name for Roon’s sound engine and audio processing suite. And now MUSE has landed in ARC – with bold styling and sound quality never before seen or heard in a mobile music app!
MUSE delivers the precision audio control of Roon when you’re on the go or running a streamlined, portable setup from your phone. It’s also one of the most anticipated and highly requested enhancements to ARC’s feature set. We’re excited to pack even more of Roon into ARC, and we’re confident you’ll enjoy what you see and hear in MUSE.
Roon has always provided an immersive listening experience thanks to its vast library of music knowledge and exceptional sound quality. Throughout Roon’s development, we’ve tried to make that experience as inclusive as possible by letting you explore the software and enjoy content in your preferred language.
Today we’re excited to announce the release of Fluency – a revolutionary new discovery and language feature, available only in Roon. Fluencylets you translate even more Roon content in your preferred language. Now, artist names, album titles, credits, performer roles, and genre names are available in 21 languages!
Roon Community contributor Steven44 graciously contributed the following review. Roon Editorial staff added layout and minor editing to convert the forum posts to a review format.
Zuma Lumisonic is a state-of-the-art Roon Ready lighting and sound system. Each light/sound unit is an all-in-one audio system. It’s very sophisticated and supports multiple audio services onboard, plus Alexa voice control.
This system may be the first to use Roon in a full home automation product. Zuma Lumisonic won the prestigious 2021 CEDIA New Hardware award (Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association).
In the short time since its release, Roon ARC has completely transformed our connection to the music we love by providing a wonderfully familiar, on-the-go version of Roon. The ARC app, like Roon, restores the excitement of interacting with physical media when listening to streaming and file-based music. ARC’s offline listening feature keeps the music flowing wherever your adventures take you – even if you’re off the grid entirely.
In this how-to, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to listen offline in ARC. First, you’ll need to make sure you’ve installed Roon ARC on your mobile device. Visit the App Store or Play Store to download the app. Once ARC is installed and configured, all that’s left to do is browse, select, and download the music favorites you can’t live without.
At Roon, our passion for music is illustrated by a growing selection of eclectic playlists featuring a diverse mix of genres, instrumentation, and voices from around the globe. As music lovers, we’re fortunate to live in a time when music is so plentiful and easily accessible. When you sync a Qobuz or TIDAL membership with your Roon subscription, your listening choices are practically limitless. An all-encompassing palette of sound is at your fingertips, accompanied by the freedom to listen to, and enjoy, anything you desire.
At Roon, our passion is to help you get the very best sound and performance from your gear purchases. Our Roon partner products guarantee seamless integration, stress-free reliability, and high-quality sound within every music lover’s budget.
We understand that gear homework can be confusing and a chore, “will this X sync with my Y DAC/Amp” ad infinitum….. The excitement of gear shopping can evaporate pretty quickly.
Roon-certified gear takes care of all that for you and leaves you with only the fun tasks: shipment tracking, setup planning, and more quality time for enjoying music. Those are benefits we all can appreciate!
Winner and Still Champion: Chord Hugo 2
Chord’s Hugo 2 sports an impressive winning streak and continues to rack up Best DAC awards for its design, aesthetics, and sound – even when matched against much more expensive units. It’s not especially difficult to understand why. It remains one of the best value upgrades you can add to your system for its price range. Like all things Chord, Hugo 2’s technical advances and innovation never lose sight of the ultimate goal – superior sonic performance. Let’s take a look!
Aesthetics and Design
From its robust aluminum enclosure to its lovely polychromatic spherical controls, every element of Hugo 2 / 2go exhibits exceptional design thinking. These products deliver the features and functionality that music lovers demand, and they do it creatively and engagingly.
Yes, some critics still grumble about Chord’s fondness for color-coded controls. For my tastes, they’re a brilliant, intuitive means for conveying a wealth of information without using an LED screen. Using the crib sheet in the manual, you’ll be up to speed with color translation in no time. We put the cheat sheet back in its box much quicker than expected.
Grippy rubber feet keep Hugo 2 and 2go safely in place when used as a desktop headphone DAC/amp or streamer/server combo. The handy full-function remote eliminates having to leave your favorite listening spot to make adjustments when using Hugo 2 as an integrated component. Its feature set makes it ideal for that role. We realize design perfection means different things to different people. But we couldn’t find any noteworthy shortcomings in either of these devices that warranted further discussion.
Hugo 2 and 2go, poised to satisfy every audio need
The Chord 2go is a high-performance streamer/server that adds Bluetooth, wi-fi, and wired network connectivity for Hugo 2. Together, they’re a solution for an impressive range of use scenarios. Here are just a few we were able to tackle with ease:
An unmatched Roon ARC mobile headphone rig
A feature-rich Roon Ready sonic advancement for any legacy Hi-Fi setup
A high-quality desktop and handheld head-fi audio solution
A veritable digital audio player (DAP) slayer! 2go’s dual microSD card slots provide 4 TB of onboard high-res audio storage,
A highly portable around-the-house RAAT streaming endpoint
Hugo 2 has all the device connection inputs and outputs you’ll likely need, making it a powerful contender for myriad applications beyond those we mention.
Use flexibility is a significant factor when I purchase gear. Hugo 2 excels in this capacity. Its small footprint, the size of a petite paperback, further accentuates its versatility.
Not surprisingly, the Hugo2/2go produce awe-inspiring sound that reflects their award-winning pedigree. Every genre we fed through the duo assumed a new level of spaciousness, dynamics, and fidelity. The highest praise anyone can give a piece of gear is to say it motivates its owner to find extra time for music listening. These devices do that effortlessly!
Chord products achieve their unique sound signature with bespoke conversion, filtering, and processing chipsets designed by Rob Watts. 4 filter settings provide users with options for crisp, transparent presentation or a warmer, rounded analog vibe reminiscent of vintage gear. To clarify, Chord states that the filters’ purpose is to reduce high-frequency noise generated by the selected input. They aren’t designed or intended to act as DSP or EQ enhancements. To my ear, they do add understated coloration. It’s very slight, but it’s there. My favorite filter settings were Incisive Neutral, or Warm, depending on the music I was playing.
I’m even more surprised to discover that I’m a big fan of Hugo 2’s crossfeed filters. Crossfeed gives headphone listening a more speaker-like soundstage by subtly blending left and right headphone channels, giving you a bit of both in each driver rather than distinct separation. I don’t typically use crossfeed features because they rarely produce the desired results for my tastes. Hugo 2’s crossfeed feature outshines all others I’ve tried. As a result, I used the Medium crossfeed setting for most of my casual listening – turning it off only for the close listening session below.
For detailed listening, I drove Hugo 2/2go with tracks sourced from Qobuz and TIDAL. All were rendered at their native sample rates, indicated below. Hugo 2’s EQ, crossfeed, and noise processing settings were toggled off for reference listening.
Gordon Lightfoot – Sundown from Sundown (24-bit/192 kHz PCM)
This one gave me chills when I played it from Hugo 2 through the Meze 109 PRO. The combination instantly transported me to the early 70s when this song dominated AM radio.
The layered acoustic guitars shimmered as if they were in the room. The soundstage was enormous and airy with excellent depth, adding considerably to the perfect vibe achieved in this performance. Textural separation was also very impressive. Each instrument had plenty of room to be enjoyed distinctly in the mix. The bass and drums lock in wonderfully, exhibiting heaps of instrumental detail. Lightfoot’s voice was as warm and comforting as fine winter cognac – the plate reverb on the double-tracked vocal chorus becomes a star contributor in its own right. The Meze 109 PRO’s detail retrieval dovetailed divinely with the Hugo 2. If you’re a detail junkie, this combo deserves consideration.
Tom Waits – Alice from Alice (24-bit/96 kHz PCM)
Tom Waits is a musical enigma who shape-shifts between a skid-row carnival barker, a whiskey-soaked crooner, and a tin-pan alley apparition.
On this track, he leans heavily into a sweet tube mic and lays down a spoken jazz vocal that the Hugo 2 delivered absolutely brilliantly. He’s accompanied by a Paul Desmondish sax line, stand-up bass, vibes, piano, snare brushes, and other assorted magic. In my Massdrop Sennheiser 6XX cans, this song transmuted into a moody film noir with undercurrents of loss and unrequited love.
Orchestra Baobab – Mouhamadou Bamba from Bamba: (16-bit/44.1 kHz PCM)
Orchestra Baobab comes across as a powerhouse Afro-Carribean ensemble rather than a Senegalese music institution. Bamba compiles several of their early 80s sessions.
Mouhamadou Bamba opens with ethereal guitar and an ocean of plate reverb on the Sengalese vocals before being joined by Afro-Caribbean percussion and a pulsating reggae bass motif. A stinging tremolo-drenched overdriven guitar solo lights up the bridge with a bit of Afro Rock flavor. It’s an intoxicating blend! With the Hugo 2/2go powering the Meze 99 Classics, I noticed a touch of tape hiss sizzle in the track as I was carried blissfully away to West Africa. Meze audio cans pair exceptionally well with the Hugo 2.
John Coltrane – Afro-Blue from Live at Birdland (24-bit/192 kHz PCM)
This track is a favorite for spotlighting the John Coltrane Quartet’s emotional and visceral power in live performance. The group drives headlong into a passionate reading of Mongo Santamaria’s classic.
Coltrane’s soprano sax soars above and inside McCoy Tyner’s fluid runs and block chords. Elvin Jones’ electrifying percussion propels the ensemble ahead while Jimmy Garrison’s double bass holds the foundation and answers Elvin’s cymbal attack. It’s genuinely mind-blowing to imagine experiencing a performance of this caliber and intensity in that tiny intimate space.
My crossfeed curiosity got the better of me when listening to this track. Using maximum crossfeed to mix channels through the warm voice of the Meze 99 Classics, I felt as if I was there when listening with my eyes closed. I’ve heard this track innumerable times and was amazed at the detail I experienced using this combination. I’ve had the opportunity to listen to some of the most esteemed headphones in existence over the last several months. The Meze Classic 99 always satisfies, even when following on the heels of Audeze’s flagship models.
The Chord Hugo 2 / 2go delivers brilliantly refined detail and warm, lush sound via its expertly designed sonics, filters, and soundstage. If you’re looking for a superior DAC/amp for headphones that also shines as an integrated component, you can’t do much better than Chord’s Hugo 2 at this price. Add Chord’s 2go, and you can easily take those sonic qualities anywhere.
Hugo 2 enters RMS line level mode by simultaneously holding down the power button and X-PHD buttons during power up. Though not easy to accomplish, I accidentally activated this mode while sitting down for some relaxed headphones listening. It was painfully memorable. Please use caution to avoid having a similar experience.
The Hugo 2’s dual headphone outputs lack individual volume controls. Volume changes affect both outputs.
Hugo 2’s clean design leaves no room for either an I2S or HDMI output. If either is needed, a low-cost coaxial to I2S or HDMI adapter will do the trick.
Hugo 2/ 2go is a tad chunky for in-pocket on-the-go use. Mojo/Mojo2/Poly is a better match if frequent mobile use is a critical requirement.
Some coaxial cables may require an adapter for optimal coupling with Hugo 2’s connection points.
Chord products don’t offer MQA support; fans of the format will need to consider other options.
Chord Hugo 2 and 2go FAQs
Are the Chord Hugo 2 and 2go Roon Ready?
Yes, the Hugo 2 and 2go are Roon Ready! The Hugo 2, when used alone, requires a USB connection. Adding the 2go provides wireless Roon Ready streaming over your home network.
What file formats and resolutions do the Chord Hugo 2 / 2go support?
Hugo 2 offers future-proof format support up to 32bit/768kHz PCM, Native DSD512, and Encapsulated DSD256.
2go supports gapless PCM to 32-bit/768kHz, DSD via DoP to DSD256, and SD card DSD playback as well as FLAC, WAV, ACC, AIFF, OGG VORBIS, ALAC, WMA, and MP3 file formats. Tidal, Qobuz, Internet radio, and more with the GoFigure app.
What type of input and output connections does Hugo 2 / 2go have?
Hugo 2 offers four digital inputs: optical, dual configuration coaxial, Mini-USB, Roon RAAT, DNLA, AirPlay, and Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity.
Hugo 2 analog outputs include two headphone outs: one ¼” (6.35mm) and one ⅛” (3.5mm), plus Stereo RCA out. The RCA outs remain active when using headphones.
2go inputs include long-range 2.4GHz WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1 A2Dp, Hotspot mode, and a Gigabit (GbE) ethernet port.
2go features dual MicroSD card slots capable of 4 TB of music storage.
How much play time do I get from a fully charged Hugo 2 / 2go?
Hugo 2 and 2go are each equipped with Mini-USB battery charging ports.
Hugo 2 provides 7-8 hours of music with a full charge.
2go provides about 10 hours of use with a full charge.
Hugo 2 / 2go allows around 7 to 8 hours of playback time when paired.
Intelligent desktop mode protects the Hugo 2 and 2go internal batteries from overcharging damage.
Hugo 2 will automatically power off when dormant for 15 minutes. This feature is deactivated when charging in desktop mode.
Hugo 2 and 2go allow tandem charging during use. A 2A (amps) or more charger is required.
Hugo 2 has two charging modes: fast charge in 4 hours with a 2A charger and 8 hours with a charger rated under 2A.
THD and noise at 3v RMS: 120dB at 1kHz 300ohms ‘A’ weighted (reference 5.3v)
Noise 2.6 uV ‘A’ weighted: No measurable noise floor modulation
Signal-to-noise ratio: 126dB ‘A’ Weighted
Channel separation: 135dB at 1kHz 300Ω
Power output @ 1kHz 1% THD: 94mW 300Ω, 740mW 32Ω,
Dimensions: 5.11″ (W) x 3.97″ (H) x 0.82″ (D)
Weight: 12.5 ounces
Compatibility: For 2go to perform as a fully functional streamer, a connection with Hugo 2 (DAC/Preamp/Headphone amp) or 2yu is required.
Power supply: Internal battery with up to 10 hrs (approx) playback. Desktop mode activated upon insertion of Micro USB charging cable).
Wireless connectivity: Long-range 2.4GHz WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1, A2Dp
WiFi modes: Connect to (allows 2go to connect to an existing 2.4GHz WiFi network) or Hotspot mode (activated within the Gofigure app, which enables 2go to broadcast its own WiFi network with SSID and password in the eventuality that the device cannot connect to a static network).
Wired connectivity: Gigabit (GbE) ethernet
PCM and DSD Support: up to 32-bit/768kHZ PCM, DSD256
File format support: ACC, WAV, FLAC, AIFF, OGG VORBIS, ALAC, WMA, MP3, and more…
Initial setup, configuration, and updates: Via the free Gofigure app for iOS and Android
Music storage: 2x Onboard Micro SD card slots (up to 4TB of total storage)
Playback: Roon Ready, DLNA (server and render), AirPlay, Bluetooth audio (A2DP), Tidal, Qobuz, Internet radio, and more coming…
Roon Ready Writeups is back with part two of our profile on Audeze Headphones; and man, let me tell you, this is exciting stuff! In part one, we focused on the LCD-2 Classic and LCD-X and also included a how-to on using Roon’s Audeze plug-ins to take them to the next level for optimal performance and enhanced listening enjoyment.
In this segment, we’ll ascend the loftiest summits of Headphonia with two untouchables from Audeze’s flagship lineup, the LCD-4z, and LCD-5. We’ll explain the groundbreaking engineering behind their technical evolution, lighter weight, and near-indescribable sonic supremacy. Or we’ll try anyway… if we can pull ourselves away from searching for hidden audio jewels in our favorite music. But first… we should tell you that once you’ve heard these headphones, it may be impossible to get their sound out of your head.
Warning, the music produced by these headphones may be habit forming.
your friends at The Roon Store.
Audeze has commanded a unique position among headphone and audio manufacturers since they released the original LCD-2 in 2009. They’re in that rarified space of being their own fiercest competitor in the race to reach audiophile Olympus. Audeze frequently exhibits a tendency for upsetting their own R&D apple cart by further iterating on prior achievements. They’re not the least bit hesitant to reimagine past perfection by releasing variations on models or dialing back changes to recapture the signature traits of a revered headphone. The LCD-4z and LCD-5 embody that boundary-pushing fearlessness in its purest form.
Our previous article featured a brief summary of the advantages planar magnetic designs have over dynamic drivers and how those qualities benefit performance and sound quality. Audeze has what must be the most consistent and overtly successful track record of any headphone maker where planar magnetic driver development is concerned.
The future of headphone audio regularly makes its first appearance in Audeze’s Southern California factory, popping out of hardshell travel cases like a genie released from a bottle…
Audio Genie: Audeze, you have freed me from this headphone case… wow, nice case by the way! You may have three wishes; what is your command…?
Audeze: Hmmm, what can you help us with this time…? Oh, yes… Nano-scale diaphragms, Parallel Uniforce voice coils, and Fluxor magnet arrays, please!
It’s a silly trope, obviously. Audeze doesn’t really have an audio genie that magically helps with audio breakthroughs. (…or maybe they do) But their Flagship headphones certainly push tech to its limits with what feels like magic, and they’ve packed a lot of it into the LCD-4z and LCD-5’s eye-catching enclosures.
Headphones use two main components to make sound, the magnet, and the diaphragm. Three of Audeze’s most impressive audio advancements, Nano-scale diaphragms, Parallel Uniforce voice coils, and Fluxor magnet arrays, converge on those two areas. Here’s a brief rundown of what they do and how it translates to their performance and tonal signature.
The LCD-4z and LCD-5 feature the lightest and fastest diaphragms Audeze has ever engineered! They’re made of flat sheets of strong, ultra-thin, lightweight, flexible film that’s ten times thinner than a red blood cell. The diaphragm actually weighs less than the air volume it’s able to move!
Audeze’s Parallel Uniforce voice coil is fused to the film and works in tandem with the ultra-powerful Fluxor Magnet array, producing more fluid, piston-like movement. The Uniforce voice coil is thinner in places where the magnetic field exerts greater force – because less internal current is required to activate the voice coil when the magnetic field is stronger. That triple shot of tech fuels the critical quicksilver speed, roughly around 20,000 diaphragm vibrations a second, needed for producing high frequencies and precise sound reproduction.
The diaphragm’s high elasticity more easily converts the electrical impulses moving through the voice coil into sound waves. The symbiotic partnership provides better control of diaphragm motion, higher efficiency, and heightened performance from the driver array. Once the drivers are assembled, they’re electronically matched to create better performance synergy within the headphone.
Pairing those advancements with ongoing Fazor waveguide and contoured earpad improvements culminates in the LCD-4z and LCD-5’s unsurpassed ability to bring music to life with breathtaking clarity, resolution, and accuracy. Improved efficiency results in unparalleled transient response and virtually distortion-free listening, producing the smooth precision, vivid realism, and tonal reproduction Audeze’s flagship headphones are known for.
The LCD-4z and LCD-5 result from Audeze’s alchemistic mashups of existing models and their willingness to revisit perfection to squeak more performance out of previous achievements.
The LCD-4z is extremely popular with audio professionals for its incisive technical ability, musicality, and finesse in revealing every detail in the mix. The LCD-4z’s low impedance makes it a perfect grab-and-go reference headphone. It can be driven with any portable device, but Audeze recommends at least 250 milliwatts of source output power for the best LCD-4z performance. The LCD-4z was born by blending the LCD-X’s low impedance flexibility with the original LCD-4’s driver technology for faster transient and impulse response, more precise imaging, and deep, accurate bass with low distortion.
The newer LCD-5, introduced in 2021, was designed entirely from scratch. Audeze assembled its best in-house technology and gathered feedback on previous models when conceiving the LCD-5. According to Sankar Thiagasamudram, Audeze’s CEO, none of the LCD-5’s parts are used with other LCD models.
Their goal was to reduce weight and modernize the Audeze look while preserving and besting the sonic signature of prior Flagship models. For that, it trades the LCD-4’s double-sided 106mm magnet array in favor of a single-sided, 90mm Fluxor magnet array paired with Audeze’s updated Fazor waveguides. The LCD-5 rates at just 14 ohms impedance. It’s powerable with the headphone out of just about any device, but device output power level of at least 500mW (1/2 a watt) will produce ideal results. Clean, ample power always delivers sonic advantages.
Aesthetics and Design
The LCD-4z and LCD-5 plug right into Audeze’s familiar profile, but there are plenty of new traits to explore. Audeze are masters of subtlety; their enthusiasm to eke out even the most fractional improvements in audio technology and sound also carries over to aesthetic and cable design. These folks strive for improvement and perfection in every aspect of the development, build, and assembly process. Every pair of Audeze headphones is hand-made for better quality control in their So-Cal HQ.
The LCD-4z’s design ingredients list includes the following:
New lighter-weight magnesium earcup rings and grill cover.
A tasty carbon fiber headband with a perforated genuine leather strap.
Soft black lambskin earpads filled with plump comfy memory foam.
The weight distribution and comfort of the LCD-4z are excellent, with only minimal downward and clamping pressure. An elegant splash of gold adorns the yoke logo, extension rods, gimbal lettering, and wire mesh under the grill. The earcup uses standard dual 4-pin mini-XLR connectors. Everything comes packed in a rugged, foam-padded professional travel case.
As previously mentioned, the LCD-5 was designed entirely from scratch. The grill cover, gimbal, and underlying design elements are featherweight magnesium. LCD-5 completes the redesign with a new carbon fiber headband, strap design, elegant tortoiseshell acetate earcups, and subdued black mesh inserts. The new extension rods have deeper notches for more precise sizing. A small knurled tip on the rod makes those adjustments more tactile.
LCD-5 also includes Audeze’s latest and greatest sculpted earpad design. The new pad slopes downward toward the driver in a near-triangular shape that minimizes contact with the listener’s head creating a better seal on more surfaces. The design optimizes the acoustic chamber inside the earpad, reduces resonance, improves air control, smooths frequency response, and enhances definition across all frequencies. The seal, clamp, and design benefits are most evident in the tight, controlled low-end. We’ll cover sound quality in more detail soon.
The new pads aren’t as plush as those of other LCD models, but they’re a noticeable improvement and no less comfortable. The pads are glued on. And boy, do some internet folks have stuff to say about that! Audeze explains that gluing is still the best way to attach the pads for uncompromised sound quality and promises they’ll modify their process if they find something that works better.
I’ll happily take their word on that. They’ve built many more amazing headphones models than I ever have. The score is something like 30 to zip in favor of Audeze. So we’ll stick to the “they’ll make them, and I’ll write about them” arrangement, given that’s what we’re both best at.
It’s my assessment that Audeze nailed its vision for the LCD-5 on all fronts. The design strategy execution is flawless, especially concerning comfort. It weighs in at under 15 ounces for their lightest headphone yet. These are easily as comfortable as the Meze 109 PRO and Meze 99 Classic/NEO, the previous occupants of the top spots in my “most comfortable headphones ever” shortlist.
As I write this, someone somewhere on the internet is moaning as if the LCD-5 has the gravitational pull of a black hole. Before you let random weight complaints from people you don’t know shape your thinking, please try them first. Anyone whose focus is on the comfort and clamping force of the LCD-5 instead of how rapturous they sound is paying too much attention to the wrong stuff. Not to put down folks’ opinions, but really… it’s the sound, man.
I’ll begin this section by saying that I may struggle to adequately convey what these headphones sound like. There are certain times when words utterly fail to capture the emotional impact of our experiences with music. And the LCD-4z and LCD-5 exude musical qualities that are simply beyond the reach of written language. But I’ll still give it the old college try.
Both models are cited as reference headphones by audio professionals. Listening to either instantly reveals why; they deliver transparency, accuracy, resolution, and the joy of music in a way that has to be heard to be properly understood. Detail retrieval and responsiveness are taken to previously unheard levels.
Transients and instrumental decays resolve thoroughly. The leading edges of notes are crisp, and dynamics are preternaturally agile. Imaging is hyper-precise; the staging width is natural with a slight foreground and good depth but varies depending on the production characteristics of the source track. Instrumental layering is excellent, and sheer technical performance is outstanding. Audio detail can be reductionist if required for forensically examining mixes.
If you’re a listener who yearns for a deep connection with lyrical poetry and vocals when listening to music, you should definitely audition the LCD-4z and LCD-5. There’s an incandescent immediacy, intimacy, and expressiveness to both that I’ve only heard in recording studios, live performances, and these headphones. It’s almost as if you’re part of the music, inside it in some way.
Their phenomenal presentation of vocals reminds me of the first time I experienced an Aphex Aural Exciter in person during a recording session. It sounded like the engineer had sprinkled pixie dust on the vocal track. It was infused with sparkle, life, and a near three-dimensional realism. But it somehow didn’t sound the least bit like we had patched in an outboard effect. I was blown away. The LCD-4z and LCD-5 produce similarly captivating vocal excitement while feeling entirely neutral and transparent.
The LCD-4z has a very linear tonal presentation across the entire frequency spectrum. It may measure otherwise, so I’ll clarify that I’m simply describing what the headphone sounds like to me – because I listen to music with my ears, not measurement tools. I’m not knocking measurement graphs, though, if you dig that stuff. They can be interesting, but equally deceptive.
The bass is rich, round, yummy – and natural. I credit that to driver design’s technical abilities more than tuning trickery. Bass extension is generous with great heft and no discernible sub-bass roll-off. Hearing a Hammond B3 organ cat dig in with proper drawbar chops is gloriously ASMR-inducing through the LCD-4z!
The Mids are truly decadent, with unmatched richness, verve, and presence that’s free of all artificiality. Instrumentation and vocals exude in-the-room-immediacy, yet don’t feel unnaturally pushed.
The Treble is exceptionally sweet and linear to the ear. The perceived volume of treble frequencies can fool chart readers. The LCD-4z has excellent air and brilliance, lively abundant detail retrieval, resolution, and clarity are all appropriately measured out and don’t feel fiddled with.
For my personal tastes, the LCD-4z is now my favored headphone for listening to music.
The descriptive power of words rather gives up the ghost when attempting to capture how transcendent music sounds when heard through the LCD-5. I’ll start by saying their technical abilities are genuinely startling when you first listen to them. I thought there might be marginal sound quality gains over the LCD-4z, but there’s much more going on than I initially expected. Despite that, the LCD-5 doesn’t exude an overly clinical nature. Far from it, in fact, yet gazing into mixes for detail retrieval, accuracy, and error checking is effortless when required.
The LCD-5 has an exceptionally linear perceived tonal cohesion. I’ve seen measurement charts and read reviews that say otherwise. But I’ll emphasize again that measurements and how we actually perceive frequency loudness when listening to headphones don’t always jive. That’s why it’s essential to actually listen and form your own sound-quality opinions. We all hear things differently; our ears are the ultimate authority.
The LCD-5s have natural, full-bodied, wonderfully rounded, meaty bass that’s capable of astonishing depth. There’s slightly less warmth when compared to the LCD-4z, but bass energy is abundant, tight, and nimble, thanks to the compounded audio tech that’s packed into the driver design. Bass texture and character are unquestionably the best I’ve ever heard. There’s subtle skin grain to hand percussion and congas. Full kit drum voices are more substantial, especially on toms and kick drums. The legends of Jazz drumming are a revelation when heard through these. Some critics have dismissed the LCD-5’s bass chops, but my take is that they never stoop to shoveling artificially EQ’d bass gunk down our ear holes, and I’m absolutely cool with that.
Mids are positively amazing, exuding in-the-room resolution, dynamics, and tonal color that exceeds anything else I’ve ever heard in a headphone. There’s simply unbelievable life-like music energy on display here that I’ve only previously experienced in the studio or live performance. The LCD-5 is especially stunning when delivering classic rock, heavy soul, live albums, jazz, classical pieces, and acoustic singer-songwriters. Piano tracks are incredibly commanding. The LCD-5 delivers the finest piano reproduction I’ve heard. Chordal resonance and decay within the body resolve fully with thoroughly organic character.
Where the LCD-5 delivers pure, unadulterated, sonic gold is with voices. Vocal intimacy and nuance are three-dimensional, magnificently vivid, strikingly true-to-life, and unrivaled by any other headphones I’ve reviewed or heard previously.
Upper mid-range energy is a bit pronounced in the LCD-5 initially. It settles down nicely as the headphones break in, however. I’ve seen a few reviewers call the LCD-5’s upper mids shouty. I didn’t experience that personally and suspect those remarks could have been prompted by the production values of the source material rather than shortcomings with the LCD-5’s upper mids/treble border management. The LCD-5’s DSP preset in Roon smoothed the upper mids handily when I applied it, even before the LCD-5s had thoroughly broken in.
The perceived volume of treble frequencies can deceive measurement chart adherents. Audeze really nailed the treble tuning in my assessment. There’s nothing missing here, to my ears. Air and brilliance feel natural and blend seamlessly with upper mids. Treble representation is sensed more than heard in some frequency ranges. Much of what we’re listening for is a thin layer of sweetening to the mids and upper mids that adds sparkle to instrumentation and vocals.
In some cases, that comes from delicate shading in timbre, texture, and grain. One of the most conspicuous differences between the LCD-4z and LCD-5 is in their treatment of these subtitles. Vocal overtones, snare spring sizzle, and cymbal decay tails are the best I’ve heard anywhere. Vocal harmonies give way to more clearly discernable individual voice attributes.
All told transparency, accuracy, and detail surpass anything I’ve heard before. Instrumental and vocal realism is supernatural. Listening to music through the LCD-5 is transformative; I don’t know what else to say.
For close listening, I drove the LCD-4z and LCD-5 with the Roon Ready iFi NEO Stream feeding a Mytek THX AAA HPA amp using Audeze’s stock premium single-ended cable plugged into the HPA’s unbalanced input. Tracks were sourced from Qobuz and TIDAL and rendered at their native sample rates, indicated below.
The Turtles – Elenore from The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands (24-bit/96 kHz PCM)
The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands was released to showcase the band’s songwriting and artistic versatility. The album playfully masquerades as a various artists’ “Battle of the Bands” record, with The Turtles performing under different names for each musical style. Elenore, a perfect specimen of chamber pop and the band’s talent, was initially conceived as a throw-away parody. It was written in under an hour and designed to quiet their record label’s constant demands for a sequel to their smash hit “Happy Together.” Despite vocalist and writer Howard Kaylan’s heavy use of saccharine lyrical clichés, the song became a surprise Top 10 single. Thanks in no small part to its divine harmonies, lush arrangement, and radiant production – all of which shine beautifully when heard with the LCD-4z and LCD-5.
Plenty has been said about the LCD-4z’s prowess for letting audio professionals and listeners peer deep into dense mixes, and this track highlights that strength. Elenore gets underway with punchy propulsive piano chords, hand percussion, bass guitar, and the lovely lead vocal. The full kit, guitar, and a luminescent wall of harmony vocals join in for the chorus. One of the earliest pop music appearances of a Moog synthesizer sneaks into the second verse, adding an additional whimsical motif and unexpected tonal color.
The LCD-4z’s tonal balance and cohesion are superb. The presentation overall is very full, smooth, and linear. The track’s production has loads of mid-range energy, but the layering of instrumentation remains uncluttered even when we’re hit with that enormous glistening vocal chorus. Elenore is a dainty pop stunner without a heavy bottom end, so there’s not much bass chat for this particular track. Highs are perfectly dialed in and lifelike. The multitracked harmonies are wonderfully airy and articulate. Snare snaps and cymbal shimmer are crisp and vivid.
A lot is going on in the mix, but detail retrieval is effortless and highly satisfying. The soundstage is realistic and natural, with excellent depth. Imaging is laser precise; every instrumental element in the mix has plenty of space to breathe and contribute. Resolution is exceptional; reverb tails and instrumental decay resolve completely. The LCD-4z’s vocal presentation is intimate and wonderfully expressive. The multitracked lead vocal and layered harmonies are breathtakingly vivid, with incredible presence and excitement. The reverb decay at the end of the track is a thumbnail portrait of the LCD-4’s technical performance capabilities.
As I said earlier in our sound impressions summary, the technical abilities of the LCD-5 are truly startling when first experienced. I thought there might be a marginal difference between it and the LCD-4z, but Elenore has a lot more to survey than I expected.
Transparency, accuracy, and detail transcend anything I’ve heard before, and realism is extraordinary. Vocal intimacy is unmatched, very close sounding, and exceptionally clear. With minimal effort, vocals can be examined as if they were isolated tracks. The same can be said of all the instrumentation. At the same time, the LCD-5 isn’t overly clinical and doesn’t reduce songs to their component parts.
The remarkable difference in texture delivery between the models is clearly highlighted. The shimmer of the snare spring and cymbal splash has a more crisply defined nature. The layered harmonies reveal individual voice timbres more clearly. The lively mid-range energy in this track comes through like a technicolor cannon. It’s genuinely incredible.
Neil Young – Heart of Gold from Harvest 50th Anniversary Edition (24-bit/192 kHz PCM)
Chances are good that neither the artist, track, nor album requires any introduction. If they do, a selection of gifted music writers have taken the fact-finding plunge on this album and surfaced with pearls. I picked up the 50th Anniversary box set of Harvest to have the physical book, even if I find streaming the music from Roon easier and more enjoyable. I was eager to hear what Audeze’s flagship would do with Neil’s most popular album.
Neil’s classic comes through the LCD-4z like molten honey. This track explains why people call this a warm, rich tuning. Heart of Gold is perfect for these headphones. I’m sure the same could be said for most classic or live-album rock.
This is an overly familiar track, the kind we almost soft-tune and listen to passively because we’ve heard it so frequently. But the LCD-4z opens up the mix revealing hidden veins of diamonds in the lush, dense acoustic arrangement.
The tonal saturation of the guitars is sweet and shimmering. The bass is warm and close, locking up snuggly with the spare drumming. The air from the harmonica, acoustics, and steel guitar slide through the upper register smoothly. The snare has a crisp snap. Reverb tails are abundant and fun to chase.
Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor’s backing vocals provide a wonderful vocal contrast with Neil’s lead in the final chorus. The balance between instrumentation and vocals is perfect. The mix sounds incredible in these headphones and has more foreground and overall depth than the previous track.
Carefully chosen reference tracks help demonstrate that the LCD-4z gives you precisely what’s in the final mix and presents it with better sound quality than you’ve ever heard.
..until you put on the LCD-5! Similar to Elenore, this is another step up in detail and resolution. A significant difference here, though, is that Heart of Gold has a great bass line, a lopping drum shuffle, and more layered guitars to work with, and it makes the absolute most of all of it. The LCD-5’s driver advancements step forward confidently. The tonal presentation is so balanced and natural but has wonderful fullness and radiates live music energy. This is the most detailed, rich, and nuanced presentation I expect to ever hear of Neil’s intoxicating early 70s classic.
Charles Mingus – Better Git Hit in Your Soul from Mingus at Antibes (16-bit/44.1 kHz PCM)
Charles Mingus was a volatile larger-than-life jazz composer, bassist, personality, and legend. He’s often credited with helping anchor hard bop as one of jazz’s most popular hybrid strains. Mingus routinely drew inspiration from gospel, blues, and R&B feeding it all through a funky, deep-swinging, rollicking jazz engine that all his own. Mingus once said that the best jazz performances should feel like a Black gospel tent revival and claimed that this live 1960 Jazz à Juan Festival was one occasion when his Jazz Workshop bottled lightning.
The track opens with light applause and audience chatter as Mingus propels the piece forward with a peppy bass intro before the Dolphy, Ervin, and Curson horn trifecta jump in with a jubilant motif that channels Mingus’s lat 50s pantomime The Clown. Spirited vocal call-and-response erupts among the Workshop cats who are laying out during solo breaks. It’s a tour de force display that swings with euphoric intensity.
The band and audience provide handclaps when members first lay in for their solo helpings. Curson leads with sweet and peppery trumpet choruses. Booker Ervin cuts a huge bluesy trench through the track’s sonic tapestry. The always transcendent Eric Dolphy twists himself into driving stream-of-consciousness soulful riffs than come straight out of jazz Shambala. Dannie Richmond cranks his kit up to crackling tempos punctuated with break-neck stop-on-a-dime rumbling tom rolls as counterpoint. Richmond is a criminally underrated jazz drummer whose name should be heard mentioned among the greats.
The full ensemble leans in on the follow-up solo choruses, stoking the rhythmic coals beneath each soloist, eliciting soaring ecstatic bursts of impassioned riffs from each member in turn. Mingus unexpectedly decamps from the upright bass to pound the defenseless piano during the melee, further provoking the kinetic instrumental frenzy.
I’ll never forget my first experiences with this track. I’ve enjoyed it tremendously over the years and used to spin it regularly on a jazz radio show. The imaging, detail, and staging are better on this recording than any other I’ve demoed thus far. It showcases the LCD-4z’s jazz presentation chops wonderfully. You gotta hear it.
The same “better everything and more of it” treatment we’ve gotten thus far is ladled on Better Git Hit in Your Soul – as if answering the call to action in the track title! Transparency and detail are of much finer granularity revealing macro details. A previously unnoticed listener near Mingus’ recorder can be heard saying “cool bass” at about twelve seconds in.
Textural subtleties are more distinct. The voice-like approach of each of the horn cats shines through with greater sass and funk now. Mingus’ outbursts are even more comically beatific. I’m wiped out from the sheer joy of listening and feel like I’ve just witnessed the performance from the festival orchestra pit – four times in a row!
The LCD-4z and LCD-5 exude musical qualities that are simply beyond the reach of written language.
Audeze’s LCD-4z and LCD-5 represent the apex of headphone audio technology and sound quality -and they come with a price that speaks for the astounding innovation and sensory euphoria they deliver.
They pull the listener into a sonic wonderland that is nearly impossible to leave. I was able to hear detail and texture I’d never heard previously in music I’d listened to for my entire life. And not from tomfoolery or trickery – but from audio technology, innovation, and passion that delivers the most vivid, natural, transparent, thrilling, and soul-stirring headphone experience currently available.
Listening to these headphones is just about the best experience I’ve ever had with recorded music. That’s a profound statement because music is a daily staple of my life and has been for decades. If you’re searching for headphones that will transport you to the heart and soul of music. The LCD-4z and LCD-5 will take you there.
The LCD-5s push a lot of mid-range energy than generally heard from Audeze headphones initially. It naturally dissipates as they break in and the diaphragm is exercised. The Audeze DSP plug-in for the The LCD-5 in Roon also smooths it out very nicely.
There may have been an issue with the sizing rods on our review model of the LCD-4z. They were too relaxed for my taste. Several times during wear, they suddenly extended a notch or two, even with very slight head movement. It was a distraction that occasionally detracted from my listening enjoyment. The LCD-2C, LCD-X, and LCD-5 didn’t have that problem.
Both models ship with Audeze’s premium black and white crystal-infused 2.5m OCC copper cable. It’s a high-quality, flexible, tangle-free cable with a non-microphonic jacket. Many headphone buyers like to swap cables. Audeze’s premium cable wouldn’t need an upgrade.
60s Chamber Pop tracks with layered harmonies sounded unbelievable through these headphones. The Beach Boys, Rascals, Lovin’ Spoonful, Byrds, The Association, and Simon & Garfunkel were hugely satisfying when heard through either the LCD-4z or LCD-5.
If you’re into classic or live album rock, give these headphones a try. They have incredible synergy with those genres.
And, share a how-to for a great Roon feature that helps any Audeze headphones sound their very best.
If you’re thinking, “more headphones? How can headphones be that different… ?” You’re not alone. Many Roon subscribers have returned to headphones or explored them for the first time, thanks to Roon ARC. They’ve also asked why anyone would have multiple pairs of headphones and wondered why not get one pair that works for everything?
Well, if I were to reveal secrets, the real reason why many of us own multiple pairs of headphones is that they’re an exotic gear landscape custom-made for audio obsessives. The chase for that magic sound is reinforced and enabled by everyone involved. It’s incredible, you should try it!
A slightly more reserved answer is that headphones help us play to the strengths of our favorite music and listening environment. They can satisfy multiple listening experiences, from laid-back immersive listening to focused detail exploration and anything in between. They’re perfect for creating an ideal personalized listening space immune to room coloration, one that can be transformed tonally just by swapping out headphones and is mobile by design.
They’re unquestionably the easiest way to do all that… unless you’re willing to change or add an entire system to your listening room whenever you have the inkling to experiment with sound. And, with the release of Roon ARC, many listeners have realized that headphones are ideal complements to any Roon system. All perfect reasons to discuss and listen to two head-fi legends that just landed in the Roon Store, the Audeze LCD-2 Classic and LCD-X.
And as a bonus, we’ll show you how to use the Audeze headphone DSP plug-ins, included free in Roon, to get the best sound from any pair of Audeze monitors you decide on or already own.
LCD-2 Classic and LCD-X: the legend and the gold standard
The LCD-2 is the headphone that established Audeze’s bona fides when it was released in 2009. Since then, it has evolved and benefitted from numerous advancements in audio technology. But in doing so, some felt it had traded one type of sonic magic for another. And being the music listeners we are, many of us wished we could have both – the classic and the new LCD-2 sound. So Audeze, being the gracious folks they are, kindly obliged us. The result is the LCD-2 Classic which dials the LCD-2 back to its original tuning by adding a dash of additional sweetening and removing the Fazor phase management technology of the current LCD-2.
The LCD-X is Audeze’s studio workhorse and their most popular headphone among audio recording, mixing, and mastering professionals. Its accurate presentation provides realistic transparent playback that closely resembles the neutrality of an acoustically treated studio. The LCD-X was updated slightly in 2021, lending enhanced mid-range linearity, a restructured magnetic array, reduced weight, and fit improvements, making it an even more attractive contender in Audeze’s model lineup.
Both models are open-back planar magnetic designs that feature 106mm diaphragms! That’s a glorious four inches plus of bookshelf speaker-sized driver for each side of your head! Both models are exceptionally easy to drive. The LCD-2C has an impedance rating of 70 ohms. The LCD-X is rated at just 20 ohms and can be powered by any portable device.
Planar magnetic designs have a lot of advantages over dynamic dome drivers. They’re much more efficient and push larger volumes of air with a more fluid range of motion. Planar magnetic transducers use an ultra-thin polymer film for a highly flexible driver assembly, and the voice coil is printed directly upon it. The entire mechanism is then sandwiched between two staggered magnet arrays. Resulting in nimble dynamics, wide frequency response, lightning-fast transients, greater transparency, excellent control, immersive detail, more realistic imaging, lifelike musicality, and better sound – free of distortion and other driver-introduced artifacts. Which translates roughly to “all good and nothing bad” We’ll dig into their sound signatures more in just a moment.
Bomb-proof design and build quality
At first glance, the LCD-2C and LCD-X appear nearly identical; but upon closer examination, slight differences emerge. Both models feature an overbuilt modern black industrial design with a flash of chrome courtesy of the yokes and screw heads.
The LCD-2C utilizes crystal-infused nylon for a nearly indestructible earcup. LCD-X features understated polished black aluminum rings. Audeze logo grill guards, the standard textured matte black spring steel headband, and synthetic leather head strap are employed on both.
Audeze’s improved contoured earpads provide a perfect seal around the ear for better sound and comfort. The plush molded memory foam is covered in soft vegan leather on the Classic. The LCD-X offers buyers a choice of vegan or genuine leather.
Regarding comfort, the LCD-2C and LCD-X aren’t lightweight headphones; they’re both over a pound. But they’re not uncomfortable. The headband and strap balance the weight nicely, and the clamping pressure is reasonable. I’ve worn them for several hours over many days without any discomfort. Aside from that, it kinda feels rude to complain about headphones that sound this good being uncomfortable. They weren’t such a problem that they distracted me from enjoying the music, not for an instant. If clamping pressure and weight are a concern, give them a chance, their sound is absolutely worth it! Speaking of…
As the ancient audio texts advise: Listen ye first, then charts read.
Ancient Audio Texts
Reviewing the LCD-2 Classic’s sound is somewhat challenging because they’re cleverly hypnotizing! They’re headphones for disappearing inside the music, not so much for analyzing it. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s an attractive praise-worthy trait that some reviewers have puzzlingly chosen to fault rather than recognize.
The LCD-2C shines in its balance of frequencies and classic hi-fi presentation. Bass is wonderfully rich, full-bodied, natural, and energetic. These kick plenty large on bass-heavy tracks with exceptional, smooth extension. And lows ease effortlessly into the mids like honey. My classic roots rock reggae tracks sound like they were made for these headphones.
Mids are balanced but wonderfully full and warm, enveloping the listener. Acoustic instruments are rendered with sumptuously saturated tonal color. Male and female vocals are intimate, vivid, and lifelike. Allegedly some frequency response charts say the LCD-2 Classic lacks vocal presence, but I never felt them insufficient in that area. Presence is subtle when unaltered, and the LCD-2C feels natural in this range to me. Further proving that the best measurement tool is our ears. As the ancient audio texts advise: Listen ye first, then charts read.
The LCD-2 Classic’s upper mids and treble are slightly rounded and softer sounding by design. The original LCD-2 was a warm, pleasing, laid-back headphone – and that’s the LCD-2C’s tuning target. Listeners who admire an audiophile presentation with crisp detail and abundant air may not initially gel with the LCD-2 Classic. But for relaxed immersive listening, it’s a beautiful match for most musical styles and unbeatable for some.
The soundstage is wide, close, and enveloping but with less distinct imaging. That results from LCD-2C’s ability to place the listener inside the music. It’s a supremely enjoyable headphone that hung well with my review tracks and was perfect for casual listening.
Coming from Audeze’s Reference Series, LCD-X sits at the other side of the tuning spectrum and welcomes more technical detailed inspection. As the preferred reference headphone of audio engineers and musicians, it provides the neutral yet wonderfully musical presentation necessary for creating accurate recordings. Mastering and mixing engineers rely on LCD-X to ensure tracks translate transparently to the real world. Their ability to mimic a perfectly acoustically treated studio gives recording professionals a reliable mobile reference tool and rewards close listening enthusiasts with music delivery that reflects the artist’s original creative intent.
Here again, we’re treated to decadent bass response. Some planar magnetic, open-back cans are a bit bass anemic, but Audeze isn’t your typical headphone. LCD-X delivers remarkable slam and weighty body that approaches full-size dynamic speaker drivers. It’s immense and rich but well-controlled – never flabby or bloated. Bass energy is punchy, and extension is excellent, effortlessly plumming sub-bass. This is, without question, the most satisfying bass I’ve heard from a planar magnetic design for the price.
The LCD-X’s midrange underwent mild precision adjustments in the 2021 version making it one of the most neutral and natural-sounding Audeze models to date. The re-tuning corrected mild shortcomings in the previous version but didn’t undo any of its musicality or flair. There’s still lush mids saturation, but the changes deliver better definition and balance overall with an expressive vocal presentation that doesn’t resort to excessive artificiality. Instruments are vivid, detail reproduction is precise, and resolution is pristine. Overall, the mids are shamelessly beautiful, balanced, and fully enjoyable, leaving nothing wanting.
The treble of the LCD-X is exceptional and technically capable – exhibiting a silky organic quality. Air and detail are dialed in impeccably. Sizzle and brilliance are spot-on. Some reviews I’ve seen call the LCD-X’s highs “soft.” Soft certainly wouldn’t have been the first adjective that sprung to my mind. I’d call them not overdone. That’s not a fault; they’re faithful and realistic to my ears. Pushing a tuning to create qualities in music that aren’t there doesn’t jive with the transparency needed in a reference tool like the LCD-X.
Sadly, one of the most unfortunate lasting side effects of “audiophile” tuning is its disdain for natural treble balance. This may be one of the most assiduous afflictions to assail recorded music after over-compression. The LCD-X avoids it by pegging its highs perfectly, delivering lifelike treble that’s dynamic, snappy, and articulate. Subtle details like reverb tails and natural instrument decay are wonderfully displayed and true to form.
This could be one of the best headphone treble presentations out there. It certainly is at this price point. It’s authentic and detailed with outstanding resolution and texture, yet never grainy, exaggerated, or strident. LCD-X is entirely capable of providing forensic insight into mixes or fulfilling engaged listening sessions for detail junkies.
The soundstage of the LCD-X is narrower when compared to the LCD-2C, as we’d expect from a reference headphone. The rendering is decidedly less forward. It’s still close and intimate, but where the LCD-2C places the listener directly inside the music with hard center, left, and right staging, LCD-X evokes the optimized listening depth provided by near-field desk monitors – a more convincing and true-to-life presentation. The professional capabilities of the LCD-X are overtly baked into every aspect of its character. Stereo imaging and separation are vivid and pinpoint accurate, communicating its studio pedigree and reference dependability. Those traits also mean that it suits pure detailed listening enjoyment exceptionally well.
The LCD-X easily outshines headphones several times their cost and leaves nothing wanting for listeners who admire accuracy, rich presentation, natural detail, and musical realism that perfectly balances professional applications with incisive music appreciation. They assume either role effortlessly. I’m confident in naming the LCD-X the most musically enjoyable and technically capable headphones available at this price point.
All tracks were rendered at their native sample rates, indicated for each track below. We’ve chosen one of them for a before and after using Audeze’s integrated DSP presets in Roon – including a step-by-step so you can try them out.
Arthur Rubenstein – Chopin: Nocturne No. 19 in E Minor from Chopin: The Nocturnes on RCA Red Seal (24-bit/96 kHz PCM)
Our selection of later-era Rubenstein doesn’t coyly indicate taking a side in the quiet war over which of his periods is definitive. This performance is so utterly lyrical, assured, relaxed yet percussive and absurdly enjoyable through these headphones that the decision was essentially made for us.
Duke Ellington once said, “The piano is an orchestra…” This performance illuminates Duke’s statement brilliantly. Rubenstein’s performance of Chopin’s Nocturnes in later life is decidedly less technical but more romantic and truer to their essence of longing and melancholy.
The LCD-2 Classic delivers this piece with intoxicating luxurious beauty. Its’ lows and mid-range, combined with the staging intimacy, impart Rubenstein’s percussive left-hand attack deep in the chest as delicate right-hand motifs dance fluidly inside the body of the instrument.
When his reading of the high register becomes more insistent, the notes are crisp and textured yet sublimely controlled and passionate. This piece proves that the LCD-2C retains technical listening capabilities; notes and piano body resonance resolve distinctly, but the LCD-2C truly shines at immersive listening. Rubenstein’s performance is beguiling and effortlessly draws the listener deep inside its embrace.
Inviting the performance to inhabit the LCD-X reveals even greater spirit and ardor tucked within Rubenstein’s interpretation. The performance is no less beautiful with the added detail and transparency. It retains all its romanticism while bringing crisper resolution to subtleties.
The highs command an evener balance with the low-end and mid-frequency ranges. This piece singlehandedly dismisses claims of LCD-X being marred by soft highs. This is an exceptionally refined yet fervent listening experience. Hearing Nocturne No. 19’s final notes fade inside the body vibration of the piano is a treat. The LCD-X’s treatment of classical solo piano is simply lovely and not to be missed.
Fred Neil – I’ve Got a Secret (Didn’t We Shake Sugaree) from Fred Neil (16-bit/44 kHz PCM)
Fred Neil was an eccentric troubadour that gregariously reigned over the late 50s/early 60s Greenwich Village scene with a near-mystical presence, taking young arrivals like Bob Dylan and David Crosby under his wing. His second album Fred Neil is a stone classic containing two of his most prolific compositions, The Dolphins and Everybody’s Talkin’, but it’s his incredibly soulful revision of this Elizabeth Cotton folky that knocks us sideways and exhibits all of Neil’s most majestic superpowers.
Neil’s reverb-laden guitar, a submerged acoustic, and looping jazz bass kick the song off and are quickly joined by a silky whistled melody line. Fred’s vocals drop right into the pocket, cradled in the mother of all reverb. The others lay out reverently until Fred’s through the buttery opening chorus. A second electric leans in, pulling rubbery tremolo behind it. The snare picks up, and another acoustic guitar slides in. The track floats along on rich mids and bass with a softened but lovely high end.
The star player is Fred’s vocal, and LCD-2C’s staging pulls the listener completely inside it as he massages the plate reverb and plums bass notes from a well of smokey vibrato. It feels like we’re hearing his heavenly polished mahogany baritone from inside his head. The instrumental layering is dense and somewhat amorphous, which may not be to every taste. But the track was born for the tonal capabilities of the LCD-2C.
Its hypnotic quality meshes brilliantly with these headphones, and it’s challenging to pull away from immersive enjoyment into technical listening. Those who relish airy separation may feel they’re trading detail for the lush presentation.
Immediately we’re treated to finer details when switching to the LCD-X. The recessed acoustic hiding in the previous intro has shimmer, space, and greater clarity. The upright bass is full and rounded. Reverb tails in Fred’s vocals are clear and resolve smoothly. The effortless rhythmic flow produces a shiver when the full band drops in.
The track still presents a warming organic quality with layered richness, but everything is more distinct. The nicotine tar on Fred’s voice peeks through in places, and the guitars exhibit more nuance. Slight subtle variations on the pulsing rhythm break the surface conspicuously. The vast reverb adds excellent top end, and the snare, while still laid back, has light snap and spring resonance. The overall presentation is detailed, tonally balanced, and yet moderately classic hi-fi, probably from the outstanding mid and bass performance.
My pick between the LCD-2C and LCD-X for this one is the LCD-X. Everything I liked about the LCD-2C is still here, but the added transparency lends clarity for hearing further into the track without diminishing its captivating allure.
Roon’s Audeze DSP plug-in feature
The plug-ins from Audeze’s Reveal+ headphone software are included with Roon free of charge and are super easy to use. Our video below contains an easy step-by-step on finding and applying them in Roon. We’ll discuss their audible difference and see if they affect an artifact heard in this track.
We should clarify that the plug-ins aren’t intended to be audio correction tools. But, by using the plug-in to optimize the EQ curve of the headphones, it will reveal whether it’s caused by the LCD-2C’s default tuning.
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – Moanin’ from Moanin’ (24-bit/192 kHZ PCM)
Art Blakey’s 1958 return to Blue Note Records resulted in one hard bop’s archetypal classics, Moanin’. Its title track embodies the sub-genre’s funky, back-to-the-roots embrace of blues, gospel, and R&B fueled by a driving modern jazz engine room. Despite being recorded by what may be the shortest-lived Jazz Messengers lineup, the album epitomizes the form and remains essential listening for the telepathic musical interplay and soulful intensity on display from the entire ensemble.
Without the LCD-2C DSP preset plug-in:
Moanin’ bolts from the gate, setting up a classic hybrid gospel/blues call-and-response groove from writer Bobby Timmons’s percussive piano figures and the Morgan/Golson horn team. Benny Golson’s sax reed sizzles with fuzzy warmth as The Messengers lock in underneath the swinging motif.
Lee Morgan’s trumpet bars crackle with brash energy, half-valve slurs, and peppery staccato riffs, but the plosive power at the leading edge of his breaks literally pops the LCD-2C’s planar magnetic element detracting from the piece’s renowned perfection. Golson’s two choruses add strut, shuffle, and sass with a rounded body over the rhythm sections’ foundational groove. Jymie Merrit’s bass bops along with Blakey’s effortless swing as he adds tight press rolls and crash cymbal punctuation between solo choruses.
When Timmons takes his helpings, Merritt digs in on the stand-up, offering up lovely interplay. The piano is a delight, expansive with nice heft, depth, and punchy bite with someone, likely Blakey, grunting approval in the background. The bass leans in with voice-like huskiness as the rhythm section saunters with Swiss precision. The piece closes with that classic call-and-response motif, building in power before ending in a flourish of rolling piano figures. It’s an unimpeachable masterpiece that’s mildly blemished by Lee Morgan’s atomic trumpet leads.
With the LCD-2C DSP preset plug-in:
To apply Audeze’s custom presets in Roon, press the volume icon in the footer of Roon, then click DSP. Toggle on the Audeze presets on the DSP page and select the corresponding headphone model. It’s that easy; see our video below for a step-by-step.
From the go, there’s more clarity, detail, and air in the mix. Jymie Merritt’s finger can be heard tracing a bass string before playing. The rafters of Rudy Van Gelder’s studio carcasses the music with airy goodness and natural room ambiance. The plug-in opens the mix noticeably but not excessively. The staging doesn’t feel more expansive, but the foreground seems deeper – set back a few feet for more detailed study.
When Lee Morgan takes his break, the blistering lead ruffles the element again. There’s perhaps the slightest bit less grain but not much. And that’s reassuring to observe. Using the optimized plug-in adjustments tells us that the LCD-2C’s default tuning isn’t what’s causing the pop and grain.
What’s even more impressive though, is the lively top end that’s on display with the addition of the Audeze LCD-2 plug-in. Subtle details break the surface everywhere. There’s more nuance, richness, and character throughout the song. It lends the hard bop classic additional deference. Everything feels more lively and musical but not in the least bit exaggerated.
It’s a remarkable difference. The LCD-2C doesn’t suddenly become the LCD-X by adding the preset, but they’re much closer to them now. The signature warmth and mid-range richness get a resolving dash of high-end for surprisingly transformative resolution. Roon’s Audeze DSP plug-ins make these classic headphones sound even sweeter. It’s like buying the next better model just by using the DSP feature.
To conclude the artifact test, I ran another set of headphones using the same setup to demo the track. The dynamic driver phones I tested also broke up but sounded harsher with more abrasive distortion. That tells me that Audeze’s planar magnetic design’s swift responsiveness and dynamics grab the transient so quickly that it catches the lead plosive and resolves it smoothly without the crunching distortion heard in the dynamic driver design. That’s genuinely astounding.
I’m confident in naming the LCD-X the most musically enjoyable and technically capable headphones available at this price point.
The LCD-2 Classic and LCD-X are stunning headphones that cover the waterfront sonically and balance each other’s strengths perfectly: LCD-2C for immersive relaxed listening, LCD-X for hunting audio easter eggs, detail exploration, or professional transparency. Owning them both would immediately satisfy most listening desires.
Both models feature exceptional build quality, thoroughly beautiful sound, and impressive technical performance – especially at their respective price points, making them excellent choices for first-time high-end headphone buyers or those wanting to upgrade.
Additionally, Audeze is the undisputed champion of planar magnetic headphone manufacturers. Their headphones spoil listeners with nimble dynamics, wide frequency response, lightning-fast transients, greater transparency, excellent control, immersive detail, more realistic imaging, lifelike musicality, better sound, and lovely tonal balance.
They’re equally perfect for music enthusiasts and audio professionals. Their easy compatibility with reference tracks and casual listening sessions earns them my unreserved and entirely enthusiastic recommendation. The LCD-X commands a spot in my best headphones list for its all-encompassing musicality and performance.
And, if you already own a pair of Audeze headphones but don’t subscribe to Roon, trust me on this… do a free 14-day trial. Roon’s seamless integration of Audeze’s headphone presets are audio icing on top of all their other winning qualities.
The LCD-2 Classic was impressively transformed with a few mouse clicks. As a fellow music lover, I encourage you to hear what you’re missing. Roon + Audeze + all your favorite music, free for two weeks. It’s risk-free; why pass it up?!
If you’re into classic rock or soul, pop, live recordings, singer-songwriters, or reggae, hear me when I say try these headphones. They have incredible synergy with those genres. You will thank me.
The included stock cables are lovely, tangle-free, flexible, comfortable, and sturdy. They don’t transmit noise into the earcup, which is more than I can say for some premium cables I’ve demoed.
The LCD-X provided for the review was the Creator Package with the standard case and cable. Both are of fine quality. Buyers concerned about the standard case and cable can put those worries away. I don’t see a risk of disappointment.
Before letting concerns about the weight of the LCD-2C or LCD-X, please give them a listen. Given what I had read, I expected them to be very uncomfortable, but both models were totally agreeable when worn, even for long hours.
Since the release of Roon ARC, the mobile app that transforms your personal Roon library into a bespoke streaming service, many of you have asked the Roon Store what you need to get the most out of the surprise bonus bundled with Roon 2.0.
As a result, there are many more Roon customers with AudioQuest DragonFlys and Meze 99 series headphones than there were in the summer! Nothing compares to the intimate listening space created by pairing quality headphones with a worthy DAC/Amp. They reconnect us with our most loved artists, albums, and recordings and make recent musical discoveries more engaging.
The 99 Classics are affordable entry points into primo portable audio that gained Meze troves of admirers. Immediately upon their release seven years ago, requests for an open-back version began pouring in. So when early prototypes of a new open-back, walnut-trimmed Meze headphone were spotted at audio shows, feverish excitement and anticipation broke out among the open-back Classics petitioners and headphone intelligentsia.
But there’s just one thing…
The 109 PRO isn’t simply a 99 Classic in disguise
And that’s great news! Yes, an open-back 99 would have been cool. But we know it’s not Meze’s style to rest on prior success; they weren’t going to repeat themselves – no matter how much people would have loved them for it. I mean, we’re talking about the same folks that released the revolutionary closed-back Liric model right on the heels of their incredible new flagship Elite. They’re not going to follow trends or do what’s expected.
The only thing anyone can reliably predict from Meze is that during waking hours in Romania, they’re busy figuring out new ways to make music listening more engaging and emotionally resonant. The rest will be a surprise and delight – just like the 109 PRO.
Technical engineering for 109 PRO began by returning to the basics: carefully selected materials, exacting craftsmanship, and precision assembly. The result is an in-house designed and produced 50mm dynamic driver assembly featuring a dual membrane diaphragm made from a cellulose-carbon fiber composite dome surrounded by a Beryllium-coated polymer torus. Circling that is a copper-zinc stabilizer ring alongside an efficient neodymium magnet encased inside a precision machined aluminum frame.
That tech translates to music like so… the cellulose composite W-shaped dome produces highs with incredible detail, clarity, and definition, while the Beryllium-coated torus contributes to faster transient response and greater dynamic range. It pairs with the ring-shaped stabilizer to suppress unwanted resonance and vibration, reducing harmonic distortion. The precision-machined aluminum frame guarantees a perfectly flat surface to affix the magnet and diaphragm assembly improving stability and performance. The completed transducer is placed at a precise angle and distance from the ear inside the open earcup housing.
It’s an entirely different headphone with innovative technology and engineering that sets it apart from other Meze offerings. And even more impressively, its 40 Ω impedance rating and high sensitivity mean it can be driven using the headphone out of most devices.
At first glance, the 109 PRO exudes a strong visual resemblance to the 99 Classics. That similarity undoubtedly contributed to the notion that the headphone gods had smiled on us and an open-back 99 series headphone had descended from the clouds. But upon closer inspection, the 109 PRO’s unique traits, technical characteristics, and singular beauty are revealed.
Old-growth black walnut reappears for an elegant second life as Meze earcups. The 109’s are scaled up to accommodate and reveal the larger dynamic driver, producing one of Meze’s most open patterns. The ornate grill design inside the earcup and matching rose gold hardware create a striking contrast against the jet-black lightweight spring steel frame, earcup grill insert, and accompanying noir appointments. The self-adjusting vegan leather headband distributes weight evenly to relieve pressure for a better fit. Memory foam and soft, breathable velour earpads envelop the ears, creating a luxurious listening space.
Comfort is exactly what you’d expect from Meze, which is to say the 109 PRO is absurdly comfy. In fact, it’s even more comfortable than the 99 Classics – that’s something I didn’t expect to say about any headphones. They feel nearly weightless, are pleasantly snug, and hug the head perfectly, requiring no adjustment. Meze should think about branching out into making earmuffs for fans of their headphones that live in cold environments. It doesn’t even get that cold where I live, but I don’t think I could resist them.
The 109 PRO continues Meze Audio’s unmistakable artistic expression with stunning visual appeal that’s equaled only by its musical voice.
When Meze sets out to produce a new headphone, they focus on what they’d like the wearer to experience when listening to music and proceed with a tuning informed by the heart, emotion, and immersive musical connection. It’s one of the things that set Meze apart. The 109 PRO nails that sonically; it’s tastefully tuned for enjoyable engaged listening over strict technical neutrality.
Lower bass frequencies offer excellent extension with a slight shelf in the low and mid-bass range. That tuning adds nice fullness and warmth to the lows and compensates wonderfully for the typical thinner bass response of open-back designs. The dynamic driver produces great punch and adds a muscular body to the lows, while the open-back design eliminates any possibility of bass loading.
The midrange is very smooth and linear, up to around 3-5kHz. Precisely tuned presence provides shimmer to vocals and instruments, plus a wonderful sense of space and headroom. I’m unsure if it’s a light boost or a subtle cut to the preceding frequencies – but it’s very tastefully done. I didn’t detect any resulting vocal sibilance or sharpness to instrumentation.
Highs also have some air adjustment around 10-12kHz, adding a brilliant, lively top-end. How well the 109’s upper mid and treble tuning works will vary depending on what you’re listening to. Early 60s pop mixed for transistor and car speakers, thinner lively mixes of the 80s, and lo-fi punk or indie tracks may feel slightly aggressive depending on their individual production traits.
We poured our soul into every aspect of its design, and it always brings a smile to my face. I think right now this is, of all our headphones, the one I listen to most.
Antonio Meze on the 109 PRO
However, after letting the 109 PROs play for about 10 hours over three consecutive nights, the top end became silky smooth and vivid. Buyers who feel tentative about the 109’s highs should give them about 40 hours of playtime before judging the tuning. After that, you’ll be hooked and won’t dream of letting them go.
Meze’s tuning decisions have a proven track record and are well-received; the same holds true here. Overall, the 109 PRO exhibits a wonderfully pleasant and smooth voice with lush, tastefully warm lows and linear mids, giving way to lovely presence and shimmer in the upper mids and treble for incredible detail, clarity, and definition. They deliver great punch and astounding dynamics, the soundstage is spacious, even three-dimensional on some tracks, the resolution is top-notch, and the imaging is genuinely mesmerizing.
To my ears, the 109 PRO blends traits of the 99 Classics, Liric, and Elite – which packs a lot of character and performance into a single set of cans and makes their price point tremendously appealing.
Meze’s passion-driven approach to design and conception underpins everything they do; over 30 different prototypes of the 109 PRO were produced before they felt they’d achieved the perfect harmony of sound, comfort, and materials. That dedication shines through in the final version.
At The Munich High-End show, Antonio Meze said, “We poured our soul into every aspect of its design, and it always brings a smile to my face. I think right now this is, of all our headphones, the one I listen to most.”
For focused listening, I drove the 109 PROs with the headphone output of MacBook Air, then added the DragonFly Black and later Mytek’s exquisite Liberty DAC II to get a sense of how well 109 played with a range of devices. Their 40 Ω impedance rating and high sensitivity delivered engaging listening across everything I used for testing.
Brian Eno – Apollo/FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE (MacBook Air laptop out, DragonFly Black, Mytek Liberty DAC II)
I was thoroughly stunned by the detail retrieval and soundstage I experienced when I queued up Under Stars from Brian Eno’sApollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks using the headphone out of my MacBook Air. The 109’s presentation captured the vastness and sensation of drifting weightlessly through space much more convincingly than I expected and proved how easy the 109s are to drive.
Then Roon served up Eno’s new record FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE as a follow-up. Even with this simple setup, the results were captivating, drawing me into the atmospheric performances. Vocals exhibited fabulous presence and clarity.
Eager to entice even more detail from the 109s, I plugged into the Dragonfly Black and found a quiet space to pull up ARC for a second listening. The soundstage shifted to an immense dark background that completely enveloped me in sound. The music formed a dome above and even slightly behind my head. The 109s skillful enhancement in the upper mids and treble worked exceptionally well with these selections. If I had been in a blind listening test, I would have easily believed I was plugged into a high-end tube DAC/amp rather than the entry-level offering of the DragonFly line.
After the DragonFly Black, I excitedly plugged the 109s into the Mytek Liberty DAC II. I eagerly pulled and reconnected connections like an over-caffeinated switchboard operator. Listening through the Mytek is as close as I’ll ever come to being inside the lunar modules in the documentary. The jump in detail, imaging, resolution, soundstage, and character of Under Stars was positively revelatory. The extra amperage the Mytek provided revealed a landscape of subtleties. I’ve listened to Apollo numerous times; it’s a go-to ambient favorite. But hearing it this way provided a fresh perspective that was immensely enjoyable.
On I’m Hardly Me from FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE, Darla Eno‘s delicate vocals were layered with effects. The instrumental separation was so transparent that the brief pause between the clean vocal and its drapery was clearly detectable. The free-flowing synthesizer bed was as organic as wind through trees. Brian Eno’s vocals oozed like warmed honey in a cup of tea. It felt telepathic, a voice painting images in the mind as exotic electronic birds sailed through the space behind the listener. I can’t imagine a better way to experience this album for the first time.
Jackie McLean – Love and Hate from Destination Out (DragonFly Black)
Destination Out is a stand-out favorite among several stellar albums by Jackie McLean. I often played this lead-off track, Love and Hate, when I hosted a jazz radio show years ago. Like nearly all Blue Note albums, the lineup is perfectly honed to the vibe of the material.
Larry Ridley and Roy Haynes provide a sparse yet ample rhythmic foundation with plenty of room for Grachan Moncur III’s soulful trombone breaks. The star performance on this piece for me is Bobby Hutcherson’s vibraphone fills. The 109 PRO showcases their resonance and decay lusciously. Each percussive mallet strike is rendered with snappy attack before resolving completely. Jackie’s expressive alto lines are simultaneously soulful and searching, weaving laid-back lines with brisk flurries of cascading notes.
McLean’s playing was always just a touch sharp. Miles Davis once hilariously commented, “Jackie McLean plays like somebody’s standing on his foot!” The presence and air of the 109s walk the line perfectly here, exhibiting great control while showing off the texture in McLean’s tone without becoming strident.
Even more impressive was the overall grandeur the track acquired. Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs is an immense cathedral-like space with open rafters and a 39-foot ceiling built to evoke a spiritual response from artists who recorded there. The DragonFly Black/109 PRO combination thoroughly conveyed the room’s contribution to the recording and performance.
The Beatles – Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows from Love (Mytek Liberty DAC II)
For some Beatles fans, the song mashups of the Love album, crafted to accompany the Cirque du Soleil production of the same name, were a near heretical misuse of the coveted original recordings when the album was released. Now several deluxe edition boxsets and outsourced album remixes later, the versions are far less controversial. Love’s results feel consistent with The Fab Four’s technical curiosity, openness to studio experimentation, and recording innovation. This selection deftly welds John Lennon’s avant-garde Revolver closer to George Harrison’s eastern spirituality, and mysticism informed Sgt. Pepper centerpiece.
The track shows off the finesse of the 109s sub-bass extension as the song plunges to the center of cosmic consciousness at 1:03 in – whisking us into the technicolor spiral as the floor drops out from under us. The originals were an intoxicating blend of exotic instrumentation in their own right; when conjoined, they’re a captivating tapestry of swirling sound layers. The 109s make pursuing them through the mix deliriously fun and exciting. The thundering synergy of bass and drums is thick and rollicking in places, but the 109’s expert low-end tuning contains it well and keeps everything out of the mud.
John’s opening lines from the demo version of Tomorrow Never Knows drift diaphanously toward the listener before George’s ethereal vocals levitate just above the center of the forehead. Tape loops, strings, Indian hand drums, and mellotron weave a sonic kaleidoscope before an array of soft effects and detached elements from Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds ushers the dreamy arrangement to a close. The 109 PRO joined the spellbinding dance effortlessly. It was all too groovy, man.
The 109 PRO melds a delightfully pleasant and smooth voice with warm, tasteful lows and linear mids that give way to lovely presence and shimmer in the upper mids. Highs are tuned for incredible detail, clarity, and definition. The revolutionary in-house driver assembly delivers great punch and astounding dynamics with a spacious soundstage, top-notch resolution, and genuinely mesmerizing imaging in an acoustically open design that conveys breathtaking musicality.
Meze’s dedication to achieving the ideal harmony of sound, comfort, and timeless design is embodied fully within the 109 PRO. Like all Meze headphones, it is a beautiful piece of sound art that expertly fuses visual beauty with an equally alluring sound signature and maximum comfort for fully immersive, engaging listening without distractions. Loads of character, performance, and value is packed into the 109 PRO for the price. I encourage anyone looking for high-quality open-back headphones with premium appointments and unmatched sound to give it a close listen.
Don’t worry; a new DragonFly DAC hasn’t slipped in under your radar undetected. That’s news that would be difficult to miss considering their popularity. Instead, we’re highlighting an amusing paradox that sometimes affects gear reviews. Some devices continue to excite and spark revelations long after the review is written and published.
It’s most common when discussing feature-rich equipment with app-based controls and functionality. But this time is quite different. The AudioQuest Dragonfly Red has no buttons, no settings to navigate… not even a power cord. Despite its simplicity, its full potential is only revealed over time – like a lotus blossom opening in slow motion.
Examining specs is helpful for understanding gears’ technical nature, but commenting on their personality requires a relationship with the devices. That personal connection uncovers more significant insights and appreciation. Complexity isn’t a requirement for excellence. Here are 18 remarkable qualities and use possibilities for the AudioQuest DragonFly Red – 9 things to know and 9 ways you can use it.
9 essential AudioQuest DragonFly character traits
It’s one of the easiest, and most affordable audio upgrades you can make: DragonFly is reasonably priced, simple to integrate into your system, and the difference it makes is instantly audible. That’s not always a given when upgrading audio gear, especially with low-cost equipment. If we’re being honest, we occasionally have to convince ourselves the “improvement” was worth it. That’s never the case when adding DragonFly Red; the jump in audio quality over using a mobile device’s built-in DAC is instant music to our ears.
AudioQuest does the work for you. Unlike some newer portable DACS, there aren’t a bunch of settings to fiddle with – that’s not a downside. Sometimes trivial features disguise mediocre sound quality. In DragonFly, AudioQuest did everything we could want. They paired the correct circuitry, added a digital filter, and tuned the audio tastefully. All we have to do is enjoy how good music sounds when using it. That’s a gift.
It’s not a disposable gadget: The DragonFly Red isn’t a short-lived gizmo. The entire DragonFly line is firmware upgradeable using the intuitive device manager software. There’s no planned obsolescence here. The performance and functionality of your DragonFly will continue to improve with new updates.
It works with almost everything: DragonFly offers plug-and-play ease of use with any playback software and is fully compatible with iOS, Android, Windows, and macOS. AudioQuest’s reasonably priced adapters provide greater connectivity with a broader range of devices.
Premium audio circuitry courtesy of Sabre: Sabre two-channel DACs are specifically designed for low-power applications that still demand audiophile performance. DragonFly Red sports the ESS9016 DAC chipset with an ES9601 headphone amp – circuits found in top-tier disc players and AudioQuest’s flagship DAC. The combination delivers perfect synergy and outstanding audio quality from an incredibly portable platform.
Maximum efficiency means more play time: DragonFly Red’s upgraded high-performance microprocessor is 77% more efficient than previous version’s. Meaning several hours more playtime with minimal mobile battery impact.
Increased output power means more use flexibility: DragonFly Red provides 2.1 volts of output power; that’s plenty enough punch to drive less sensitive power-hungry headphones or use it as a preamp for a power amp or active speakers.
Seamless integration with your OS volume control: DragonFly Red uses highly sophisticated 64-step, 64-bit, bit-perfect digital volume control that automatically syncs with your device’s OS. It becomes one with your device as soon as it’s connected.
Driverless simplicity: Some reviewers have complained that AudioQuest capped DragonFly resolution support at 24-bit/96kHz. But it makes driverless device compatibility possible resulting in better audio quality with greater ease of use – that’s a sweet deal!
9 more ways to enjoy better sound quality with DragonFly Red
As inveterate music hounds, the primary use scenario discussed in our DragonFly review focused on getting the best sound from our new on-the-go streaming app, Roon Arc. With daily use, we discovered more ways DragonFly Red can improve everything we listen to. Here are a few that came to mind.
A perfect companion for Nucleus and Nucleus Plus: our Roon Core music servers are controlled with Roon Software installed on a computer, mobile phone, or tablet. The DragonFly Red is a perfect companion device because it dramatically improves the audio quality of those control devices compared to their merely adequate onboard DACs. DragonFly’s near universal compatibility means they work with all the most frequently used devices.
High-Quality car audio: Since the release of ARC, I connect my iPhone to Dragonfly Red, then use a 3.5mm cable for the AUX input in my car. The improvement over using a Bluetooth connection is instantly apparent. Radio apps sound better as well.
Create a DIY Roon Ready Streamer/DAC/Amp: I have an iFi Zen Stream here for review. One afternoon I connected the DragonFly Red to its USB output, then ran a 3.5mm to stereo RCA cable to a set of powered Klipsch speakers. It sounded much better than I expected. The superior audio quality of the streamer and DAC fed the speakers a solid signal that improved their usual performance making them more enjoyable – and Roon Ready!
Instant Zone Expansion: DragonFly Red makes it so easy to add another Roon Zone. Connect it to your phone for an around-the-house or bedside headphones DAC/amp endpoint. If you aren’t a headphones listener but are interested, this is the quickest way in!
A reference DAC you can drop in your pocket: The DragonFly Red has an appealing memorable sonic signature. It’s a perfect portable reference DAC for auditioning headphones, powered speakers, or power amps. There’s no audible noise or distortion, and it’s dead quiet, rendering a blank slate ideal for testing gear.
More realistic gaming: Our senior support tech uses his DragonFly Red to enjoy more immersive video game audio. The driverless connectivity makes it effortlessly compatible with various gaming platforms.
A taste of vinyl fever: You can use DragonFly to connect a USB turntable to a pair of powered monitors for an instant hi-fi system with much better sound quality than the built-in phono preamp.
Bring movie effects to life: DragonFly doesn’t just make music sound better when using a computer, phone, or tablet. It makes everything sound better. Say goodbye to mediocre audio from YouTube, Netflix, and Prime Video with DragonFly Red’s superior audio processing power.
There’s still lots of net left: We’ve named a handful more things you can do with DragonFly Red. Some are Rooncentric, and many are not. But there’s still enough net left to scoop up less obvious use scenarios – like improved sound quality for video meetings or any of the numerous digital communication tools we’ve adopted in the last few years. Or something for self-reflection, like enjoying a podcast or audiobook. The possibilities are only limited by our imagination.
That’s the great thing about gear that’s elegant in its simplicity and just works. It improves our experience with sound in an effortless, intuitive, and uncluttered way. DragonFly Red is a beautiful little converter that does its job so well that we forget it’s there. It’s honest and unbothered, giving us a more direct and immersive connection with the media we enjoy, whether it’s music or any of the examples above. The fact that it’s one of the most accessible, easily affordable, future-proofed, and highly portable sound improvements you can make is all the more reason to climb aboard a DragonFly!