Audeze LCD-X Headphones

Audeze detail2For two or more people sharing a small apartment, a traditional stereo system may not be the best option. First, space limitations constrain what can fit in the living room. Secondly, not everyone agrees on the same music. Third, if one member of the household wants to sleep, thin walls can do a poor job of isolating unwanted noise. For these reasons, a high quality headphone system is a wonderful option for those audiophiles seeking great sound and minimal antagonism among housemates.

If budget allows, one marvelous option to consider is Audeze’s LCD-X series headphones. Audeze offers an open-back design dubbed the LCD-X which we tested for this review. Those in confined quarters may also consider the LCD-XC which is a closed back design, sealing in the sound and sealing out unwanted external noise.

The LCD-X arrives packed into a black, foam-lined Pelican case, ready for travel and abuse while protecting the precious cargo within. For versatility, Audeze also includes two sets of headphone cables. One set is a balanced 4-pin to 2×4-pin mini XLR. The other cable is a single-ended version with 4 pins on the headphone end and a standard ¼” termination on the other.

Owners have a choice of earcup padding: either a black lambskin leather, or a non-leather microsuede. The foam underneath gives the earcups a slight slope, canting them forward when worn and projecting the sonic image forward a bit. At 1.3 pounds (600 grams) the X is hefty indeed and there’s no mistaking the weight on one’s head. Trying to wear glasses at the same time as the LCD-Xs is an uncomfortable pairing, so these aren’t the best ’phones for those far-sighted folks like me who enjoy music while working on the computer.

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As with the other LCDs, bass is a strong attribute. I have not heard another open-back design that offers the depth, weight and punch that Audezes do. Percussion is portrayed marvelously, and these headphones can rock. They are capable of great delicacy as well. Vocals sound incredible through the X. They strike the right balance between capturing every nuance while avoiding stridency and sibilance.

Audeze’s LCD-2s renders the soundstage well, but as with the LCD-3, the LCD-X improves on this capability. Sounds at the far edges of the soundstage wrap out and slightly behind the center plane of my head. Instruments are layered well in the X’s presentation and it’s easy to pick them out in the mix. The X reveals a sense of the original recording space.

Pricing for the LCD-Xs is a budget commitment. An MSRP of $1,699 places it between its other open-back siblings, the LCD-2 and -3 costing $1,145 and $1,945 respectively. You will need a good amplifier to get the most out of these headphones, so that should be factored into your budget at some point. But with that and your favorite music source, you have a very musically satisfying personal sound system.

After many hours comparing the LCD-3 and LCD-X, the X won over my ears with their punchy, highly resolving and neutral nature. But if you are considering headphones in this price range, the LCD-3 and the LCD-X are both are enthusiastically recommended. -Rob Johnson

MartinLogan 35XT Speakers

ML XP_PairMany people know MartinLogan for their svelte, avant-garde-looking electrostatic floorstanding speakers, which have earned the company a large and dedicated fan base. But MartinLogan does not rest on their laurels, continuing to experiment with new designs, like the Motion 35XT, that give potential customers in smaller living spaces great sound for the dollar while retaining the ML ethos. These mini Martins combine the brand’s Folded Motion Transducer tweeter with a more conventional-looking 6.5-inch woofer sporting an aluminum cone and ported out the back. Each speaker measures 13.5 inches tall, 7.6 inches wide and 11.8 inches deep. With solid construction and a substantial magnet for drivers, each weighs in at 18.5 lbs, which is relatively hefty for speakers this size.

Appearance-wise, the speakers don’t command the sculpture-like attention that their big electrostatic brothers do; the XT form factor is more traditional with cabinets finished in piano black or black cherrywood gloss. The last visual element to consider is the metal perforated grilles which are magnetically attached and can be removed if desired. Sonically, I found little difference with the grilles on or off.

ML XP_tweeterThese speakers sound best when placed on stands putting the tweeters at ear level. Once the general location is determined, ML suggests toeing in the speakers directly at the listener. The size of your room will determine how close you place the speakers to the side walls to maximize imaging and bass performance.

The MLs immediately impress with their ability to disappear into the soundstage and music drifting in all directions around the speakers. The resulting sound portrayal enables a wide left-to-right stereo image complemented by an equally compelling sense of depth.

The 35XTs uncover a lot of fine detail and nuance in recordings. In the context of gear at my disposal, female vocals retain a natural, non-exaggerated musical presence, as demonstrated through Pink Martini’s album Hang On Little Tomato. Cymbal shimmer, horns blasts, harp plucks and piano notes showcase the speakers’ high- and mid-frequency extension.

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As with most small-box designs, bass has its limits. Below 50 Hz, bass loses its growl through the 35XTs and a subwoofer like those offered by ML will pick up the slack. But what bass the 35XTs do reproduce comes with aplomb.

It’s marvelous to see ML price a set of speakers under $1,200, putting them into the reach of many audio enthusiasts seeking high-quality monitors. The gloss-finished wooden cabinets and metal speaker grilles alone give the outward impression of a more expensive design. And of course, fantastic sonics for their price point reinforce that assessment.

By simply filling out the warranty card and sending it to ML within 30 days of purchase, an owner receives a five-year insurance policy against problems with the speaker, which underlines the company’s commitment to its customers’ long-term satisfaction. With that level of confidence behind the speaker, and the marvelous sound they produce, these ML speakers are a great option to consider. -Rob Johnson

Naim Mu-so Tabletop System

MUSO-1 OpenNaim Audio’s Mu-so brings decades of component design in more traditional systems to an all in one solution that is perfect for a smaller space. The elegant Mu-so tabletop system features a plethora of style cues. With a polished case clad in sculptured black grille material, a clear acrylic base and a single multifunction control on top, Mu-so adds to your décor rather than detracting from it. A prospective owner also has several color and finish choices to best complement other furniture already in the home.

With a control wheel and an obsidian black touch-screen, Mu-so controls are easy and intuitive. Depending on the input source, Mu-so also makes available other touch controls to advance tracks, play, pause and more. The aforementioned control wheel acts like a volume control when twisted to the right or left, and lights around the circumference of the wheel light up corresponding to changes in volume, temporarily commandeering the input lights and others around the edge to indicate the full volume range. Using the free iOS or Android app as a control interface, a user can also sit back and enjoy full control from a favorite listening seat, bed or bathtub.

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Everyone gets what they want with Mu-so’s plethora of digital playback options. If one member of the house prefers streaming music via Bluetooth from an iPhone, another prefers to stream radio over the internet, and another prefers to connect directly via USB from a computer, it’s only a button click away.

Sonically this little box packs some great surprises. Mu-so’s sound is airy and much bigger than the small enclosure suggests. While soundstaging prowess is inherently limited by a single-box design, the height and width of the sonic wall portrayed by the Mu-so remains surprisingly huge. With 450 watts of power and six bespoke drivers handling the low bass lines, Mu-so owners face little compromise in frequency response. Vocals and instruments are handled with plenty of poise and the overall character is detailed yet a bit to the warmer side of netural, making long-term listening sessions both very enjoyable and fatigue free.

 

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In typical Naim fashion, there are a lot of options once you start digging through the menus. The most critical parameter of setup is the EQ setting, where you optimize the Mu-so for the room size. If you only geek with one thing in setup, make sure not to miss this one, otherwise the bass performance will be seriously compromised.

At $1,500 there’s a lot of capability and a lot of value packed into a small enclosure. After living with it in my small living space for some time, and trying it in different rooms which don’t have a quality sound system of their own, the Mu-so proves an addictive piece of kit. Do yourself a favor and head to your local Naim dealer to check it out. -Rob Johnson

 

www.naimaudio.com

Ryan R-610 Loudspeakers

Ryan Pair 1Ryan Speakers may be a new name to many; however, brothers Trevor and Todd started building speakers in the 1980s under the moniker Ryan Acoustics. Their designs, and the tools to optimize and improve them, have advanced in the new century, but the goal of the company remains the same: to design and build exceptional speakers at a down-to-earth price – and do it all in the United States from their factory in Riverside, California. They have succeeded brilliantly.

There are three different R-Series speakers with common driver designs optimized for each enclosure. The R610 reviewed here is priced at $2,000 and is a two-way bookshelf model. The R610’s siblings are floorstanding models. Multiple veneer choices are available, including walnut, oak and clear cherry, as well as custom staining options to fit a wider range of décor. I’d expect this flexibility with a much more bespoke (and expensive) product, so kudos to Ryan for being interior friendly.

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The R610 leans towards the larger side of the bookshelf definition, measuring 16.73 inches (425mm) in height, 8.86 inches (225mm) in width, and with a depth of 12 inches (305mm) including the grille. They are mighty hefty, too, at 33 pounds (15kg) each, so we suggest investing in a good pair of speaker stands that put the 610’s tweeters at ear level from your listening seat. The manual included with the R610s provides excellent insight to setup optimization, so it is worth perusing as you put yours into service. They suggest placing the speakers 6–10 feet (1.8–3.0m) apart, at least 1.6 feet (0.5m) from the rear wall, and at least 2.0 feet (0.6m) from the side walls. This proved an excellent starting point for ideal speaker placement, although you will likely want to do some experimentation of your own.

While the R610s serve up bass that is tight and tuneful, the physics of a small enclosure will not reproduce the deepest bass frequencies. While apartment neighbors will appreciate this limitation, those 610 owners who still crave deeper bass should consider supplementing the R610s with a high quality subwoofer. Or better yet – if budget and space allows – try one of the larger Ryan speakers, designed to integrate all the audible frequencies optimally.

Ryan Detail 1

The R610s offer a very neutral sound profile, working well with every music genre we can throw at them. Experimenting with rock, electronica, classical, jazz, blues, and vocal-centric music, all prove enjoyable. It’s easy to get engrossed in the music rather than analyzing it.

The Ryan R610s peg the price-o-meter. $2,000 is still an investment for most seeking great sound, but well within the reach of those making a great music system a priority. Their modest form factor makes them easy to integrate into smaller listening spaces. Living with the Ryans for some time, they continue to impress. For all they offer at their modest price point, it is easy to recommend the R610 speakers.  -Rob Johnson

 

11 Year Old Miranda Spinnin’ Records

Miranda Song is 11 years old and has a ton of insight and enthusiasm. She’s a third generation audiophile; her mom, Kathleen Thomas is a VP at AudioQuest, who grew up in her parents hifi shop as a youngster. It doesn’t get any cooler than that. While she doesn’t have an apartment of her own yet, her mom has helped her put a killer system together to start her on the right path. We look forward to hearing more from Miranda in the future.

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Hi my name is Miranda and I am 11 years old. I was told that I should write about the experience of owning a record player as a young person. I like lots of old things; especially music, TV shows and stuff from the 90’s (old to me). So when I heard my mom was getting a record player I was ecstatic! Music has always been a big part of my life, and I love to find new songs all the time. Tidal helps me with that because who has enough money to buy a lot of songs? I am 11!, then I can buy a record of my long lasting obsessions.

I also have been learning about lots of hifi stuff; like how records actually work and how speakers pressurize the air to make noise. I also learned how cartridges work, and the different types of turntables. I have a DJ turntable (Pioneer PLX-1000) and cartridge (Shure M44-7). I also like to buy records because I get worried that there might be no more records after a while if people just listen to music on their phones. It also makes a fun day out, and if you have good speakers you can hear a lot of things that you haven’t heard before, like some speakers have great bass, others do other things well.

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Like many of you I like a wide variety of music; dubstep, heavy metal, alternative, and more. I’ve just bought my first two records, one by Linkin Park and one by Imagine Dragons, but I plan on buying a lot more. I encourage kids to get into hifi things because its cool seeing all of the parts work together to make a big thing that makes great sound. If you get really well educated you can apply for a job  in the audio industry and get a lot of free hifi stuff! You can also teach people different things about speakers (and you look smart when you walk into a home and you know things about people’s hifi).

I really like my record player, so I’ve attached a few pictures of my room and system for you. I hope you get your kids into records and record shopping, it’s a great thing to do.  -Miranda Song

 

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