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Rosson RAD-0 and ZMF Auteur Classic impressions vs Audeze LCD-3

Ilkless

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I have been looking for a sidegrade/small upgrade to my EQ'd Audeze LCD-3s + Dekoni fenestrated sheepskin in the 1k-2.5k range (would get headphones in the top end used). This is a tall order because I've been very lucky to work out an excellent EQ through a mixture of listening, what I kinda know from psychoacoustics and eyeballing measurements from various sources (because there are no measurements out there of LCD-3 with these pads). My EQ gives wonderful imaging - the first consistently out-of-the-head experience I've had with headphones, and tonality that I perceive as so accurate/natural, that even a skeptic like me could readily suspend disbelief as to its realism. Not to mention the solid long-term support from the company.

I only have two problems. The first is an elusive peak around 7.8kHz (on my head, for my pinna) that's in the grey area of being relatively narrow (high Q) but still distinctly audible in a significant subset of recordings, yet has magnitude and centre frequency that shifts around enough between seating to make EQ impossible without making the balance wonky. The second is fitment: I experience a trilemma between getting a good seal, getting an ergonomic fit with good weight distribution and the right amount of pinna interaction for both perceived spatial and tonal accuracy. This trilemma exists for practically all headphones of course, but certain headphones have ergonomics that work better for certain heads, and I'm fairly positive I can spare myself a lot of grief with fit with another headphone.

I have written off most open electrodynamic drivers, like the HD800S, HD650, various Audio-Technica and even a Fostex TH909 someone offered me in a trade because distortion, linearity and extension is mostly lacklustre in the bass. And IMO if I sacrifice full-body vibration with headphones instead of speakers, I should get linear, effortless extension down to 20Hz with vanishingly low distortion to make up for it. This almost inevitably means planar magnetic though I have also tried some popular open dynamics in that price range for completeness.

I've eliminated DCA much as I love Dan's attention to detail, ergonomics, build and aesthetics as an ex-Aeon 2 Open owner, because the sensitivity of the headphones to seal vs some other planars is a dealbreaker for me. I wear glasses and have fairly thick hair. The Focal Clear Mg has a nifty trick with the little, well-judged jaggy peaks throughout the treble that give a subliminal sense of dynamic range without being perceived as bright, fatiguing or shrill outright, but I find that gimmick gets old quickly for me. The Meze Empyrean has wonderful build, better ergonomics and I think has the most potential to match or exceed the Audeze, but I didn't like the loose fit. And I can't find a used unit at the right price locally right now.

So I recently tried the Rosson RAD-0 and ZMF Auteur Classic at a store with a large desktop DAC/amp, streaming Tidal via an iFi streamer. My impressions of the ergonomics, fit and finish, and sound (mostly focusing on imaging because I think it is very much correlated with tonal accuracy in headphones, and I think the threshold for something to be perceived in the ballpark of tonally accurate is much less stringent than the threshold for good imaging - for my head and ears at least):

Rosson RAD-0

- Smooth, exceptionally so from 6-9kHz compared to Audeze LCD-2C (which I sold) and LCD-3, which require EQ at 6kHz and occasionally 9kHz. Definitely no pesky elusive peak around 8kHz! Especially stark difference in sibilants from bright, sibilant pop recordings in albums like Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia or Lorde's Solar Power.

- Exceptional smoothness means a lot of detail can still be perceived despite upper midrange recession, as there is less auditory masking from peaks. So backup vocals, effects buried deep in the mix can still be perceived. Highly intelligible though discernibly muted.

- More conventional fit than Audeze with padded, non-suspension headband. Clamp force is on the stronger side, but I think needed with this type of headband. Squishy earpads and headband help to distribute force and keep the headphone snug.

- Plush, squishy pads that conform with the head also mean good seal. But I suspect they are squishy to a fault. They don't deform as uniformly, yet retain the ability to seal, as the latest Audeze angled open-cell foam pads do. Still better than old Audeze/Dekoni memory foam IME though, because that foam doesn't quite deform enough sometimes to conform to the head and seal.

- In this case I suspect the excessive squishiness (which makes it difficult to maintain the shape and volume of the air space inside the pads, and consequently the angle and distance of drivers from the ears), and what appears to be lower earpad angle, may have contributed to the biggest disappointment of these headphones...

- Diffuse, yet upfront imaging that's firmly stuck in my head. Sounds seem to originate from a haze. Not sure if EQ might help here but my LCD-3s without EQ are still a lot more out of the head. I can easily pinpoint how many voices there are, how far left and right, even high and low relative to each other in a recording with vocal harmonies (take those from musicals like Hamilton) on my Audeze. Impossible with the Rosson. Even if the Audeze is presenting an illusion it is a much more persuasive illusion for me psychoacoustically.

- Nice smooth sliders with a nice weighty action to them. Resin feels solid and stiff. Very precise fit and finish. Feels a lot more sophisticated than the homebrew feel of LCD-2/3/4 - but I will say that the headband/yoke assembly of the Audezes have this field-repairable feeling - that I can maintain and fix it by myself years in the future with a screwdriver and Loctite.

- I cannot get over the lack of imaging and soundstage though. And I'm not sure EQ will fix that.

ZMF Auteur Classic (w/ Auteur perforated lambskin pads)

- Tonally almost spot on for my preferences/HRTF stock! Closest a headphone has come without any EQ. Very surprising considering the Aeolus was a mess and I have been generally very skeptical of boutique brands founded by layman enthusiasts.

- Dip centred at ~2kHz (or rather, less pinna gain than necessary for me). I much prefer headphones to stay flat to 2kHz, but a dip centred at 3-4kHz referenced to the pinna gain of Harman OE.

- Many high-end headphones tend towards a more recessed 1-2kHz range - very few will hug Harman there as I prefer. I like how the R70X does it for reference - it gives good realistic presence without any edginess or sibilance. IME 1-2kHz that hugs Harman help to push sound sources out of the head yet also sharpen their localisation. But YMMV for the slope of the rise depending on your HRTF and how your head couples to the headphone.

- Slight 6kHz edge, occasional sibilance, but way lesser than pre-EQ Audezes. Keep the width and depth of the dip (or ~1dB less depth) but centre it at 3kHz instead and I think this will pull down the energy at 6kHz too.

- Out-of-head imaging, slightly more distant than Audeze but still good localisation.

- Sense of distance also means the illusion of more width left to right.

- Imaging is more linear (on the same plane) vs almost enveloping and halo-like effect of EQ'd Audeze

- A bit more of a 3-blob effect than my Audeze (which are seamless especially with EQ), but acceptable and not jarring.

- I can't pluck apart the mix into front-back layers as much as the Audeze, but I suspect giving it more 1-2kHz presence will help here.

- Won't mistake the bass for a planar, but definitely less tubby than HD800S. Think the open dynamic midbass bump and bass roll-off + distortion + compression is not as stark as egregious cases like open Sennheisers and Audio-Technica

- Delightful weight distribution and lightness and comfort coming from planars

- Most comfortable and natural position for me seals well too! What a treat compared to how I have to dial in the LCD-3s on my head.

- Only concern is whether boutique headphones like these are engineered with low placement variation and seal insensitivity in mind compared to something with as much R&D and economies of scale backing it like Harman or Sennheiser.

- The headband is a delight. In terms of rugged/homebrew feel, they are definitely more refined than the LCD-2/3/4 but just half a step down from the Rosson. But also of a very different aesthetic that may contribute to that impression.

Tempted to give the Auteur Classics a shot especially since they are a new model, on the lower end of my budget, with excellent haptics and ergonomics that come close to my HRTF and sonic preferences. Just awaiting measurements with multiple reseats on the same rig to at least get a sense of the potential sensitivity to leakage.
 
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Ilkless

Ilkless

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Final shortlist:

Auteur Classic

Audeze MM-500 - curves look promising but concerned about sharp fall off from 7kHz onwards, reliability with the thinner film and distortion

Used Meze Empyrean

Meze 109 Pro + a cheap used LCD-2C for the bass

Aeon 2 Noire

Would really appreciate some more impressions with the MM-500 because there isn't that much on it yet.
 

Snoopy

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Meze Liric. They are nice upgrade to the Aeon noire, especially when U like bass (I own both headphones)
 
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Ilkless

Ilkless

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Meze Liric. They are nice upgrade to the Aeon noire, especially when U like bass (I own both headphones)

I actually want less bass than the boost Harman provides. But it must be able to seal consistently, which is an issue DCA headphones have.
 

concorde1

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I'm also looking for a "sidegrade" from Audeze LCD-3. My pair (manufactured 2021) has much less smooth response than Oratory's measured pair, see https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/harman-eq-for-audeze-lcd-3-fazor.27918/

As you can see a member kindly made a custom EQ for me (both AutoEQ and full compliance ones). With AutoEQ it sounds better but doesn't sound exciting like my EQ'd Fostex TH900 mk2. With the full compliance it sounds a bit more exciting but I think I hear distortion in the treble - there is a correction of a substantial high-Q dip in the treble. So it's a dilemma.

I want to keep my Fostex, but I might sell my LCD-3 to get a different open headphone, or a better measuring LCD-3. The big advantage of Audeze is they provide frequency response charts.

Hopefully Amir measures MM-500. Although I slightly prefer looks of the LCD-3.
 
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