Today, we will look at three premium flagship planar magnetic headphones and how they compare from a build, comfort, and sound quality perspective!
Many of you have been asking for this comparison. At the time of this article, all three of these headphones sell for close to the same price, with the Elite and Expanse at $4,000 and the LCD-5 at $4,500, so I will do my best to answer which headphones are best for what type of user or listener as each of these headphones is incredible and will find a happy home.
To learn more about what these headphones can do for your music-listening experience, check out our YouTube Video:
First, all these fantastic headphones are serious players from their respective brands, and all the manufacturers should be proud of what they have created using their creativity, engineering, and style to make three of the best planar magnetic headphones in the world today.
So let’s talk briefly about build quality and comfort before getting into the main focus of this article, the quality of sound and how the LCD-5 and Meze Elite compare to the DCA Expanse, at the time of this article, the latest planar magnetic flagship headphone to be released.
Build Quality & Design
All three of these headphones are extremely well built, with lots of attention to detail from each of their respective manufacturers, as well as technology that is unique to each of them. I think they are all beautiful headphones, and it will come down to your tastes on which one you like better from a visual aesthetic.
Regarding comfort, there are two clear winners in this category; the DCA Expanse and the Meze Elite are two of the most comfortable headphones I have ever worn. Both have terrific headband systems, low clamp force, low weight, and soft, comfortable pads.
The LCD-5 does weigh less than the Meze Elite and has an excellent headband system and pads; however, you have more clamping force with them, which can become a bit bothersome for longer listening sessions, especially if you have a larger head. However, the flip side of this is that they also feel the most stable on my head when listening and turning or moving, which some might appreciate in a video or audio production working environment.
Weight-wise, all three headphones are considered excellent in my book, with the DCA Expanse coming in first, weighing only 415 grams, the Audeze LCD-5 weighing 420 grams, and the Meze Elite weighing about 430 grams. This is a significant victory for all the headphones, as it was only a few short years ago that we saw flagship headphones weighing around 700 grams.
According to their websites, all three headphones post incredible numbers, with the DCA Expanse delivering driver matching to .25db weighted 20-10,000Hz and THD less than .03% 20-20KHz. The LCD-5, according to Audeze, has a frequency response of 5Hz-50kHz with less than .1% THD, and the Meze Elite has a frequency response of 3-112,000 Hz with a THD of less than .05%.
Each manufacturer includes a decent cable and case for their headphones with the LCD-5, also including a single-ended adapter with their xlr cable. The Meze Elite and LCD-5 include a larger style aluminum case, and the DCA Expanse includes a smaller, more portable case; as the Expanse, due to their brilliant folding gimble design, can be packed down very small, making them the most transportable of the three flagship headphones.
However, in my experience, they also require the most current and power. Still, you should be delighted if you have a more powerful portable amplifier such as a Hugo 2 or similar for listening when you travel.
Without going into much more technical detail about each of the different headphones and how each of their technologies differs, I encourage you to watch the individual videos of theDCA Expanse vs.Audeze LCD-5 vs.Meze Elite, where we cover that information in more detail, as each manufacturer has incredible tech behind their headphones.
So, let’s get into my sound impressions, the main focus of this article! For all my impressions, I utilized the Hybrid pads on the Meze Elite, and the stock included cables that came with each of the headphones.
I listened to all three of these headphones across several playlists, genres of music, amplifiers, and DACS, including the Chord Hugo TT2, Chord Hugo 2, and Chord Annie. For tube amps, I listened with the ARC I/50, the OG iFi Pro iCan, and the ampsandsound pendant, all being fed by either the TT2 as the DAC or the Hugo 2.
To give you some music-focused impressions comparing the three headphones, I will choose a few tracks from the many I listened to and share my thoughts and impressions from those specific tracks, then give my overall conclusions and wrap up.
Listening to Friend of the Devil from the Grateful Dead, comparing the DCA Expanse with the Meze Elite, I first notice how damn comfortable both headphones are, passing one of the more important tests for a headphone at this price, in my opinion.
Audibly the areas that stand out the most to me are a bit more sub-bass from the Expanse giving the strings and Gerry’s vocals a bit more body on this song. The sound stage of the Expanse sounds more cohesive and natural to me. However, I thoroughly enjoy the imaging and sound stage of the Elite as well. Gerry’s vocals sound more intimate in their presentation on the Expanse, and the Elite present them a touch further away on their stage.
The timbre of the Expanse sounds a little more natural for this track, with the instruments and vocals still having planar magnetic flavor but less so than the Elite. The Elite sounds like it may present a touch more mid-bass than the Expanse, or it could be that it has a driver dedicated to this job which helps to separate it more on the song.
Both headphones sound terrific and are currently two of my favorite planar magnetic headphones for really kicking back and enjoying music.
Next, I listened to the DCA Expanse and the LCD-5 on the same track. The LCD-5 pushes the strings and the vocals forward with even more energy. After listening to the other two headphones, it reaffirms how mid-forward the sound of the LCD-5 is, which some listeners may prefer, and others may want a bit less of.
Both headphones sound highly resolving, with the LCD-5 presenting a more technical sound on this track that is very midrange emphasized specifically by Gerry’s vocals and the fast-moving strings. The Expanse sounds more natural, making it the more effortless of the two headphones to listen to for this song.
I also notice the increase of the bass regions when listening to the Expanse helps to give the timbre of the instruments and vocals a more full-bodied sound, along with the meta-material tuning system allowing superb detail on the track without having to boost the treble regions artificially. I also find that the LCD-5 sounds better paired with the tube amplifiers for this song, helping to balance that upper midrange.
The next track I listened to was Crimson Tide/160 BPM Angels and Demons from Hans Zimmer’s Live in Prague album. Talk about a review track that gives so much information about a set of speakers or headphones; this is one of those tracks; if you are willing to listen to all 12 minutes of it, it will take you on a ride allowing you to hear electronic music production, orchestral music, dynamic shifts in the music, and the timbre of so many different instruments!
Listening to the LCD-5 and the more forward-sounding midrange and less bass energy creates a different sound than the DCA Expanse. The LCD-5 creates a more analytical listening experience for those who like to analyze a recording by taking a microscope to every detail and instrument with spectacular imaging, definition, and image separation.
The Electric guitar sounds very crispy and defined on the LCD-5. In contrast, the Expanse presents all the instruments and vocals from the choir on the soundstage superbly but in a more balanced, less analytical way.
Around the 4:37 mark is when the Expanse begins to click for me, showing how much more body they have around the drums as they are being struck, and the choirs' vocals start to build along with the drums and cymbals.
What I love about the Expanse on this track is the way all the instruments and vocals are presented, all the subtle details are there, and the headphones deliver all the dynamic shifts in the music and energy of the instruments being played but without sounding artificial or overly boosted.
The LCD-5, in my opinion, sounds great on this track but needs a slight reduction in the upper midrange and an increase in the sub and mid-bass, for my preferences. Without any EQ adjustments or throwing tubes in the mix, the LCD-5 on this track does present a more defined crisp quality of sound that is something they do so well, which I can appreciate.
To make things a bit more interesting, I went ahead and turned on my friend Jeremiah Griffiths of Agartha Audio Labs Finite Impulse Response convolution filter he and his friend Mitch Barnett from Accurate Sound, designed for the LCD-5 specifically to work with Roon, and now the sound of the LCD-5 presents more bass and a slightly toned-down upper midrange making their sound signature more balanced on this track and less in your face.
However, the Expanse tuning and tech still can maintain their more natural timbre, detailed presentation, and incredible sound stage due to their design and meta-material allowing for none of the compromises of EQ. So, while I enjoy the LCD-5 on this track both with and without EQ, the Expanse gets closer to the overall target sound I want for everyday music listening.
Keeping the Hans Z party train going, I let Gladiator: The Wheat/The Battle/Elysium/Now We Are Free track play through listening to the Expanse first. It’s remarkable how black the soundstage background is and how well the Expanse can cohesively present all the instruments on the track without making things sound unnatural to my ears.
The timbre of the string instruments, including the violin, guitars, electric cello, electric bass, and double bass, are just epic, along with the dynamics of the percussion instruments and the splash of the cymbals. When they drop in around the 6:07 mark, Lisa's vocals sound so ethereal and beautifully presented on the Expanse.
As I said in the Expanse first look video, they take you away from analyzing the music even though you hear every single detail, micro detail, every string pluck, every shift of a finger playing; the Expanse presents this all in a more natural way which is not traditionally what you find with many planar magnetic headphones.
When listening to the LCD-5 without EQ, the details are more forcefully presented as I listen, emphasizing the string instruments and vocals, pushing them even more forward on the mix, and displaying a lighter but tighter, more textured bass signature throughout the track.
The LCD-5 presents a dryer and more defined signature. For those of you who are familiar with photo editing software and the clarity slider, I would say this is a pretty good analogy for the LCD-5 with the Clarity slider being increased, causing a shift in the overall level of detail, contrast, and micro contrast in an image or this case music with the clarity emphasis, especially in the midrange and bass regions.
I enjoy the LCD-5 sound signature with tube amps or in smaller doses without tubes for video editing and analyzing different gear in an audio chain. I also appreciate how different the LCD-5 sound signature is from the Expanse, even after EQ, as we don’t want all flagship headphones to sound the same; that would be boring.
Playing with the convolution filter from Jeremiah and Mitch again allows me to get closer to my target with the LCD-5. Your target signature may differ, so this will come down to your personal preferences, the recording, and your audio chain. Finding the right synergy with any pair of headphones is incredibly important, and in no way is this article an end-all-be-all for which headphone is the best.
Synergy and building the best possible chain around each headphone allow for creating the best experience for you as a listener. However, if you already own a neutral bright, forward-sounding amp, I recommend looking at the Expanse or the Meze Elite. If you have a warmer solid state or tube amp that could use a bit more forward midrange definition and clarity, the LCD-5 would likely be a superb synergistic match.
Ok, let’s get back to comparing audio signatures of the Expanse and the Elite, then I will wrap up! I listened next to both tracks again from, Hans Zimmer. I am impressed with both headphones' ability to present the details, dynamic shifts in the music, vocals, and timbre of the instruments with their unique tuning and approaches. Honestly, I enjoy both headphones for listening to music without having to overanalyze the tracks.
They both have signatures that are what I consider reference tunings yet flexible enough to play with numerous genres of music, not being overly deficient for my preferences in any one area, with the Expanse having a bit more sub-bass emphasis to my ears; however, the bass definition is a bit more articulate and tighter when listening to the Meze Elite across these two tracks.
The Expanses sound stage is more cohesive and dimensional, with each headphone providing a thrilling ride across these stunning compositions. As far as punch or slam goes, the Expanse and the Elite are close, depending on the track I am listening to.
All three headphones are incredible feats of head-fi technology with an excellent place carved out in the flagship planar magnetic headphone market. So, which one is right for you if you can only choose one headphone?
It will come down to your preferred sound signature, your audio chain, your willingness to use EQ, and possibly the genres of music you listen to. I would again recommend watching each headphone's individual video to get a more in-depth look at each.
"For my preferences and audio chains, I have in-house for listening to music and escaping the worries of everyday life; I gravitate towards the DCA Expanse and Meze Elite sound signatures. The LCD-5 is my microscope for dissecting music and analyzing and reviewing audio equipment or video editing. I also enjoy them paired with a warmer dynamic tube amplifier, which is the sweet spot musically for me with the LCD-5!"
The DCA Expanse is the toughest to drive of all three headphones sitting at 23 ohms, about 87db/mW, so this is important to consider when making a purchase, as they will sound the best and scale the most with proper current delivery. When provided with that current, they sing a song so beautiful you will forget you are wearing headphones at all!
So as I said at the beginning of the article, there is no clear winner, in my opinion, just three fabulous flagship headphones, all presenting music uniquely and memorably, creating a different experience for all of us music lovers. Cheers to Dan Clark Audio, Meze Audio, and Audeze for your impressive headphones and for pushing the head-fi world forward with unique technology and design.
Suppose you are in the market for a flagship headphone. In that case, I recommend giving all three a listen to see which sound signature you prefer most with your given audio chain, the audio chain you are building, and the music you love.
If you are interested in trading up your current headphones or other audio gear for new headphones, check out ourtrade-up program. We will price-match other authorized dealers!
We hope you enjoyed this article comparing these three world-class headphones.
If you are interested in purchasing any of the three headphones their respective links to our website are below:
Until next time friends, remember, let the music be your guide!
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