Audeze Deckard Headphone Amplifier and DAC

Device Type: Headphone Amplifier and DAC
Input: USB 2.0, single-ended RCA pair
Output: single-ended RCA pair, 1/4" headphone jack
Dimensions: 6.1 x 11.4 x 2" (155 x 290 x 50 mm)
Weight: 2.1kg
Availability: Authorized Dealers
Price: $699.00
Website: www.audeze.com

(Rick) Deckard
The main character in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner from Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is named Rick Deckard. Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies so I could not disassociate typing or saying "Deckard" from thinking of the film. Phew. I'm glad I got that off my mind. Audeze is, for anyone not living on planet headphone, a maker of some very well regarded 'phones. I have a pair of their LCD-X here for use with their Deckard Headphone Amplifier/DAC and I've been living with this combo, on my desktop, for a few months. My first thought when listening through the Deckard was—they should have charged more.

The all Class-A amp'd Deckard uses a TI PCM5102A DAC chip which supports PCM resolutions up to 32-bit/384kHz. The ruggedly handsome and toothy-sided all-aluminum chassis was designed by BMW DesignWorksUSA and the aluminum acts as heatsink (it gets hot to the touch). The unit's backside houses the inputs (USB 2.0, 1 pair analog RCA) and outputs (1 pair analog RCA), IEC inlet for the included power cord, and the on/off switch. Up front we have a 1/4" headphone jack, a blue power LED, input selector toggle switch (USB/RCA), a three-position gain toggle switch, and a nice chunky volume control knob which gets warm to the touch as Deckard heats up.

In terms of 'phone drivability, the company claims 3 ohm output impedance and 4W (at 20 ohms) of output power for the Deckard. That three-position gain switch lets you dial in the appropriate amount of drive (Low=0dB, Mid=10dB, High=20dB).

I connected my iMac running Roon to the Deckard with a length of the AudioQuest Diamond USB cable and the Deckard's RCA outputs to my ADAM A3Xs with my favorite ICs from Auditorium 23. The Audeze LCD-X were also on hand for more intimate moments.

"They don't advertise for killers in the newspaper." Rick Deckard, Blade Runner
Listening to music through the Audeze Deckard is kick-ass fun, plain and simple. Music is very full bodied with bodacious bass output, rich and rewarding mids, and nice sweet highs. It makes music that makes you smile. Bravo.

Playing with my ADAM A3Xs, the Audeze headphone amp/DAC made a fine mate. I found the "Low" gain setting to work best, giving me freer range of the volume control which I found myself turning up and up again more than usual (that's good). After a few minutes listening to Deckard, I immediately searched Roon for "Jimi" and hit Play on "Once I Had A Woman" from Blues, one of the few posthumous Hendrix releases I enjoy. Then I smiled, turned up the volume, sat back, leaned forward to turn it up again, and sat back for the duration, smiling all the way. OK I admit to a few licks on the air guitar, apologies for that image.

I spent weeks just listening to Bach, Beethoven, Karin Dalton, fka Twigs, The Gun Club, The Lounge Lizards, Nina Simone, Einstürzende Neubauten, Nils Frahm, The Stooges, Morton Feldman, Debussy, and on and on and on. It was, in a word, all good. Yea, I even listened to Vangelis' Blade Runner Trilogy: 25th Anniversary. "More human than human."

I am not a headphone guy. Maybe I'm too paranoid, I don't really know. But if I was a headphone guy, the Audeze LCD-X/Deckard combo would be on my A-list. Their combined sound is elegant, supple, rich and rewarding. Or if you prefer normal-people speak, it's killer. Arthur Grumiaux's violin on Bach: Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin (CD-rip) sounded just lovely, with ample space for the sounds to decay within. Digitally reproduced violin can bite, at least in my experience, but the Audeze combo had no problem making Grumiaux's violin sound like a violin instead of a high frequency string grater.

fka Twigs stunning and menacing "Figure 8" from her new M3LL155X EP sounded menacing and stunning. Deckard's Classy-A amp delivered gobs of body and drive. I also gave the NAD VISO HP50 'phones a listen and while comparing a $299 headphone to a $1,699.99 headphone is fairly silly, I have to admit that the sonic let down was not unsubstantial. All of that lovely supple body and drive I heard with the Audeze duo was replaced with a leaner and less fun sonic picture so I quickly switched back to the LCD-X. I chalk this up to the hazards of reviewing.

If you're thinking I'm fairly jazzed about the Audeze Deckard, you'd be correct. Slapping my comparative reviewer hat on tightly, where the Deckard loses sonic ground to the twice-the-price Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC (see review), which I use most days on my desktop, is ultimate resolution. Of course the Mytek also gives you DSD, XLR out, and a ton of options, but speaking purely on an apples to apples sonic level, the Mytek lets you get a closer glimpse into your music. In terms of LCD-X listening, I preferred the Audeze which offered a fuller, more robust sound = more Fun.

"I'm working. What are you doing?" Rick Deckard, Blade Runner
Sometimes, like this time, reviewing can be pure fun. While kind of tongue in cheek, wishing Audeze charged more for the Deckard was meant to say I hope people don't pass it by because they're willing to spend more. The Audeze Deckard Headphone amp/DAC made the experience of listening to music an experience to be savored and enjoyed. When paired up with the Audeze LCD-X headphones, the combo delivered all of music's goodness directly into my head. Bravo!


Associated Equipment

Also in-use during the Audeze Deckard review: Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC

COMMENTS
gallardo's picture

What about compare the Deckard whit the similar priced LH Lab GeekPulse ?

cundare's picture

Well, Mike, I purchased a pair of LCD-XCs and Deckard last week, based primarily on your review (and on previous ownership of a pair of LCD-3s). I always thought that the 3's were spectacular in some ways -- inner detail, transient response, etc. -- but never really liked their low end. Sure, the bottom went down forever, and they did an amazing job at making you think that the bass was being experienced by more than just your ears -- but I always heard a nasty hump in the mid-bass that interefered with the higher registers for me. But given the 3's stellar rep, I always assumed that the problem was in my source.

Now, the XC's are said to have toned down the LCD-3 low-end, so that sounded like exactly what I was looking for. And your rave review of the Deckard made the pairing seem like a no-brainer.

But you know, that low-end hump is still there. I'm listening through USB now, through an ostensibly terrific D-A section, so the problem can't possibly be in a preamp, cartridge, or disc player. I also have to rule out "break-in" issues (if such things really exist for tiny planar magnetic drivers). I've run the phones about 80 or 90 hours, non-stop.

So my question is this: I have great respect for your ears. You & I tend to always hear the same things when I have a chance to listen to gear that you've reviewed. You really don't hear an artificial, pumped-up low-end running from maybe 30-50 Hz? Or, conversely, a greatly recessed mid-range (running all the way across the presence-curve range)? It's so pronounced on my system, just as it was with an earlier generation of LCD-3s, that it seems impossible to me that you're not hearing it.

Having said all that, I do have to note that on the very, very best recordings -- like 96/24 hi-rez's of Reference Recordings releases, extraordinarly well-done remasterings of classic LPs (like HDTracks' 192/24 "Kind of Blue") or certain SACDs -- the low-end sounds right. But on 95% of my collection, the bass boom is intolerable. Like a Beats low-end response bump, but an octave or two lower.

Could almost every recording I have suffer from such unnatural mastering? Say it isn't so.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...the rest of your system in detail? Thanks.
cundare's picture

...it's a Windows 10 PC. Driving the Deckard through USB, remember?

My analog system (Harbeths, Adcom MicroRidge cartridge, PS Audio passive preamp, etc.) is not yet set up after an interstate move.

D

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...how does it get from there to your PC? And what USB cable are you using? Are you using any after market USB accessories or power cords/conditioning?
cundare's picture

...Using the USB cable that came with the phones / amp. But seriously, I'd be amazed if choice of a USB cable or even a power-conditioner would result in a broad (and dramatic) alteration to frequency response of this nature. I *might* be convinced that a really poor cable and a borderline pre-USB2 interface might result in jitter-type second-order FX, maybe even some graininess, high-end or upper-mid digital "harshness," or even loss of detail through an otherwise-high-resolution system. But what I'm talking about is something else all together -- truly a macro effect.

And what's most telling is that what I hear from the XC's is quite similar to what I heard from the LCD-3's a year ago through a grossly different signal path (with both Schiit & Topping amps) at a house thousands of miles from here. The most likely source is the phones themselves IMO.

One question: Did you "break in" your review unit before listening? Mine definitely sounds different to me than it did the first few nights I played it. But I'm not sure whether it's the the equipment or my ears (or the earpads!) that are breaking in. After all, human beings got where they are today by being able to acclimate to just about anything. Or, more to the point, I am noticing that my perception of a bass hump seems to have diminished, at least a little, over the course of the week, but during that week, I haven't played my Harbeth C7s (40Hz low-end roll-off) and have listened to the LCD's a lot.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
It is my experience that bass performance can be influenced by things like cables. Perhaps not the quantity, but certainly the quality. It has also been my experience that the source, in this case a PC, can directly impact overall performance as can the media player software being used.

If, as you say, certain hi-res recordings sound fine yet most others do not, it would be difficult for me to understand how this could be just a hardware-related issue.

All that being said, if you don't like the Deckard, I'd suggest returning it.

cundare's picture

...we are just _not_ communicating.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Are you saying that the headphones are responsible for the "bass hump"? My apologies if that's the case. I was thinking in terms of your overall system.

In any event, as you can tell from my review, I did not hear what you are hearing.

cundare's picture

Yeah, that's what I was actually asking, although, in typical lawyerly fashion, I'm sure I gave you way too much background information to make myself clear! ;)

What I'm wondering now is: how did you break in your model? Audeze tells me to give 'em 70-80 hours, but that was based on ad hoc customer comments, not on any inhouse testing. Me, I kinda doubt that most dynamic transducers small enough to fit on your head would require much break-in, but planar magnetics -- I don't friggin know. Maybe there is something about the suspension or whatever that needs to break down a bit to perform properly.

But here's the punchline. My XC's had been "burning in" all week, but I didn't hear much difference whenever I spot-checked their progress. But since we started talking the last day or two, I tried switching to burn-in sources that have larger proportions of lower-frequency energy -- "Block Rockin' Beats," key Flim & the BBs tracks, Moog modular compositions I recorded in college -- you get the idea.

And you know what? I picked 'em up tonight and don't perceive a bass hump anything like what I thought I heard before. 80% gone.

Confirmation error? A psychoacoustic response to altered expecations? I dunno. But maybe these guys really do need break-in by means of high-amplitude lower-register content. Even if the FR curve doesn't flatten further over the next few days, i'm already on the cusp of being able to live with the cans forever. The detail is just amazing. I'm an electrostatic kinda guy -- Quads, Stax, & Martin-Logans are my favorite things. And, I admit that these phones are the furthest thing from ESLs. But, jeez, they're still the first headphones I've ever heard that could convince me to live the rest of my life without speakers.

And they might be getting even better!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...I typically play music through it for weeks before sitting down to listen 'critically'. I also run my systems 24 x 7 (you're welcome PSE&G) during this period using Roon Radio to play music continuously. Sometimes review gear is broken in by the manufacturer which is a big help.

I'm very happy to hear the XCs are losing that hump -- "What hump?" if you're a Mel Brooks fan ;-) From my experience, I would think they'll even out even more. Enjoy!

cundare's picture

Well, after nearly two weeks of burn-in, I still hear a broad rise in the upper bass -- or, perhaps more accurately, a 3db-ish recession throughout the "presence curve." But it's diminished greatly and may still be decreasing in magnitude, so I'm hopeful that some time soon, this won't be an issue at all. FWIW, I've always preferred a "dry" bass. I think that low-frequency transients are what make lower-register sounds sound "real."

The bad news is that my Deckard died the night before last. A-D stopped working, although analog is fine. There seems to be a loose connector, and I suspect that the unit may have been damaged during the multi-thousand-mile delivery. The build quality is so high that I'd be surprised if the problem was caused by a mfg defect. Still, these things do happen, especially in such new products. The good news is that Audeze's support was terrific. I guess, because the unit was so new, they're swapping it for a brand-new replacement, no questions asked. What a class outfit!!

What'll be especially interesting to me will be whether I hear that bass anomoly on the new amp. That would go a long way toward telling me whether I was burning in the headphones or the amp.

Overall, despite this one failure, I can't speak too highly of Audeze, both the company and the products. Even through detailed speakers like Martin Logans and Quad ESLs, I've _never_ heard the level of detail that the Deckard/LCD-XC combo provide. I don't have much experience with super-high-end systems like higher-end Focal's or Wilsons, but at a $2K-ish price point, I find the sonic output of this gear to be jaw-dropping.

Thanks for turning us on to the Deckard, which very nearly passed under my radar.

cundare's picture

Mike:
Just wanted to close the loop for you. My replacement Deckard arrived &, when used with the LCD-XC, I no longer hear that EQ imbalance at all. Either the first unit was defective from the get-go or (more likely IMO), the phones are now pretty much broken in.
Boy, Audeze is a class act in every way. Build quality, price (yes, price!), service, and, of course, sonics.
Thanks again for brainstorming with me on this.
Don

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